MA Politics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Political Parties in Contemporary Britain

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI60122
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course is designed to give an overview of the most important areas of contemporary research into political parties, using British parties as case studies. This course will therefore focus especially on the British political parties, but will place them in context of more general theories. Some of the classes will be more centred on Britain and some will be more theory-driven and comparative. As a result students will gain a good understanding of how unique or typical British parties and the challenges they face are and will be able to place research on British parties in a wider comparative and theoretical context.



Using theoretical insights, definitions and concerns, the aim of the course is to focus on a number of empirical and practical problems which concern British democracy in general and representational politics in particular. It is also designed to provide students with a critical insight into the major comparative theoretical works in the field of party politics. The course should provide understanding of the major issues in contemporary British politics, via awareness of historical and contemporary changes in the British party system and in the ideological appeals of the main British parties, via awareness of the electoral, institutional and political context in which the British parties compete, and via knowledge and understanding of the theoretical literature on political parties in the broader political science discipline. 

The course attempts to evaluate the party system in Britain and seeks to understand the challenges of mobilising support for each of the main parties in Britain.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Analyse major party changes through a variety of theoretical approaches
  • Appreciate the many roles the parties perform in a democracy: from competing for votes, governing, through to representing voter’s interests and facilitating access to political elite
  • Account for the ideological (& non-ideological) appeals of the British parties in recent elections and over time
  • Analyse the core of traditional and contemporary bases of party support
  • Display knowledge of salient features of the three main parties
  • Assess the quality and nature of representation provided by the British parties
  • Account for under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in political office
  • Evaluate the potential for challenges to the party system
  • Intelligently account for recent features of British party politics

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will take place in two-hour seminars. Discussion will be based around a set of questions posed by the Course Unit Director.


As well as the introductory meeting, we will have nine substantive two hour seminars to discuss the following themes and an essay planning session in the last week. The matters discussed in these seminars will provide the basis of your assessment essay for this course.


•    Meet the parties: ideological traditions and the contemporary British parties

•    Theoretical perspectives in studying party politics: emergence, organisation, evolution

•    The changing nature of British party support

•    Regional parties, extreme parties and a multiparty system in Britain

•    British political parties in comparative perspective

•    Parties in action: from elections to the business of government.

•    Parties as democratic actors: representation and political recruitment

•    Are British Parties fit for purpose, or are they experiencing decline?

  • What does Brexit mean for British parties?

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

Essay of 3,000 words (75%), 4 x 200 word learning logs (25%)

Recommended reading

  • Robin T Pettitt Contemporary Party Politics 2014, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Sobolewska M and Ford R, Brexitland: Identity, Diversity and the Reshaping of British Politics 2020, Cambridge University Press.
  • Bartle J and Allen N (eds) Breaking the Deadlock. Britain at the Polls 2019, Manchester University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maria Sobolewska Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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