Does the UK Political System Tend Towards Conflict or Consensus Essay

Does The Uk Political System Tend Towards Conflict Or Consensus Essay

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In order to have a stable government it is important to have consensus.  Consensus is a general understanding and agreement on fundamental principles.  In politics there are three main types of consensus, Societal Consensus, Political Consensus and consensus in policy making.

Societal consensus is overall public opinion, the political beliefs of the public.  Normally most people’s political opinions are not too diverse, the majority falling somewhere around the centre ground.  The area of the political spectrum where the bulk of the

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public’s opinion lies is called the consensus.  To get elected, a political party must also fall in this area, in order to appeal to the public.

Therefore the main political parties all have policies that are similar, as they all want to appeal to the public.  This is Political Consensus.  The parties may still disagree over certain policies or issues, but on key issues their policies are very similar.  If a party was to introduce policies that were outside the consensus,

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they would lose popularity and would not be elected.  This means that governments often continue the policies of their predecessor.

Consensus in policy making is the practice of involving other groups in determining policies, in addition to the cabinet.  This may be Trade Unions, pressure groups or other appropriate group.

Historically Britain has enjoyed consensus politics.  Following the Second World War a consensus between the main political parties developed.  There was a climate of co-operation between Labour and Conservatives following their coalition government during the war and the parties agreed in certain key areas.  Both parties accepted Keynesianism, an economics system that bridged Capitalism and socialism, arguing for full employment brought about by government intervention in the economy.  There was cross-party support for the report by William Beveridge calling for a ‘Welfare State’

The Labour government of 1945, led by Clement Atlee introduced policies in six key areas, which became the foundation for the post-war consensus.  These were - the commitment to full employment, using Keynesian economic ideas to achieve it.  To have a mixed economy, including both publicly and privately owned industries.  The introduction of a ‘Welfare State’, with the establishment of the NHS and benefits for those in need.  The formalisation of links with Trade Unions, involving them in policy making.  The commitment to reducing the gap between the rich and poor and to help regions with economic problems.  The commitment to NATO and to make Britain a nuclear power, maintaining close ties to America.

In 1951 the Conservative Party was elected and although there were some minor changes, they continued the policies of the previous Labour Government.  They only had a very small majority and so had to rule out any unpopular policies.  This meant keeping most of Labours policies.  The Conservative Party leadership was moderate and the more right-wing MPs were marginalised.  The Tories therefore had no choice or indeed no desire to change the policies started by Labour.

The Conservative economic policy was so similar to Labour’s previous one that the phrase ‘Butskellism’ was coined after R.A. Butler the Tory chancellor and Hugh Gateskell the chancellor under Labour. 

Moderates succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister and so these consensus policies were continued.  They remained unchanged when Labour came to power in 1964.

The consensus policies had remained unchallenged until the 1970’s when they began to be put under pressure.  When Edward Heath came to power in 1970, he did so with a commitment to more right-wing policies, such as curtailing the power of the Unions, reducing state control of industry and promoting the free market.  However in 1972 as unemployment rose to over one million and his policies became less popular he did a ‘U-turn’.  He abandoned his right-wing policies and adopted more consensus policies ;he even adopted some left-wing policies such as nationalisation.  However despite continued consultation and involvement of the Unions, it was the Unions who brought down his government in 1974 with the miner strike.

This followed by a labour government, but they only had a tiny majority of 3 seats.  This meant that the Labour government had to pursue moderate policies despite pressure to introduce radical left-wing policies.  It had to give up on Keynesian economics because of

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