Political Parties

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  • Created by: Rebecca
  • Created on: 27-12-12 11:20

What is a Political Party?

It's a group of people organised to win government power, which, under a democratic system, happens under elections - where they hope to gain representation and form/ paricipate in government.

Their 3 main features are:

  • (Larger) parties aim to exercise government power by winning political office, while smaller parties use elections to gain a platform for their views
  • Broad issue focus for larger parties, with policies for all the major government areas, while smaller parties have a narrower focus, resembling pressure groups
  • Their members are usually united by shared political preferences and ideology, which can be loose and broadly defined
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What is Party Government?

A system through which single parties are able to form governments and carry out policy programmes.

There main features are:

  • The major parties have clear ideological convictions and develop rival programmes of government to give the electorate a meaningful choice at election time
  • The governing party is able to claim a popular mandate, with enough internal unity and ideological cohesion to convert manifestos to government policy
  • They are accountable to the electorate through a credible opposition party (as a balancing force and) and its mandate to govern
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Functions of Parties

  • Representationprimary function.They link government to the people by responding and articualing public opinion. The major parties are 'catch-all parties'  as they try to develop policies with mass appeal, so they can claim a mandate to carry out its policies.
  • Policy Formulation - parties develop programmes of government, through party forums, annual confrences and in election manifestos. They initiate policies (come up with policy proposals) and formulate them (sets of policy options which are realistic and achievable).
  • Recruitment of Leaders - parties can recruit and train the politicians of the future. The first step is party membership, gaining experience of canvassing, debating and running a constituency party. This can open the door to political office and Number 10.
  • Organisation of Government - they can help to form governments (party government), giving government stability and coherence (as usually a single party), facilitate cooperation between the major branches of government: parliament and the executive. They also provide opposition and criticism of government (scrutiny) and a 'government-in waiting'.
  • Participation and mobilisation of the electorate - they provide opportunity for citizens to join parties and influence them and to educate and mobilise the electorate. Parties are electoral machines through the building up of loyalty and identification in electorate
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Effectiveness of Party's Functions

  • Representation: the electorate can be mis-informed and irrational, with a parties image, leaders charisma (important as policies). Also, due to FPTP, they don't need 50+% of vote to win an election
  • Policy formulation: major parties have distanced themselves from traditional ideologies, not interested in ideas and formulating goals for society. They are now keen to follow public opinion (opinion polls and focus groups) than shape it
  • Recruitment of Leaders: Government appointed from small pool of talent, i.e. the majority party in the House of Commons. Electioneering and other activities may be poor experience for running a large government department.
  • Organisation of Government: declining party unity since the 1970s lessens the majority party's control of the HoC
  • Participation and Mobilisation: Voter loyalty and identification has declined, with 40% identifying in 1964 to 10% in 2005. Membership of parties has fallen e.g. Conservatives had 3 million in the 1950's, now 130-150000, and Labour's has also fallen from 1 million to 193000 (in 2010, 1% of electorate belong to 3 main parties). General Election turnout has also fallen since 1997 (71.4%), following with 59.4%, 61.4% and 65.1%, still 10% below average 
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How the Labour Party Leader is elected

Labour's National Executive Committee decides the timetable of such an election:

  • If there is a vacancy, candidates must have the support of 12.5% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (currently 33 MPs). If there isn't a vacancy, there must have 20% of PLP support within a time-limit. (This was how leaders were originally elected).
  • The voting takes palce in three sections of their electoral college, each having 1/3 of the final vote, counted under AV. The first is Labour MPs and MEPs, the second is their individual party members (voting under one member one vote) and the third was of individual members of affiliated organisations (trade unions are allowed to make recommendations to their members, but not in the same 'communication' that contains the ballot paper)
  • If no candidate recieves more than half of the votes, the least popular drops out, with the votes being redistributed until one candidate has 50% (there were 4 rounds in the 2010 election, with Ed Miliband having 50.65%)


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How the Conservative Party Leader is Elected

  • If there is a vacancy, they can be nominated by two Conservative MPs. If there isn't a vacancy, a leadership contest can begin by passing a vote of no confidence in the leader, called if 15% of Conservative MPs write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee (open to all Conservative MPs, but frontbenchers aren't allowed to vote) and (the incumbent is barred if they get a vote of no confidence)
  • When more than two candidates stand, a series of ballots is held, the candidates with the least vote that round drops out, until there are two. When it reaches or starts with two, there is a ballot of all party members to decide the leader. If only one stands (2003 - Michael Howard) they are immediately elected
  • All paid up party members are then eligible to vote for one of the candidates, whoever gets the most wins (David Cameron - 67.6%)

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How the Liberal Democrat Leader is Elected

The Federal Executive timetables and handles the voting process.

  • There is no limit to the number of candidates that can stand for leadership of the Lib Dems, and MPs can nominate more than one candidate. They must have 10% of support of the parliamentary party and 200 party members from at least 20 constituencies. (This was an amendment made at Sep 2005 Party Conference, which needed to pass with 2/3 majority).
  • If there are only two candidates, the voting is reduced to a plurality system. If there are more, all individual members of the Lib Dems can vote under a propotional system. 
  • They are conducted under STV, voting preferentially. The winner has the largest quota of votes, calculated by the Droop Formula. (Nick Clegg - 50.6%)



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Power within Parties

  • Parliamentary Leaders - (esp. PMs) dominate the rest of the party. Their public profile can dominate the rest of the party, and with more 'presidentialism', are seen to be reponsible for their electoral success and on the party's ideological direction. This 'poster-boy' image is also their downfall, as 'failed' leaders can be removed or asked to resign. E.g. Gordon Brown in 2010, but unlike Caroline Lucas in 2012.
  • Parliamentary Parties - MPs can be seen as 'lobby fodder', simply following the leaders request when asked for it. This has now changed, as MPs become more independently minded (e.g. 91 Tory MPs voting against House of Lords reform, July '12). This has led to a decline in party unity, with such divisions weakening the party leader (pushing Cameron for a referendum on the EU, ousting Margaret Thatcher in 1990). The 1922 Committee and PLP can be seen to be challenging/ or upholding party leadership.
  • Members and Constituency Parties - members can now vote in leadership elections, the Con. Constituency assoc. has greater autonomy in choosing candidates. However, there are falling membership and activist numbers, policy formulation through committees and forums and selecting Labour candidates - an all women shortlist in winnable seats.
  • Party Backers - i.e people who fund the campaign have the greatest influence (Lab.-trade unions, Con. - business) and allegations of corruption - 'cash for access' - perpetuates the idea, leading to new rules by Electoral Comimssion and calls for state funding.
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State Funding of Political Parties

Benefits of State Funding:

It would reduce parties' dependence on vested interests and allow them to be more responsive to the views of party members and voters (more democratically responsive). It could create a level playing field for the parties, removing their unfair advantages that some parties derive simply because they have wealthy backers. It would improve the performance of the parties generally, allowing them to carry out their roles more effectively; and waste less time and energy on funding. It would also reduce perception that parties are corrupt e.g. cash for honours, cash for access, Ecclestone affair

Drawbacks of State Funding:

Providing parties with a reliable source of income may weaken their links to larger socitey, brought by their need for financial and electoral supportreducing political participation and making members 'expendable', concentrating power to the top of the party. It may create bias in favour of existing parties if (what normally happens) the level of funding reflects past performance. It could reduce the independence of parties, making them part of the state, less likely to advance policies not in the interest of state bodies. Also, citizens may be unhappy in funding parties they may not agree with.

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What is a Two Party System?

It's a sytem dominated by two 'major' parties that have a roughly equal chance of winning government power. This was during 1945-70 for Labour and Conservatives, gaining over 90% of the votes and seats in the House of Commons. Power alternated 4 times and the average electoral gap 4% (but it's questionable under 13 years of continuous Con. rule 1951-64).

A classical two party system can be identified by: 

  • Only 2 parties have enough electoral and parliamentary strength to realistically think about gaining power (although minor parties do exist)
  • The larger of the two parties is (gen.) able to form a majority and rule alone, while the other party is able to form the opposition
  • Power alternates regularly between these two parties; both are electable, the opposition as 'government-in-waiting'

Evidence for this:in 2003, 88% of MPs came from one of the two main parties,Whigs and Tories in 18thC, Liberals and Con. in 19thC and Lab and Con in 20thC.

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What is a Multiparty System?

A party system in which more than 2 parties compete for power. E.g. Italy, 2009 European Parliament Elections (UK, 10 parties). They can be identified by:

  • No single party enjoys enough electoral or parliamentary strength to realistically rule alone, so called distinction between 'major' and 'minor' parties become irrelevant
  • Governments tend to be minority or a coalition administration. It can either lead to a fractuous, unstable government or compromise and consensus building
  • As coalition parterships can break down or have to be renegotiated, government power can shift following and between elections



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Is Britain a Multiparty System?

  • Taking into account % of votes, the Lib Dems should be a major party with 23% of the vote in 2010 and 5 cabinet ministers, UKIP got 1m votes and BNP got 250,000
  • No party had an overall majority in 2010, even Green Party got 1 MP
  • Use of PR for newly created bodies since 1997 has improved 3rd and minor party representation (showing 2 partyism from FPTP)
  • Minor Parties such as the BNP and UKIP are represented as MEPs under PR
  • Devolution has made nationalist parties more prominent , turning them from minor Westminster parties into major ones in Scotland and Wales (SNP, Plaid Cymru)
  • In Scottish Parliament: Lab-Lib coaliton from 1999, SNP/Green in 2007, to SNP majority in 2011. In Welsh Assembly there was Plaid Cymru/Lab coalition from 2007, then a Lab majority in 2011. 
  • Northern Ireland has a true multi-party system of 4 parties: OUP, DUP (UK union) , SDLP and Sinn Fein (Ireland union)

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Britain a Dominant Party System?

Where many parties contest elections but Parliament is dominated by one party overwhelmingly

  • Stephen Ingle - "Britain has had long spells of dominance by one party and with parties constantly breaking up and re-grouping."
  • For long periods in the 20thC, the Conservative Party has totally dominated Parliament
  • After WWII (1939-45), the Con have been in power from 1951-64, '70-74, '79-90 and in coalition since 2010
  • Since 1997, when Tony Blair became PM, the Labour Party (until very recently), dominated Westminster and the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies - though there is a Con-Lib coalition in Westminster and SNP majority in Holyrood  
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Ideological Change

Labour's traditional ideology was seen to be socialism (left) while the Conservative's conservatism (right). These 2 parties, to some extent, were a 'programmatic party': ideological, long-term goals, fixed values, shape public opinion, tarditional policies, class-based support and a strong activist base.

Relevance of the traditional left/right spectrum has declined in a number of years:

  • During the 1980s, the Con. party went through an ideological upheval - the 'conviction politics' of Thatcher - of a party traditionally nont-ideological. She believed that radical change was necessary to promote real free enterprise
  • During the 1990s, the Lab. party went theough a period of 'modernisation', abandoning 'old left' socialism and rebranded itself as a modern social democratic party, called 'New Labour'
  • In an attempt to become more electable and gain key constitutional goals like PR, an elected second chamber, devolution and closer links to the EU, the Liberal Party entered an unofficial pact with Labour - the Blair/Ashdown Project - to create the 'Third Way'
  • Ideology has become less important to many politicians and voters, prefering what's popular and what works - an era of 'focus group' politics
  • Many modern issues cut across the traditional left/right spectrum and needs a libertarian/authoritarian axis e.g. the environment, abortion, terrorism
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Ideology of Conservatism

Origins - thoughts has its beginnings in the 18thC, when philosophers reacted to the French Revelution, e.g. Edmund Burke.By nature, they're opposed to revolution, preferring evolutionary change. They have seen themselves as the party of pragmatism i.e. policies to suit the circumstances and fine tuning. They believe that the economy, political system and social structure should adjust smoothly to changing circumstances. Thatcherism was a radical rejection of pragmatism.

Freedom - very wary of excessive state power, fearing people's liberties might be infringed. They have the view of negative liberty - freedom from government interference. Property ownership is seen to be a key method of diffusing power within a society and a basic human right. They emphasise the Rule of Law - everyone must be subject to the law and it must be applied equally

Equality - stress that equality of opportunity is a positive aspiration and equality before the law is key. However, they value competition and hireachies in society, believing incentives are necessary to reward effort and encourage enterprise. Conservatives believe they should have equality opportunity to make oneself unequal

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Ideology of Liberalism

Origins - developed in the 18thC and pre-dated the formation of the Liberal Party. Key thinkers include Bentham, Locke, Mill and Smith. John Locke is very influential as he viewed human beings as being rational, seeking proof of evidence to support theories while retaining a healthy scepticism. The scepticism encouraged political toleration. They like debate and keep an open mind.

Freedom - stresses negative freedom - the individual is best placed to to determine his or her own interests without the state unduly interfering. This 'laissez faire' approach is often called limited government, an approach adopted by Liberals and radical Conservatives like Thatcher and Reagan. It was Adam Smith who first outlined the merits of the free market

Equality - Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the US Decleration of Independence, stressed 'all men are created equal', but his main emphasis was on individualism. Liberals believe in equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome. They believe in a meritocratic society, based not on class or privilege or enforced equality, but progress through one's own efforts.

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Ideology of Socialism

Origins - the belief in achieving a classles society based on true equal opportunity. Many early socialists had a religious commitment to fraterninty (brotherhood) and were influenced by Methodism (moderate view). Other socialists were committed trade unionists and wanted to promote better conditions and pay for the working classes. The most radical socialists were influenced by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (revolution).

Freedom - emphasis on it as a positive and active force, stressing freedom for something. An individual can only be truly free if he/she can hope to realise their ambitions. The state should try and bring this about. They believe wealth should be fairly redistributed and the state should plan and organise the nation's resources so that everyone can benefit.

Equality - is rated greater than freedom. The fundamental quality for society is greater equality, in paticular, they argue true political equality cannot be achieved. The wealthy will always have more power and better access to Rule of Law. Equality can be promoted by taxation (redistributing wealth), nationalisation and a Welfare State.

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Post-War Social Democracy

It's an ideology that supports a broad balance between a capitalist free market economy on the one hand (due to profit motive, competition and incentive) and state intervention on another (poor way to distribute wealth) - it's goal, in Edward Heath's famous phrase, is "capitalism with a human face". It is reflected in the main principle of social justice.This was seen in the reform of the Labour government in 1945-51, under the leader Clement Attlee.

  • Mixed Economy - a programme of nationalisation e.g. coal, gas, steel, electricity, railways and the ship building industry, so the economy had both private and public enterprises
  • Economic Management - i.e. regulated by the government, advanced by the economist Keynes. It reflects the belief that governments achieve full employment and stimualte growth by 'reflating' the economy through higher levels of public spending
  • Comprehensive Social Welfare - done on the basis of the Beveridge Report (1942), which said to attack the 'five giants': poverty, disease, lack of education, poor housing and unemployment. It brought about a redistribution of wealth, funded by progressive taxation. It created a social security programme and the NHS.
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Thatcher came to power in the 1979, holding the view that 'consensus politics' that had lasted through the 1950s and 60s had brought about Britain's decline from a major imperial and economic power to a nation in crisis. Her key goal was to 'roll back the frontiers of the state', end the 'nanny state' culture - where people expected everything to be provided by the state and (high taxes) - and create a 'property-owning democracy'.

The essence of Thatcherism was very much like the 'laissez faire' free market liberalism of the Victorian era - hence often being called 'neoliberalism'. The other was 'neoconservatism', to create a strong state with tarditional values.

The main aim of economic Thatcherism was to have no inflation. The central themes were:

  • Privatisation - privatising most of the industries that had been nationalised, so the state lost control of major UK industries
  • Reduced Union Power - a series of laws to restrict the ability of trade unions to take industrial action. It created a more flexible labour market and growth of the low-wage and skilled economy in many sectors
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Thatcherism (cont.)

  • Low taxes - they didn't reduce the overall level of taxation, but they shifted the burden from direct taxes (e.g. corporation tax) to indirect taxes (e.g. VAT). This widened inequality.
  • Deregualtion - the removal on controls on the economy. Controls on exchange rates were ended (pound to 'float'), financial markets deregulated and subsidies supporting 'failed' industries were reduced or binned

Neoconservatism advocated the establishment of a strong state, based on the ideas of social conservatism. Its key themes were:

  • Tough Law and Order - maintaining public order through fear of punishment. Custodial scentences used more, prison terms lengthened and 'tougher' prison regimes imposed
  • Traditional values - 'Christian' or 'family' values defended over 'liberalism' and 'permissiveness' 
  • Patriotism and Euroscepticism - Seen as the cornerstone of political strength and social stability, expressed through Euroscepticism


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Post-Thatcherite Consensus

Mrs. Thatcher drove Labour further to the left in the 1980s, adopting more radical socialist policies, such as nuclear disarmament, EU withdrawal, nationalisation, etc This caused  ideological divisions in the party, leading to the Social Democrat Party being formed in 1981. The consensus politics that came before turned to adversary politics, with pro-interventionist Labour and anti-interventionist Conservatives.

After Labour's poor showing in the 1983 and 7, they began to modernise. Under Neil Kinnock (87-92) they abandoned the radical socialist policies, and the process sped up under Tony Blair (94-07), with the re-written clause 4, scrapping Labour's commitment to public ownership (nationalisation) to a more mixed economy.

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The Third Way

Its architects were Blair, Brown and Mandelson. At heart the 'third way' represents Tony Blair's view that modern politics requires a new approach to politics and government - summarised as Blairism or Brownism. The central thesis is that Thatcherite Conservatism and its neoliberalism was too cruel and innefficient, but so too is democratic (state) socialism, which was rejected by Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, even being watered down in modern communist states like China.

This compromise has 4 broad policy objectives:

  • Market Economics - building on Thatcherism, it gave semi-independence to the Bank of England to set interest rates. Nevertheless, after 2001, there was an expansion of public services with unprecented levels of public spending in education and health
  • Constitutional reform - some say enthusiasm small, as alternative to FPTP for Westminster dropped in '97.  After 2007, tried again, but never got beyond discussion.
  • 'Third Way' welfare - not 'individualism' or 'cradle to grave' support. More 'targeted' benefits, welfare-to-work programmes, and attempts to reform public sevices, i.e. social enteprenuerism, where public services should become more market oriented. Private Finance Initiatives were used to build hospitals and schools. But during Brown years, slowed down public sector reform and scrapped welfare state reform.
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The Third Way (cont.)

  • Strengthening responsibility - idea of rights balanced aaginst responsibilities, influenced by communtarianism. Reflected in 'respect agenda', with new public order laws (ASBO), higher prison population and new anti-terrrism laws, leading to allegations of neoconservatism.

Its 4 policy objectives were:

  • A dynamic, knowledge based economy where governments 'enable, but not command'
  • A strong civil society enshrining rights and responsibilities - e.g. the Human Rights Act of 1998
  • A modern government based on partnership and decentralisation (devolved parliaments), where democracy is deepened (more referendums)
  • An ethical foreign policy based on international cooperation - Blair and Clinton sending in the troops to protect the Bosnian Muslims.


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Differences Between One Nation Conservatism and Th

One Nation Conservatism            Thatcherism

  • Paternalism - Self-interest
  • Tradition - Radicalism
  • Organic society - Rugged Individualism
  • Social Duty - Personal Advancement
  • Pragmatic intervention - Roll back the State
  • 'Middle way' economics - Free-market economics 

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Differences between Old Labour and New Labour

Old Labour                                                                New Labour

  • Ideological - Pragmatic
  • Working class - 'Big Tent' Politics
  • Managed economy - Market Economy
  • Social Justice - Social Inclusion
  • Universal Benefits - Targeted Benefits
  • Cradle-to-grave welfare - Welfare-to-Work
  • Traditional Constitution - Constitutional Reform
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Conservative Policies

  • 'Cutting Waste in Whitehall and reforming the civil service' - cut funding for consultants, marketing, using property efficiently, reduced size of civil service. Will sharpen accountability
  • 'Capping non-EU economic migration' - restricted to wealth creators and "people of exceptional talent", a minimum pay threshold, capping no. of migrants
  • 'Reform of the NHS' - increase real terms spending, cut cost of administration, more power to patients and  doctors and nurses power to comission services
  • Raising Educational Standards - modular examinations, EBacc, reform curriculum, free schools and academies, sacking bad teachers
  • Economy - reduce the deficit, cutting government waste, Regional Growth Fund, enterprise zones, cutting Coorporation Tax, cut income tax and frozen fuel duty
  • Business - superfast broadband by 2015, offer small employers money to take on apprentices, Funding for Lending scheme in 2012
  • Welfare reform - benefit cap of £26000, Universal Credit, reform of Disability Living allowance and The Work Programme
  • Crime - Police and Crime Comissioners, 101 non-emergency number, 'Community Trigger' pilot
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Liberal Democrat Policies

  • Equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, removing the ban on ceremonies for LGBT people in religious buildings
  • Pupil Premium - £600 for each pupil on free school meals, specifically for armed personnel children and reforming school league tables to highlight progress of those on free school meals
  • Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 - stopped DNA of innocent people being stored, reduced pre-charge detention to 14 days, code of practice for CCTV, extended scope of FOI Act
  • Ended the National Identity Database and ID card scheme
  • Nuclear Weapons - alternative replacement for Trident, 25% reduction in nuclear warheads
  • Energy - increased lead of No.1 offshore wind power, Green Investment Bank, improved Energy Performance certificates, no public subsidy for new nuclear power stations
  • Fairer Taxes -  increased stap duty on properties over £2million, increase council tax on those with second homes, plans for a Tycoon Tax, frozen council tax for 2 years, no income tax on the first £10,000 you earn
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