Political Parties and the Public Accountability of Leaders
Political parties are an essential, though not sufficient, link in the chain of 'accountability' between the political élite and the people. Accountability can be given various meanings and involves not just effective policy and respect for manifesto pledges, but also the probity and honesty of office-holders. In the latter area administrative, constitutional, and even penal law act as constraints supplementary to electoral accountability. However, electoral accountability is the sine qua non of representative democracy, and in most of Europe it is still organized along more or less 'party' lines. There are probably few democracies, at least in Europe, where electoral choice is not still conceived, in the minds of voters, primarily in party terms. France has always been a partial exception on this score, and the startling political breakthrough of Silvio Berlusconi suggests a similar process of personalization of politics in Italy, but elsewhere there are few leaders who can, with any confidence, operate far outside the limits of partisan identities.
When it comes to assessing whether office-holders actually implement 'party' policy, however, the situation becomes less clear, and just what we mean by 'party government' varies considerably across liberal democracies. The extent to which, out of the complex circuit of parliamentary, bureaucratic, and interest-group interaction, policy can be described as having been determined by 'party' is much debated. 1 This gap, between on one side what is done in the name of particular parties, and on the other what they have committed themselves to doing--or what voters believe they have committed themselves to doing--is a perennial source of potential public mistrust in parties. Such a gap can exist for different reasons: parties may be ill prepared for office, failing to understand the complexities of policy issues or finding themselves