The class dealignment and individualisation of society (discussed elsewhere in this blog) also influences the level of party membership in New Zealand. As time goes by, the party system is decreasingly based on class cleavages, yet the relationships between other social cleavages and political parties are also particularly weak and unstable. The relevance of parties is therefore diminished. [Read more below]
The declining relevance of social structure to political allegiances has meant that while joining the Labour Party or the National Party may have once been an expression of one’s class position, changes in the political positioning of the two main parties has undermined the class nature of membership.
In contrast to fifty years ago, it is now hard for any party to recruit members on the basis of class solidarity, as few people in society still view themselves as members of a social class, let alone see those political parties as representing their class.
Breakdown of communities
Along with the breakdown in class politics, a breakdown of communities in general is occurring. This might be termed the individualisation of society, a situation in which people – regardless of their ‘objective’ social class or group – think and act more as individuals than as members of a group, class or community.
The changes in housing and work have affected the way that society interacts. Closely-knit communities have been weakened, which contributes to an atomisation of life – a situation which does not predispose people to want to join political parties or undertake other collectivist or community type activity.
Barry Gustafson argues that as a result of the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, ‘Many individuals became alienated and atomised from the economy, the society, the politicians, the political system, others, and even themselves. Civil society fragmented and democracy itself was increasingly questioned’ (2001: p.27).