The Evolution and Development of Party Systems in English Local Government 1973-1998

This study takes a qualitative approach to the study of party systems in English local government. Several areas of influence upon party system development are examined, including structural and socioeconomic determinants of party system formation and development. A main aim of the study is to analyse aggregate electoral and socioeconomic data in order to improve our understanding of the nature of local party systems. The study attempts the first major classification of local party systems between 1973 and 1998 as an aid to focus on its primary purpose, the explanation for the variation in local party systems.

This study provides the first clear evidence that the electoral system in local elections tends to produce two-party systems. The two parties are not restricted to the Labour and Conservative parties, however, and the study highlights how third parties such as the Liberals are able to break through to become a significant force in local politics in a range of party systems. Variation in electoral arrangements between local authorities allows us to examine the effects of such structural differences upon local party systems for a common national political culture. The effects of these variations are shown, for the first time, to either benefit or discriminate against the Liberals.

The study examines patterns of partisan voting for the three main parties. It shows that socioeconomic factors such as class, housing and employment, theoretically identified as important for parliamentary elections, are related also to local voting for all three parties throughout the period. The study applies, for the first time, a recent and innovative model for measuring the level of individual voting behaviour to the study of English local party systems. The results of the study confirm previous research that suggests variation in party systems is influenced by local characteristics.

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