Open Up: the future of the political party

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 18th December 2014

The traditional political parties are in big trouble. Back in the 1950s, one person in every ten was a member of a political party. Now, there are more people who identify their religion as ‘Jedi’ than there are members of the Conservative party, and almost the same number of Labour members.

The era of two big political parties slugging it out on the national stage is well and truly over. Today we publish new research showing clear public appetite for having a larger number of parties on the national stage, and for those parties to be willing to work together in pursuit of the common good.

A ComRes poll [1] of the 40 most marginal Conservative-Labour constituencies (ie. the areas where the traditional two-party battle is fiercest) found that:

67% believe the rise of smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens is good for democracy (against just 16% who think the opposite)
51% believe it is better to have several smaller parties than two big parties (against 27% who think the opposite)
50% believe the era of two parties dominating British politics is over (against 32% who think the opposite)

The same poll showed that people are comfortable with the implications of a multi-party system, and prefer parties to work together in the common interest rather than continually attack each other:

78% believe the Opposition should work with the government on issues they agree on
54% believe Parliament works best when no party is too dominant so that cross-party agreement is needed to pass laws

The older, more traditional parties need to wake up to this new reality or face the consequences of ever-dwindling support. They need to embrace new ways of opening up beyond their narrowing band of members, and they need to push through reforms which will give people the type of politics they want.

Parties should be a force for good. At their best, they bridge the divide between politics and people and make our democracy work. They should be part of the solution to political disengagement, not part of the problem. But to achieve this, the British party system needs to catch up with the type of politics people want to see.

Today the Electoral Reform Society publishes a landmark report on the future of political parties. Open Up sets out the challenges faced by the mainstream parties, the ways in which newer parties appear more adept at attracting support in the 21st century, and what the mainstream parties need to do to reconnect with voters.

The report makes four core recommendations for the mainstream parties to address their spiral of decline. These are:

Increased role for non-members Parties’ experiments with involving non fee-paying supporters should be accelerated
More member- and supporter-led policymaking People want to see an end to top-down, command-and-control politics
Party funding reform Parties’ reliance on big donors is undermining people’s trust in them
Electoral reform A fairer voting system would help meet people’s expectations of having a greater choice of parties and more consensual policymaking

Please have a read of our report, and let us know what you think

1. ComRes interviewed online a representative sample of 1,002 GB adults living in the 40 most marginal constituencies where the Conservatives and Labour shared first and second place between them at the last General Election in 2010. Of these 40 constituencies, 25 currently have a Conservative MP and 15 currently have a Labour MP. Each constituency is represented in the sample equally, with results weighted to be representative of all adults in all 40 constituencies as a whole. Data were also weighted by past vote recall. Fieldwork took place from 15th to 24th November 2014.

Read the report

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