The political organisation of Parliament

I realise I did not do a post about another recent publication of mine.  This redresses that oversight.  I have a chapter on ‘The political organisation of Parliament’, in Exploring Parliament, edited by Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Louise Thompson.  The book, published by Oxford University Press in February, is designed as a wide-ranging text on Parliament.

Political parties are crucial to the effective functioning of a legislature.  Yet very little is written about how they are organised.  The main organisation historically has been the whips, though their role is often misunderstood.  They are primarily managers and communicators.  They facilitate cohesion rather than force it.

The 20th Century saw the development of a party infrastructure, with both main parties meeting weekly, with elected officers, though with some notable differences between the two (the PLP comprises all Labour Members; the Conservative 1922 Committee comprises private Members, though ministers may now attend).  Each has developed backbench groups covering policy sectors.

I also discuss parties in terms of Anthony King’s modes of executive-legislative relations.  The opposition mode has been the dominant mode in British politics, though the cross-party mode has become more relevant in recent years, as has the non-party mode in respect of all-party groups.  The inter-party mode became significant during the period of coalition government.  However, the one that matters most for the party in government achieving its goals is the intra-party mode.  Backbench MPs have become more independent in their voting behaviour in recent years.  The high point of party cohesion was the mid-1950s.  Nowadays, ministers have to make sure that their backbenchers are on side.  Party infrastructure provides a means for hearing, and sometimes absorbing, their concerns.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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