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How UK Political Parties have Adapted to Change -The Cartel Party

Katz and Mair argue that a fourth stage has begun to develop, though at present only a trend rather than developed in all parties.

The leadership becomes detached from the party so that local councillors are left to run local affairs as they wish as long as they do not interfere with central policy, local members become cheerleaders rather than active participants in policy development and the boundaries between members and supporters is blurred. Leaders see themselves as responsible to the voters rather than party members.

Parties consist of teams of professionals with similar policies and outlook and will often use the resources of the state, through party funding, privileged access to the media and the distribution of patronage to interest groups, to maintain themselves.

In countries where coalitions are the normal form of government, party leaders are rarely out of power.  Elections are required but maintain the status quo rather than produce change.

The consolidation of a cartel of the main parties can, however, lead to a political reaction in the form of anti-system parties.

One of the features of electoral competition since the 1980s has been the growth of new parties that provide a radical critique of the established governing parties.

The main types are green parties, radical right parties and regional parties. They have been more prominent in countries with a proportional electoral system but have also become established in Britain.

There has been a debate about whether the cartel party has developed as a new type (Ruud Koole in Party Politics Vol. 2 No 4. 1996 takes a contrary view to Katz and Mair)

Have Cartel Parties Developed in Britain?

Even if the cartel party idea can be applied to some European countries, it is difficult to identify all of its characteristics in Britain.

There is not state funding of political parties, except limited funding for the Parliamentary work of the main opposition party, and patronage in terms of the appointment of people to public positions is decided by the party in Government rather than shared.

Evidence of the distancing of British parties and from their members is clearer though.  The proportion of voters that strongly identify with one of the parties has fallen from 48% in 1964 to under 10%. Turnout at elections has fallen from a peak of 84% in 1950 to under 70%.

In 1964 9.4% of the electorate was a member of a political party and in 2010 it had fallen to 1%.  Two Conservative Associations, in Totnes and Havant, chose their candidates by primaries open to all voters for the 2010 election.

The selection of candidates has been opened up much more by the major parties in recent years for two reasons:

Firstly, to increase declining party membership (although there has been a resurgence in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn) and Secondly to increase the diversity of candidates and participation in the political process.