UK Political Parties in Context

The party system in the UK

Traditionally, the UK has had a two-party system, meaning that two parties have dominated (20th century- Conservative and Labour). This was thought of as good, as voters had a clear choice between two programmes of government, and there would be a strong opposition. Both parties would also be drawn towards the centre ground, as they were fighting over the same voters, meaning that moderation was the order of the day) rather than extremism).

However, there have been times where only one party has really dominated, with a weakened opposition. The ‘two-party’ system started to break down in the 1970s, as support for a ‘third’ party grew (the Liberal Democrats). The two-party system, therefore, became a ‘two and a half’ party system. Voting behaviour started to change, as people felt less loyalty towards the Conservatives or Labour. Since 1997, things have become more complex.

The UK Parliament has still had a mostly two-party system, due to the consequences of the electoral system, although the formation of a coalition government in __2010 __demonstrated the effects of partisan dealignment. Devolution has given the SNP in Scotland major support, which was translated into winning 56 seats in the __2015 __general election, making them the ‘third’ party in Westminster. Parties such as UKIP and the Green Party have also seen their support rise in recent years. The popularity of these parties has been masked by the ongoing use of first past the post, meaning that at general elections they can only expect to win 1-2 seats if any.

The __2017 __general election saw a move back to more traditional two party politics, with the Conservatives and Labour securing 82% of the vote between them. Where different voting systems are used, for example in European Parliament elections, support for these parties can be more clearly seen. The use of proportional voting systems to devolved governments leads to multi-party systems in these regions of the UK.

Factors determining the success of parties

The electoral system: this has traditionally benefitted the two major parties, by exaggerating their support. Parties such as the Lib Dems and UKIP have been penalised for not having a concentration of support in enough areas. The SNP benefitted from the first-past-the-post system in 2015, winning 56 out of 59 seats with nearly 1.5 million votes.

The media: the media focus tends to be on the two major parties. Elections are turned into a contest for the next Prime Minister. Other parties do not have nearly as much time and space devoted to them. Sometimes the media can overly focus on a smaller party, however. Coverage devoted to UKIP far outweighed that devoted to the Green Party for example in the run up to the __2015 __election, despite the fact that both parties ended up winning 1 seat. The national newspapers tend to be supportive of the Conservative Party, and have attacked recent Labour leaders (sometimes quite viciously). It has been argued by some that media coverage is unfairly favourable to the Conservatives.

Other parties: Labour has been hurt by the rise and success of the SNP, which has claimed a lot of its traditional Scottish support. UKIP has also taken away traditional Labour voters concerned about immigration. UKIP was a threat to Conservative support (namely Eurosceptic Conservatives), although the party has won back much of this following the Brexit result.

Events: the 2014 __Scottish independence referendum and the __2016 __EU referendum have had the effect of weakening Labour support in Scotland and in some working-class areas of the UK. The SNP increased its vote share significantly following __2014. UKIP saw an increase in its popularity leading up to the EU referendum, however, this has declined again in 2017.

Party leaders: this is seen as a major determining factor in party success. Ed Miliband was seen as an electoral liability for Labour, and they duly lost the __2015 __election. Similar accusations have been levelled at Jeremy Corbyn, who has been derided as a weak leader. The media portrayal of the party leaders plays a large part in this perception. David Cameron was rarely criticised in the media, and Theresa May is seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’, who had much higher personal approval ratings than Corbyn, although the awkward personal style of May was exposed by the __2017 __election campaign, narrowing the gap between the two leaders.

Evaluate the extent to which party leaders are the crucial factor determining the success of political parties. In your answer, refer to at least two political parties. (30 marks)It's another 30 mark essay, that means three arguments for and three against.
Your answer should include: Brand / Image / Media / Unity / Funds / Collective / Events