• Making policy, also known as aggregation - the development of policies and political programmes becomes especially important when a party is in opposition and seeking to replace the government of the day. The policy-making function of the ruling party is the same as the policy-making role of the government. In opposition, the leadership of a party is not in such a pre-eminent policy making position. This is when the general membership of the party can have most input into policy making. This is when a party can have its most characteristic function and so represent the national interest better.
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  • Selecting candidates - parties spend a great deal of their time and effort selecting candidates for office at all levels. This is mostly done at local and regional level, though party committees and party leaderships do have some say in which candidates should be chosen.
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  • Identifying leaders - parties need leaders, and in the case of the main parties, this means potential government ministers. They, therefore, have procedures for identifying political leaders. For the ruling party, the prime minister ultimately controls the appointment of ministers with his patronage powers. In opposition parties, the leader will choose a smaller group of front bench spokespersons whom will form the leadership. However, potential leaders cut their teeth to some extent in internal party organisations and committees. The formal structures of parties give opportunities for members to become 'trained' as leaders.
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  • Organising elections - at election time, parties play a critical role. Apart from supplying candidates, the party organisations form part of the process of publicising election issues, persuading people to vote and informing them about the candidates. Without the huge efforts of thousands of party activists at election time, the already low turnout at the polls would be even lower.
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  • Education - it is not only at election time that parties have an educative function. They are also continuously involved in the process of informing the people about the political issues of the day, explaining the main areas of conflict and outlining their own solutions to the problems that they have identified. Part of this process involves educating the public about how the political system itself operates.
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  • Running Parliament - the senior members of the party in Parliament, especially the whips and other parliamentary managers play a vital role in the workings of Parliament. the party leaderships determine the proceedings of Parliament, organise debates, manage the legislative process, and ensure that MPs and peers themselves are well informed about proceedings.
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  • Reinforcing consent - parties have a hidden function, described as the mobilisation and reinforcement of consent. All the main parties support the political system of the UK. By operating and supporting parliamentary democracy, parties are part of the process that ensures that the general population consents to the system. If parties were to challenge the nature of the political system in any fundamental way, this would create political conflict within society. Parties that challenge this are generally seen as extremists and only marginal elements in the system.
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