The role of youth and student wings in shaping Social Democratic Parliamentarians in Germany and Great Britain.

  • Luke John Davies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis, by undertaking a detailed, empirical analysis of the role youth and student wings play in the recruitment of national legislators of the German Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands and the British Labour Party, contributes to our understanding of how the social democratic party family has changed in the decades since the early 1980s. It does so by utilising three research questions. Firstly, it investigates the changing role of the youth and student wings in the recruitment of social democratic legislators. Second, it explores the dynamics of this process. Finally, the thesis unpacks the manner in which this shift has led to a ‘gentrification’ of centre-left Parliamentarians and thus changed the nature of social democratic parties. The study engenders new insights via the combined use of a large, new quantitative dataset and qualitative elite interviews.
The study demonstrates that the recruiting ground for Parliamentarians for these parties has shifted. The quantitative date shows that as the trade union movement declined in influence the parties faced a functional need to replace them as a source of qualified electoral standard bearers and the vacuum was filled by affiliated party youth and student organisations. The evidence presented here suggests this means that most individuals are now politicised into the parties at university, not in the workplace. This has coincided with a rise in a political ecosystem of party employees, representatives’ staffers, NGOs, journalists, charities and think-tanks and a wider sphere of politics-facilitating professions, both of which recruit out of these youth wings. Individuals working in those fields have an advantage in developing the political capital required to push for selection as a Parliamentary candidate. The qualitative data provides prima facie evidence that these two factors lead to a gentrification effect, resulting in a shift in the balance between the working class and middle class within social democratic parties in favour of the latter and that this changes the culture and the nature of these parties. This is ripe for further research.
The results of this study contribute in particular to the literature on political recruitment and the professionalisation of politics. Both of these fields have often dealt with the class nature of Parliamentarians but have hitherto lacked the empirical evidence to place the party’s youth and student wings as a factor driving this dynamic.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorEd Turner (Supervisor) & Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik (Supervisor)


  • social democratic parliamentarians
  • government policy
  • modern democracies
  • ordinary citizens
  • Germany
  • Great Britain

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