chapter  16
36 Pages

Ideology and party competition

Ideology has an ambiguous status in the academic study of British politics. Often it is regarded as a sub-category of political theory rather than having any place within political science. It is difficult enough to present a definition of ideology that will command widespread acceptance, let alone to devise a ‘scientific’ method of assessing its precise impact on party competition and policy formulation. However, no one can seriously deny that ideas have some impact on participation in British politics, at all levels. Despite contemporary cynicism about politics, many people are inspired by their beliefs to vote, join political parties, demonstrate or stand for office. It is generally agreed that ideology is ‘action-orientated’: it provides a rationale for policy ideas, and encourages people either to support or oppose them. Equally, ideas can also help us to understand a decline in participation. When parties seem to agree on most of the key issues, and merely exaggerate differences of detail in order to score points, sections of the electorate are likely to feel alienated from the political process.