Theses defended

The role of participation in the new models of political party

Marco Meloni

Public Defence date
June 6, 2022
Doctoral Programme
Democracy in the Twenty-first Century
Giovanni Allegretti
In the context of the democratic crisis that affects 'Western' democracies, empirical evidence and a vast body of research has pointed out a surprising increase in membership roll and Intra-Party Democracy (IPD) procedures within a number of new or established European political parties during the second decade of 2000. Many of these processes and tools have been characterised by claims for innovative forms of participation, the use of digital technologies and charismatic leadership. On the one hand, the participation promoted by these parties seems to embrace new forms of mobilisation and activism; on the other hand, many of the participatory processes and tools promoted remained tokenistic in nature and ended up reaffirming the leadership's positions. What role has been given to members' participation in those parties? How is the members' participation reshaping the organisation of the political parties, in view of their crisis of perceived legitimacy? This thesis aims to analyse the role of members' participation within political parties particularly committed to promoting participation. The study examines their interpretation of participation, the participatory procedures, the ways they use digital technologies, and the intra-party participation promoted by political parties in the last decade. For this purpose, the present research applies the case study methodology and compares the participatory procedures within two political parties at the national level. The cases selected are the Spanish party Podemos (Spain), a new digital party-movement founded in 2014, and the Labour Party (UK) under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, a long-standing party in a renewal phase. The empirical research relied on qualitative methods, mainly semi-structured in-depth interviews, participatory observation, document analysis and press reviews, jointly with the study of the participatory procedures' data and outcomes. Despite their different histories and models, both parties recognised participation as a fundamental value, and they developed and implemented participatory procedures open to members and sympathisers. Studying and mirroring the two cases, a complex scenario emerged, pointing out that both parties tended to promote a type of participation that was directly respondent to the quest of supporting and legitimising their leadership, lacking the institutionalisation of the participatory procedures and solid integration within the decision-making processes. Despite the differences between the two cases in terms of the usage and objectives of their participatory procedures, they often resulted in merely consultative and top-down procedures, with a high digital component that reinforced political individualisation.

Keywords: Intra-Party Democracy, Digital participation, Political parties, Podemos, The Labour Party