BRIT POLITICS:Advanced 16 - 18 Years:Focus On Political Parties:What are consensus and adversarial politics?

What are consensus and adversarial politics? 

There are two types of politics that may exist in a political system, Consensus Politics and Adversarial Politics and these are influenced by what is happening in left and right politics:-

Consensus Politics has two meanings:-

a)     That the main political parties agree on the policy directions that the country should take, even if historically there are ideological differences between them, so that disagreements take place over only a few areas and over details as to how policies should be carried out. In countries such as the Netherlands and Germany this style of politics predominates.  It has also been argued that there have been periods in Britain when the Conservative and Labour parties have come closer together in policies or when one party has been so successful that the other party feels that it has to imitate its policies – the periods after the Labour victory of 1945 and the post-Thatcher period.

b)     That the political system has mechanisms by which political parties can reach a compromise even though they disagree on policies. In Sweden, difficult issues are sent to a commission on which all the parties and key interest groups are represented in order to reach an agreement, and, in Austria, Government, business and the trade unions agree on the main economic policies and the left and right parties accept what has been agreed. In Britain this has occasionally happened with the setting up of a Royal Commission on an issue, such as long-term care for the elderly in 1998, but, in general opposition parties are excluded from decision-making by the government. The new system in Northern Ireland, however, forces the Protestant and Catholic parties to work together and for the Coalition, in 2010, meetings of what became known as the Quad, consisting of David Cameron and George Osborne for the Conservatives and Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander for the Liberal Democrats, met regularly to work out a compromise between the two Government parties.

In the same way Adversarial Politics can be seen as having two meanings:-

a)     There are strong differences over ideology and policy between parties so that it is difficult to reach any agreement.  Parties will look to carry out a manifesto as a majority party and policy direction changes when there is alternation of the main left and right parties in power.

b)     The style of politics is confrontational with Government and Opposition parties attacking each other in Parliament and in the media at every possible opportunity.  The Opposition is largely excluded from decision-making.  This is very much the style of politics in Britain and in some other European countries such as France, Spain and Greece.  The British Opposition sees one of its major roles to be holding the Government to account and question its decisions.  This criticism may often be about the efficiency of the Government rather than the fundamental direction of its policy.


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