Local Parties in Political and Organizational Perspective

By Martin Saiz; Hans Geser | Go to book overview
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their natural party label. Nevertheless, what is not in doubt is the relatively weak position of the Liberals at that time and the fact that Labour benefited at the initial elections for the new authorities from the unpopularity of the Heath Conservative administration. By 1983, following a period of Labour national government and the first successful years of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives had replaced Labour as the preeminent party of local government. The Liberals, now in alliance with the SDP, had improved their showing but remained a marginal force. A further decade on, however, there has been a virtually unrelenting erosion of Conservative strength in local government. Successive local elections held at a time of government unpopularity have resulted in the party losing some 3,000 councillors. At the same time, the number of Conservative-controlled councils has fallen by more than one hundred. One consequence of changing patterns of party competition and electoral support, however, has been that the prime beneficiaries of Conservative decline have been the Liberals and not Labour. In the past, the electoral pendulum would have swung from Conservative to Labour, but it now behaves differently. Although Labour can legitimately claim to be the major party of local government in terms of seats and councils controlled, it has had to share this political windfall of a declining Conservative party with the Liberals. Moreover, the raw figures of Liberal advance disguise one other crucial change. Directly as a result of moving from a two-party dominant to a three-party system, it becomes more difficult for any one party to win an overall majority of seats. Thirty-five percent of all councils in England currently have no single party in overall control. This forces a change in the way debates are conducted and decisions made, and, ultimately, in policy outcomes.


Notes
1.
see Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, "Explaining Uniformity and Variability in Local Election Outcomes", Electoral Studies ( December 1993) 12:4.
2.
Data used in this paper are drawn from the archives of the Local Government Chronicle Elections Centre at the University of Plymouth. The collection and manipulation of this information has been made possible by funding from the British Economic and Social Research Council and from Local Government Chronicle, Ltd. A source book containing summary information of local election results for each authority in Great Britain has been published as Local Elections in Britain: A Statistical Digest. The complete British local elections data base is held at the ESRC Data Archive at the University of Essex. Further details are available by contacting the authors.
3.
The history of the "center" party in British politics requires some explanation. In the period under study, the Liberal Party fought elections on its own until 1981. Thereafter, from 1982 to 1987, it had an electoral pact with the Social Dem

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