Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
  Education & popular sciences
  Ethics
  Future science & technology
  Governance
  People in science
  Public opinion
  Science communication
  Science prizes
  Women & science
  Other
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Indonesia
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Jamaica
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lichtenstein
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Madagascar
  Malaysia
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Mozambique
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  New Zealand
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Panama
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Sri Lanka
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tanzania
  Thailand
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Uganda
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States
  Vietnam


   Science in society

Last Update: 16-10-2012  
Related category(ies):
Science in society

 

Countries involved in the project described in the article:
United Kingdom
Add to PDF "basket"

Potential political defectors can be identified according to archetype

The world of politics is often depicted as one of intrigue, political machinations and Machiavellian ethics. A world where personal loyalty to a party can bring about change in society, and where disloyalty can topple a government. As a result, party whips are employed in many political systems, including in the Westminster system of government, to keep party members in line. But now it turns out that some members are already predisposed to defection. A study from the University of Leicester has identified an 'archetype' for someone who is likely to break political ranks in the political landscape of the United Kingdom.

Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom © Shutterstock
Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom
©  Shutterstock

Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell, from the School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester, spoke about the research and about the political defections that grab the headlines. 'Virtually every week there are defections among local councillors and also less frequently among MEPs, MPs and Lords. Defections grab headlines, worry party leaders and can change the dynamics of Parliament. Defections have never been comprehensively studied before and are not well understood by party leaders or commentators,' he said.

The research detailed in the book charts a history of defections over a century, and may serve as a useful guide of identifying the characteristics of defectors. 'Over the last century the most likely individuals to defect were male, wealthy, divorced, Eton-educated, from a minority religion, former senior army officers and those who entered politics early. There is a pattern to defections. It is not just a random group of individuals taking one-off decisions. Among defectors, 53 percent defected for better prospects, 43 percent over policy and 3 percent because of personalities. Defection, on average, is a career-enhancing move - chances of ministerial office and honours are higher for defectors than for loyalists.

'A political defection is an expert opinion on the state of the party at a particular point in time. My findings are based on a study of all 707 people who sat as a Liberal or LibDem (Liberal Democrats) MPs from 1910 to 2010. Of all these MPs 16 percent (about one in six) defected. I also studied the smaller number of MPs and former MPs who defected into the Liberals/LibDems and investigated the cases of other defectors who went straight from Labour to the Conservatives and vice-versa. Virtually all Liberal defectors to the Conservatives were happy with their move, but over half of Liberal defectors to Labour were dissatisfied.'

In more recent history he noted a change in where the defectors were coming from, noting that it is now more common for conservatives to abandon their party than in the past. 'It is the Conservatives who are suffering the most defections. This is a turn-around – for most of the last century the Conservatives were the most cohesive party and the Liberals the most likely to suffer defections,' Dr Wyburn-Powell said.

'This pattern may well continue, if the actions of Lord Stevens and departing Conservative councillors are an indication of things to come. Some Conservative MPs are uncomfortable with the coalition and disillusioned about their own career prospects, with many Liberal Democrats occupying ministerial jobs. The coalition government's attitude towards Europe has alienated many Conservatives and they see UKIP posing a serious threat in some constituencies. Conversely, few Liberal Democrats are defecting, which signals a change from past examples set by the party. Given the rare chance that the coalitions has presented, most Liberal Democrats find that they prefer being unpopular but in power, to being liked but ignored as a forgotten third party.'

Dr Wyburn-Powell added: 'I set out to explore the reasons for defections from the Liberal Party in order to discover their role in the party's near collapse and recovery. The reasons for, and timing of, the decline of the Liberal Party is still contested by historians. My research pinned more of the blame for outward defections on Lloyd George than on Asquith or any other leader. I suspected that there were undiscovered patterns in past defections and that they were not just a random collection of individual decisions.

'My research reveals a long-term social compatibility between the Liberals and the Conservatives, which was not the case between the Liberals and Labour. However, in terms of policy, Labour and the LibDems are fairly compatible. It is in the interests of both these parties to work on their relationship, as they may need to form a coalition after the next election.

'Investigating past relationships between parties can lead to a better mutual understanding and respect, which can help in the formation of a future coalition. Studying the reasons for past defections can help parties to avoid losing future defectors.'

In the past he has also offered a few words of advice for party leaders and how they should deal with defectors, namely: 'Do not change policies to avoid defections - it will only encourage others to threaten to defect and it is likely to draw your policies away from the centre ground, where most of the voters are. Smaller parties, especially those on the right, tend to be fragile, prone to leadership tussles and internal rifts. They provide the most unstable element of our otherwise very inert political system.'

In addition he noted that some parties could be better off if certain people left and as a result potential defectors could be divided into two categories, 'those they want to keep and they would be happy to lose'. Regarding those people parties should lose, he recounted the words of advice from former politician Tony Benn: 'If they leave, play down their significance and do not get into a slanging match with them. In the words of advice which Tony Benn told me his father offered him 'Don't wrestle with a chimney sweep' - you will both end up covered in dirt.

'With the first category, party leaders should listen to them and go out of their way personally to befriend them - friendship cannot be delegated. Alexander MacCallum Scott, who defected from the Liberal Party to Labour in the 1920s, said that he would probably have stayed, but squabbling party leaders Asquith and Lloyd George 'held out no hand'.


Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester
Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell





  Top   Research Information Center