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AS Political Parties

1.2 Party policies and ideas
What is a political party?
• A political party is an organisation that
develops a set of political goals and
policies which it seeks to convert into
political action by obtaining office or by
influencing the government of the day.
It pursues its goals by mobilising
public opinion in its favour, selecting
candidates for office, competing at
elections and identifying suitable
political leaders…
Features of a political party
Organisation- to be successful, parties need to be organised- large organisation of
activists are needed to mobilise public opinion and to fight elections. Even Green
Party which is loosely organised on a largely informal basis, has developed a
mechanism for producing election manifestos and selecting candidates. Parties fail
because unable to create an effective organisation quickly enough- 1997 James
Goldsmith Referendum party because it could not attract sufficient members.
Ideological identity. This is important in developing policies and programmes to
present to the electorate.
Government. Large parties aim to secure office. To gain office or to influence policy
as their reason for existence. For a new or small party e.g. Greens (2010) the
immediate objective may be to gain supporters and to win a few seats.
Public Support. Parties must devise policies which gain support.
Select candidates. Procedures need to be set in place for selecting candidates.
This is usually a local function as politicians should represent the locality as elections
are local affairs.
Leadership. Leaders give the party direction and are essential for mobilising public
support. The Green Party is the exception as it is reluctant to recognise leaders as it
is a highly democratic party.
Party Functions
Policy and the programme. This is known as aggregation. This role is especially important when it seeks to
replace the government. In opposition, the leadership of the party is not in a pre-eminent position. A political
programme is more specific as it prioritises what the party should achieve and corresponds broadly to a five year
term of office- e.g. Labour Government was sceptical of the honours system but did not seek to fundamentally
reform it (populist honours and people’s peers though)- this is according to a Sunday Times interview June 2012
by Alastair Campbell.
Representative. All main parties claim to represent the national interest rather than of specific groups and
classes as in the past- Big tent strategy of New Labour 1997, the Big Society of the Conservatives 2010. Now
parties seek to ensure all groups in society have their interests considered by government.
Selecting candidates. Mostly done at local/regional level although leaderships do have a say. For the
Conservative Party for 2010, the candidates' department (Conservative Central office) had hoped that intensive
lobbying of association chairmen and compulsory shortlisting of women would have produced greater change. The
dept is reportedly disappointed because they do not believe that further / tougher pro-women measures would be
acceptable to associations. In spite of Central Office interference, c85% of the selection contests were won by
Identifying leaders. Established party leaders have a key role. PM chooses ministers- but consider the impact
of the Coalition Agreement here. In opposition the leader chooses a front bench spokesmen.
Organising elections. Parties publicise election issues, persuasion to vote and inform about candidates.
Education. This is a continuous process- note Ed Balls (shadow chancellor) comments on the austerity
programme and comments on the budget.
Running Parliament. Business managers- whips and other parliamentary managers crucial. Party leaders
consult on determine proceedings of Parliament, organise debates, manage the legislative process, ensure MPs
and peers are well informed about proceedings.
Reinforcing consent. A hidden function is the mobilisation and reinforcement of consent. All support
parliamentary democracy and by operating and supporting this system, ensure egneral consent.
Party factions
A group of members that shares a set of political beliefs that is not in full accord with generally
accepted party policy
Fundamentalist/traditionalist- oppose attempts to reform party and its ideas/policy- No Turning
Back Group (Conservative post Thatcher).
Factions which are reformist and feel party is too locked in the past- Progress (New Labour) and
301 Group (Conservative) which pits itself against the opposers of reform in current Conservative
party. Also consider here ConservativeHome an influential website claiming the support of 38MPS
– the fact that David Cameron heads a coalition rather than a single party government has given
the group greater freedom to criticise policy- In a publication (2011) After the Coalition: A
Conservative Agenda for Britain- the last 30 years of public debate in Britain has been
dominated by leftwing thinking… members have looked to emulating raw capitalism on the
asian model including greater freedom of employers to sack incompetent/lazy employees,
scrapping the minimum wage…The aim is to keep grass roots opinion informed.
Some factions become permanent thorn, while others such as the Progress Group had a key
influence on policy.
When factions become too powerful they can harm electoral prospects- Campaign
Group/campaign for Labour Party Democracy post 1979 caused a split in the Labour party 1980/1
and their influence contributed to crushing electoral defeat 1983 (most socilsit manifesto Labour
ever had- abolsih House of Lords, independent and selective education, nuclear arms, withdraw
from EC reversal of the Conservative privatsiation and trades’ union reforms) Gerald Kaufmann
referred to it as the longest suicide note in History. Factionalism within the Conservative Party
over European Union 1990s led to voter rejection.
Left and right (factions are generally
described on these terms)
Hard Left- Tribune. State economic planning,
nationalisation, government borrowing,
Redistributive taxation (progressive), Strong
unions, anti EU, protect industries, universal welfare
state, equal rights, tolerance minorities, state as
social engineer, focus on causes crime rather than
Centre-left Elements from both centre and left
Centre Some state intervention in and regulation
economy, pragmatic approach to Govt borrowing to
stimulate growth, pro free trade, some redistributive
tax, pro EU, target resources, pro multiculturalism,
balance rights in support security (New Labour HRA
but ID cards, Control orders) Mixed liberal and
authoritarian views on crime TB as shadow Home
Sec 1994 tough on crime, tough on the causes
of crime, tolerant attitude to social issues
Centre Right-301 Group, Selsdon Group.
Elements from both centre and right. State should
facilitate individualism. The Conservative Way
Forward seeks to progress the economic
liberalisation reforms of Margaret Thatcher
governments. 301 group are cameroons- many
elected in marginal constituencies on a centre
ground chosen by cameron. The latter aim to oust
the bloody rude old guard from the executive of
the 1922 Committee
Right- Cornerstone Group- aim for traditional
conservative values, Strong support for totally free
markets, low taxation, avoid excessive borrowing to
stimulate growth, protectionism, free labour
markets, anti EU, limited welfare, anti immigration,
asylum seeking and multiculturalism, low tolerance
alternative lifestyles, patriotism, social change
should be organic.
Liberal Orange Group (David Laws) is right in that it
is supportive of neo liberal economic policy but
Beveridge Group is left of centre and supports
social democratic policies
Traditional Conservatism
Human imperfection- people are selfish, untrustworthy, security seeking, born with different talents, unable to
understand the complexities of the world, crime is a result of greed and the innate sinfulnes of man (original Sin).
Mankind therefore requires strong government.
Tradition. The very fact that values and institutions have survived- church and monarchy etc is a testament to
their quality. They provide continuity and promote thereby order and stability. Modern conservatism has largely
ignored the importance of tradition embracing new social theories such as opposition to dependency culture,
privatisation, monetarism etc… Also consider split within Conservative ranks Cameron I support gay marriage
not in spite of being Conservative but because I am a Conservative.
Organicism- people are part of a single body (nation) and are interdependent. People are not merely individuals
pursuing their own interests- One Nation Conservatism supported welfare as a way of avoiding social conflict but
the neo liberal reforms of 1980s attacked this. Post Thatcher, however, there has been a move back towards One
Nation ideas. IDS There is such a thing as society, David Cameron- the Big Society.
Pragmatism- A flexible approach to politics- 1950s the Conservative government did not reverse the reforms of
Labour. Edmund Burke- a society without the capacity to reform is without the means for its salvation
Individualism. Individuals should be presented with widest possible range of choices and opportunities (state
should therefore restrict as little as possible) Also there is an extensive private sphere where the state should not
intervene- private business, religious belief, enjoyment of property, family. Individualism flourishes within a stable
social, moral and economic environment. A society which allows too much personal freedom may threaten its own
security and stability- collective security is valued over a free society.
Property. People are naturally acquisitive. Property confers a stake in society and is likely to make the owner
respectful of the property of others and to uphold the law. It also is an expression of an individual’s personalityhome ownership allows the individual to express his tastes and desires. Conservatives are especially hard on
crimes against property as an attack on the individual.
Opposition to Ideology. An excessive attachment can lead to tyranny. An organic society should not be driven
towards goals but allowed to evolve. Ideologies make false assumptions about human nature.
Empiricism This involves judging current actions against experience of the past. What has stood the test of time
should not be lightly cast aside (Burke) Also Burke and GK Chesterton- The Democracy of the Dead
The New Right (Thatcherism)
Deregulation- State economic and welfare regulation was the problem. The state should
disengage with those parts of society that promote wealth. Privatisation of large parts of the
public sector and compulsion to competition within those parts still in the public sectorcompulsory competitive tendering in local government, also hiving off of civil service functions.
Also industries already in private sector such as banking, building societies and stock broking
were forced to allow more competition- deregulation of the financial sector to allow freer flow of
money to create rapid growth.
Disengagement- State should not prop up ailing industries- treating the symptoms not causesthis would make industries more efficient and competitive or else they would be taken over or
disappear. Raising public spending to raise economic activity was excessive burden on taxpayers
and artificial way of promoting economic activity and failed to come to grips with lack of efficiency
and competitiveness. Hence short term unemployment would have the desired effect in the long
Trade Union reform. Unions a barrier against necessary and fundamental reform to make the
economy more competitive. Balloted (secret) strikes and forced internal democracy
Low taxation. High taxes a disincentive to enterprise and hard work. Top rate of income tax
reduced from 83% to 40% during 1980s. Low taxes were an incentive to wealth creation and
would reduce the need for welfare . At same time as people’s wealth increased so would the tax
Dependency culture. The rise of the welfare state had encouraged the rise of a dependency
culture (Danegeld state). 1980s and 90s the level of state benefits gradually eroded as lower
benefits seen as an incentive to work. However Mrs Thatcher the NHS is safe in our hands
Neo Conservatism
• Place a great emphasis on nationalism
and patriotism: Economic patriotism
including protectionism over free trade.
• Social authoritarianism- attitude towrds
crime and ‘excessive permissiveness and
• Opposed to multiculturalism
The Conservative Party today
Less government- the UK is over governed in terms of over regulation business and commerce and excessive
interference in people’s lives and over protective attitude towrds the vulnerable. EU is seen as a main culprit here.
Reduce taxation where possible. However pragmatic- in light of huge deficit placed tax cuts on hold.
Crime- new stress on tackling causes of crime as well as crime itself (sentencing wake of 2011 riots) and focus on
breakdown in family life, over liberal methods in education.
Choice. Aim for greater choice in public services- even favour voucher system if choose private sector health or
Euro scepticism. Tend to be suspicious of the EU. Not officially committed to withdrawal but wish to claw back
independence and officially opposed to membership single currency.
Cameron reforms. Aim was to reposition the party towrds the centre ground. His philosophy was a break from
both New Right and Traditional Conservatism
Big Society- state should retreat and allow communities to take control of services- heavily influenced by study of
localism in New England. The free schools project. Also election of police commissioners
Inclusiveness. Accept that significant groups excluded from mainstream society because of poverty etc- aim her is
to give greater accessibility to services such as education, health, housing, welfare benefits etc… This is
sometimes known as caring Conservatism Also for fist time use by Conservatives of the term social justice.
Education Aim to extend opportunities to all- abandon commitment to extend selection in place of support for a
wide range different types secondary school available to all irrespective of ability.
Environmentalism- Adoption of the Green agenda- greening of the Conservatives.
Crime- Tough on those who refuse offers of help and repeat offenders and also on rioters 2011 but also thinking of
causes of crime- fewer youth custodial sentences.
Human Rights. Oppose the HRA believe rights must be balanced with responsibilities but greater focus on
defence of rights e.g. scrap Labour ID scheme.
Core values of British socialism
Class- Socialists believe that people are defined by their socio economic status. Nations are artificial constructs and class conflict is the
most important struggle. Socialist parties tended to identify with the interests of trades unions and the working class (labourism). Until
the 1980s, this was true of the labour Party. However, to gain office, the party always aimed at a widest possible community and certainly
with the decline of the traditional working class.
Equality- Central to socialism is this tenet. Socialists are communitarian in outlook. Socialists reject notions of hierarchy. Equality of
welfare provision and of access (universalism) has always been a feature of the labour Party since the welfare reforms of 1940s. The
Labour party has also always championed the rights of minorities and women who have faced discrimination or, in the case of women,
legal inequality.
Social Justice- There are people who are poor through no fault of their own whereas there are those who are wealthy through no effort of
their own- inherence etc. Therefore it is socially just to redistribute income. Socialists tend to accept that full scale equality is neither
practical nor desirable as it acts as a disincentive.
Equality of Opportunity- This is in line with social justice- the state has a positive role to play in opening up opportunities to those excluded
due to poverty and discrimination. New Labour stressed this with its emphasis on education and securing access to education for all.
This has taken the place of social engineering practised by the Social Democratic governments post 1945.
Collectivism- Central to socialist thinking is the view that people are social animals. Collective action has greater moral and practical
worth than individual self striving. The Labour Party has been a supporter of reformed capitalism as opposed to its abolition.
Nationalisation was motivated by the desire to make core industries work for the interests of the whole community, strengthening of
worker rights by encouraging and protecting unions, the welfare state whereby the state establishes a universal system based on need
and free at the point of need in place of leaving people to make their own welfare provision.
Common Ownership- Fundamental socialism rejects capitalism as unjust as it leads to inequality and social conflict which weakens the
community. Common ownership concerns that of productive wealth. As wealth is communally produced, all have equal rights of access.
In its constitution of 1918, the Labour party expressed a commitment to this principle. However, this was never carried out in practice.
The nationalisation programme of the 1940s still left the bulk of the economy in private hands. In 1994 the labour Party constitutional
convention rewrote clause 4 to remove any commitment to common ownership. The Labour governments of the end of the century and
early 21st Century continued common ownership in the form of the welfare state but elsewhere adopted polices to encourage free market
enterprise, even accepting the trade union reforms of the Conservative governments of the 1980s.
The Labour parties compared
Old Labour
Common ownership of the commanding heights and
capitalism controlled by the state which via its fiscal policies
ensures high levels of employment (Keynesian demand
Pro strong trade unions to protect worker rights and
involvement of unions in economic policy. Union block vote.
Protect welfare state as essential way of redressing the wealth
divide. Universal access and the state should be all
controlling of services.
Sees crime a victim of inequality reflects socialist view that
human nature is plastic and shaped by social factors.
Anti EEC as a capitalist club serving their interests and
restricting the freedom of manoeuvre of domestic socialist
parties to govern and implement a socialist programme.
However Labour was divided and this led to the first nation
wide referendum on UK membership of the EEC in 1975.
Distance as far as possible from international affairs.
On constitution- radical proposals to democratise institutions
and to remove House of Lords in place of a unicameral
parliament. Oppose devolution which would restrict power of
Parliament in its ability to impose a national socialist policy.
New Labour
Abandon common ownership in economic terms but state a
role to play in enforcing competition and fair trade.
Accept a role for unions but worker rights to be enshrined in
law- sign up to the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty
1997 , minimum wage introduced 1997 and replace union
influence in party with OMOV.
Maintain welfare state but don’t use it as a way of
redistributing income. Free at pint of need but increased focus
on targeting on disadvantaged groups. Welfare to work and
accept a role for private sector if leads to improved efficiency
and quality of services.
Tough on crime tough on the causes of crime (Blair as shadow
H/sec 1994) to steal the thunder from the Conservatives as the
anti crime party.
Wants UK to remain at centre of EU and cautious support for
single currency should the right conditions prevail but only on
the basis of a referendum. UK signs up to the social chapter
1997 and also incorporates the ECHR into UK law as the
Human Rights Act.
A leading role in world affairs- Supportive of the ‘Ethical
foreign policy’ of the New Republicans- Hard Wilsononism and
Aim for decentralisation of power- supportive of devolution
throughout the UK. Much greater emphasis on rights via HRA.
• John Locke (1632-`704) everyone is born with natural rights and
that government depended on the consent of the governed and
that government should be limited in its power. He influenced the
American and French revolutions.
• John Start Mill (1806-73) Freedom was the right to do anything
which did not harm others. Mill established three main pillars of
liberalism- Individual liberty, tolerance and limited government.
• Liberalism was attacked in Britain by conservatives who argued
against excessive liberty and freedom and by socialists who argued
that economic liberty resulted in inequality and the exploitation of the
working class.
• Liberal response was to introduce equality of opportunity and state
sponsored welfare. By mid C20, core values of liberalism adopted
by all moderate politicians. Liberal principles formed the basis of a
political consensus in Britain.
Core Liberal values
Freedom and rights. Freedom to do that which does not injury or harm others. The power of the
state should not be used to curtail freedom unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so.
Defence of human rights. Uphold the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.
Toleration. People are free to choose beliefs and lifestyles as long as they respect that of others.
Equality of opportunity. Inherited or undeserved privilege should not be allowed to give an
individual or group artificial advantage- political power should therefore rest only in the hands of
elected representatives. Discrimination e.g. on grounds of race or gender should be outlawed. All
are entitled to same life chances. Liberals therefore champion the cause of those born into
deprived circumstances or who have traditionally been disadvantaged.
Social Justice. The most dramatic examples of inequality which are result of market forces rather
than deserving effort and enterprise should be reduced by the state. Liberals therefore support
progressive taxation.
Welfare. Liberals advocate welfare as a form of social justice and because they believe that
everyone is entitled to a reasonable standard of living and as Beveridge reported poverty poses a
serious threat to freedom.
Constitutionalism and democracy. Governments should be under the democratic control of the
people and controlled by law. Liberals therefore believe in constitutional government which sets
limits to exercise of government power. Only a democratic form of g government can represent
the demands and interests of the pople.
Policies of the Liberal Democrats.
Fair taxation. Replace council tax with a local income tax as only this ensures tax is based on
ability to pay not property values. Raising of the starting point for income tax to £10 000 p.a. And
a 50% tax on income over £100 000 p.a. In wake of the 2007-9 banking crisis proposed higher
taxes on bonuses paid to employees by financial institutions.
Economic management. In general favour minimal intervention leaving economic management
largely to Bank of England and to a responsible attitude to public finances by the Treasury.
Welfare State- oppose greater choice for users on grounds this will affect equality of access for
same quality. Oppose Labour performance targets incentives and sanctions in favour if ensuring
the welfare state has the necessary resources and allow it to deliver first class services.
Law and Order and rights. Focus on tackle causes of crime. In favour f greater use of community
based and other innovative responses to deal with criminal behaviour. Suspicious of state
attempts to restrict rights merely in interests of a firmer position law and order. It favoured the
HRA and wants an entrenched bill of rights.
Constitution. Critical of Labour for not going far enough. LibDems want stronger HRA, greater
devolution of government away from Whitehall. A key aim is for electoral reform, a reformed
House of Lords.
EU. Most supportive of the three main parties on the EU. Do not want centralisation of power in
Brussels but most power to be exercised by regional or local government.
Foreign Policy. Oppose attempts by Britain to intervene directly in affairs of other countries.
Committed to promoting human rights globally via diplomatic and economic not military means.
Environment. Much greater emphasis than the other two main parties on environmental issues.
Support public transport, recycling programmes, controls on carbon emissions, like to support
Green movement support for local initiative but also wish to see the state take a lead.
Scottish independence.
Support local democracy
Defence of human rights.
Low business taxes and investment
incentives to make Scottish industry more
• Pro EU as it sees the EU regional and
industrial development policies special
benefit to small countries like Scotland.
Plaid Cymru
• A Welsh parliament. Greater autonomy not
• Development of a bilingual Wales.
• Generally socialist- redistributive taxation
and stronger employment rights.
• Environmental protection
Adversary v Consensus politics
Deep and widespread ideological
The early 1980s when Labour and
Conservatives diverge- Labour
nationalisation, nuclear disarm and
increased welfare provision.
Conservatives advocate privatisation,
multilateral nuclear disarm,
privatisation. .
Also the adversarial style of layout
House of Commons, ministerial
question times
Recent time s a high degree of
consensus on issues such as Northern
Ireland, anti terrorism.
1950s and 60s UK little difference
between the parties on a range of
public policy.
Formation of the Coalition Agreement
2010. A national mood that in the face
of severe economic crisis a period of
consensus politics would be beneficial.
Here agreement on responsible
economic management, personal
taxation as low as possible,
maintenance of free market,
preserving the union, good quality
public services within basic principles
of the Welfare State, support for
parliamentary democracy, reform of
the 2nd chamber
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