"Individual party members have little or no power within the main UK political parties. Assess the accuracy of this view.

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"Individual party members have little or no power within the main UK political parties.” Assess the accuracy of this view (25 marks).

The amount of power lying with individual party members varies between the two main UK political parties whilst the distribution alters when concerning different matters, for example voting for a leader and having an input in policy making. The Conservative party members have complete power when electing their leaders (aside from the fact they cannot elect the two candidates) whilst all branches of the Labour party are able to vote for their leader. When it comes to policy making in the Conservative party it is the leader who makes policy, in the sense that they have the final say on policy and the contents of the manifesto. In the Labour party there is a wider distribution of power in policy making as the MPs have relatively little power and all the branches play a part instead.

Conservative party members did not have a say in the election of the leader until William Hague reformed the procedure in 1998 due to the small number of MPs the party acquired in the 1997 general election. In a contest with only two candidates, there is a ballot of all party members, however, if there is a contest of more than two there is a series of ‘primary elections’ but only with the Conservative MPs to find out which two candidates to put before the party members for election before a one member, one vote (OMOV) of party members then occurs. In this sense, the electing of the leader by ordinary members is not as democratic as it appears although they still get a say between two candidates. Conversely, MPs only have the power to rid of the leader after a vote of no-confidence although the Conservative party members have voted them in the first place. The democratic approach to the voting can be therefore negated as the leader is clearly the person the party members wanted and saw as competent to lead. This was seen in 2003 when 25 letters were written by Conservative MPs to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee and therefore signifying a lack of confidence in leader Iain Duncan Smith who had to stand down as a result. A relatively small percentage of MPs were responsible for this happening although many members of the party could have been equally content with Smith. On the other hand, Labour’s election procedures differs to the Conservatives as the trade unions, PLP and CLP all vote in an electoral college with a third of the vote each giving each branch of the party a say in voting. This gives ordinary members a vote in who becomes leader in addition to those who are part of a trade unions although this can give other parties power to vote as not all trade unionists are supporters of the Labour party. However, some people are eligible for two votes giving them extra power when electing a leader.

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In the Conservative party, the leader is the formal policy maker although they only have the final say on the manifesto and not the contents itself as it would require more time and expertise for the leader to do so. The party conference is only an advisory body and existing policies are not argued. Conference instead acts as a rally for the party faithful whilst building up the morale for the party in the year ahead and so individual party members have no power at all. However, it could be argued conference is becoming more assertive, for example in 1993 ...

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