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Political Parties - Essay Example

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The role of political parties in representative democracy has a long history that even predates the advent of universal suffrage. (Bogdanor, 2006) The first half of the 20th century witnessed the upsurge in the membership of political parties. In the UK, the Labour Party which was formed in 1900 could boast of a million members by the early part of the 1950s…
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Political Parties
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Download file to see previous pages (Bogdanor, 2006) Figures have however been more dismal in the past 30 years. In 2005, membership of the Conservative Party had fallen to an abysmal 250,000.
Thus from 1975 to 2005, the Conservative Party has lost more than four out of five of its members. (Bogdanor, 2006) Interestingly, within that same period, the Conservative Party has been in power for a total of more than 15 years. Consequently, though it has been in power for more than half the total time between 1975 and 2005, the Conservative Party has lost more than four fifths of individual membership.
The situation of the Labour Party is also very dismal. Though membership drive in 1996 had witnessed an increase of individual membership to 400,000, by 2006, membership of the Labour Party had dropped to 200,000, half its number in a space of 10 years and one fifth in the space of about 50 years. (Bogdanor, 2006)
"Fifty years ago, 1 in 11 of the electorate belonged to a political party; today just 1 in 88 do. Moreover, voters feel less attached to parties than they did. In 1966, 42 per cent professed a "very strong" attachment to the party of their choice; today only 13 per cent do. That, no doubt, is one of the reasons for the increasing volatility of voters and low turnout in general elections - 59 per cent in 2001, 62 per cent in 2005." (para. 1)
The high lev The high level of passivity to political party membership may also account for the volatility in voter turnout during elections. The loss of interest in political parties and its concomitant effect on electoral turnouts can be contrasted with public participation in other political issues. According to the Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society (2004), whereas the 2001 general elections witnessed a significant decline in voter turnouts, there was a greater willingness by the public to participate in demonstrations in 2003 on issues like the Iraq war, the funding of higher education, and the visit of President Bush.
Many reasons can be given for the steady loss of interest in political parties over the years in the UK and other EU countries. The locus of political engagement has been diversified in the UK and EU over the years and this has had a great influence on the dwindling membership of political parties. The Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society (2004) have argued that:
"Recent years have seen an increase in pressure group and 'protest' politics, indicating a more complex picture of political engagement than voting figures alone might suggest." (p. 5)
The diversification of political engagement thus connotes a movement from the political party as the central organisation for effecting change in society. Traditionally, political parties, especially in the first half of the 20th century were seen as the means of achieving social change. Issues of social concern like social justice, the environment, democracy, and equality were advanced at the political party front. (Wainwright, 2008) The formation of the Labour Party in the UK in 1900 epitomises the role of agents of change that political parties enjoyed. The coming together of trade unions, workers and socialists, with the aim of changing the way the interests of the public were represented in Parliament became the bedrock for the founding of the Labour Part ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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