Westminster Foundation for Democracy is committed to strengthening political parties in the countries where we operate – because we believe well-functioning multiparty systems are a key ingredient of inclusive and effective governance.
Parties matter because they give voters options. Peaceful political competition between representative mass-membership parties offers citizens the chance to choose political leaders and differing policy directions. A pluralistic, multiparty environment can promote public debate and a demand for effective governance that new and developing democracies need. In addition to their role in representing citizens, parties can have a formal institutional role, whether in government or opposition; and a civic role too, fostering social capital through the promotion of a dialogue and support for civil society.
Yet, particularly in countries emerging from conflict or authoritarian rule, parties may not be playing the part that their democracy requires. Weak internal party functioning and management, together with a lack of skills and experience, often limit parties’ effectiveness. So too does lack of outreach to under-represented groups, and lack of commitment to tackling corruption and nepotism.
WFD has been working to address these problems in developing countries and countries transitioning to democracy since our establishment in 1992. Our programmes have tackled these problems head-on by working to improve policy-making, accountability, representation and citizen participation in the politics of our partner countries. Much of our work has been cross-party, covering thematic issues like the representation and empowerment of marginalised groups. But we also use the strong sister-party relationships and networks that Britain’s parties have built up with their counterparts around the world to raise standards and build skills.
The Labour and Conservative Parties draw on their long histories of being both in power and in opposition. The Scottish National Party’s membership drive complements its experience campaigning in a devolved parliament. The Liberal Democrats have experience of being in government, in opposition and can speak with authority on the complications of coalition negotiations. Britain’s smaller parties can equip smaller parties with the skills and knowledge needed to leverage influence from the sidelines. Our Northern Ireland parties offer their perspectives on working in a post-conflict political environment. All of them can provide support and guidance on building both active supporters and links with civil society, the media and the private sector.
Expertise is shared on a wide range of political areas specifically designed for each party. WFD provides support through the Westminster political parties on a broad range of themes including:
Party building and organisation development
Strengthening the organisation and capacity of the political parties we work with, including targeted work with women and youth groups; developing party structures at local and national level; coordination and strategy.
Development of party campaigning and communications
Assisting with the development of campaigning and communication tools of parties locally, regionally and nationally.
Message and policy development
Assisting with the development of coherent policy-based platforms of the political parties we work with, providing real choice for the electorate and offering a genuine alternative to the incumbents.
Supporting like-minded political parties on a regional basis to develop stronger inter-party links and encouraging the exchange of ideas and best practice.
Development of national and locally elected representatives
Supporting the capacity of elected representatives at all levels in political parties, particularly in communicating with constituents; recognising the importance of building structures from the grassroots up.