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More than half of Tory activists support death penalty, finds landmark survey of grassroots members

Academics found stark differences of opinion on Brexit, economic and social issues between Tory members and their Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat counterparts

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 04 January 2018 01:12 GMT
A survey of more than 4,000 party activists laid bare stark divisions between the main political parties
A survey of more than 4,000 party activists laid bare stark divisions between the main political parties (Getty)

More than half of grassroots Conservatives support the death penalty for serious crimes, according to a major survey that found rank-and-file members were a “breed apart” from other parties on their views.

Academics at Queen Mary University London found stark differences on Brexit, and economic and social issues between Tory members and their Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat counterparts, after polling more than 4,000 party activists following the snap election in June.

Conservative members were less active and engaged than other parties and more likely to be disillusioned by how they are treated by their leadership, the report said, in findings that may concern party bosses considering future election campaigns.

Despite reports of a surge in youth support for Jeremy Corbyn, the comprehensive study also found that the average Labour member was 53-years-old, while the average Tory was 57-years-old, busting the myth that Conservative activists are a “bunch of retired colonels”.

Members in all four parties were more likely to be white, male and older than the average Briton, and tend to live in London and the South of England – with the exception of the SNP.

Professor Tim Bale, one of the authors, said: “Britain’s party members are the lifeblood and the footsoldiers of our democracy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they look like or think like their parties’ voters – or, indeed, look or think like each other.

“The Tory grassroots in particular are something of a breed apart from their Labour, Lib Dem and SNP counterparts.”

The report found Tory members were authoritarian and resistant to ideas of political correctness, with 54 per cent in favour of the death penalty, compared to 23 per cent of SNP supporters, 9 per cent of Labour and 8 per cent of Lib Dems.

Eight out of 10 Conservatives wanted schools to teach children to obey authority, compared to around 31 per cent of Labour backers, while only four in 10 Tories support gay marriage.

At least eight out of 10 backers of other parties support the reform brought in by David Cameron.

The polling laid bare major differences on Brexit where nine out of 10 members of the other parties want to remain in the single market, but only a quarter of grassroots Tories support that option.

On austerity, only one in 10 Conservatives believe the policy has gone too far compared to nearly all Labour members, 93 per cent of SNP supporters and three-quarters of Lib Dems.

Professor Bale told The Independent he was surprised by how stark the differences were between party views and warned that the Tories needed to ensure they did not look “old-fashioned or even nasty” to younger voters coming of age.

He said: “Many Conservative Party voters share those same kinds of conservative attitudes on those issues. The problem is, however, that they are a diminishing proportion of the electorate going forward, as society – partly because of more people getting access to higher education – becomes more socially liberal.

“The Conservatives have to be careful that they don’t get beached and look old-fashioned and even nasty to voters who are coming on stream in years to come.”

Professor Bale said Conservative bosses had “failed to capitalise on the consumerist trend” where party members felt they should have more say if they are paying to be involved.

The survey found only 28 per cent of Conservatives believe they have a significant say on policy compared to three-quarters of Lib Dems and SNP members and 61 per cent of Labour members, and were less likely to have stepped up campaigning for their party during recent elections.

He said: “Given how close some seats were at the last election and maybe at the next election – the ability to get a bunch of people who are very well motivated and actually will come out and do stuff for you in reasonable numbers has to be a concern.

“I think in the 21st Century it’s probably not good enough to sort of rely on the fact that people will campaign as it were for their elders and betters.

“People want more involvement now and want more say now and that may be reflected in different levels of activity between parties.”

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