Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

By Paul Webb; David Farrell et al. | Go to book overview

2 Political Parties in Britain

Secular Decline or Adaptive Resilience?

Paul Webb


Introduction

For thirty years following the end of the Second World War, it was orthodox to regard the UK 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. Since the middle of the 1970s, however, 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, including 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 (see Tables 2.1 and 2.2).

What do such changes imply for the general status of parties in the country? Those on the left have been especially prone to see evidence of party failure or decline in some of the changes noted. For instance, Jacques (1993) has contrasted the erosion of party-society links with the burgeoning non-partisan associative life of the country. In this context, he argues that the established model of representative politics which focuses on the parties in Westminster constitutes something of an impasse for democracy and it should be supplanted by the development of new forms of political participation. In a similar vein, Mulgan (1994a : 16)—ironically

-16-

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Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Comparative Politics ii
  • Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • List of Tables x
  • Notes on Contributors xiv
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • References 14
  • 2: Political Parties in Britain 16
  • References 42
  • 3: Italian Parties 46
  • Appendix: Glossary of Party Acronyms 73
  • 4: Party Decline in the Parties State? the Changing Environment of German Politics 77
  • References 103
  • 5: France 107
  • References 147
  • 6: The Colour Purple 151
  • 7: The Scandinavian Party Model at the Crossroads 181
  • References 210
  • 9: Spain 248
  • References 276
  • 10: Parties at the European Level 280
  • References 306
  • 11: Still Functional After All These Years 310
  • 12: Canada's Nineteenth-Century Cadre Parties at the Millennium 345
  • References 377
  • 13: Political Parties in Australia 379
  • References 406
  • 14: Parties and Society in New Zealand 409
  • References 434
  • 15: Conclusion 438
  • Index 461
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