What are the problems with the UK’s party system, and how might they be resolved? This essay will analyse the challenges and problems UK party system is facing. The essay will look into public apathy and mistrust, resulting in low party membership and low electoral participation. The main argument is that political parties do not have strong enough incentives to connect with voters. Proposals to resolve these problems will be changing electoral system, further limiting donations to the political parties and banning their trade activities, forcing more ideological changes and showing strong real actions to ignite the political debates. As we all know, UK political system is dominated by main two political parties, Labour and Conservatives. Historically, most of the elections, apart from few exceptions, resulted in one party forming the government whilst other party being in opposition. Throughout the history, British political parties enjoyed large memberships and enthusiastic support from all sections of population during the elections. Voters were more politically aware and active in political life. British Election Study’s survey in 1964 showed that three quarters of population had strong or fair affiliation with a political party (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, p. 2). In 1950’s Labour had 1 million members while conservatives had 2,800,000 (Fieschi, 2006, p. 143) However, political parties lost the trust and support of public. Membership of parties is at all-time low. According to the recent study, only 2 percent of voters in the UK are party members (Beetham, Blick, Margets, & Weir, 2008, p. 42). People abstain from voting in general elections, the trend observed especially amongst young voters. Pressure groups and lobbyists are gaining more influence and political parties are increasingly getting disconnected from the general public. Latest MP’s expenses scandal dramatically reduced the trust in politicians. The trend is not unique to Britain. Other European states observe the same decline in public participation. Therefore, many analysts declared that the age of mass party membership is over (Beetham, Blick, Margets, & Weir, 2008, p. 42). But what are the reasons that the political parties lost the trust of public? It is not true that people are not interested in politics anymore. Mass mobilisation of cross-party protests against the war in Iraq is the biggest example that politics still plays important part in public’s life. Almost all of the works and researches done on the subject of declining of party politics agree on one thing- the electoral system in the UK and subsequent “two party” system that results from it is the main obstacle for parties to engage with public. The argument is, political parties only concentrate on swing voters and taking the “safe votes” for granted (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, p. 7). However, Britain always had a two party system with FPTP. So, why parties did not concentrate on marginal swing voter areas before? The explanation given by commentators is that Britain used to be divided into two poles: conservative traditionalists and labour working class. But now, most of the population is more or less “middle class” and have moved to the centre (Garner & Kelly, 1998, pp. 255-256). Therefore, people have marginalised their party or ideological identities. This argument does not hold ground, as although political parties reformed greatly, the membership of both parties still declined. “But this is because voters don’t see the difference between parties and are confused” the critics say. But, is it not exactly what the two political parties used to be; having two distinct ideologies? Yet, membership is declining in both cases. So, one might think that it is inevitable for party membership and influence to diminish on the face of social developments in the UK. However, there is another explanation. Commentators are right to point out to parties only concentrating on swing voters. However, while...
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[ 7 ]. Evidence suggests that more competitive the elections, more people cast their vote (Pattie & Johnston, 2007, pp. 5-7).
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