The battle to stem the tide of decline

  • Rebecca Kerr

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis’ core aim is to understand the role that intra-party factionalism has in two major social democratic parties – the Labour Party and the SPD, respectively – on the parties’ responses to electoral decline. To so do, a review of the changing social, political, economic and electoral environment wherein the parties exist is considered. However, the combination of these such challenges alone does not sufficiently explain the parties’ strategic responses to counter their decline. Commonly, internal factors are omitted when considering party change, and this thesis intends to place them back into focus. Factionalism has always been in the parties, readjusting and reaffirming itself consistently throughout the parties’ histories. It is through this ability to remain dynamic and adjust to altering external conditions which uphold its centrality in political decision-making. This ability has not diminished alongside the social democratic parties but has energised as factions compete for their vision of party renewal.

This research draws upon elite interviews before utilising thematic analysis to assess themes of factionalism within both parties. Such an approach allows an in-depth study of factionalism within Labour and the SPD, unveiling party life hidden from view – from the electorate, political parties and many others. This analysis demonstrates issues of factionalism specific to each case study, such as centrifugal factionalism in Labour and generational factionalism in the SPD. However, a strength of this research lies in the comparative analysis which demonstrates a range of commonalities – including strategic factional divergence, factional hostility, real questions on the longevity of the parties’ electoral coalitions and the ability of the parties to reach a fair consensus which represents all tendencies broadly. Factionalism has severe ramifications for social democratic parties. Results allude to factionalism as a continued source of paralysis, particularly if the parties continue their allegiance to lukewarm co-operation which does not adequately represent anyone.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2026.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorChristopher Raymond (Supervisor) & Lee McGowan (Supervisor)


  • Factionalism
  • social democracy
  • Labour party
  • comparative analysis
  • British politics
  • European politics
  • qualitative analysis
  • party politics

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