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About this book

The second edition of this popular textbook provides a systematic and comprehensive introduction to UK party politics, combining chapters on each of the main parties (Conservative, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party) with an assessment of post-devolution Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Clark analyses the extraordinary recent developments in UK politics, including Brexit, the 2015 and 2016 Labour leadership contests, and the surprise 2017 general election, exploring how these events have impacted the political parties, the people of the UK and the UK’s position in the world. The book also covers the rise of minority parties such as UKIP, the influence of the media and party campaigning, organisation and funding. Written in an accessible style, this new edition is an essential companion for students taking modules on British Political Parties, Party Politics or British Politics more generally, as well as functioning as a useful background text for modules in Comparative Political Parties. It is an ideal introduction for all readers new to the topic.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Development of the UK Party System

Abstract
The UK has experienced a number of remarkable electoral events in recent years. Some of these have had profound constitutional consequences. They have all suggested a UK party system in flux, revealing a political class and political parties in disarray, struggling to interpret the result of unclear public opinion. They have undermined leaders, and left parties often looking unable to adapt to events. They have challenged the UK’s political parties in a multitude of ways that would have been unexpected only a decade before. They ultimately left Britain’s place in the world in some doubt on a number of occasions. First, on the morning of Wednesday 12 May 2010, Conservative Party leader David Cameron stood with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street.
Alistair Clark

2. The Role of Political Parties in the UK

Abstract
According to Schattschneider (1942) ‘modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of political parties’. Yet political parties are also often the source of much disillusion among electors. In recent years parties have been said to be in decline in a number of ways, whether in terms of their membership, or in their ability to motivate electors to turn out to vote for them. Against this backdrop, this chapter assesses the current literature on British parties to ask two key questions: what is the role of political parties in the modern UK; and to what extent are parties successfully fulfilling their democratic functions? The first section begins by setting out various definitions of political parties and highlighting their functions in democracies. The second section addresses itself to the question: to what extent are the UK’s parties successfully fulfilling these roles? British parties are argued to be fulfilling these functions to varying degrees. While they continue to simplify the electoral choices available to voters, they have been decreasingly able to command the loyalty of voters.
Alistair Clark

3. The Conservative Party

Abstract
The Conservative Party has been the most successful political party in the UK over the past century. Post-war, it had two long spells in office from 1951 to 1964, and 1979 to 1997. In opposition between 1997 and 2010, the Conservative Party struggled to compete with the Labour Party, particularly under Tony Blair. It had five different leaders during this period John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and David Cameron. This lack of success had consequences for policy and party positioning, with the Conservatives alternating between periods of seemingly ‘one nation’ paternalistic conservatism, followed by periods where the party has emphasised more ‘Thatcherite’ and nationalist policies. Acting as the lead partner in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives returned to power in May 2010. They then went on to win a small majority in 2015. This enabled them to govern alone for the first time since the 1992–1997 parliament. They went on to lose that majority, despite remaining the largest party and forming a minority administration, in a wholly unnecessary snap general election in 2017.
Alistair Clark

4. The Labour Party

Abstract
Under Tony Blair, the Labour Party became a formidable electoral machine, winning large majorities in three successive general elections from 1997, a record for the party. Under other leaders, Labour has proven much less sure-footed, struggling to become successful against the Conservative Party, with the tension between electability and adhering to the party’s principles being fought out internally on a number of occasions. Struggles over the totemic Clause IV of the party’s constitution, committing Labour to public ownership, under Hugh Gaitskell and Tony Blair are examples of this, while the 1974 and 1983 manifestos were considerably left-wing documents, by comparison with the party’s 1987 and 1997 programmes. In the aftermath of the 2015 general election, Labour again moved leftward with the election of veteran rebel Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, an event which provoked further ideological infighting in the party.
Alistair Clark

5. The Liberal Democrats

Abstract
The Liberal Democrats (and predecessors) were for a long time the third party in the Westminster party system. The party won 62 seats in 2005, and 57 seats in the 2010 parliament. This was achieved by taking seats from both Labour and the Conservatives, and by being able to exploit popular issues not represented by the two main parties, for instance in opposing the 2003 Iraq war. Nevertheless, their ascent was not problem free and variously involved the perception of internal ideological and policy conflict, and some high-profile changes of leadership. The party’s development peaked with participation in the 2010–2015 coalition government as junior partner to the Conservative Party. The experience of government proved near fatal for the Liberal Democrats. The party was reduced to a rump of eight MPs in the 2015 general election, and only rose to 12 in 2017 after a lacklustre campaign.
Alistair Clark

6. The Scottish National Party

Abstract
The Scottish National Party only contests elections in Scotland. It is seen by some, viewing it through a Westminster lens, as being a small party. Yet this is mistaken. The SNP has developed considerably since the devolution of powers to the Scottish parliament in 1999. The SNP has formed the Scottish government from 2007, winning an unprecedented majority of seats in Edinburgh in 2011. Its remarkable victory led to it calling a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, a referendum that saw support for independence surge from previous estimates, even if voters ultimately decided to remain in the UK. The SNP went on to win all but three of Scotlands Westminster seats at the subsequent 2015 general election, making it the third-largest party at Westminster. It continued to win a historic third term and form the Scottish government after the 2016 Holyrood election with a significant margin over its closest competitor.
Alistair Clark

7. Beyond The Mainstream

Abstract
Although small parties have not historically been seen as significant actors in the UK, recent years have been marked by a rise in the number of small parties both seeking election and winning office at various levels (Copus et al., 2009). In late 2017, a total of 314 so-called ‘political parties’ were registered with the Electoral Commission. Moreover, an increasing number of voters had cast a vote for such minor parties. In the 2005 general election, minor party candidates, excluding the nationalist parties, secured over one-and-a-quarter million votes in Britain, a 4.6 per cent vote share, which represented an increase of 1.5 per cent on 2001 (Butler and Kavanagh, 2002; Kavanagh and Butler, 2005). In 2010 this continued to rise, small parties achieving almost 1.9 million votes, and a vote share of around 6.4 per cent (Kavanagh and Cowley, 2010). By 2015, boosted by almost 4 million votes for UKIP, small parties in Britain polled around 5.4 million votes, equating to a vote share of approximately 18 per cent, by far the best ever performance for non-mainstream parties (Cowley and Kavanagh, 2016: Appendix 2).
Alistair Clark

8. The UK’s ‘Multi-Level’ Party Systems

Abstract
Writing just after the 2004 European elections, Dunleavy (2005) criticised the Westminster focus of much debate on British party politics, arguing that this failed to take account of the increasingly complex and multi-level patterns of party competition that now occur across the UK. Indeed, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a number of different parties, which means that party competition in these regions has operated in a significantly different manner from the UK norm. This has had a varied impact upon Westminster politics over the years, with, on occasion, parties such as the Scottish National Party in the 1970s, Ulster Unionist Party in the 1990s, and the Democratic Unionist Party from 2017 all holding the balance of power. Since devolution, these parties can no longer be considered ‘minor’ parties in the UK system, but also as significant parties operating in distinct devolved party systems. Moreover, it is not just in the devolved institutions that party competition varies from the Westminster norm, but also in competition for the London Assembly, local government and the European Parliament.
Alistair Clark

9. Parties and the Media

Abstract
Most people experience party politics indirectly through the lens of the media. Parties have long recognised the importance of media management and their efforts to do so have included, for instance, the appointment of well-known so-called ‘spin doctors’ such as Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell for Labour and Andy Coulson for the Conservatives. Such efforts at media management extend well beyond the traditional campaigning period immediately preceding elections. Moreover, parties have also sought to expand their communication activities by exploiting the new media opportunities offered by the internet. This chapter looks broadly at the relationship between parties and various media. Discussion revolves around five sections. The first provides a theoretical grounding by briefly outlining models of political communication. The second section introduces the structure of the press and broadcast media and assesses how this impacts upon partisanship. The third section evaluates the professionalisation of political communication activity within the parties, both in government and opposition. The parties are convinced of the importance of the internet in communicating to electors.
Alistair Clark

10. Developments in Party Organisation and Funding

Abstract
To fulfil their democratic functions, parties must have a degree of organisation and be able to fund their activities throughout the electoral cycle. Organisation helps parties to debate and decide upon policy, recruit members, activists and candidates, and to campaign for election. Nevertheless, the study of organisation and funding is often overlooked since it involves examining aspects of parties’ internal affairs conducted behind closed doors. Yet party organisation and funding are key issues and important conflicts over political power often occur not in the broader political system, but within parties. To be able to form any view on how political parties in the UK are working, understanding organisation and funding is imperative. This chapter therefore introduces and evaluates key developments in party organisation and funding in the UK in recent years. The chapter focuses on the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Alistair Clark

11. Party Campaigns and Elections

Abstract
In most attempts to define political parties, the key thing that sets them apart from other political organisations is that they contest elections. Britain is well served by commentary on the conduct of elections and campaigns (for instance: Allen and Bartle, 2011; Geddes and Tonge, 2015; Cowley and Kavanagh, 2016). In recent decades, the process of party campaigning has undergone radical change. In addition to the era of permanent campaigning’, analysts have identified a shift to so-called ‘post-modern’ campaigns (Farrell and Webb, 2000; Norris, 2000). This chapter therefore examines the development of election campaigning in Britain. Discussion proceeds in three main sections. Key to electioneering is an understanding of the electorate. The first section therefore briefly introduces the main models of voting behaviour and briefly outlines the socio-economic structure of the vote in the UK. The second section introduces and assesses the increasingly targeted and marketed nature of electoral competition in British political parties, tracked through developments in the main parties.
Alistair Clark

12. Conclusion: Political Parties in the UK

Abstract
Although attachment theory is more commonly discussed with regards to child adult relationships, from the outset of his work Bowlby recognized that attachment could be a useful framework for understanding close human relationships from ‘the cradle to the grave’. However, it was not until the 1980s that attachment researchers really began to focus on adult-to-adult relationships. As with any discussion of attachment, it is important to be clear on the distinction between an attachment and other kinds of bonding and of the key differences between adult-to-adult attachments and childto-adult attachments. With regards to the former, an attachment is a specifi c type of bond, but attachment is not a synonym for bond or for relationship. For example, an adult may have a bond of friendship with another adult but may not have an attachment relationship to that friend.
Alistair Clark
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