A political party is an organisation that seeks to win political power by putting up candidates for election. They mobilise support in order to win power. They offer differing policy positions across the political spectrum in order to give the electorate a diversity of choice when voting in an election. For example, the Labour Party traditionally believed in providing extensive help for the working-class and trade unions. Furthermore, political parties help to get people active in politics by creating local organisations in every UK constituency.
This is very useful for political parties looking to recruit new members. MPs are elected by their constituents to represent their local and national interests in Parliament and elsewhere. They achieve this through several means available to them. One way is through the media. Evidently, the media is a force that can influence many people. In 1997, journalist Martin Bell ousted Neil Hamilton from the Tatton constituency – his aim was to rid Parliament of the 'Tory sleaze' from the Major years.
He used the media very effectively during his campaign. Another example of an MP using the media for politics is George Galloway's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. This enabled young people to watch a popular TV programme whilst listening to a politician. However, Galloway's showing was ridiculed and criticised by some, including members of his own constituency. Another way in which MPs can serve their constituents is by putting pressure on the Executive. This can be achieved during Prime Minister's Question Time.
If they repeatedly stand up for a local issue on national television, the Executive will want to be seen as listening to backbenchers and will show that they are willing to help. One could argue this is another example of using the media to serve their constituents. MPs also use local fundraising and local campaigns to serve their constituents. Clearly, they must demonstrate to their electorate that they are standing up for their local interests if they are to stand a chance of re-election.
For example, the Liberal Democrat MP David Laws met with workers' representatives from the firm of Hygrade in Chard, where up to 300 people were being made redundant. This was part of his local campaign to stop unemployment in April 2006. In recent months, key developments have led to the political realignment of the three main parties. The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats both have new leaders, with new ideas and policies. David Cameron has attempted to shift the Tories onto the centre-ground of politics, whilst Sir Menzies Campbell is also offering attractive new policies to the electorate.
This essay will look at the three main parties' policies on the economy, healthcare, education, immigration, law and order, constitutional reform and Europe, and the extent to which they offer a distinct set of alternative policies. During their nine years in power, Labour have focused on achieving sustained economic stability through keeping inflation, interest rates and unemployment low. They are committed to increase spending on public services, which is achieved by raising indirect taxes on goods such as petrol and cigarettes.
Thus, the public sector is now consuming 42% of the nation's GDP, a massive increase from the Thatcher and Major years. The Conservative Party currently have a policy group who are examining the reforms required to make the country more economically competitive and wealthy. Their policies on this issue have been quite vague up to this point, although they have promised to share the proceeds of economic growth between public services and cutting taxes. The Labour Government has made no such pledge to cut taxes.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have boldly pledged to replace the council tax with a system of local income tax, which they claim is fairer because it taxes the individual depending on their ability to pay, not where they live. Furthermore, they propose a 50% top rate income tax on those earning above i?? 100,000 a year, in order to fund their ambitious spending programme. On policies concerning healthcare, there is a cross-party consensus that an NHS system funded completely by the taxpayer is the best healthcare system for this country to adopt.
Labour emphasise the need for greater investment in the NHS, increased patient choice over where they are treated, extra doctors and nurses and reduced waiting times. The key distinctive policy of the Conservative Party at the 2005 election, the patients' passport policy, has been dropped by David Cameron and their emphasis now is on reducing bureaucracy and managing the system more efficiently – although they haven't made any clear policies as to how this will be achieved. On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats have pledged free personal care for the elderly, and the end to charges for eye and dental checks.
Labour's record on education suggests an increased weight of importance placed on more higher education, demonstrated by the increase in students continuing to participate in higher education – this had risen to 44% in 2004. Labour's Education Maintenance Allowance offers a financial incentive for students to remain learning in school. Furthermore, Labour is in the process of creating more city academies and increasing the number of teachers and support staff in schools. For example, there are now 28,000 more teachers since 1997.
The recent Education Bill was passed with Conservative support, but the Tories are still complaining that it had been 'watered-down' and wanted more radical change. They also support head teachers having more control over admitting and expelling unruly pupils, rather than local government having this power. However, the Conservatives have now dropped their opposition to the Government's introduction of university top-up fees. On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats are committed to scrapping top-up fees and replacing the deficit with more money from the State.
They also differ from Labour and the Conservatives in the respect that they do not support more freedoms for schools. Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Sarah Teather stated, "The Government's education bill is a timid bill that threatens to entrench inequality. Schools need autonomy, not competition, and collaboration to provide all our children with a decent education. " Similarly, immigration has been a dividing and controversial issue for all three main parties. ID cards will be introduced in the coming years by the Labour Government, who claim it will help to combat illegal immigration.
Simultaneously, Blair has promised to allow more genuine asylum seekers refuge in Britain – although stopped short of supporting the Conservative manifesto pledge in 2005 to set an annual quota. The Conservative position now under David Cameron is not entirely clear – there is a policy review on the subject taking place now and Cameron has warned the Tory Party to use "more thoughtful language" when discussing a sensitive issue such as immigration. The Liberal Democrats are also opposed to a quota on asylum seekers, but do support a quota for economic migrants and to judge them on their skills.
They also pledge to set up an independent civil body to decide on asylum policy. In addition, the Liberal Democrats clearly offer distinct policies regarding the fight against crime. Significantly, their policy on drug abuse is vastly different from the other two parties. Any user that is found with drugs just for personal possession will no longer be able to serve a prison sentence. Even more radically, 'soft' drugs such as marijuana and possibly magic mushrooms would be legalised, as is the case in places such as Holland.
This has been accused by both Labour and Conservatives as being 'soft on crime. ' Labour point to their policies of introducing ASBOs to fight local crime and introducing record numbers of police as ways to effectively deal with crime. The Conservatives would like to cut bureaucracy in the police force, claiming that police waste far too much time filling out forms. They want to build more prisons to end the shortage of beds, instead of Labour's approach of the early release scheme for prisoners.
However, Cameron has recently said that the Conservatives were reforming their attitudes to prison and believe that more educational opportunities should be given to prisoners so that they do not reoffend. Furthermore, the Tories would like to reform how the police force is structured in order to fight crime more effectively – for example, giving forces more freedom to fire incompetent police officers. Moreover, the parties have broad ideological differences on the issue of Europe and Britain's role in the EU.
The Labour Government believe in the EU Constitution, although had to abandon its plans when referendums in other countries proved a negative result. Tony Blair has also stated that he is in favour of the Euro, however popular pressure at home means he has been unable to get his way on this issue. Labour believe in a more economically liberal EU, although their opposition to the CAP has left Britain isolated and was pressurised into giving up parts of their rebate. Despite this, Labour are still in favour of the EU and support a strong integrated Europe.
On the other hand, the Conservatives are much more Euro-sceptic and would like to see Britain pull out of the EU Social Chapter. This has been the Conservative position for many years; even when Thatcher was in power she commented that "We havent worked all thse years to free Britain from the paralysis of socialism only to see it creep through the back door of central control and bureaucracy in Brussels. " Additionally, the Conservatives are against an EU Constiution and are on principle opposed to the Euro.
In contrast, the Liberal Democrats would like to see a bigger European effect on British politics, although they would prefer to see a more effective and democratic EU. They are also in favour of introducing the single currency. Finally, all three parties are committed to constitutional reform. The Labour party are setting up a Supreme Court in 2007, replacing the House of Lords as the highest court in the land. This is to ensure a better separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. They have also completed a large amount of constitutional reform.
Nearly all hereditory peers in the House of Lords have been abolished, apart from only 92. Devolution has changed the unitary role of the United Kingdom, giving local regions a much higher say on how they run their areas. For example, Scotland has tax-varying powers and the decisions over health and education policy in Scotland. They have also scrapped many of the powers of the Lord Chancellor, which is still in the process of completion. The Conservatives also support broad constitutional change, but do not support the different electoral systems introduced by Labour into the devolved regions and elsewhere.
However, Cameron has recently stated that he would support MPs having the final say on any decision taken by the Executive to go to war. They also propose that in order to solve the 'West Lothian Question,' only English MPs should be allowed to vote on English matters. This is in contrast to the Liberal Democrats, who propose an English Parliament to solve this problem. The Liberal Democrats would also like to see proportional representation introduced for general elections – they accuse Blair of lying about his promise of electoral reform.
Indeed, Blair did change tact in 2001, when he branded proportional representation as "unfair" since it gave undue power to smaller parties. Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats support a 100% elected Upper House, which has been rejected by the other two parties. However, it seems that after the 'Cash for Honours' scandal was exposed, the other two main parties would like to see a 70% elected Upper House. In conclusion, all three parties offer different policy packages to some extent. The dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives have become blurred due to the arrival of David Cameron as Tory leader.
Many argue that the two parties share same broad ideological principles, but simply differ in precise details. This will be tested after the Conservative policy review committtees report back with their suggestions in 18 months. However, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats do offer votes a real alternative in policy, particularly regarding crime and constitutional reform. However, none of the main political parties advocate a return to socialism and all agree in a mixed economy with private enterprise. Thus, it is arguable that we are reaching a new stage of consensus politics in the UK.