Skip to main content

Understanding British Party Politics

Understanding British Party Politics

Stephen Driver

ISBN: 978-0-745-64077-8 May 2011 Polity 220 Pages


In Stock



The 2010 general election caught many by surprise as it swept away the old certainties of two-party politics. But, as Stephen Driver shows in this new book, multi-party politics had already established itself as a feature of contemporary British political life. In recent years, both Labour and the Conservatives lost their iron grip on the electorate and the Liberal Democrats emerged as a significant and credible third party force across the country. In local, devolved and European elections, smaller parties from across the ideological spectrum have been adding to the political mix.

This fluid and uncertain political scene provides a unique moment to explore the dynamics of UK political parties and the key challenges facing them as they grapple with the changing shape of politics in 21st century Britain. Key questions explored in this book include:

  • How far have Labour and the Conservatives escaped from the shadow of Thatcherism?
  • What turned the Liberal Democrats from a party of protest to a party of power?
  • To what extent have green and far-right politics entered the political mainstream?
  • What impact, if any, has devolution had on party lines across the UK?

Moreover, at a time when trust in politics has hit an all time low, political parties are facing a crisis in confidence. Membership of mainstream parties has melted away, while support for pressure groups in areas such as the environment and human rights has grown. At the same time, parties rely on hired professionals to win support among the growing number of independently-minded voters. In understanding how political parties have become much more aggressive, professionally-driven organizations, this book points to real concerns about their capacity to engage and mobilise an increasingly critical and disenchanted electorate. British politics needs strong parties, but to regain voters' trust, they need to change.


1 The British party system.

2 Political parties.

3 The Conservative Party post Thatcherism.

4 'New Labour' and the Labour Party.

5 Liberal Democrats: from protest to power.

6 Putting the boots away? The Far Right.

7 Reds and Greens.

8 Party politics after devolution.

9 Politics and its discontents.

"Not only an excellent introductory textbook, it is also a timely reminder of why formal political parties still matter, despite all the enormous pressures being placed upon them."
Political Studies Review

"Competently, clearly and concisely written, with great and knowledgeable detail given to the historical events and occurrences that created the political parties we have today."
LSE Blog

"This book combines approachability with comparative concerns and insights: the author not only provides an introduction to UK party politics but sets the British system in context. As a result, it's an ideal entry-level text for students."
Tim Bale, University of Sussex

"This is an excellent text which charts a safe path for students through the minefield that is contemporary British party politics in a wonderfully efficient yet engaging way."
Colin Hay, University of Sheffield

"An excellent introductory undergraduate text. It covers history, ideology, strategic debate, organisation, the functions of parties and the challenges to them, plus debates about reform - and there are good overviews of each of the main protagonists in the UK party system. Extremely readable, informative, engaging and up-to-date."
Paul Webb, University of Sussex

  • A lively, approachable introduction to post-war British party politics and its international context
  • In the light of the surprise results of the 2010 General Election, Stephen Driver's book explores the key challenges raised by the changing shape of politics in twenty-first century Britain
  • Highlights crucial concerns raised by the erosion of trust in mainstream political parties, asking what needs to change in order for the current system to maintain its legitimacy
  • Includes discussions of the long shadow of Thatcherism, the shifting fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, and the entrance of green and far-right politics into the political mainstream