Political Parties

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  • Created on: 17-03-13 11:41

Functions (Part 1)


- Developing politicies to appeal to the mass of the electorate. This means the major UK parties are 'catch-all parties' and the winning party can claim a popular mandate to carry out its policies.

- However, electorate is not always well-informed in choosing parties and first past the post means a party only need 35-40% of the vote to win an election.

Policy Formulation

- Parties develop programmes of government (through conferences and manifestos) so they can initiate policy and formulate sets of policy options

- Major parties are distanced from traditional ideologies, which takes away later goals for society. They are more interested in following public opinion.

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Functions (Part 2)

Recruitment of Leaders

- Parties recruit and train leaders of the future

- However, certain party activities e.g. electioneering may be poor training for running a large government department. Governments appointed from the ranks of the majority party also means they rely on a small pool of talent.

Organisation of Government

- Parties help to form governments, provide an opposition to scrutinise government policy, facilitate cooperation between parliament and executive and provide government stability and coherence as the majority party has common sympathies and attachments.

- However, there is a decline in party unity which weakons control in the Commons.

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Functions (Part 3)

Participation and Mobilisation

- Provides opportunities for citizens to join political parties and also educates the electorate through activities such as poster campaigns and public meetings.

- However, most voters no longer consider themselves identifying with a particular party (10% have a very strong attachment to a party), and turnout in elections has fallen since 1997 with only 59% voting in 2001. Membership of parties has also fallen to 800,000.

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Labour Ideologies

Traditional Ideology

- Democratic socialist (Equality > Liberty)

- Optimistic about humanity and favoured working class

- Cradle-to-grave Welfare

- State control & managed economy

- Believed change is necessary

New Labour (Clause IV replaced in 1994)

- Catch-all party

- Welfare-to-work

- Modern constitution (constitutional reform)

- Market economy and targeted benefits

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Conservative Ideologies

Traditional (One Nation)

- Opposes change & constitutional reform

- Middle way economics and pragmatic intervention

- Paternalism

- Suspicious of the EU

- Too much freedom is dangerous


- Free-market economics

- Roll back the state

- Self-interest

- Induvidualism and personal advancement

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Leader Selection


- Previously 30% vote to MPs, 30% to ordinary members and 40% to trade unions

- As of 1993, 33% for all

- 66% vote required to force a leader to resign

- 'Bottom up'


- MPs required to vote for candidates

- Majority required to reject the leader

- 'Top down'

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Labour Party Structure

- All labour MPs belong to Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to submit policy ideas. This used to be used to elect the leader

- The National Policy Fourm (NPF) was set up under Blair to streamline policymaking - it appoints policy commissions to deal with political areas and reports to the NEC* and these commissions are made up of members from the CLP**

- *The National Executive Committee (NEC) is the chief administrative body and is responsible for party finance. It also has a role in selecting parliamentary candidates. Reports by NPF sent to NEC for consideration before being passed to consultation and annual conference.

- **The Consituency Labour Party (CLP) selects dandidates and participates in policymaking

- The Annual Labour Conference used to be a genuine, serious policy-making event, but is now used as a 'rubber-stamp' for decision making

- Selecting Parliamentary Candidates = NEC shortlists -> CLP chooses -> NEC approves

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Conservative Party Structure

- All MPs belong to the 1922 Committee which meets every week while parliament is in session and allows MPs to put things forward. Also has an 18-member executive committee.

- The Conservative Party Central Office is the chief administrative body. It organises finances and selects parliamentary candidates.

- The Conservative leader thus has the overall responsibility for policy making.

- The Conservative Annual Party Conference is used to test out new ideas on the public and provides media opportunity to enhance the party's image.

- In the selection of parlliamentary candidates, the potential candidates apply to the Conservative Party Central Office, and approved candidates are entered into a list and can apply for any advertised vacancy. The local consituency party then shortlists applicants and makes their choice.

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Who has the Power?

Party Leader - Since the 1980s, leaders have grown in importance and now tend to dominate policy making. The leader is the central concern of the voters and the media and most elections tend to be decided on the party leader

Parliamentary Parties - Many believe that because of party discipline, they are only lobby fodder that follow their leader. However, MPs are becoming more independently minded due to a decline in party unity. The 1922 Committee (conservative backbenchers) and the PLP may play a significant role in parliamentary leadership.

Party Backers - Some argue that the people funding the parties have the real power

Members and Constituency Parties - Falling membership suggests that constituency parties are becoming less important

Elitism - It can now be argued that in relation to power, both majority parties are elitist. This means it is the party leader that holds the power and ordinary members have less say than MPs. Conferences are also stage-managed.

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