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Sunday 21 August 2016

Labour isn't Europe's biggest party

It is one of those little things that illustrates something bigger. For some time I have seen Twitter posts on Labour's membership numbers claiming it is now the biggest political party in Europe.

The oldest tweet saying this which I could find came from a nasty antisemitic account in January:

Some of these tweets, most notably from Momentum's James Schnider, have described it as 'biggest left of centre party'. Others have described it as 'biggest party in Western Europe. But now this has progressed to a meme and I've had enough.

This is not true, on several levels.

Wrong, spin, ignorant

The biggest political party in Europe is United Russia**, the ruling party in the Russian Federation, set up by Vladimir Putin in 2001. It's membership (2013 figures) is over two million.

It is spin because in a first past the post (FPTP) system almost all left members of political parties are in one party, rather than in several. In the rest of Europe, the spectrum of views represented in UK Labour are covered by more than one party because they have various forms of proportional representation.  So the Social Democratic Party of Germany has around 450k members and Die Linke 60k and Alliance '90/The Greens another 60k. Plus there are other smaller left parties.

I am not suggesting that all those members of other parties than Germany's Social Democrats would join them under FPTP but that those numbers point to another problem with the 'Europe's largest party' claim: the UK is coming off a very low base; proportionally most other European countries have higher memberships in general of political parties.

These are the most recent figures I could find (from 2013)*. As you can see, even with Labour's membership growth the UK still has much lower numbers than most other countries.

I could not find membership numbers for parties such as Greece's Syriza but this graph suggests it would be high. Parties of the left in Italy have a membership total over half a million. Spain's Podemos has around 450k members in a country 70% the size of the UK. Proportionally Podemos is as big as UK Labour and there are another 190,000 Social Democrats.

The election for UK's Labour's Leader also has a paltry participation rate compared to elsewhere. In the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary around 2,700,000 voters participated in the first round, and 2,900,000 voters in the second - a fact which beggars the question what the outcome would be if a similar democratic event were to happen in UK Labour.

Wake up call

What these facts highlight the most - and this is how a little thing can illustrate something bigger - is the con job behind this spin from Corbyn supporters, led by Momentum. Namely that even if you are 'Europe's biggest party' it does not matter how many members your party has, what matters is how many people will vote for you. The experience of other European parties tells us this. As they dare cite Europe they simultaneously ignore Europe.

One could add (because rally size is often cited alongside membership by Corbyn supporters) that it does not matter how many people you get to your rallies either - have you seen the scale of some of the rallies for European left wing parties?

This is a rally of tens of thousands for Spain's Podemos two months ago. They went on to lose the election to Spain's conservatives and got 21% of the vote.

*Another paper showing figures up to 2008 from across Europe.

** It has been pointed out to me (cheers Roger McCarthy) that Turkey is also in Europe, including a huge amount of its largest city, Istanbul.  As of May 2008, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly had 3,688,761 members.


  1. utter bullshit or... how to lie with statistics ~ no evidence whatsoever. your graph dates you claim are from 2013 yet click the link and the claim is that figures are from no later than 2009. either way *pre*Corbyn who, as a result of engaging with the electorate, has seen a massive surge in Labour membership.

  2. Well, somewhere I heard that the Labour Party of Britain has the largest membership of any other Western European country. This is also false. Nobody has even mentioned the Popular Party in Spain. They have around 800,000 members. They used to have approximately 865,000 members, but after some cases of corruption were unveiled there were some 60,000 who left the party. But as it currently stands the PP of Spain is the largest political party in Western Europe. Led by Mariano Rajoy the PP won te 2011 general elections and have been in government since.
    The Labour Party is the second largest. Since the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn as the party leader announced on Saturday 24th September the LP membership has surpased the 600,000. It may be a bit adventurous to predict that the LP will get over the 800,000 members. Even if it does that is not the main objective. For we are aware that the big challenge ahead is to try to win the support of larger sectors of the electorate nationwide, particularly in the countryside. Whether that will be possible will very much depen on the needs of the population but also more importantly, much more importantly, on the understanding of the British public as to how realistically these needs can be met by the Labour Part led by Jeremy Corbyn. He is a leader of a nature that has no precedent in the modern history of Western Europe. He is far more than just an honest person who has unreservedly and without hesitation constantly fought for what he belueves is best for most people. He has a very broad and deep understanding of not only his country but the world as a whole. This may not be immediatelly apparent to the wider public but he is certainly one of the very few top progresist and humanitarian, to say the least, politcians in the entire world. It is worth to watch him and listen to what he says carefully without jumping into conclusions influenced either by the media or by our ideological principles. This country will make headlines worldwide for a prolonged period if he is elected Prime Minister. Even in the runing up to a general election, if the polls show a rise in the support to the Labour Party led by him, people of all sorts of political ideas, religious beliefs, or even those who have never paid attention to politics because they understandably believe 'politicians are all the same' will wake up and will not stop following the news of the political arena in the United Kingdom.