What is a political party?
A political party is an organisation based on a common ideology and world view formed with the expectation of assuming political office this differs from pressure groups. Usually they have a broad social agenda although they can be associated with single issue politics on occasion. Usually they have an internal hierarchy and have a funding structure which is usually private. They are normally associated with political activism and usually have a significant public presence whether it be through media or other forms of marketing. The more successful parties such as the labour and conservatives have seats in the House of Commons. The use of proportional electoral systems has lead to increase in representation of smaller parties such as the UK independence party and the BNP in European parliament. Also associated with democratic system.
The functions of political parties
Making political choices coherent – through the mandate and manifesto, mandate is voting and the manifesto states clearly what their political position is, through that and political activism. Clearly defining where they stand on their political viewpoint
Encouraging participation – Activism, party membership, labour party has a big conference every year which encourages participation. Social clubs which bring groups of people together, encouraging a sense of unity.Political socialisation.
Encouraging political recruitment- Always looking to recruit new members. When political tide is turning their way it is easy to recruit members. Parties provide opportunity for political activists to rise through their ranks.
Sustaining the system of government –provides significant reference point for the electorate, associated with political office and parties.
Informing the electorate – Provide the electorate with information about issues and explain how a particular policy perceived. Between elections parties will consult with groups of voters in order to exchange views and get new ideas.
Adversarial and consensus politics
An adversarial system is a confrontational system and means that politicians will frequently refuse to come to agreement over issues.
Traditionally, the ideologies of labour and conservative have been confrontational with little agreement.
The 1980s showed how far uk politics can be adversarial, the two parties clashed about policy means and ends.
Parliamentary procedures tend to be confrontational. Layout of commons and the format of questioning the executive all lead to aggressive forms of politics.
Uk governments tend to be one party coalitions are rare.
Concepts of government and opposition mean that mps in commons are either on one side or the other.
Oppositions are expected to oppose so they can distinguish their ideas from policies of government and act as a check on its power.
Consensus politics in the UK
Traditionally, there has been consensus about aims of government policy, this was true in 50s and argued since new labour.
After ww2 there was agreement about means of achieving the ends. Postwar consensus saw the formation of similar welfare policies from labour and conservative.
Some argue in spite of differences that exist, there are still similarities between them on major issues eg management of economy.
Marked degree of co operation between labour and lib dem in the 90s especially on constitutional reform.
Use of alternative electoral systems for devolved assemblies has led to more consensus politics in those areas.
Continued rise in support for lib dems will accentuate consensus as coalitions may be formed.
Well ordered society based on personal responsibility of individuals. National traditions and patriotism are important. They are suspicious og government and have traditionally supported only a limited role for the state. The creation and preservation of ones own wealth and property are the cornerstones of conservatism. Many say that ideology is not correct description of conservatism as it tends to take the principles outlined to suit political needs of the time.
It has many views on the left of the political spectrum. The heart of the ideology is belief in equality which many on far left believe can only be found by communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The elimination of poverty and social deprivation and the eradication of the causes of inequality are all ideals of socialists.
They believe in primacy of individual rights and those rights should only be restricted if they infringe on others. Personal freedoms are key to liberal philosophy. Historically, some liberals preferred to stress economic rights of individual regarding private property and wealth creation but this has led to crossover between classical liberals and the new right in the 70s and 80s.
Conservative and labour policies
Similarities between labour and the conservatives
The economy - two parties have converged in recent years that the major ideological economic debate of the past are over, saying that both believe in free market approach to economic management. Labour abandoned its clause IV of its constitution which committed the party to nationalisation and this was key change for labour. Both parties are now fighting to establish themselves as the party of business and as result labour has been seen to desert its traditional values and supporters in working class and trade unions.
Social security – both parties want to end state benefit dependency. Labour continues the policy of means- testing for social security benefits which was initiated by conservatives. Also labour appears to want people come off unemployment register even if it means going to low paid jobs. In early 2008 David Cameron published initial proposals to limit entitlement of incapacity benefits to those who don’t actively seek work. Labour responded by suggesting a policy which unemployed council tenants could lose their house if they weren’t prepared to work.
Similarities between Conservatives and Labour
Law and order – law and order and sentencing of criminal, the labour party has been accused of stealing policies of conservative party. They both share the view that there is a need for robust response to crime and appear to have same ideas as right wing issues on asylum and immigration.
Education – the old difference between two parties on education seem to have gone with both parties sharing views on standards even on selection issues. Labour ahs continued with the testing and inspection regimes made by conservatives. League tables are a big symbol of educational standards as does the public exposure of failing schools. Labours latest initiative academy schools which are free of local authority control have been embraced by David Cameron.
Healthcare – when in opposition labour opposed use of public private partnership in the provision of state healthcare. Ironically the only agreement to be signed for private investors to build and lease hospitals has been since they came to power in 1997. after the 95 general election when voters rejected the conservative approach to healthcare (private healthcare for some people) but David Cameron has changed tack saying they promise to match the spending plans of labour government on the nhs for first two years after the next election.
Differences between labour and the conservatives
Redistribution of wealth
Labour government has redistributed wealth from richer to poorer families. This policy has links with traditional labour attitudes and would never be pursued by the conservatives. Although labour politicians were reluctant to use the word redistribution early on in government, many in the party now use the word proudly to draw a distinguishing line between them and the conservatives.
Important difference between labour and the conservatives is on the issue of public spending. The labour party claims to have spent more money on key public service such as health and education than any previous government. This has caused problems for conservative because they have to prove to voters that their desire to cut taxes will not come at the expense of reductions in public expenditure.
Although labour rejects punitive taxation to pay for investment in public services ther is no doubt that it has increased taxes. Conservatives have dubbed these stealth taxes because they are done almost out of sight of those who pay them. Taxes on pension funds, windfall taxes and increase national insurance contribution have all netted the exchequer extra cash to fund government spending. The conservatives tried to make this an issue with which to attack the government in 2005 election.
Many in the labour party also point to how much has been done for workers right since 1997 as soon as it came to power the government indicated that it would sign the social protocol of the maastricht treaty which is something john major’s government refused to do 1992. Similarly labour introduced minimum wage and has more recently reached agreement with trade unions on issue of new statutory holiday for workers. It is inconceivable conservatives would bring in such rules conservatives argue that these policies will damage all they did to create a flexible and competitive labour market in the 80s.