A political party is a group of people that is organized for the purpose of winning government power. In a democratic system parties do this by putting candidates up for election.
The main functions of parties are representation, policy formulation, the recruitment of political leaders, the organization of government and the mobilization of the electorate.
Power within the UK Political Parties
Power within the UK political parties has, despite their formal constitutions, usually been concentrated in the hands of their parliamentary leadership.
In recent decades, party structures and organization have been affected by factors such as a steady decline in party membership, the introduction of more ‘democratic’ methods of electing party leaders and the tendency for party strategy and ideological direction to be determined centrally, with leaders playing a major role.
The UK's Party System
The UK has traditionally had a two-party system, which majority Labour and Conservative governments alternating in power.
However, two-partyism began to break down in the 1970s under the pressures of class and partisan dealignment. The UK now has multiple or ‘overlapping’ party systems, due to devolution, the use of proportional representation (PR) and the rise of issues that cut across the traditional party-political divide. But two-party political continues to dominate at Westminster.
The early post-war period was dominated by a social-democratic consensus, reflecting support for a broad balance between a capitalist or market economy on the one hand and state intervention on the other hand. The social-democratic consensus was associated with a mixed economy, economic management and the idea of ‘cradle to grave’ welfare.
Social democracy is an ideological stance that supports a broad balance between a capitalist or market economy on the one hand and state intervention on the other.
The ‘Thatcherite revolution’ of the 1980s amounted to a counter-revolution against both the post-war drift towards state intervention and the spread of liberal or progressive social values. ‘Economic Thatcherism’ was characterized by privatization, attempts to reduce union power, cuts in direct taxation and economic deregulation. ‘Social Thatcherism’ was characterized by ‘tough’ approach to law and order, an emphasis on traditional values and support for national patriotism, especially in the form of Euroscepticism.
Blairism and New Labour were associated with an acceptance of market economics, support for constitutional reform, a ‘third way’ approach to welfare and a desire to strengthen responsibility and social obligations. New Labour set out to build on Thatcherism rather than trying to reverse it. Its supporters have suggested that it is distinct from both Thatcherism and social democracy. Shifts in the Conservative Party under David Cameron and in Labour under Gordon Brown provide evidence of the emergence of a post-Thatcherite consensus.