Please Note – This website is strictly neutral. The purpose of the website is to help increase your understanding and participation in UK Politics and not to influence your political beliefs or voting decisions. To ensure impartiality, and no possibility of bias information I will not include any party policies.
The United Kingdom is a multi-party system. Despite the fact the Conservative and Labour Party are the largest and most likely to gain a majority in the House of Commons; there are a number of other political parties in the UK also running for office.
Political parties – A political party is defined as an organised group of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions, that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.
Functions of Political parties
Making Policies – Perhaps the most recognisable function of a political party is the development of policies and political programme. Political parties will try to identify issues that are affecting people (often through focus groups, and talking to different groups of people) in order to create policies that will be popular with the population, in a hope of winning their vote in the next election. Political parties will fundamentally announce their policies in an election manifesto, setting out what they will try to achieve if they receive a majority in the next general election.
Seeking office – Political parties will seek election on various different levels. They will try to win power in order to influence and create policy which fits with their ideology and beliefs. Parties will try to win your vote by releasing policies in their manifesto, and gain an electoral mandate to govern from the voter.
Selecting Candidates – Political parties will also spend a great deal of time and effort selecting candidates for office at all levels. They need to find prospective local councillors, elected mayors, members of devolved assemblies and the Scottish Parliament, candidates for the European Parliament election and most prominently of all, for the Westminster Parliament. Parties try to select candidates that are popular with the constituency in which they are running and will also do a good job of representing the party.
Identifying leaders – Political parties need leaders, to be the face and voice of a political party before elections (if in opposition or smaller party) or even the Prime Minister and leader of the government if the party win a general election. This decision is obviously very important to political parties and are most often decided by votes within the political party.
Representation – Parties also claim to have a representative function. In modern day politics, parties claim to represent the national interest and not just specific classes or groups. So when we suggest that parties have a representative function we mean that they seek to ensure that all groups of society have their interests and demands at least considered, and hopefully represented.
Organising elections – At election time political parties play a crucial role. Apart from supplying approved candidates, the party organisations form part of the process of publicising the elections, persuading people to vote and informing voters about their candidates. Without the huge effort of thousands of party activists at elections times, the voter turnout at the polls would be very low.
Education – It’s not only at election times that political parties have an educative function. They are continuously involved in the process of informing the people about the political issues of the day, explaining the main areas of conflict and outlining their own solutions to the problem. Part of this process also involves educating the public about how the political system itself operates. Therefore parties have a crucial role in keeping citizens up to date on important subjects.
Political parties also have a large number of other functions which include educating society and representing all groups of the population in the legislative procedure.
Electoral manifesto – This is a statement produced by a political party at election times. The manifesto states what policies it intends to implement if it gains power in the election. This is a very important document, as it is one of the main ways voters decide which party and candidate they will vote for and ultimately which party will win power. The election manifesto is usually released a couple of months before the election and parties will generally put this document on their website. The manifesto is a large document. It usually starts with a short message from the party leader before breaking down its policies to certain sections and topics. To view past party manifesto’s, follow the link.
Left and right wing politics – These terms should be used and treated with caution, although they are commonly used in everyday political discussions to describe individual’s or group’s political stance. The expression dates back to the years before the French Revolution of 1789, when the seating in the French representative assembly reflected political views. To the left sat those reformers who wanted to limit or remove the powers of the monarchy and replace them with a democratic government; to the right sat supporters of the King and his authority. Since then though, the terms have been transformed into descriptions which are much broader. The reason these terms should be used with caution, is that their meaning is so broad, and the meaning also changes drastically from country to country. Essentially though, left wing normally refers to ideas associated with socialism or social democracy, while right wing normally refers to conservative idea.
Socialism – A state of mind and a political movement that places such values as equality of opportunity, social justice and collectivism high on its scale of values. It is either opposed to free-market capitalism or proposes measures to moderate the undesirable effects of capitalism.
Conservatism – A state of mind and political movement that is naturally averse to excessive change and reform. It is sceptical about strongly held political views, prefers the known to the unknown and generally supports the retention of traditional institutions and values.
Liberalism – A state of political mind or a political movement that places freedom, rights and tolerance high on its scale of values.
Choosing who to vote for
Choosing who to vote for can be a very tricky decision. Most people know very little about politics, and decide who to vote for simply on little bits they know about the party leader, or small amounts said in the media. So to make you are more savvy voter in the election booth, here are a number of ways to learn more about the political parties running for your vote.
- Read their manifesto’s – Yes this is pretty boring, but it is perhaps the best way to see the parties plan, as they intended it to be put. By reading the actual document, there is no chance of anyone spinning it, or adding their own personal slant. You can get a real idea of what a future Britain under that party would look like and see all of their policies in order to determine how they would affect you.
- Watch the news – In the lead up to the election, the news will almost certainly contain information about the actions of the party leaders that day, and any policies they have unveiled. Sitting and watching the news is hardly difficult. Some very intelligent people have done the hard work by finding the important political stories of the day and delivering them to you in an understandable way.
- Read the news – Reading the news stories as they happen can give you a better insight into the different political parties. Using news agencies can also be a great way of learning the not so good things about each party that they don’t want you to find out, but is important for the voter to know. A word of caution though, most news agencies will often add their own political bias and twist to these political stories. The BBC however are supposed to be unbiased. I would personally recommend the BBC website as it gives you the important political stories, along with analysis and explanations of their meaning and effect to the country. They also provide a ‘manifesto watch‘ showing where parties stand on key issues, and recent ‘poll trackers’. The app and website are also free which is a bonus!
- Look into the local candidates – Although looking at the plans of political parties as a whole across the country, you are not voting for the party leader. You are voting for a constituency MP. This means it is worth looking at the individual candidates in your area, and their local policies. Local issues can be an important factor in many people’s voting decisions. To see individual candidates policies, take a look at their website (most have these), alternatively you can attend local meetings with the candidates to discuss issues and your beliefs with them.
- Useful websites – There are also a number of websites which take your ideas and beliefs and match them to the nearest party. It can be quite a good way of seeing which party you are most similar too, if you’re struggling to decide. This survey site, I found particularly effective.