Local Elections in Britain

By Colin Rallings; Michael Thrasher | Go to book overview

9

Minor parties and local elections

INTRODUCTION

Any division of parties into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ categories is both arbitrary and certain to cause offence to the supporters of those parties relegated to the lesser status. Political scientists have struggled for many years to arrive at an acceptable system of classification. For some the critical factor has been whether the party in question succeeds in winning legislative representation (Lijphart 1984). Others seem to imply that minor parties are those which defy cross-national ‘family’ analysis (Gallagher et al. 1995; Muller-Rommel and Pridham 1991). What most of these studies have in common, however, is that the discussion centres on national, not local electoral politics. Naturally, the threshold for minor parties to succeed at the national level is different to that for achieving local representation. In one sense this confuses the picture still further. By suggesting that small parties are not after all so insignificant when local rather than national elections are being discussed we appear to be calling into question the distinction between major and minor parties. We are not about to resolve this issue here but it is hoped that what follows will at least provide a greater insight into the nature and extent of electoral competition provided by parties outside the national mainstream.

Although the main parties have dominated local elections there have been others whose contributions have been significant. In both Scotland and to a lesser extent Wales, local elections have been important platforms for the development of nationalist parties. Fluctuations in support for some form of devolution or independence have been reflected in the council ballot box. The Scottish National party (SNP) in particular has proved successful in winning seats and council control. Beyond the nationalist parties there has been a wide variety of party groupings but the most numerous candidates have been those who, strictly speaking, have eschewed a party description altogether. The label ‘Independent’ refers not to a party but rather announces the candidate’s conscious rejection of a formal party description on the ballot paper. Nevertheless, a book on local elections in Britain could not be written without taking into account the important role played by Independent candidates and councillors. This discussion

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