Consensus, Adversary and Adversarial Politics

Consensus and adversary 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.

Do not confuse adversary politics with adversarial politics. They are significantly different and you will dramatically reduce your mark if you do not clarify the meaning of these terms. 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.


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. These included:

· a mixed economy , with some nationalised (state-run) industry and some private enterprises

· a belief in the importance of the welfare state

· acceptance of the power of organised labour through trade unions to balance the power of the employers

· a commitment in foreign policy to NATO and the close alliance with the USA

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)