Exam Question: Minor Parties
Read the source below and then answer the questions that follow
Minor parties have been becoming more influential in the UK. For example, the 2017 General Election ended with Theresa May and the Conservative Party returned to government with the support of a minor party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). A hung parliament and forming the balance of power is one of the ways minor parties can influence governments without needing to win a large number of parliamentary seats in a two-party system. The DUP only won ten seats in 2017 and yet had a powerful influence on the policy of the government despite their lack of numbers. The increased prominence of minor parties – like the Democratic Unionist Party in 2017, or the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in 2015 – is the story of change and the consequence of the political instability produced by change. Unlike the DUP, UKIP have never held the balance of power, but even though they haven’t won many seats in the House of Commons, say compared to the Scottish National Party, they had a profound influence on the policy of the government of the day. Rather than electoral impact, minor parties like UKIP have exercised influence. The successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, known as Brexit, appears to be the climax of UKIP’s agenda. The leader most closely associated with Brexit, Nigel Farage, subsequently (temporarily!) quit politics. The first-past-the-post system, as opposed to a proportional or preferential system, represents a serious barrier for minor parties. The comparative success of the Scottish National Party illustrates how weak UKIP’s electoral success in the House of Commons has been. At the 2015 UK General Election the Scottish National Party won 56 seats with only 4.7% of the vote (or 1,454,436 votes) while UKIP, on the other hand, won 12.6% of vote or 3,881,099 votes, but only one seat. The Scottish National Party may be the third largest parliamentary party in the UK, but they are unlikely to form government or opposition. The Scottish National Party may influence the UK political landscape in a different way by withdrawing from the UK. They seem likely able to engineer another Scottish independence referendum and so will again perform a significant part in UK politics, beyond their role in the devolved institutions in Scotland. Influence as success may also mean the resolution of the perceived problem that called the minor party into existence in the first place. UKIP influenced the policy of the Conservative Cameron Government by forcing the issue of a referendum. Since Brexit won, there is little further reason to vote UKIP and UKIP lost its only seat in the House of Commons in 2017. The rise of minor parties like UKIP and the SNP may lead to the end of the United Kingdom. But the Scottish National Party may discover, like UKIP, that success is also their undoing.
Using two differently-coloured highlighters, indicate:
a The arguments in the source that support the view that the main role of minor parties is to influence government policy.
b The arguments in the source that support the view that the main role of minor parties is to seek to resolve a perceived problem.
Select 3 arguments from each side and add them to the balanced debate columns below
minor parties is to influence government policy
• Theresa May returned to government with support of the DUP in 2017
• Holding the balance of power in a hung parliament is an important role
• DUP had a powerful influence on policy
• UKIP had a profound influence on the policy of governments
minor parties is to seek to resolve a perceived problem.
Most of the time there is single-party government in the UK
• The SNP may influence the political landscape in another way (Scotland leaving the UK)
• Successful influence may mean the resolution of a perceived problem
• There is no reason for people to vote UKIP now they have achieved their aim
• The same would be true for the SNP. What would be their role in an independent Scotland
“Using the source, evaluate the view that influencing government policy is the most important role of minor parties in the UK”
Example Paragraph Structure
Point :The source states that forming the balance of power in a hung parliament is one way in which minor parties can influence government and the policy agenda.
Evidence: For example, after the 2010 general election, the Conservative Party entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats because they did not have enough MPs to form a majority government on their own. Similarly, in 2017, the government entered into a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP. While First Past the Post has traditionally delivered majority governments, two out of the last four general elections have produced hung parliaments. Furthermore, even when governments have a majority, minor parties may still be called upon to help the government, because backbench rebellions can mean governments still depend on their votes, if majorities are relatively small.
Counter-argument: However, the source states that the First Past the Post voting system is a serious barrier to minor parties: most general elections result in one party gaining a majority and therefore being no requirement for a minor party to hold the balance of power.
Evidence: For example, after the 2019 General Election, where Boris Johnson got a comfortable majority, minor parties found themselves unable to have a major impact on parliamentary votes, including the DUP losing its impact on government policy.
Judgement (or mini-conclusion): Because ordinarily one of the main parties in the UK commands a majority in the Commons on its own, this suggests that influencing government policy is not the main role of minor parties.