Category Archives: Political Parties

Level 5 Response – Using the source, evaluate the view that major parties still remain the dominant force in UK Politics (30 Marks)

(C) Edexcel

There have always been two dominant parties in the UK political system. Between 1867 and 1922 this dominance was shared by the Liberals and Conservatives, and since 1922, it has been shared by the Conservatives and Labour. The source highlights a number of arguments relevant to the question, including the role of electoral systems, the policy positions of different parties and the shifts in recent years. Ultimately, the dominance of the major parties is accentuated by the First Past the Post voting system which has always benefitted two main parties. Although this factor is less important than it has been traditionally and there are other mechanisms through which parties can make an impact, nonetheless, to a large extent major parties remain dominant in UK Politics.

It is clear the First Past the Post system accentuates the power of the major parties in the UK political system. As the source states “the current electoral system favours few parties”. The First Past the Post system penalises parties who are nationally popular but lack concentrated support. For example, in the 2019 General Election the Green Party received 865,707 seats nationally but only secured one seat, Brighton Pavilion. In this same election, it took an average of 38,264 and 50,718 votes to elect a Conservative and Labour MP, respectively. In addition, the two main parties benefit from safe seats in which the minor parties cannot hope to be competitive. For example, in Liverpool Walton in 2019 the Labour MP won 84.7% of votes. The existence of these safe seats means that even people who support minor parties are dissuaded from voting for them and instead feel forced to vote tactically. This process in itself reinforces the dominance of the major parties and it is unlikely to change, as it benefits the two major parties. Famously, in 2011, both major parties campaigned against AV during the referendum. It is clear that under FPTP the two major parties remain dominant are likely to continue to do so. Contrastingly, it is clear that outside of Westminster elections minor parties have had significant success. As the source states people have been looking to minor parties like “the SNP and Plaid Cyrmu” who have achieved “success and recognition”. A number of more proportional voting systems are used across the UK including: STV for the Northern Irish Assembly and AMS for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament. These elections do not see the clear dominance of Labour and the Conservatives. In fact, in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP has been dominant since 2011 and currently the Greens hold eight seats. In Wales, Plaid Cymru have been in government and also been the main party of opposition. Increasingly, since the devolution acts of 1998, policy decisions are being made outside of Westminster, including powers over taxation and are subsequently reducing the importance of Westminster Elections. Ultimately, the major parties remain dominant in the Westminster elections and that is unlikely to change. As the Westminster Parliament is sovereign in the UK, this accentuates their dominance. However, dominance in Westminster is not as important as it was prior to 1998 and it is clear that the two-party dominance is not replicated as clearly across the whole country, therefore suggesting that although remaining electorally dominant, this dominance is less clear that it once was.

In the last 20 years, despite a brief interlude from 2015-2020 under Corbynism, there has been depolarisation within British Politics. As the source states “the voter has little to choose between when looking to the major parties”. This depolarisation was entrenched by 13 years of New Labour where aspects of Neo-Liberalism, for example the importance of privatisation, were embraced by both parties. Evidence of this depolarisation can be seen though the make-up of the short-lived Change UK Party in 2019. This party saw members ‘cross the floor’ and join it from both the Conservatives (e.g. Sarah Wollaston), Labour (e.g. Chuka Umunna). Following its dissolution, most of these members then joined the Liberal Democrats. This cross-party amalgamation would have been unthinkable in the 1980s, for example. Arguably, the decreasing membership of political parties reflects this process, as people do not feel solely represented by any political party. Today, the biggest political party is Labour with 550,000 members whilst the Conservatives have 180,000. This can be compared with 2.8 million for the Conservatives in the early 1950s. Despite this, it is undoubtedly still the case in Britain’s adversarial system that “the major parties capture the main issues of the day and present choice”. Whilst policies on certain issues like COVID and Ukraine have seen cross-party support, this is still not the norm. The parties tend to take conflicting positions on major policy issues. They have to do this in order to create choice for the electorate through their manifesto promises. For example, in the 2019 General Election the three major parties took differing positions on the central issue of Brexit. The Conservatives promised to ‘Get Brexit Done’, Labour promised a renegotiation and second referendum, whilst the Liberal Democrats promised to simply scrap Brexit. Such differences are replicated across the range of policies that are campaigned on and help to maximise the power of voters by maximising choice. Ultimately, it is clear that despite depolarisation meaning the differences are not as ideologically stark as they once were, and general consensus existing on neo-liberal economics, the dominant parties still offer a choice to voters in an election and this clear choice, combined with FPTP, helps to accentuate their dominance.

Importantly, in recent years there have been a number of parties who have challenged the dominance of the major parties without necessarily being electorally successful. These parties have benefitted from people “questioning the establishment of Westminster”. The success of these parties can impact party policy of the major parties. The best example of this is UKIP, arguably the most significant political party of the last 15 years in Britain. Their clear popularity in winning 12.6% of the vote in 2015 (but only one seat) directly resulted in the Conservative decision to hold the EU Referendum in 2016. In addition, the popularity of the Green Party (both electorally and in membership) has made Labour embrace green policies faster than it may have otherwise done, including promising a £250 Billion Green Investment Fund. The impact of parties outside the mainstream has been accentuated by the mistrust that exists in the political class. Events within the last generation have led to people not trusting elected politicians, these include the Iraq War (2003), MPs Expenses Scandal (2009), Brexit Impasse (2016-2020) and, most recently, Partygate and Lobbying scandals. These events have made it more likely that voters will abandon the major parties. However, the source notes that “style over substance” is increasingly important in Politics. The major parties are at a distinct advantage in this battle because of their access to resources that the minor parties simply do not have. In the UK, party financing is regulated by the PPERA (2000). Although this has arguably increased the transparency of the party financing system, it has not stopped the major parties from a huge funding advantage, particularly at election time. For example, in the 2019 election the Conservatives were given £1 Million by a single individual, Peter Hargreaves. By comparison, the largest single Green Party contributor gave £100,000. In addition, Labour receives the financial backing of the major Trade Unions. Before the 2019 election the Unite Union alone gave Labour over £3 Million. This was significantly more than the total amount received by the Liberal Democrats and Greens combined. This significant financial advantage helps to consolidate the electoral advantage of the major parties and to win battles over style with targeted campaigning, particularly in the new battleground of social media. Ultimately, there have been minor parties that have challenged the status quo in British Politics in recent years and have had a significant impact. However, the structural advantages held by the major parties mean that they continue to remain dominant.

In conclusion, it remains the case that the major parties are dominant in the UK political system. The main political parties remain dominant in Westminster and their self-interest dictates that this is unlikely to change. Whilst minor parties have impacted policy and have secured electoral success outside of Westminster, the power of the Westminster Parliament makes this less important than it otherwise might be. Therefore, whilst less dominant than they used to be, major parties still remain dominant to a considerable extent.

Why is this a Level 5 Response?

  • The answer starts with a clear introduction which shows knowledge of the topic, sets out the themes to be considered and, most importantly, sets out a clear argument.
  • All the points of analysis originate from the source. They are not over-quoted – they are concisely highlighted to show the examiner the candidate is using the source (as required by the question).
  • There are three sets of paired arguments originating from the source. (It is important to note that many students will not have time to do three sets and Level 5 can be achieved doing only two).
  • There is detailed own knowledge (from outside the source) to help to analyse the points in the source.
  • Analysis is built upon this detailed knowledge, with a consistent focus on answering the question.
  • Clear mini conclusions are used at the end of the section which consider what the view on the question is as regards the issue that has been discussed.

What does the Brown Commission recommend as regards constitutional reform in the UK?

Former PM Gordon Brown was asked to lead a report into potential future constitutional reform.

After becoming Labour leader in 2020 Keir Starmer asked Gordon Brown to lead a commission looking at the constitutional future of the UK. The subsequent report, A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy was published on the 5th of December 2022. It has been referred to in short-hand as the Brown Commission. However, whilst the report was led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it was researched and written by 16 Labour Party members of affiliates that also included Anneliese Dodds MP (Labour Chair), Carwyn Jones (Former Welsh First Minister) and Ayesha Hazarika (journalist and former advisor to Ed Miliband). The final report was 155 pages long and was wide-ranging.

Some of the key recommendations of the report are:

1. To embed into law the duties of Government

The report notes that too much of the significant development of the British constitution since 1998 has relied on convention. The report says that these would be placed on a statutory footing, for example, a duty on central government to actively seek to rebalance the economy.

2. To devolve more power to local communities

The report highlights the need to devolve more power to local communities. For instance, towns should be given more power to drive growth and investment. In addition, however, they should also be given more tax-raising powers so they rely less on central government and block funding. In addition, there should also be powers to initiate legislation in Parliament by local leaders.

3. To create a new institution to represent the voice of the devolved nations within central government

The report highlights that government across the UK is currently too fragmented. It recommends new institutions following the abolition of the House of Lords to make sure there is representation for the UK and regions of England in Westminster.

4. To improve to the Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish Governments

The report recommends a number of things to improve the current devolution settlements. They include:

  • Strengthening the Sewel Convention to stop it being amended by a new Second Chamber.
  • Allowing Scotland to enter into certain foreign relations.
  • New powers for the Welsh Government over youth justice and the probation service.
  • Giving MSPs the same protection under privilege as MPs.
  • Giving enhanced economic resources including new investment banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

5. Mechanisms for greater cooperation between devolved governments

The report suggests there is too little shared government in the UK which makes the fragmentation of the UK more likely. As such, they recommend a new Council of the Nations and Regions to help develop a ‘culture of cooperation’ across the UK. This would help on areas of joint interest such as climate change and security.

6. New procedures to make MPs more accountable

The report says more must be done to clean up politics and make MPs more accountable. It suggest new laws should be passed to limit second incomes for MPs and to eliminate foreign money for UK politics. It also indicates that there should be an anti-corruption Commissioner to focus on these challenges.

7. Replace the House of Lords with a smaller democratic second chamber

The report says that the continuance of the House of Lords is ‘indefensible’. It says that the House of Lords should be replaced with a new second chamber, An Assembly of Nations and Regions. It says the new chamber should have a special roe safeguarding the constitution but not in a way that impacts the primacy of the House of Commons. Finally, it says that unlike today the second chamber must be elected with a different system and cycle for elections to it.

The report said that they believed that their recommendations could all be achieved within one parliamentary term (five years). If so, this would make that period one of the most significant constitutional rebalancing periods in British history.

Whilst Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership welcomed the report, they have not committed to it as policy yet. They will go away and look at the recommendations and consider which can be part of the Labour Manifesto at the next General Election.

The full report can be read here: Commission-on-the-UKs-Future.pdf (

What was Clause IV and what did New Labour do to it?

Labour Leader Jim Smith died in May 1994.

In May 1994 the leader of the Labour Party, John Smith, died suddenly. He had only been Party Leader since July 1992 and his death came as a major shock to the whole nation.

In the leadership election that followed, Tony Blair became Party Leader, with 57% of the overall vote. This was a defining moment in the history of the Labour Party. Alongside Gordon Brown (later Chancellor of the Exchequer), Peter Mandelson (later a Cabinet Member) and Alistair Campbell (later Communications Director) the ‘New Labour’ movement began to take shape. One of the major early policy decisions taken was the abolition of Clause IV. So, what was Clause IV and why did Tony Blair want to see it abolished?

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