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Political Parties

Political parties perform an important function in the UK Parliamentary System, acting as a coordinative body through which groups of people with similar ideologies can come together and campaign on issues which they care about. The UK has a multi-party system which often produces single party majorities at election time, meaning that political parties in effect provide the government of today and of tomorrow. If you are elected as a member of a political party, having stood on that party's manifesto during the election, you are expected to take up that party's whip upon taking your seat in the House of Commons.

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One of the main features of the UK’s Parliamentary Democracy has been that it operates under a two party system, with the two largest parties tending to dominate general election results. Prior to the emergence of the Labour party at the start of the 20th Century the Conservatives and the Liberals had dominated British politics. Following the Second World War this began to change with Clement Attlee’s landslide Labour victory at the 1945 general election being an important landmark. It would now be the Conservatives and the Labour party who would tussle for 10 Downing Street right up until present day.

Following a split in the Labour party in 1981 – during which a breakaway group of Labour MPs, popularly known as the ‘Gang of Four’, formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP) – the political landscape of the UK changed once more with the SDP forming an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party. Together they would later form the Liberal Democrats, soon becoming the ‘third party’ of British politics. Even though the Liberal Democrats have never been singularly in government, their present coalition with the Conservative party shows that they can prove influential at election time having won 23% of the total vote at the 2010 election (as compared to the Conservatives’ 36% and Labour’s 29%).

On a traditional political left-right scale the Labour party have been seen as the country’s socialist party of the left (believing in re-distribution, freedom of opportunity and, generally speaking, stronger government), whereas the Conservatives have been the more economically neo-liberal party on the right (believing in the free market, low tax rates and de-centralized government.) As a rule, the Liberal Democrats fall somewhere in between.

Since the 1990’s, however, there has been more of a trend for political parties to move towards the centre in a phenomena the academic, Anthony Giddens, described as the ‘third way’. Starting with Tony Blair’s redrafting of Labour’s constitution to remove a clause which stated the nationalization of industry as one of the party’s aims, the Conservative party is widely regarded to now be moving towards the centre under the leadership of the UK’s current Prime Minister, David Cameron.

In addition to the UK’s main 3 political parties, there are also various other political parties represented in Westminster. These include: the Green party and the Scottish Nationalists. By convention none of the main political parties stand in Northern Ireland, so some of the parties represented here are the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance.