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Study Notes

Catch-all party

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

A Catch-all Party is a political party that aims to attract people with diverse political viewpoints, appealing to a large amount of the electorate.

The Conservative and Labour parties in the UK have developed into catch-all parties (although this may change following Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour Leader), mindful that the First-Past-the-Post election system rewards parties who attract a wide variety of people to vote for them, as opposed to ideologically limited smaller parties.

This has intensified in the UK as class alignment (the tendency of particular classes to vote for a particular political party come-what-may) has declined.

Being a catch-all party can cause problems with internal discipline, as MPs within the Parliamentary party may rebel against some of the policy directions the party takes. However, it does make the party more electable.

The concept was first conceived by the political scientist Otto Kirchheimer, as part of an investigation into political party transformation. He used it to explain the way that the social democratic consensus of 1950s Britain and the Christian Democratic consensus in Western Europe were causing a disappearance of what he called ‘principled opposition’ in those political cultures – meaning that he felt politics devoid of substance, conflict and choice.

In this way, the development of catch-all parties in the UK has been cited as one of the main causes of political apathy and a fall in traditional political participation.

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