How parties behave: the role of strategy in contemporary British political parties

Barber, Stephen D. (2003) How parties behave: the role of strategy in contemporary British political parties. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.

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Abstract / Description

This thesis uses the concept of strategy derived from management theory to study parties In Britain during the contemporary period. It discusses the concept, nature and role of party strategy in British politics, introducing a new way of discovering how parties behave and making original observations of historical events.

This thesis tackles party strategy in contemporary British politics in a number of interdisciplinary ways. It draws a theoretical definition of strategy from the management literature, suggesting that: strategy is about forming objectives given resources available and carrying out a plan to achieve those objectives with a pattern of consistency over time. Rejecting rational concepts that parties' purpose Is purely to win votes and hold office, the thesis nevertheless accepts that parties exist in part to fight elections. Drawing on the Ashridge mission diamond and making use of Budge's office seeking and policy pursuing model a theoretical view is formed that the strategic objectives of parties sit someway between Budge's two conceptual extremes, qualifying the latter with the Idea of constructive and destructive policy pursuing parties and forming an idea of an organisation's mission.

This thesis Is a study of contemporary British politiCS. Drawing on political history and taking a comparative case study approach, the project describes strategic behaviour in three arenas: leadership and organisational culture; the creation of critical mass, momentous, electoral support; and the state of strategic disorder when the party endures a failure of direction. Original qualitative research was undertaken to support this approach in the form of combining existing literature from both politiCS, history and management fields with party documents and illuminating Interviews and correspondence conducted with a series of politicians close to the events described.

The study compares the strategic leadership and organisational culture of Labour between 1983-87 and 1994-97, demonstrating the ease with which strategic implementation was possible by the leader in the latter period compared with the earlier. The study compares the critical mass strategy approach to elections in 1979, 1992 and 1997 to consider how parties behave when their objective Is to win convincingly in a general election by creating a momentum of support. The study compares the strategic disorder In the Labour party under the leadership of Michael Foot and the Tory party under John Major and William' Hague, setting these against the experience of Margaret Thatcher's first government which was able to implement a strategy successfully by being seen to deliver and being sufficiently flexible to allow strategy to emerge.

A more substantial case study, examining the strategy of the centre since the launch of the SDP in 1981, reinforces the thesis by taking the strategic themes and analysing them over a prolonged period. The case study demonstrates that the party strategy of the centre altered considerably, reacting to the strategies of the two larger parties.

The methodology of this thesis draws on the theories in management strategy and some debates in political science. Innovative in demonstrating displacement abilities and conducting empirical analysis, the primary advancement of this thesis Is to apply management literature concepts to the study of contemporary British politics. By doing so, the thesis contributes to the interdisciplinary understanding of strategic party behaviour. It suggests an approach to the study of party polities and offers original observations and interpretations of historical events during the period.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: political parties; British politics; management strategy
Subjects: 300 Social sciences > 320 Political science
Department: Guildhall School of Business and Law
Depositing User: Mary Burslem
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2022 15:47
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2022 15:47


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