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What are the roles of political parties and how effectively do they carry this out?

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Introduction

What are the roles of political parties and how effectively do they carry this out? Liberal democracy would not be able to function without political parties. They are a logical and inevitable result of representative democracy. Over the last 100 years with the evolution of political parties they have developed a number of functions. However recently there has been increasing criticism that these parties are not fulfilling their responsibilities. The most obvious role of political parties is to govern. They exist for the purpose of fighting elections and winning power so that they might govern. To the large parties power is all that matters because by having it they have an opportunity to rule. The Liberal Democrats who in the near future have no hope of power exists in a hope to change this and eventually gain control. However small parties who have no hope of ever getting into power must instead content themselves with highlighting their cause. They act in a similar manner to pressure groups, for example the Green Party exists to shame the larger parties into more environmentally friendly policies. The power hungry attitude projects a very selfish image and parties have often been criticised with being self-interested and concerned with power alone, rather than improving the country. A function of political parties is to formulate ideas and policies to present to the electorate. ...read more.

Middle

The Labour party has always taken this very seriously because of the nature of its evolution. Mass membership came first and leaders were appointed by the working classes to represent them in Parliament. This idea is imperative to political parties because if they do not give the electorate want they want they will pay for it at the next election. A major criticism of parties is that they are very bad at performing this function, as they do not represent all voters but only their core supporters. For example the Conservatives only understand the concerns of the wealthy suburbia while Labour are limited to the poorer urban areas. The recruitment and participation function of political parties is important. If a person feels strongly about politics they may join a party rather than just vote and therefore act as link between the government and the governed. This is the principal method by which parties recruit MPs and ministers. Mass membership provides parties with captive support, financial support, future leaders, new ideas and free labour. However there is increasing concern that parties are failing to carry out this role effectively. Parties must recruit to survive, as they have no income they are reliant upon donations. Yet due to the changing nature and ideals of parties they source of financial support is changing to. For example in 1986 around 70% of all Labour income came from Trade Unions but by 1995 this had reduced to 50%. ...read more.

Conclusion

A second problem which arises from the reduce ability to perform this function is the spiralling costs of election campaigns. The amount of donations have decreased yet parties find themselves having to finance increasingly expensive campaigns. Most the money is spent on advertising. In 1997 both Labour and the Conservatives spent around twenty million pounds each. In an attempt to control this Labour also included in the Neil Report a spending limit of twenty million pounds for election campaigns. A perhaps less obvious function of political parties is their ability to reconcile conflicting interests. A single party represents coalitions of many different areas of society and combines them into one workable political system. Opposing ideas are harmonised and allow members to collaborate for example the differing views of left and centre MPs combined in Labour. However it could also be argued that parties do not perform this role effectively as political debates often shift within a party and members are simply expected to 'toe the party line'. Political parties also have a socially disruptive effect. By appealing to particular sections of society they can cause a division in the country for instance the traditional class divide represented by the Conservatives and Labour. Political parties are central to our democratic system. They perform a number of roles including representing the electorate, making policies and providing a recruiting ground for future leaders. However there has been growing awareness that parties are failing to perform these functions as effectively as they should do. ...read more.

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