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Chapter

Cover British Politics

5. Winning and Losing Elections  

This chapter assesses what politicians and members of political parties really care about: getting into office on the back of a successful election campaign. Rather than the general determinants of voting outlined in the previous chapter, this is about the choices voters and parties face within a particular system, so they can organize themselves to win. For that they need to play by the rules of the game, which includes developing strategies within electoral systems. The chapter then discusses the impact of electoral systems on that calculus, and how the number of parties is affected by the electoral system in place. It also looks at the factors that assist the winning of elections, and the extent to which the choices of parties and voters are affected by growing instability in the system. Overall, the chapter provides an overview of British political parties and party systems.

Chapter

Cover UK Politics

6. The party system  

This chapter switches the focus to political parties. It looks at their individual roles and how they operate. The chapter discusses the parties that constitute the ‘party system’. It considers the two main parties operating at the UK level: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. It also looks at the smaller parties, such as the Liberal Democrats. The chapter considers the political approach of the various parties and the type of support they attract. It also looks at how parties are funded. The chapter provides a number of theoretical perspectives to help with an analysis of political parties. These are: the extent to which parties pursue values or power; the respective roles of their members and leaders; groupings within parties; how far the UK has a two-party system or whether our definition of the party system should be revised; and the relationships between the various parities. The chapter then gives examples of how these ideas play out with specific focus on recent events involving the Conversative and Labour parties. The chapter asks: do members have too much influence over their parties? The chapter ends by asking: where are we now?

Chapter

Cover British Politics

11. Conclusion  

The State of British Democracy

This concluding chapter presents a summary of the common themes and key points about British politics, which help make sense of current events, such as whether turbulence and instability now characterize British politics, and whether democracy can work well in these conditions. It provides a table containing summaries of each chapter, which relate to the themes of the book: party government and executive power, political turbulence, blunders/policy disasters, and the difficulties of achieving agency. With these and other insights, it is possible to assess whether there is anything left for traditional understandings of British democracy or whether the country is in uncharted waters, without any clearly understood democratic mechanisms and not capable of producing effective policy outcomes. Overall, how does Britain fare as a democracy with its old and new features? The chapter then looks at the debate about the quality of UK democracy.

Chapter

Cover British Politics

1. The Starting Point  

Understanding the Political System

This chapter discusses what makes British politics distinctive and recognizable: its parliamentary democracy, uncodified constitution, and pattern of party government. It begins by outlining some recent events that have made British or UK politics so fascinating and controversial. The chapter then describes the political system, particularly the institutional rules that affect what happens and govern how politics takes place. Parliament, composed of the House of Commons, House of Lords, and the Crown, is the supreme legal authority in the UK. The chapter also provides a summary of the British constitution. It places the UK in a comparative context, to be studied alongside other nation states. Finally, the chapter sets out the information and concepts that help in understanding the nature of and limits to British democracy.

Chapter

Cover British Politics

2. Leadership from the Top  

This chapter examines the general issue of leadership in the British political system and the stresses and strains of this task, examining the role of the prime minister. As well as being leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, able to command a majority, and potentially able to get government business through Parliament and into law, the prime minister has executive powers, which helps keep this focus. Despite the power of the position and its importance in the British system of government, there are fundamental weaknesses in the role that come from the instabilities of party politics. Overall, the picture of prime ministerial and core executive power and capacity is a mixed one that is changeable over time. In recent years, over Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister's fate can change dramatically, even week-by-week.