UK Political Parties The main three

Types of Party

Mainstream parties

The party system in the UK has been dominated by three main national political parties: the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats, which came into being as a result of the merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1988. Minor Parties 

Niche parties and minor parties

Niche parties have a distinctive focus on a limited set of issues that often fall outside the traditional left-right ideological and socioeconomic divide. 

Nationalist or regional parties

Some minor parties follow and regional agaenda based on national identity — whether a nation, as in the case of the Scottish National Party (SNP), or a region, as in the case of Mebyon Kernow (The Party for Cornwall) and the Yorkshire Party. While the SNP campaigns for full independence (e.g. the SNP), others may have more modest goals (as was once true of Plaid Cymru in Wales). Some parties on the far right have had modest success pursuing a nationalistic agenda. Withdrawal from the EU was UKIP’s main goal, but it also campaigned against immigration. The party won 12.5% of the vote in the 2015 general election, but its fortunes declined after the EU referendum (see the case study). The far-right British National Party (BNP) achieved some electoral success in the early twenty-first century but fielded just one candidate in the 2019 general election.

Single-issue parties

The more successful niche parties — particularly those that have entered government in the devolved institutions — have retained their distinctive message while also broadening their policy programmes. However, many minor parties can still be viewed as single-issues parties, for example the Brexit Party, Women’s Equality Party and Animal Welfare Party.

 Dr Richard Taylor of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern Party won the Wyre Forest constituency at the 2001 and 2005 general elections. Some minor parties blur the boundary between political parties and pressure groups, as their primary goal is to raise awareness of a particular issue, or group of issues, as opposed to winning an election and/or securing power. Green parties are primarily associated with environmentalism but also campaign for social justice. They emerged in the 1970s and gained support this century as climate change became a major political issue.

Mass parties

A mass party is a type of political party that developed around cleavages in society and mobilized the ordinary citizens or 'masses' in the political process. In Europe, the introduction of universal suffrage resulted in the creation of worker's parties that later evolved into mass parties such as the Labour Party or the German Social Democratic Party. These parties represented large groups of citizens  and these interests of different groups in society. In contrast to cadre parties, mass parties are funded by their members, and rely on and maintain a large membership base. Further, mass parties prioritize the mobilization of voters and are centralized  but also have greater membership participation than cadre parties.

Cadre parties

A cadre party, or elite party, is a type of political party that was dominant in the nineteenth century before the introduction of universal suffrage. The French political scientist Maurice Duverger first distinguished between "cadre" and "mass" parties, founding his distinction on the differences within the organisational structures of these two types.Cadre parties are characterized by minimal and loose organisation, and are financed by fewer larger monetary contributions typically originating from outside the party. Cadre parties give little priority to expanding the party's membership base, and its leaders are its only members.  None of the UKs mainstream parties conform to this definition but the Conservatives have some characteristics of a 'top down' party- ie less membership participation.