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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Party structure refers to the way that political parties are organised. This can be looked at from the ‘top down’ or the ‘bottom up’. The mainstream political parties in the UK have similar structures.
Political parties are typically led by a party leader, who is the most powerful member of the party and the spokesperson for the party. There is also a party secretary, whose role is to maintain the daily work and the records of party meetings. The party treasurer is responsible for collecting membership dues, but also for seeking donations to the party. Then there is the party chair, who has the responsibility of recruitment and retention of party members as well as chairing party meetings. The people in those above positions are also likely to be members of the party executive, which is the organisation that leads the setting of national policies for the party.
Looking at party structure from the ‘bottom up’ – a good example is how the Labour Party is organised. When someone joins the Labour Party, they are assigned to their local branch, the lowest level of party organisation. These local branches have a role for selecting candidates to represent the party in local elections, and also send delegates to the General Committee of the Constituency Labour Party (CLP).
The CLP has the role of organising the party at the constituency level, taking the lead in the local and national election campaigns, and playing a party in selecting the parliamentary candidates. The role of the CLPs have been diminished somewhat by the extension of one member one vote (OMOV) on matters of selection in the Party.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) is the main organ of the national Labour party, ensuring the smooth running of the party, overseeing policy proposal preparations, having final say on parliamentary candidates, and sometimes enforcing party discipline.
The Labour Party’s annual conference was once the sovereign policy-making body in the Labour Party. This role was diminished somewhat in the 1990s, although Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, has proposed re-empowering the role of members at conference.
The Conservative Party has a similar local structure to the Labour Party, with branches corresponding to local council wards at the local level, below the constituency associations. The constituency associations play the key role in organising the grassroots level – selecting parliamentary candidates and planning election campaigns, although they have less free reign than they used to do. Above the constituency associations are the regions, then the National Convention, and finally the main Board of the Party, on which the Party leader sits.