Do policies matter in UK politics?

25 Jul 2014

Parties in the UK are well known for their catch-all-character policies. However, over time there has been a tendency for the UK to vote for personality over politics.

Policies are important; they are the promises a party makes before getting into power; however, they are not what a party has to adhere to once in power. The Lib Dems are a classic example, who, in 2010, had policies of phasing out tuition fees over a long period and replacing council tax with income tax. To date, neither of these two policies have been implemented and, in fact, tuition fees have been raised from £3,500 per year to £9,000 per year, as voted in by the Lib Dems and Conservative Party.


In the past, the UK electorate often voted solely on policies. A very old example of this is the 1945 General Election, when Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, stood against Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Party. It looked, at that time, a sure win for Churchill who had just won the war; however, Attlee gave an alternative and offered the social reforms that the electorate were after - namely the NHS.

However, in 2010, the same cannot be said. In The Spectator on the 5th March 2013 in an article entitled “The truth about UKIP supporters”, it was found that those who voted for UKIP in 2010 were less right wing than those who voted for the Conservatives – a reversal in the parties’ actual positions.

It is very much clear after years of flitting between Labour and the Conservatives that the UK electorate wish for an alternative, but does this mean policies take a back seat? In short, yes. In 2010, a coalition government was made between the Lib Dems and the Conservative Party – this in effect was the first sign, with many more to come, that the UK electorate no longer had any belief in either of the two main parties. The second piece of evidence was UKIP’s huge gains in the 2014 local elections; it was seemingly obvious by this point that the electorate was clinging onto personalities to use as a protest vote. It could be said that this was also done with BNP earlier, and I do agree, but not to the extent of the 2014 local elections.

The big question is 2015, and from here we can only predict what will happen. It seems many will turn to UKIP in the hope of finding an alternative, especially the conservative voter, and many will turn away from the Lib Dems to vote for Labour. These shifts could mean that UKIP could potentially become the biggest minor party; Labour could win the most seats in the election and may possibly have to make a coalition with UKIP in order to stay in power. 

The biggest clue to whether party policies matter is in the fact that Miliband or Cameron will still win the most seats in the 2015 election. This shows that the electorate is still voting for policy on a bigger scale than ‘protest voting’. However, if Labour don’t manage to claim power in 2015 then there could be a massive shift in the percentage of the electorate who vote in protest.

By Nicola White

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