At one point in Britain, anyone wishing to influence or build public policy had to be a member of a political party. Political parties were considered as the sole avenues that people could use to air their views on democratic issues. In the 1950s, political parties offered voters consequential chances for participation in the policymaking processes. Besides, the political parties generated policy options for individuals elected to offices (Biezen 2004). It suffices to conclude that political parties embraced image-driven politics and enjoyed massive public support. Unfortunately, the significance of the British political parties has decline over time since the 1950s. This paper will discuss some of the factors that have led to a decline in the importance of political parties in Britain.
Decline in Significance
One of the reasons why political parties lost their popularity was change in political ideologies. Political parties were initially established with the primary objectives of fighting for the rights of citizens and policymaking. With time, some political parties changed their ideologies and embraced unpopular policies (Biezen 2004). For instance, in 1967, the National Front (NF) party was established, which was mainly dominated by whites. The party was against non-white immigration and embraced fascism. In addition, it was opposed to right-wing policies adopted by other political parties. Besides, National Front party called for Britain to pull out of the European Union. These political policies made the party unpopular among the people (Biezen 2004). Even though the party has relaxed its position on non-white immigrants, it is hard for it to regain the lost public trust.
Britain has witnessed great revolution in terms of political concerns and policy matters, which has influenced the country’s political discourse. There has been attestation of enduring decline in intensity of ‘ideological division around traditional issues such as conflicts between labour and capital, over defence and security questions and regarding public ownership’ (Holzinger & Knoepfe 2000, p. 45). Additionally, there have been changes in political and economic discussion, with Britons embracing market-oriented economic policies. The changes have been accompanied by a decline in overreliance on state provision as citizens turn to private provisions. Most Britons allege that they have set for private provision after realizing that political elites use political parties to propagate their political and economic interests at the expense of the public (Koopmans & Statham 1999). The influence of political parties has led to the emergence of influential people and actor-centred institutionalism. In return, it has become hard for political parties and political leaders to work as government watchdogs, thus rendering political parties useless.
Holzinger and Knoepfel (2000, p. 78) argue, ‘Party leaders are concerned with winning political power and have little interest in analysing political or policy issues that are not connected to the same’. Political parties are under the control of party leaders and their cautiously appointed aristocrats. As a result, parties do not have time to focus on policy issues that will benefit the public and the nation at large. Instead, political leaders engage in politics of image and strategy abstraction in chase of political affluence. Most Britons have realised that party leaders assume offices with no sense of bearing and turn out to be brokers amidst rival interest groups (Holzinger & Knoepfel 2000). For this reason, civilians favour working with interest groups whenever they wish to promote their policies.
Dalton and Wattenberg (2010) allege that British political parties have lost their glory due to a gradual decline in status and partisan identities. Additionally, most people have stopped associating themselves with society and embraced individualistic approach. Indeed, the majority of Britons have refused to participate in electoral reforms, an indication that they do not value politics and political parties as they did before. Apart from societal changes, Britain has witnessed numerous political scandals involving both the government and political leaders. The scandals have made many people to lose confidence in the government and politicians. Dalton and Wattenberg (2010, p. 19) allege, ‘With the cash for question scandal in the 1990s, followed by the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, the British public has recently been labelled disengaged in relation to political life in this country’. Most of the people have lost hope in political parties and political leaders because they do not care about public interest.
According to Biezen (2004), politics in Britain has become administrative and boring. Koopmans and Statham (1999, p. 219) assert, ‘The ideological red meat loved by the “party faithful” is in short supply’. Additionally, there has been significant revolution in how people use their leisure time, sine the period when many in the society favoured conservative, local Labour or Liberal Club. In early 1950s and 1960s, many people used political parties to socialise. They had high probabilities of meeting their future spouses at political party gatherings. There might be the unusual exemptions; however, that does not happen nowadays. Lees-Marshment (2001, p. 78) alleges that even individuals attracted to political activism find party politics to be creepy and repulsive.
British political parties have become insular, centralised, and detached from their principal members. They have stopped being mass membership parties and they are no longer related in any important way to the community as a whole. Insularity has protected political parties from their members (Mazzoleni & Schulz 2010). Moreover, it has destabilised their capacity to influence national affairs. Besides, it has made them lose support national wide.
Modern technology has rendered political parties insignificant in Britain. One does not require being a member of a political party to have a voice. Through Internet, one can communicate and associate with any political group that shares same ideas (Negrine 2008). Consequently, people opt to use technology to air their political views instead of going through overheads of engaging a political party.
British political parties have become narrow-minded, centralised, and detached from their members. Indeed, the parties are gradually moving away from their primary responsibilities. In return, they are becoming insignificant, with many Britons turning to interest groups. Rather than working as government watchdogs, political leaders use parties to pursue personal goals. Political parties no longer play a significant role in policymaking processes. Besides, some parties have changed their political ideologies; consequently, losing public support. Cases of political leaders engaging in scandals have made the public lose interest in political parties. Most Britons believe that self-centred individuals who are out to satisfy their interests at the expense of the citizens manage political parties. Technological development has made it possible for people to sell their political ideologies without relying on political parties. People can use the internet to reach and communicate with individuals belonging to their school of thoughts. For this reason, political parties have become less significant in Britain.
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Dalton, R & Wattenberg, M 2010, Parties without partisans: political change in advanced industrial democracies, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Holzinger, K & Knoepfel, P 2000, Environmental policy in a European Union of variable geometry, Helbing Press, Basel.
Koopmans, R & Statham, P 1999, ‘Political claims analysis: integrating protest event and political discourse approaches’, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 203-221.
Lees-Marshment, J 2001, Political marketing and British political parties: the party’s just begun, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
Mazzoleni, G & Schulz, W 2010, ‘Mediatization of politics: a challenge for democracy’, Political Communication, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 247-261.
Negrine, R 2008, The transformation of political communication: continuities and changes in media and politics, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.