Essay plan: Evaluate the extent to which minor political parties in the UK have increased their influence on the established political parties. (30)

Arguments in favour of minor parties increasing their influence on established parties

  • Minor parties can win influence by winning elections and by securing representation and power in devolved bodies and in the European Parliament.
    • The Brexit Party won the 2019 European Election. This has put pressure on the Conservative Party to elect a candidate for the leadership (e.g. Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab) who is a leaver and who will put a ‘no deal’ Brexit on the table as the Conservatives are worried they’ll lose votes and seats to the Brexit Party at the next election if they don’t shift their position on Europe.
    • The SNP won a majority in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary Election & then went on the secure the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum & won all but 2 Scottish seats in the 2015 General Election. This was partly responsible for the devolution of further power to Scotland in the Scotland Act 2016.
  • They can gain influence as a significant 3rd party in coalition or by supporting a minority government
    • The DUP have significant influence over the government’s Brexit policy, as, without DUP votes they would lose a confidence motion in parliament. The DUP have also managed to extract £1 billion extra of Northern Ireland from the British government.
    • The Lib Dems entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 and acting as a ‘moderating’ influence (e.g. pupil premiums, increasing the personal allowance).
    • A future Labour government is likely to have to rely on smaller parties to govern. Will the SNP ask for a 2nd independence referendum in return for support? Will the Lib Dems enter into coalition again?
  • They can gain influence by increasing their public support as evidenced by opinion polls and party membership.
    • UKIP experienced a significant increase in support in the run up to David Cameron’s decision to announce an in/out referendum on leaving the EU in January 2013. In fact, on the day of David Cameron’s announcement, UKIP were on 23% in one Survation poll. This put pressue on Cameron to announce a referendum as he was worried the party would lose votes to UKIP at the general election in 2015.
    • You can also talk about the Brexit Party’s polling here (see above).
    • You could argue that the Green Party have gained influence as a result of an increase in public support around environmental issues, largely driven by pressure group activity (e.g. Extinction Rebellion)

Evaluation of the claim that minor parties have increased their influence on established parties

  • FPTP limits their influence in the General Election
    • UKIP were prevented from breaking through in 2015 (3.9 million votes = 1 seat) & the SNP’s strong showing in 2015 has left them as a strong opposition party, but they remain a minor party.
    • Minor parties are described as minor for a reason. Only Labour and the Conservatives have won an election outright since the decline of the Liberal Party as a party of government in the inter-war years. This trend is not likely to change.
  • They can gain influence by propping up a minority government or by entering into coalition, but this relies on FPTP failing to deliver a majority government and this is usually rare in the UK system (the only examples are 1974, 2010 and 2017 since the war).
  • Polling can influence political parties, but many see it is a background noise that isn’t useful at predicting the outcome of election, diminishing its influence. ‘Cleggmania’ in 2010 didn’t lead to a significant increase in support for the Liberal Democrats and voters tend to revert to voting for major parties under FPTP at general elections, as FPTP promotes tactical voting. Therefore, polling doesn’t significantly influence major parties.

Conclusion:

There does seem to be evidence of increased support for the argument that minor political parties have increased their influence in recent years, with the Liberal Democrats and the DUP exerting significant influence as part of a coalition or ‘supply and confidence’ agreement. However, this is likely to be a short term phenomena. Post-war history suggests that major parties are predominant in the UK political system as they alone can win an election outright, leading to elective dictatorship.

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