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Focus On Political Parties

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What is a political party?

A political party is an organisation consisting of people of relatively similar aims and beliefs that puts forward candidates in elections in order to be able to achieve power and influence public policy.

Political parties fulfil a range of functions in a democracy:-

  • They bring together people with similar views and allow them to combine to try to achieve objectives related to those views.  The party and its leaders can develop an overall vision and philosophy about the direction that society should take.
  • They articulate the interests of different groups of the population so that the way that people are affected by public policies or the lack of them becomes a matter of public debate and, in government, they can promote these interests.  For example, the Labour Party raised the issue of those affected by the bedroom tax, and the Conservatives the interests of farmers who consider that a badger cull is necessary. In a similar way, parties promote the views of sections of the population.  Thus UKIP resonated with that section of the population who felt that immigration into Britain was one of the most important issues facing the country and should be severely restricted.
  • Parties recruit a political class of people who can gain the experience to take decisions and run government.  Some of the people who join a party take up posts in the party, become local councillors and become MPs and Government Ministers.  This experience provides a political training and, without a political class, decisions would be taken solely by administrators, such as civil servants.  The largest parties choose leaders who then can be judged by the voters as potential Prime Ministers.
  • Parties select candidates and so simplify the choice for voters at elections.  The process of selection eliminates weaker candidates so that more capable people are put before the electorate.
  • Parties mobilize the voters by campaigning and so encourage them to take an interest in issues and they have an organisation for getting people to vote. They provide a vital link between citizens and the state.
  • Parties sort out compromises between various interests and so provide a coherent set of policies when in government. For example, the debate between those who do not want housing development in their area and the needs of the country for more houses takes place within a political party and a balance is reached.
  • In a Parliamentary system the opposition parties monitor and criticise the Government so that there is a public debate on how effective the Government is and this allows voters to decide who to support at the next election.