1.6: The Political Parties


THE MAIN POLITICAL PARTIES FEATURES OF POLITICAL PARTIES POLITICAL PARTY an association of people sharing the same political beliefs.

  • exists to promote many interests, and to grasp and exercise power.
  • the party will:
    • put forward a programme relating to its ideological viewpoint.
    • present candidates to the electorate, who will hopefully vote for them.
  • in the UK, the p parties have a well-defined structure, which links leadership to the rank-and-file membership.
  • party organisation has proved to be essential because the individual is powerless to have a significant effect of political life.
  • the current parties have often arisen out of events which have divided public opinion in democratic countries. over time, the original issues will have lost significance and parties may have re-identified themselves or merged with others.


  • policy-making
  • representation
  • selection of candidates
  • identifying leaders
  • organisation of election campaigns
  • political education and information
  • support and help to maintain political democracy


  • essential for smooth and efficient working of the parliamentary system - if there were 650 independent MPs it would be very difficult to govern for government ministers.
  • party discipline is carried out by Whips, who are MPs.

  MANDATE AND MANIFESTO MANDATE an agreement for something to be carried out.

  • in a political context, the consent of the people at large for a party to act on their behalf if it becomes government.
  • this consent is based on the policies of the party in its manifesto.
  • the mandate theory makes sense in modern party politics provided it is used as a general guideline and not manipulation in the interests of a divided government.
  • the doctrine of the mandate can:
    • be used by the government to substantiate its executive power, tighten party discipline and stifle dissent.
    • be used by opposition to denounce a gov for forcing through measures that were unforeseen at the time of election.
  • limitations of the mandate:
    • the mandate given to gov is only general and sometimes gov can make major changes without previous notice, and sometimes have to due to unforeseen circumstances. for example, in 1967 the Labour gov didn't go to the country before deciding to apply for membership to the European Community. Nor to the Tory gov in 1972.
    • once in a gov, a party has not necessarily been given a mandate for all its policies, and some may still be against the majority of the people.
    • an MP is not a delegate of the party and represents all those within their constituency.
    • many voters are unaware of policy statements, and they can be misinterpreted or too ambiguous, however carefully drafted. some voters may not base it on party statements and may vote opposition simply because they dislike the current gov.
    • the public can't be consulted on every matter, and cannot give directives on defence, foreign policy, or technical issues. also, changing circumstances mean sometimes the gov have to make an unforeseen decision. Blair's decision to support the USA in its invasion of Iraq in 2003 is a notable example.



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