A political party is a group of people that share same political views and aim to be in charge of the government’s administration, with the support of the minimum required votes. Since 1870s, political parties in Britain have taken many structures, although their major roles tend to be the same in the British political system. The organization of political parties is unique to the particular party, where some of them are being managed by a small elite group while in others the management is shared among various party departments and spread out components.
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The political party system is a fundamental component in the functioning of the British constitution. The contemporary political system in Britain is principally reliant on the parties. These parties submit their policies to the people entitled to vote for support. The law does not formally recognize the parties, although for a candidate to win in elections he or she has to belong to one of the major parties. There are two main parties in Britain: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. These have been forming the British government since the British political system was established.
The efficiency of the British political party system in the Parliament is highly dependent on the relationship that exists between the regime and the opposition parties. The strength of opposition parties is enough to bring down the government by raising a vote on a matter of confidence that expresses the inability of the regime to govern. The role of parties can therefore not be ignored in the British political system.
Role of the party in the British political system.
The contemporary party in the British political system has significant roles to play. The most important ones are; unifying, simplifying and stabilising the political process.
The role in unifying the political process is of utmost significance. Different individuals with common interests are come together to form a political party. United as one in the party, the members set out strategies to solve a common drawback that hinders development and achievement of their aspirations. Individual ambitions are drawn together in the party to boost support from a wide range of personalities. The party unites people from different religious and cultural backgrounds as well as from all age groups regardless of sex or marital status and creates awareness on the course of action. With the unified society, it is much easier to deal with obstacles that hamper achievement of goals and the desired political aspirations.
This unification role has led to a situation whereby each and every member of the public belongs to a political party, with believing that his or her interest is taken care of through it. The members of a party come to find out that they have common objectives. This unity enhances development of democracy within the public. Exchange of views helps in building the capacity of the electorate in political matters. It helps the people to solve their problems as well as identify the best ways to solve them. It is also an avenue for learning other people’s problems and exposure to the views of fellow citizens.
The party plays an important role in simplifying the political process through interacting directly with those who are in charge of ensuring positive development within the system. This has been an important role for parties since they act as checks and balances to ensure service delivery by the change agents is achieved to the benefit of the public. The community is empowered through the party in order to build their capacity to express their views and decisions without intimidation. The party acts as a stepping stone for the public to air dissatisfaction with various issues that affect them. Parties assist in simplifying activities in government departments through elimination of bureaucracy and complexity of government departments to ensure that service delivery is effective. They try to ensure empowerment of government personnel in order for them to work effectively to facilitate achievement of the desired objectives. Parties strive to ensure that services are brought close to the community as well as facilitating the availability of leaders elected by the people such as the Members of Parliament. Through this, parties play an important role in ensuring that accountability and democracy is achieved.
If a complex system exists and services to the public hampered, the people may not enjoy the benefits of being a British citizen. Fulfillment and appreciation of living in the state would lack amongst the citizens. The role of the party in simplifying the delivery of services therefore provides multiple benefits for the public. Through this, workers enjoy their jobs, the government achieves its goal and the countries growth is boosted.
The parties serve the role of representing the electorate in political issues. This important because the public can not participate full time in political activities, due to other commitments either in employment or in the private sector. They therefore need a party that will represent their interests in political matters. In matters concerning government policy, the party plays a significant role through constructive debates to ensure that important issues affecting the public in general are given first priority.
Parties also help in prevention of bias in government policy formulation. Parties ensure proper organization of the government through constructive criticism as well as providing candidates for posts in the political system. They recruit voters and encourage them to exercise their democratic right of voting. This ensures that the elected leaders represent the entire public. The party has a role of airing the views of the people to the government for consideration. The public therefore speaks to the government through parties.
Since 1860 the leader of the party with the majority is the one who heads the government – the Prime Minister. Later on, “About 100 of its members in the House of Commons and the House of Lords receive ministerial appointments” (Britannia.com, 2004). This includes selection to the Cabinet on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The minority party officially forms an Opposition with the recognized leader in its head. The two parties, i. e the party forming the government and the opposition party play a major role in policy formulation. They engage in productive debates geared towards formulating policies that are helpful to the public while at the same time facilitating development of the state.
The contemporary party has a role of supporting the government and offering a creative criticism. The relationship between the government and the Opposition party is significant in determining the effectiveness of the British political party system. Party strength plays a significant role in the survival of the government. “Depending on the relative strengths of the parties in the House of Commons, the Opposition may seek to overthrow the Government by defeating it in a vote on a matter of confidence” (Britannia.com, 2004). The party therefore has an obligation of strengthening its support in order to maintain the stability of the government.
The opposition party plays a major role in policy formulation and legislation through engaging critical debates that are geared towards the state development. The party has a role in ensuring that unnecessary government proposals are objected. The party also has a role of seeking improvement of government bills, thus a financial role. It acts as a watchdog of the people in the distribution of national resources. This is significant in order to ensure that even the people whose party was defeated in the general election get the desired share regardless of their political alignment.
Leaders may be tempted to ensure that state resources are shared amongst their supporters if there are no checks and balances. If the leaders forget their major role of governing the people and sacrifice time and state resources to advance their political career as well as give assistance to their supporters, the state may eventually face a rebellion from those who feel sidelined because of their political background. In such a case, the state suffers an economic loss because people can no longer cooperate to achieve the objective of economic development. It may also poison democracy since people will tend to vote in leaders to get favours in turn once in office. The opposition party is therefore a necessary component of the political system.
The other contemporary roles of the party are presentation, aggregation of interests and a bridge between people and government. As Britain is highly centralized and unitary government, the key role lies in the presentation of wills and ideas of the entire British population. Hence, it is vital for the parties to design a link between citizens and the government, as they determine the major ruling party and their desires should be pointed out in first hand. Issues such as health services, housing as well as environmental issues are dealt with in this sense.
Factors that led to the decline of the conservative party since 1992
According to Evans, defection from the Conservative party did not principally result from economic factors, evaluations of the Government’s policy record, or even from perceptions of Conservative disunity. (Evans, 1997, p.1) Since 1992, issues linked to optimistic assessment of the Government took a different perspective, from financial to more particularly political judgment, portraying the restrictive nature of government reputation. After the 1992 General Election, there emerged a spectacular decline in the conservative party support. Evans further states that, opinion polls charted a drop from the 43% obtained in the April 1992 election to little more than 20% a year later. (Evans, 1997, p.1) This steep reduction in popularity balanced later on up to the spring of 1995 when very few of the electorate preferred to vote for the conservative party in the general election.
Although the conservative party had earlier been identified with economic boom in Britain, the party faced a steady decline since 1992 which eventually led to an electoral defeat in 1997 when it lost to the labour party. This decline was caused by social economic factors and differing opinions within the party members. The issue of the relationship between Social conservatism and the conservative party was not taken kindly by every one. This contributed much to the decline of the party in electoral matters in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Party leaders such as David Willets, who is the conservative Member of Parliament for Havant, have criticized these policies, such as the infamous war to discourage single parenthood. Brian Mawhinney who is a former party chairman noted that these arguments portrayed the notion that if somebody does not happen to be in the ordinary “nuclear family”, the party is not interested such a person. This saw the conservative party suffer high losses in terms of public support. Disagreements amongst party modernizers and the conservatives have also contributed to this decline. There has been serious debate between the two groups on whether the party should maintain its earlier standing point or whether there should be changes. The conservatives felt that the party should retain its traditional conservative stand while the party modernizers felt that the Conservatives are supposed to adjust their public attitude on social issues. These differences have dealt a blow on development in the conservative party since the time they arose in 1997.
Since 1992, the conservative party suffered a period of misunderstanding due to the relationship between the United Nations and the European Union. Problems arose during the leadership of John Major who replaced Margaret Thatcher due to different opinions concerning the European Union. There was deliberate integration in to the European Union that was against the opinion of some conservatives. There were several Eurosceptic MPs who mobilized a group of conservatives to oppose the government policy on the Maastricht treaty. This action destabilized John Major’s capability in party leadership leading to a further deterioration of the conservative party.
The support for the conservatives plummeted due to comparative objective financial incidents such as joblessness, absence of job security, incapacity to get a job, or lack of ability to sustain mortgage costs. These economic issues influenced party support greatly and compelled persons who passed through such troubles to switch their devotion away from the conservative party whose government was presumed to be responsible for these frustrations in one way or another. Under the conservative government, provision of services in non-economic fields, such as health care facilities and schools was not good (Daunton, 1995, p. 23). This also accounted for the loss in Conservatives’ support.
After the 1992 election, there were several political events that damaged the conservative government’s reputation in the public. These include the European exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) fiasco. The conservatives suffered a loss of votes due to John Major’s stubborn rejection to make a calculated pull out from the European trap of the ERM. The purblind negation to confess the mistake and escape before it was too late was an abuse for electorate, particularly conservative voters. According to Norman Tebbit (2005, p. 17), “The whole miserable experiment in giving control of British money to an association not under British management was a wrong move on the Conservatives”. This dealt a heavy blow on the conservatives, and is remembered up to the present day.
The reputation of the conservative party to the electorate was also spoiled by accusations of treating a number of middle class ministers disrespectfully. A conservative MP was first alleged to have an affair with a 17 year old who was formerly a night club hostess. This was quite appalling since it was in April, while the campaigns for the General Election were reaching high heights. There was also apparent disunity in the conservative party between the more fundamentalist conservatives who succeeded Thatcher and more modest members under the leadership of John Major.
Parties form the backbone of the British political system. They are a significant component of the state. Developments in all sectors of the economy are attributed to the parties. Almost every mature British citizen belongs to a political party of his or her choice. In that party, individuals voice their concern about contemporary politics and through it they unite to form a strong society that is recognized by other role players in the political system. In the British political party system, the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons is selected to become the Prime Minister. In turn, he selects ministers who together with him form the government while heading various departments of the government. The opposition party has an important role to play in British politics. It is a significant organization of checking the performance of the government.
The decline of the conservative party is attributed to many factors, most of which originated from internal wrangles within the party. Initially, it was a strong party that formed most the government in almost half of its existence. However, leaders were unable to maintain this reputation due to their conflicting ideas. Most of the leaders who have headed the conservative party introduced new ideas during their term. There are still chances that the conservative party will once more regain its lost glory since there is only one major opponent; the labour party.
- com, 2004. The British Government: The Political Party System.
<http://www.britannia.com/gov/gov9.html>. Nov 2008, (accessed 19.11.08)
- Daunton M. J. 1995. Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850 Oxford University Press.
- Evans G. (1992) Economics and Politics Revisited : Explaining the Decline in Conservative support 1992 – 95. Crest, Number 60.
- Norman T. 2005. An electoral curse yet to be lifted, New York: Routledge.