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Democracy in the UK

by ThatBritGuy Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 11:11:20 AM EST

Some interesting facts about the state of party politics in the UK from Charter 88, which is part of the New Politics Network.

20% of Conservative Associations and 40% of Lib Dem Local Parties have fewer than 100 members per constituency. Conservative Associations in the North of England typically have fewer than 50 members per constituency.

34% of Conservative Associations, 50% of Constituency Labour Parties and 73% of Liberal Democrat Local
Parties received less than £5,000 in income in 2005.

32% of Conservative Associations, 44% of Liberal Democrat Local Parties and 50% of Constituency Labour Parties distributed less than 1 leaflet per household in the 2005 general election.

At least 67% of the population received no personal contact from any of the three main parties in the 2005 general election. In solid Labour seats, this figure increased to 82%.

You can read the full report here.

I think we have discussed this sort of thing before. The age of mass political parties is over.

From a Liberal Democrat perspective those local parties which win Parliamentary seats are likely to be the larger ones. We do not have the luxury of safe seats in which we can let our organisation atrophy without any visible effect for decades.

However how low has participation in public life got to go, before democracy is endangered?

by Gary J on Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 02:54:47 PM EST
I have to say the local Lib Dem party is the only one with any visibility where I live. I don't know how many members they have, but that is actually irrelevant. All I see, and all they need, is three people per Council Ward running a "focus group", leafletting all the houses in their ward every few weeks, and then running for a council seat. Membership numbers are good because they imply more money is available for printing the leaflets, but that's about it.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 05:22:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It does help to have a team of people to share the load.

It is possible for a small number of people, working hard, to build up support in a ward. However when those people are elected to the Council and or become burnt out through overloading themselves, the campaigning can end if there is no one else to do it.

It is all very well doing a good job, but you have to tell electors what you are doing or most of them will not realise you are doing anything.

One of the key tasks of political parties is to recruit, train and support the next generation of political leaders.

The national mass party model is not the only imaginable type of democratic political party. Some party or equivalent support structure is essential in societies like ours, where in all but the smallest and most rural local authority wards it would be rare for a candidate to be known personally to most voters.

Our experience in Slough is that independent councillors in a ward need a group of like minded people to support them. Whether this group chooses to call itself a political party or not, it performs the same functions.

It is rare, but not unknown, for the same sort of local group to emerge and support an Independent MP. However if every MP was elected by a local coalition, this might make national government very difficult. It would presumably create the sort of fluid Ministerialist and Opposition politics which existed in British colonies of settlement, before they developed stable party systems. Governments would fall frequently on Parliamentary votes and each new Ministry would have to be assembled by negotiating deals with enough individual MPs. It might be more fun, but I am not sure it would produce accountable government.

by Gary J on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 05:32:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect political parties are a natural development in that MPs who tend to vote together will tend to form a stable coalition, and that will fed back into the reelection campaigns. I am not sure I agree with the idea that a government must fall on a failed vote, though.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 07:09:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The constitutional convention in Westminster style Parliaments is that a government which loses a vote of confidence must either resign or advise a dissolution of Parliament.

What is a vote of confidence is ultimately a political question, as any vote however minor can do if the government feels unable to carry on. However a vote on financial legislation is normally regarded as an automatic vote of confidence, as the primary duty of ministers is to obtain money to carry on the Queen's government.

I am sure you are right that politicians in a non party environment tend to clump together and this leads to party formation. There will be people with whom an MP usually agrees and leaders (or followers) who normally act with the politician.

The people with similar views, who tend to work together in Parliament, would then find it easier to contest elections as a party than as isolated individuals. As the party system takes hold the price to the politician of breaking ranks becomes higher. The general public can then blame them for just obeying the party whip all the time and not thinking for themselves at all.

This is the normal way political systems develop in democratic societies.

by Gary J on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 08:26:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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