Consensus, Adversary and Adversarial Politics

The UK political system encourages adversarial politics in a variety of ways. The election system of First-past-the-post, where a voter chooses just one party, makes there less need for parties to be seen to work together on issues as when they might work in coalition or be searching for second or third preference votes. The House of Commons is set up on adversarial lines, with the government and opposition physically facing each other. 

Consensus and adversarial politics

Consensus politics : A reference to political situations where there is widespread agreement between parties and groups on key political issues. It can also refer to a circumstance where there are few policy differences between major parties.

Adversarial politics :refers to a style of politics where leaders appear to be antagonistic towards each other and demonstrate extreme levels of conflict. Prime Minister's Question Time in the UK is an example of adversarial politics.

Adversary politics: can be used to describe periods when  ideological differences between the main parties is wide.

Based on the opposite positions of left wing and right wing is the idea of consensus and adversary politics. Consensus when there are areas of agreement and adversary when they conflict. Since 1945 the UK has been characterised as progressing through periods of consensus and adversary politics.

Consensus politics

Consensus politics is the position where there is widespread agreement over a good number of key areas of policy and ideas between the major parties competing for office. As a result there is little difference in how the country is governed, whichever party wins office. It also implies that policy makers will consult widely and secure wide agreement before putting policies into practice. It can also be described as a period when there are few ideological (that is, concerning fundamental beliefs) differences between parties and between factions within parties.

Examples of consensus politics in the UK : The `Butskellite' consensus (1945-79)

This consensus takes its name from two Chancellors of the Exchequer, R. A. Butler (Conservative) and Hugh Gaitskell (Labour). The Conservative Party came to accept the reforms of the 1945-51 Labour government. 

The Labour Party, together with the Liberal Democrat Party (formed in 1988), slowly accepted the reforms of the Thatcher and Major governments of the 1980s and 1990s. These included:

The post-Thatcher consensus (1994-2010)

·    a commitment to the free market as often superior to state-run organisations

·    a belief that most people prefer to be free to pursue their own individual goals, rather than pursuing them through collectivist organisations and the state

·    a commitment to privatisation (the return of most large enterprises from the public to the private sector)

·    a reduction in the importance and power of trade unions and the restoration of free labour markets

·    a belief that welfare benefits can be a disincentive to work and enterprise and so should be reserved for those most in genuine need

·    an acceptance that private sector enterprises should be able to compete with state-run organisations to provide state services

Adversary politics

Adversary politics A description of a circumstance where there are deep political differences between major parties and within parties. It can refer to a period when there are strong ideological conflicts.

Adversary politics can be said to exist when there is widespread and fundamental disagreement over the key policies and ideas of the main parties competing for governmental office. It also means there are deep ideological differences between parties and between factions within parties.

Examples of adversary politics in the UK The Labour/Conservative divide (1981-90)  or (2016-19)

In the 1980s, the Conservative and Labour Parties were highly divided over issues such as nuclear weapons, privatisation and workers’ rights. 

From 2016 - 19 the Labour Party adopted a more left wing manifesto under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the ideological difference with the Conservative was wide. Corbyn proudly called himself a socialist and his politics represented a rejection of the third way and Blairism. He called for increased taxation of business, advocated the re-nationalization of the railways, promised the institution of a National Education Service modeled on the NHS that would provide free child care and increased education funding, and has opposed the renewal of the country’s Trident nuclear missile program.