BRIT POLITICS, Study, Learn,  Create, Inspire

University 18 Yrs + | Parties and Voting

Parties and Voting banner

What are Political Parties for?

Political scientists argue that parties in democracies do a number of things:-

Across Europe Government depends on the consent of Parties in Parliament and so is legitimised by them. If they combine to pass a motion of no confidence, it will bring down the Government. The only exception is Switzerland, where the complicated mix of regions, languages and religions is represented on the Executive Council and cannot be immediately changed by Parliament.

Even in systems with strong Presidents, Mitterand in France and Yeltsin in Russia found, when the situation was first tested, that they could not appoint a Prime Minister and Government without the support of Parliament.

There have been Governments in Britain where the governing party has been in a minority, in 1924, 1929-31, 1974 and 1976-9 and they have survived only as long as the other parties have not combined against them.

There might well have been a minority Conservative Government after 2010 in the same situation but the party leaderships instead agreed on a Coalition which produced a majority for the Government.

Recruiting Office Holders

Parties recruit political office holders.

At local and national levels parties choose and support those who become local councillors and MPs.

Parties can decide whether to try to remove the barriers to groups of the population being elected and the main parties have sought to recruit more female and black candidates.

Parties develop policies and, in doing so, aggregate different interests in society by reaching compromises between these interests.They may be balancing environmental against business interests, spending on roads as against spending on public transport and so on.

They put forward potential policies at elections and voters make choices about the parties so that there is a linkage between the electorate and the policies that are carried out by the winning party. The strength of linkage depends, of course, on how well parties articulate the concerns of the public, how many people vote and whether policies can be carried out in practice. Problems with all of these have led to discussion of a crisis of political engagement in Britain.

Pull people together under ideology

Parties contain an ideological tradition.

The Conservative party, for example, contains traditions of maintenance of traditional institutions and although party leaders may want to abandon some of these traditions to change the party’s appeal, this may not be easy, as David Cameron found with gay marriage which was opposed by many Conservative members.

The dominance of Parties is, perhaps, surprising given that political commentators have been talking about the crisis of parties.

Party membership has been declining, fewer voters say that they are strongly attached to a particular political party and the turnout of voters to vote for parties in general elections has declined.

It is argued that interest groups and direct campaigns now attract more support than political parties as a way of influencing what Government does.