chapter  4
Economy and society
Pages 27

This chapter explores different perspectives on the role of UK parties. As an aristocratic organisation, the nineteenth-century party had an instinctive preference for hierarchy. Most commentators accept that political parties are an inevitable feature of liberal democracy. Until 1998, the Conservative Party was divided into three sections: the parliamentary party, consisting of MPs and peers; the professional party, consisting of paid officials with their headquarters in London; and the voluntary party, the National Union of Conservative Associations, which represented grass-roots constituency members. Since the publication of Robert McKenzie's classic study of British Political Parties in 1955, the Labour Party has been regarded as an organisation whose democratic pretensions are at odds with its oligarchical practices. Both Labour and the Conservatives have introduced reforms which are supposed to encourage participation from their members; and both have tried to win new recruits.