Chapter

Political Parties in Britain

Paul Webb

in Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780199240562
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600296 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0199240566.003.0002

Series: Comparative Politics

 Political Parties in Britain

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For thirty years following the end of the Second World War, it was orthodox to regard Britain as having one of the most stable and party‐oriented political systems in the Western world—parties penetrated state and society so significantly that it was virtually impossible to conceive of political life in the country without thinking first and foremost of party political life. However, since the middle of the 1970s, old certainties have been challenged by a continuing and multi‐dimensional debate about the transformation of British party politics. This challenge is predicated on a number of interconnected developments, which include: the apparent growth of electoral volatility; the spread of partisan and class dealignment; the emergence of nationalist cleavages in Scotland and Wales, which have threatened to fragment the national political culture; the erosion of two‐party electoral domination; and the growing chorus of criticism levelled at the damaging iniquities of the electoral system and the adversarial ‘winner‐takes‐all’ political mentality that is closely associated with it. Despite this, the single‐member plurality (SMP) (first‐past‐the‐post) electoral system continues to ensure that single‐party majority governments remain the norm. This chapter looks at what such changes imply for the general status of parties in the country, and is arranged in the same three sections as the other country case studies in the book; these examine the popular legitimacy of British political parties, their organizational strength, and their systemic functionalities (in governance and political recruitment, interest articulation and aggregation, political communication, and political participation).

Keywords: Britain; case studies; class dealignment; electoral system; electoral volatility; governance; interest aggregation; interest articulation; nationalist cleavages; partisan dealignment; party functionality; party legitimacy; party organization; party performance; political communication; political participation; political parties; political recruitment; political system; Scotland; single‐member plurality system; Wales

Chapter.  14613 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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