British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties

British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties

British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties

British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties

Excerpt

The scope of this book is indicated by its sub-title; its purpose is to examine the distribution of power within the two major British political parties. It is not concerned with party ideologies or programmes, nor does it deal in any detail with the minor parties. The Liberal Party has been relegated to an Appendix. In view of the party's long and distinguished history, this may seem unnecessarily cruel. But there can be no escaping the fact that in the last election the Liberal Party received only 2½ per cent. of the popular vote and won only 1 per cent. of the seats in the House of Commons. The most important conditioning influence on the internal life of any British political party is the fact that it is either responsible for the government of the country or has a reasonable prospect of winning such responsibility. If the party accepts the conventions of cabinet and parliamentary government, then the prospect of office is of far greater importance in determining the distribution of power within the party, than are any of the party's internal constitutional arrangements. But if a party has no such prospects, if, in other words, its Leader is not a potential Prime Minister, and if his senior colleagues do not constitute a potential cabinet, then the party's domestic arrangements are of only very limited interest. This, I submit, is the justification for my almost exclusive concern in this book with the two major parties which between them have shared responsibility for the government of this country in recent decades and appear likely to continue to do so for some decades to come.

Although I am primarily concerned with the working of the Conservative and Labour Parties in our own day, I have nevertheless made extensive use of historical material. This perhaps requires some explanation, since it accounts for what may seem the inordinate length of the present book. I have found that before I could attempt to explain the institutional arrangements of either party I have had to try to repair some of the gaps left by the historians. There is, for example, no history of the Conservative Party since Peel; this is an appalling gap since the modern structure of the party has been built almost entirely on foundations laid in Disraeli's day. The Labour Party has been better served by the historians, notably, of course, by Professor G. D. H. Cole, to whose work I am greatly indebted. But he would admit, I am sure, that his historical studies of the Labour movement have dealt only incidentally with problems of major concern to me, such as the evolution of . . .

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