Wednesday, October 9, 2019

What Are the Problems with the Uk’s Party System, and How Might They Be Resolved?

What are the problems with the UK’s party system, and how might they be resolved? This essay will analyse the challenges and problems UK party system is facing. The essay will look into public apathy and mistrust, resulting in low party membership and low electoral participation. The main argument is that political parties do not have strong enough incentives to connect with voters. Proposals to resolve these problems will be changing electoral system, further limiting donations to the political parties and banning their trade activities, forcing more ideological changes and showing strong real actions to ignite the political debates. As we all know, UK political system is dominated by main two political parties, Labour and Conservatives. Historically, most of the elections, apart from few exceptions, resulted in one party forming the government whilst other party being in opposition. Throughout the history, British political parties enjoyed large memberships and enthusiastic support from all sections of population during the elections. Voters were more politically aware and active in political life. British Election Study’s survey in 1964 showed that three quarters of population had strong or fair affiliation with a political party (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, p. ). In 1950’s Labour had 1 million members while conservatives had 2,800,000 (Fieschi, 2006, p. 143) However, political parties lost the trust and support of public. Membership of parties is at all-time low. According to the recent study, only 2 percent of voters in the UK are party members (Beetham, Blick, Margets, & Weir, 2008, p. 42). People abstain from voting in general elections, the trend observed especially amongst young voters. Pressure groups and lobbyists are gaining more influence and political parties are increasingly getting disconnected from the general public. Latest MP’s expenses scandal dramatically reduced the trust in politicians. The trend is not unique to Britain. Other European states observe the same decline in public participation. Therefore, many analysts declared that the age of mass party membership is over (Beetham, Blick, Margets, & Weir, 2008, p. 42). But what are the reasons that the political parties lost the trust of public? It is not true that people are not interested in politics anymore. Mass mobilisation of cross-party protests against the war in Iraq is the biggest example that politics still plays important part in public’s life. Almost all of the works and researches done on the subject of declining of party politics agree on one thing- the electoral system in the UK and subsequent â€Å"two party† system that results from it is the main obstacle for parties to engage with public. The argument is, political parties only concentrate on swing voters and taking the â€Å"safe votes† for granted (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, p. 7). However, Britain always had a two party system with FPTP. So, why parties did not concentrate on marginal swing voter areas before? The explanation given by commentators is that Britain used to be divided into two poles: conservative traditionalists and labour working class. But now, most of the population is more or less â€Å"middle class† and have moved to the centre (Garner & Kelly, 1998, pp. 255-256). Therefore, people have marginalised their party or ideological identities. This argument does not hold ground, as although political parties reformed greatly, the membership of both parties still declined. â€Å"But this is because voters don’t see the difference between parties and are confused† the critics say. But, is it not exactly what the two political parties used to be; having two distinct ideologies? Yet, membership is declining in both cases. So, one might think that it is inevitable for party membership and influence to diminish on the face of social developments in the UK. However, there is another explanation. Commentators are right to point out to parties only concentrating on swing voters. However, while before, party largely depended on their grass-root support and mass membership, political leaders tried to be â€Å"independent† from their supporters. Many laws were passed amid the opposition of most of the party members. Even the reforms of the Conservatives under William Hague could not produce effective â€Å"democratisation† of the party. Today, both parties are still centralised. Parties just don’t need the support of their members anymore, as parties can only focus on minority of voters and still win the elections. The argument of inevitability of party support declining in the face of rising middle class is also weak. Labour party did manage to almost double its membership in 1997 with the drive to recruit more members (Whiteley, 2009, p. 249). However, once Labour came to power, party became more preoccupied with â€Å"governing†, and disregarded grassroots party (Whiteley, 2009, p. 249). The conclusion from above analysis is that, given the right incentives, parties are able to recruit members. But political parties are more concerned with winning elections and holding office, and not concentrating on representing the people (Copus, Clark, Reynaert, & Steyvers, 2008, p. 6). But how could political parties do it? Do they not depend on members and supporters at least financially to survive? Well, this brings us to the second issue-the party funding. It is only natural that parties did suffer financially with the decline in membership. However, all of the major parties managed to find wealthy donors to compensate for the loss (Jones, Kavanagh, Moran, & Norton, 2007, p. 196). Apart from that, political parties have found ways of generating money through trade, although at the moment it constitutes only minority of their budget (Granik, 2005). The issue of party funding through wealthy individuals have been and still remains a controversy. The funding scandals in both main political parties triggered the need to review their funding and expenditure. Following Neill Committee report, drastic changes were introduced, including declaration of donations over ? 5,000, banning the donations from foreign donors, capping the spending in general elections at ? 20 million and controls over spending on referendum campaigns (Jones, Kavanagh, Moran, & Norton, 2007, p. 196). Even before Neill Committee report, in 1976 and 1981 Houghton and Hansard Society reports respectively, proposed political parties being state funded (Garner & Kelly, 1998, p. 202). No action was taken by ruling Labour on Houghton report and Conservatives rejected Hansard Society report (Jones, Kavanagh, Moran, & Norton, 2007, p. 96). Proponents of the state funding claim that parties, like military or police are vital public bodies, therefore they need to be subsidised by taxpayer. It will also remove the reliance on donors, thus removing the undesired influence (Jones, Kavanagh, Moran, & Norton, 2007, p. 197). However, those arguments are weak. Although, it is true that the state funding might reduce the dependence on donors, it also removes the incentives for parties to recruit more members, thus stopping them further from engaging the people during inter-election times. Provided the public trust in political parties and politicians being record low, it will further raise the suspicions of the public, especially after the expenses scandal. The solution is not state funding, but limiting donations even further. Large donations from interested businesses and individuals should not be just declared, but banned altogether. Parties should be forced to, once again, rely on their members for funding. The claim that political parties are public bodies is untrue. They are voluntary bodies. Political parties are only good if they are fit for purpose, i. e. eing a link between a government and public. When they are successful in this task, they gain trust of public and their membership will soar. This automatically will solve their funding problems. Coming back to the issue of electoral system, most of the public agree that the FPTP is the most unjust type of representative system available. It is made worse by current decline in party allegiance among the popu lation. FPTP is also unfair to smaller parties. While major parties get disproportionately large amount of seats to the votes they received, for smaller parties it works the other way around. A more proportionally representative voting system will result in more parties competing in general elections, with new parties created to contest the elections. This competition will not only motivate parties to engage with public, as noted earlier, but also make people more politically active during the elections. Supporters of FPTP system say that it provides strong and effective government, while PR system likely to produce hanged parliaments and unstable coalitions. But political parties themselves are coalitions of many views, that’s why public is faced with non stopping rifts within the parties. Furthermore, coalitions can be persuaded to work with each other successfully, as it is the case in many European countries. Initially, labour government were committed to electoral reforms, with the promise of referendum on the issue in 1997 manifesto. A decade later, 2007 government green paper on constitutional reform had only one line, informing that electoral reform is still under revision (Brown & Straw, 2007, p. 46). This uncertainty and not delivering promises further alienates voters. â€Å"In 2009 Britain, a frighteningly large proportion of UK voters feel effectively disenfranchised† says John Ward of Guardian (Ward, 2009). One of his proposed solution to representation problem is reducing the power of party whips. He says that reduction of power of whips â€Å"†¦ is absolutely essential if backbench idleness, disillusionment and cynicism are to be curbed – and the executive controlled. Those few still in touch – the likes of Kate Hoey, David Davis, Dennis Skinner and Graham Brady – are popular because they understand widespread concerns (respectively) about rural life, personal liberty, uncompromising values and educational aspiration† (Whiteley, 2009). Problem of parties being too strict is actually good for their discipline. However, over the years one sees that the whip system is been abused to great extends, thus taking away the independence of politicians. There is a problem of people lacking political information. People lacking the political information are less likely to participate in politics. In 2006 Joseph Rowntree Trust’s â€Å"Power Report† was published, where the issue was identified amongst many others. In the report, the solution proposed was â€Å"The citizenship curriculum should be shorter, more practical and result in a qualification. † (Power Report, 2006, p. 204). As Power report admits, the curriculum has many flaws. It is unlikely that curriculum makes any significant impact on young people’s political participation. Therefore, political parties themselves should engage in educational activities. They should hold more meetings and rallies, explaining people why to vote and why to vote for them. Political parties should re-think their methods of appealing to public. Emphasis should be given to enlarging their membership and engaging with public. Rather than being a vote-calculating machines, they have to re-establish their clear ideological stands. Public disillusion with what they are voting fore can only be resolved with party philosophies and ideologies being distinct. They also have to find the ways of re-gaining public trust. For that, they need more action rather than words. Radicalism is missing in modern day politics. Mass rallies, public speeches are being replaced by appearances on mass media and point scoring PR campaigns. Of course, all the symptoms mentioned above are interconnected, so it would be wrong to analyse each separately and come to a negative conclusion. But we believe that old-fashioned traditional politics can work if politicians commit themselves more. If parties reform, they make their positions stronger, with respect and trust vested in them by public. Failure to reform will eventually lead to their doom. Bibliography Beetham, D. , Blick, A. , Margets, H. , & Weir, S. (2008, February). Power and Participation in Modern Britain. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from Democratic Audit: http://www. democraticaudit. org/download/PP_lowres. pdf Brown, G. , & Straw, J. (2007, July). The Governance of Britain (CM 7170, Green Paper on constitutional reforms. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from Official-Documents: http://www. official-documents. gov. k/document/cm71/7170/7170. pdf Copus, C. , Clark, A. , Reynaert, H. , & Steyvers, K. (2008). Minor Party and Independent Politics beyond the Mainstream: Fluctuating Fortunes but a Permanent Presence. Parliamentary Affairs , 62:1, 4-18. Fieschi, C. (2006). How British Parties Lost Our Favour. Parliamentary Affairs , 60:1, 143-152. Garner, R. , & Kelly, R. (1998). British political parties today (2 ed . ). Manchester: Manchester University Press. Granik, S. (2005). Invisible Business: The Unregulated World of Political Party Commerce. Politics , 25:2, 89-98. Jones, B. , Kavanagh, D. , Moran, M. & Norton, P. (2007). Politics UK (6 ed. ). Harlow, New York: Pearson Education. Mehdi, H. (2009, September 29). Do politicians matter? Retrieved November 15, 2009, from Guardian: http://www. guardian. co. uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/29/labour-conference-politicians-least-trusted Pattie, C. , & Johnston, R. (2007). Power to the People through â€Å"Real Power and True Elections†? The Power Report and Revitalising British Democracy. Parliamentary Affairs , 60:2, 1-26. Report, P. (2006). Power to the People. York: Power Enquiry. Ward, J. (2009, October 16). MPs have forgotten how to represent us. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from Guardian: http://www. guardian. co. uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/16/mps-representation-constitutional-reform Whiteley, P. (2009). Where Have All the Members Gone? The Dynamics of Party Membership in Britain. Parliamentary Affairs , 62 :2, 242-257. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. This year’s Ipsos Mori poll suggests that the politicians are the least trusted group of professionals, with only 13% of public trusting them. This is the lowest percentage politicians received in this poll in 26 years (Mehdi, 2009). [ 2 ]. For example Labour abandoning clause 4 and â€Å"modernising† the party [ 3 ]. Interesting to note that, although Conservative party was always associated with rich class and electorate dominated by working class, the party was always able to win the elections, gaining at least a third of working class. Especially during inter war periods; Conservatives were the most favourite party in inter-war period [ (Garner & Kelly, 1998, p. 56) ]. This reinforces our thesis that different ideologies could be overcome by concentrating in recruiting more grassroots party members. [ 4 ]. For example, Poll Tax of Conservatives, war in Iraq, 5 ]. The newly created â€Å"policy forum† to discuss the policies and national party conventions are only advisory and it became harder to challenge the leadership of the Conservative party (Jones, Kavanagh, Moran, & Norton, 2007, p. 287). [ 6 ]. Under this system, most of the votes are wasted. As we have observed before, parties take â€Å"safe seats† for granted and only campaign in â€Å"swing† constituencies. Public, on the other hand, knowing that their vote would not make a difference, abstain from voting. [ 7 ]. Evidence suggests that more competitive the elections, more people cast their vote (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, pp. 5-7).

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