an umbrella organisation is Ā£5 million.
The government, local authorities and other publicly funded bodies are
prohibited from publishing promotional material in relation to a referendum in
the twenty-eight days before the poll. The Secretary of State must consult
the Electoral Commission before making Orders regulating the conduct of
539 Parties, groups and the people
referendums. The formulation of the question to be put to the voters is deter-
mined by the legislation providing for a referendum. The Electoral Commission
considers the proposed wording as speciļ¬ed in the bill or draft statutory instru-
ment and declares its view of the intelligibility of the question (see section 104 of
the Act). The Commission takes considerations of fairness into account ā“
for instance, that the words and phrases used in the question should not be
intentionally ā˜leadingā™ and should not have positive or negative connotations.
(See the question assessment guidelines on the Commissionā™s website, www.
electoralcommission.gov.uk.) The Commission is required to publish reports on
the administration of referendums.
See further I Budge, The New Challenge of Direct Democracy (1996);
M Mendelsohn and A Parkin (eds), Referendum Democracy (2001); M Qvortrup,
A Comparative Study of Referendums (2002).
4 Political parties
The system of parliamentary government in the United Kingdom is one of party
government. Yet Jean Blondel noted in 1963 (Voters, Parties and Leaders, p 87),
that political parties in Britain were ā˜private associations to which the law does
not give more rights and duties than to other private organisationsā™. The law of
the constitution did not, until recently, regulate political parties and indeed
barely acknowledged their existence. But the working of the constitution depends
on parties, which are ā˜the chief motivating force of our main governmental
institutionsā™ (Memorandum of Dissent to the Kilbrandon Report, Cmnd 5460-
I/1973, para 311. The authors of the Memorandum considered that any scheme
for constitutional reform must concern itself with the political parties.)
Report of the Committee on Financial Aid to Political Parties
(Cmnd 6601/1976), para 9.1
Effective political parties are the crux of democratic government. Without them democracy
withers and decays. Their role is all pervasive. They provide the men and women, and the
policies for all levels of government ā“ from the parish council to the European Parliament.
The parties in opposition have the responsibility of scrutinising and checking all the actions
of the Executive. Parties are the peopleā™s watchdog, the guardian of our liberties. At election
times it is they who run the campaigns and whose job it is to give the voters a clear-cut
choice between different men and different measures. At all times they are the vital link
between the government and the governed. Their function is to maximise the participation
of the people in decision-making at all levels of government. In short they are the main-
spring of all the processes of democracy. If parties fail, whether from lack of resources or
vision, democracy itself will fail.
Parties are important in a study of the constitution because they engage indi-
viduals in the political process, bring about the election of MPs (and also
540 British Government and the Constitution
members of the devolved legislatures and UK members of the European
Parliament), provide governments and opposition to governments, and are
engines (although not the only ones) for the creation of government policies.
Any consideration of the extent to which the constitutional system provides
for ā˜government by the peopleā™ must take account of the organisation and
functioning of political parties.
(a) Selection of candidates
Since independent members are rarely elected to the House of Commons (none
was elected in 1983, 1987 or 1992, one in 1997 and 2001, and two in 2005), the
selection of candidates by the political parties is a crucial factor in determining
the membership of the House. Selection in a safe seat is virtually equivalent to
election, and many of those selected will serve for long periods in Parliament.
Among them will be future holders of ministerial oļ¬ce and Prime Ministers.
The selection procedures used by the parties are therefore a matter aļ¬ecting the
public interest. The partiesā™ rules for the selection of candidates diļ¬er, but
in each case selection is a function of the local party organisation, subject to
a degree of central control.
In the Conservative Party an approved list of candidates is maintained by the
central Committee on Candidates, a sub-committee of the National Board of
Management of the party. The procedure for the selection of candidates to
be included in the list is determined by the Committee on Candidates subject
to approval by the Board. In the constituencies, a local selection committee
draws up a shortlist of not fewer than three candidates on the approved list for
consideration by the executive council of the constituency association. The
executive council nominates at least two candidates for consideration by a
general meeting of the association, where the selection is made by ballot.
A sitting MP who does not secure the assent of the executive council to his
re-adoption has the right to request a postal ballot of the full membership of the
association, or instead may, at his option, have his name added to the ļ¬nal list
to be considered by the general meeting.
In the Labour Party the National Executive Committee (NEC) approves a
ā˜parliamentary panelā™ of prospective candidates, although constituency parties
are not obliged to select from this list. Nominations are made by local branch
parties and aļ¬liated organisations and from these a shortlist, including an
equal number of men and women, is drawn up by the constituency partyā™s
shortlisting committee. The candidate is chosen by ballot of individual party
members on the basis of one member, one vote. The constituencyā™s choice must
be endorsed by the NEC. A sitting MP wishing to stand for re-election may
on certain conditions be endorsed as a candidate without having to submit to a
ballot of party members.
The Labour Party introduced all-women shortlists in selected constituencies
in 1993, but in 1996 this practice was held by an industrial tribunal to be contrary
541 Parties, groups and the people
to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. That Act was amended by the Sex Discri-
mination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 so as to allow political parties to adopt
measures for reducing inequality in the numbers of men and women elected
as their candidates. The Labour Party was accordingly again able to adopt
all-women shortlists for the 2005 general election (with a resulting increase in the
proportion of female Labour MPs), but neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal
Democrats opted for this course.
The Liberal Democrat Party is a federal structure of ā˜State Partiesā™ for
England, Scotland and Wales. Local parties, each normally embracing one par-
liamentary constituency, are set up in accordance with the constitutions of the
state parties. Lists of approved parliamentary (and European parliamentary)
candidates are drawn up and maintained by a ā˜candidates committeeā™ of each
state party. Only approved candidates can apply for selection, and shortlisting
is carried out by the executive committee of the local party or by a shortlisting
sub-committee appointed by it. The Party Constitution provides that ā˜subject
to there being a suļ¬cient number of applicants of each sex, short lists of two to
four must include at least one member of each sex and short lists of ļ¬ve or more
must include at least two members of each sex; there must also be due regard
for the representation of ethnic minoritiesā™. The selection is made by ballot of
local party members. A sitting MP wishing to stand at the next general election
requires endorsement by the majority at a general meeting of the local party; if
not so endorsed, the MP may request a ballot of all local members.
(b) Party policy
Political parties are all engaged to some degree in formulating policies. Parties
that aim to take oļ¬ce, whether alone or as part of a coalition, will devise a com-
prehensive range of policies for government. Some minor parties have more
limited objectives which they hope to achieve through pressure and bargaining.
The parties have their own procedures and conventions for the making of policy.
In the Labour Party the party conference has the ā˜direction and controlā™ of the
work of the party, and is the sovereign policy-making body. The conference is
a body on which aļ¬liated trade unions, other aļ¬liated organisations (eg coop-
erative and socialist societies) and constituency parties are represented. Members
of the NEC, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the European Parliamentary
Labour Party as well as parliamentary Labour candidates are among the ex oļ¬cio
members. The former block votes of the trade unions, which until 1993
amounted to something between 80 and 90 per cent of the conference votes, have
been abolished, trade union delegates now voting on an individual basis (though
they may be mandated by their unions) and commanding (together with the
other aļ¬liated organisations) 50 per cent of conference votes.
Responsibility for the development of policy rests mainly with the National
Policy Forum, elected from all sections of the party, which is guided by a
steering group (the Joint Policy Committee) headed by the leader of the party
542 British Government and the Constitution
and consisting of members of the Cabinet (or the shadow Cabinet), the NEC
and the National Policy Forum. Policy commissions are established on partic-
ular subjects. These policy-formulating bodies produce annual work pro-
grammes for policy development, identifying topical issues for consultation,
and draw up policy reports for discussion by the Joint Policy Committee and
the National Policy Forum. The latter body submits reports and policy
documents to the party conference. A programme (ā˜Partnership in Powerā™) for
engaging local parties, trade unions and party members in the development of
party policy was initiated in 1997 and is claimed to have had success in widen-
ing discussion and consultation with the party membership. It remains true that
in the process of consultation and debate through which policies are ļ¬ltered to
the party conference, the leadership has a commanding role.
Clause V of the Labour Partyā™s constitution provides:
1. Party conference shall decide from time to time what specific proposals of legislative,
financial or administrative reform shall be included in the party programme. This shall be
based on the rolling programme presented to conference by the National Policy Forum as
approved by conference. No proposal shall be included in the party programme unless it has
been adopted by conference by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the votes recorded
on a card vote.
Clause V.2 provides for a joint meeting to settle the general election manifesto.
When the party is in government, the meeting is to consist of the NEC and the
Cabinet, with an admixture of other party members. When not in government,
the NEC and the shadow Cabinet, again with some others, constitute the
meeting. In either event the joint meeting:
shall decide which items from the party programme shall be included in the manifesto which
shall be issued by the NEC prior to every general election. The joint meeting shall also define
the attitude of the party to the principal issues raised by the election which are not covered
by the manifesto.
The Conservative Party has traditionally placed a higher value upon author-
ity and leadership than upon ideology or programmes, with policy-making
under the tight control of the leader of the party, supported by his or her
colleagues in the Cabinet or shadow Cabinet. The annual conference has no
responsibility for the formation of policies. A package of reforms introduced in
1998 included the establishment of the Conservative Policy Forum, of which the
principal functions are deļ¬ned in the constitution of the party as:
ā¢ to encourage and co-ordinate the formulation and development of policy ideas and
initiatives within the Party, particularly the Constituency Associations;
ā¢ to establish a process for receiving such policy ideas and initiatives and ensuring
a response is made to them;
543 Parties, groups and the people
ā¢ to consult by such means as it sees fit on such policy ideas and initiatives;
ā¢ to facilitate the development and organisation of high quality specialist input on important
policy Areas at a national level;
ā¢ to assist in the organisation of Party Conferences;
ā¢ to advise the Leader and the Board [of the Conservative Party] of any policy ideas and
initiatives so formulated and developed.
The constitution provides that the Leader ā˜shall determine the political direc-
tion of the Party having regard to the views of Party Members and the
Conservative Policy Forumā™. Stimulated by successive electoral defeats, the
party has introduced a measure of democratic empowerment of its members,
giving them a role in the choice of the party leader and holding member-
ship ballots on certain policy matters. (See Lees-Marshment and Quayle,
ā˜Empowering the members or marketing the party? The Conservative reforms
of 1998ā™ (2001) 72 Political Quarterly 204; see also Kelly, ā˜The making of Labour
and Tory policyā™ (2001) 72 Political Quarterly 329.)
In the Liberal Democrat Party, policies on issues aļ¬ecting the United
Kingdom as a whole are determined by the Federal Party, while the making of
policies on all other issues is the responsibility of the relevant state party.
(Regional parties in England make policies on issues relating exclusively to
regions and may seek recognition as state parties.) The sovereign representative
body of the party is the Federal Conference, consisting of representatives of
local parties, Liberal Democrat MPs, peers and members of the European
Parliament, Liberal Democrat Members of the Scottish Parliament and
the National Assembly for Wales, prospective parliamentary (and European
parliamentary) candidates and certain ex oļ¬cio members. A Federal Policy
Committee (elected, as to a majority, by the Federal Conference) has responsi-
bility for researching and developing policy, but power to determine the
deļ¬nitive policy of the Federal Party is vested in the Conference. Speciļ¬c poli-
cies for England, Scotland, Wales and English regions are developed by the
policy-making bodies of the relevant state and regional parties. The partyā™s
general election manifesto for the United Kingdom is prepared by the Federal
Policy Committee in consultation with the parliamentary party in the House
of Commons and with the parliamentary party in the European Parliament;
manifestos are also published by state and regional parties. A Federal Executive
directs, coordinates and implements the work of the federal party. It is empow-
ered to organise consultative ballots of party members on fundamental ques-
tions of policy.
A stimulus to the development of party policies is provided by non-party
organisations (or ā˜think tanksā™) of the right, left or centre. These include: on the
right, the Institute of Economic Aļ¬airs, Civitas, the Centre for Policy Studies
and the Adam Smith Institute; on the left, the Fabian Society and the Institute
for Public Policy Research (the latter founded ā˜to provide an alternative to the
free market think tanksā™). CentreForum, founded (as the Centre for Reform) in
544 British Government and the Constitution
1998, is close to the Liberal Democrats. There are other organisations which
campaign or stimulate discussion on constitutional reform, among them
Charter 88, the Constitution Unit, Democratic Audit and DEMOS.
Not all party policies ļ¬nd their way into manifestos and not all manifesto com-
mitments are carried out. When a partyā™s leaders take oļ¬ce as the government, it
usually happens that some party policies are abandoned as unworkable or are
modiļ¬ed under the pressure of events. Other inļ¬‚uences than party, some of them
powerful, are brought to bear on the government, and other agencies, such as the
European Union, pressure groups and the civil service, generate policies which
the government may ļ¬nd itself constrained to adopt. The party leadership
acquires an increased autonomy in oļ¬ce, and may not be unwilling to jettison
items of party policy that it dislikes. In these circumstances some members of the
party may believe that they have been betrayed: this was the complaint of the
Labour left against Labour Governments in the 1960s and 1970s. (See B Hindess,
Parliamentary Democracy and Socialist Politics (1983), pp 107ā“13.) The third
term of the Blair premiership has been marked by disaļ¬ection from ā˜New Labourā™
on the left of the party and stirrings of dissent from government policies among
Labour backbenchers and in the broader party.
(c) Financial resources
Party government depends on strong and well-organised political parties,
capable of carrying out the study and research necessary for the formulation of
realistic policies, and able to present them eļ¬ectively to the public. These things
cannot be done without adequate ļ¬nancial resources. The two main parties
derive their income in part from individual contributions and local fund-