MA Politics

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Political Parties in Contemporary Britain

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
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Including the introductory meeting, we will have ten two hour seminars to discuss the following themes.

‘Modern politics is party politics. Political parties are the main actors in the system that connects the citizenry and the governmental process […] political parties aggregate demands into coherent policy packages- a process that gives voters a choice in elections. Political parties form governments and act as opposition in legislatures… Thus they are crucial to political decision making and implementation. From this perspective, political parties … are the major actors in representative democratic systems…’ (Klingemann et al 1994:5)


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.


This course is suitable for those interested in the contemporary themes of party politics in Britain and will give them an opportunity to study them through a theoretical lens.  It has been designed to run without pre- or co-requisites and although it might be particularly interesting to those taking the MA in Governance, students with an interest in contemporary British politics from all other MA pathways are encouraged to sign up.



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 eight two-hour seminars. Discussion will be based around a set of questions posed by the course tutor, and based around discussion papers provided by the designated students for each seminar. Students will be expected to have studied in advance and, around the student presentation. Designated presenters will be expected to write a short report (max. 4 sides) on the seminar text(s) in advance of the seminar. This paper is to be circulated among fellow students prior to the seminar.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%
Portfolio 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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