Assess the view that the Labour and Conservative Party are dominated by their respective leaders (25 marks) Party leaders often form the definitive icon of an era this can be mostly traced down to their dominance or lack of. Throughout history leaders of parties have formed the very basis for the direction of the country to the extent that there is a new ideology formed – examples of this include Disraeli's One State Conservatism or Blair's Blairite ideology. However, another important question which links with the dominance of a leader is their dominance within their party.
The Conservatives have, as is suggested in their name, been a fairly traditional. This embodies strong leadership, like that of Churchill or Disraeli. This was believed to the extent that the American writer Ranney said that it was "autocratic" in its nature. He cites examples such as the aforementioned and also Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher. It seems that Conservative policy follows the line of a strong leader. Indeed, it is the party leader who has sole responsibility for writing the manifesto. A manifesto can define a whole party and set the direction that it should go in.
This can allow the leader to dominate his party. However, the Party leader is not free to do as he or she pleases. Indeed, if there were major changes to the party, the leader faces both disunited party (which would severely damage prospects of a future win in an election) and the initiation of a party contest. Also, the leader of the Conservative party does not have to attend the meetings of the 1922 Committee. The 1922 Committee is the name for a collective name for all the back benchers in the party. It has an 18 member executive committee which oversees party leader elections and any vote of confidence.
While it can be argued that this show how the leader can dominate the party, the 1922 Committee does have a lot of power which can check and in some cases lead to the downfall of the partly leader. This causes us to conclude that the party can not be over-dominated by the leader as if 15% of the MPs in the part should happen to show a lack of confidence in the leader and write to the chairman, a party leadership contest is initiated. This happened to the former Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith in 2003 when he was defeated on a vote, by way of the Committee.
The leader of the Conservative Party also has control of the activities of Central Office and the whole party machine. He or she is also placed with the responsibility of appointing a chairman, treasure and vice-chairman. He or she also appoints people to his shadow cabinet or if he or she is in power, he appoints people to the executive – the cabinet. These array of powers show how the Conservative leader dominated the party. This power, in turn, leads to either further the dominance if they have won the election or complete downfall if they have not.
As a result of the power which is places upon them, members of the Conservative Party have shown not to act kindly to those who lead their failings. This is evident in the downfalls of John Major, Thatcher and to a lesser extent Michael Howard. Labour, who had originally had no leader (just a chairman), decided opt for a party leader in 1918 when it had become a large party. Accordingly, in the same year they imposed a codified set of rules that this party had to follow. The constitution set down that the leader must attend parliamentary Labour party (PLP) meetings. This is a reference to a collective group of Labour MPs.
This would allow them to air their views on policy and direction to the party leader. As is evident, this would obviously dilute the dominance the leader has in the party as the job (by the very nature of the PLP) is more like that of a 'delegate' than an independent leader. However this has obviously not been the case. So much so that some party leader have shaped whole ideologies and led their party's through who huge back bench rebellions – the position of Blair. The constitution also set down that he must implement the policies as set down by conferences (of which he must attend); give an annual report to the stewardship.
As is evident, the Labour party leader has many more restrictions that the Conservative party does not. Furthermore, the Labour party leader does not have as much control over the party organisation (like that of the Conservative leader's control of Central Office). Although, as has been noted, Blair implemented a new Third Way ideology, he took various controversial decisions which significant amounts of his party did not agree with. He faced large backbench rebellions which were larger than any other in Parliament's history.
Notably, 100 Labour MPs revolted against the decision to remove two MPs from the chairmanship of two parliamentary committees. Although what remains clear, in both parties, is that it does largely the dominance does largely depend on the personality leader. Nobody would compare the dominance which Blair or Churchill had over their respective parties to that of Callaghan. This can then go on to shape the way of government (if achieved) that is implemented. For although the cabinet must be a place of, according to Bagehot, "equals" where the Prime Minister is merely "first among them," history has clearly shown that it does not go this way.
Blair was accused of turning Cabinet meeting into measly meetings where Ministers "rubber-stamped" the policy that was predetermined in bilateral meetings. To conclude, it has been shown that the Conservative leader – in theory – can dominate his party but this seems to be done with the consent and spirit of the party in fear of resignations (as with Thatcher). This means that while some leaders may dominate, it is only through the insecure mandate which they have been given which they can do so.
This is in stark contrast with the Labour leader who in theory should not be permitted to dominate the party but as has been shown, in practice has resulted in one of the most dominant world leaders in history. As a final note, while both party leaders have immense power, they are both subject to their party: they can not lead to party into a polar-opposite direction. This would result in a mass rebellion and tear the party in two. Thus they both fear a disunited party which is one of the ultimate checks on their dominance.