While the popular view of political parties tends to be based on cynicism and an association with the “dirty” side of democracy, in fact they are essential for its proper functioning.
This is a belief held by a majority of citizens across the globe. Parties that are inclusive, policy-oriented, and staffed by competent professionals can act as the strongest constraint on executive overreach, serving as the ultimate accountability mechanism: electoral competition.
Political parties build and aggregate support among broad coalitions of citizens and interest groups. They integrate conflicting views and demands into coherent ideologies and manifestos, providing voters with choice of a range of leaders and policy programmes. Parties select and train legislative candidates and political leaders and, following elections, organise the business of government and formal opposition.
In between elections, political parties can build stronger relationships with voters and improve their internal capacity to develop policies ideas that address citizen needs.
WFD’s party assistance has strengthened scores of political parties over the last 25 years, from individual parties to party networks, both regionally and internationally.
We have supported political parties to develop and present platforms and policies with coherent ideology, respond to the challenges that societies face and voter priorities. WFD has worked with parties to adopt more inclusive practices; women, youth, and vulnerable groups such as minorities, the LGBT+ community, and persons with disabilities have become more empowered and their needs served as a result of the reforms our party partners have made.
Part of WFD’s approach to political party assistance is to support the UK parties to undertake direct programming through subgrants from the Foundation. The UK parties continue to be the critical engines of international party networks, as well as leading the way in developing party networks in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and MENA. Through “sister party” work, the UK parties are a vital partner to build relationships of trust with parties that are in the same political family, as well as with other parties that want to tap into UK party skills even if ideological positions do not coincide.
WFD will utilise multi-party models to improve the wider political system, stimulate multi-party political competition based on policies rather than identity or patronage, and encourage reform on difficult issues such as campaign finance and reform of political party laws. Using multi-party, nonpartisan models ensures wider coverage of parties, including working with those unlikely to be targeted for sister party support (such as Islamist parties, former rebel movements, and parties with authoritarian histories).
Political networks at the international and regional level help like-minded political parties develop regional initiatives and improve relations between countries.
All the UK political parties working with WFD support similar networks in different regions but with the same purpose, including: the Caribbean Democrat Union, the Africa Liberal Network, the East Africa Green Federation and networks for gender equality Tha’era and Rae’dat.
Regional party networks can be a particularly effective way of encouraging party reforms. Networks often establish a set of standards and policy positions that require its members to adhere to in order to be part of the grouping. This has led to the widespread adoption of more progressive policies on women’s leadership, gender equality, rights of LGBT+ communities, and environmental policies, amongst other issues.
Political parties can promote inclusive politics in many ways. From encouraging the next generation of politicians, to putting forward progressive policy agendas in their manifestos, political parties play a fundamental role in representing the interests of marginalised groups like young people, persons with disability and members of the LGBT+ community and encouraging them to be more active in politics.
Political parties have a fundamental role to play when it comes to the number of women active in politics. Encouraging and supporting women candidates to stand, ensuring more women are represented in leadership positions in national and local politics and supporting policies that end discriminatory practice are all ways political parties can make a real difference.
Women’s Academy for Africa
The Labour Party’s international WFD programme supports the Women’s Academy for Africa, a network that provides leadership training for women in multiple countries across Africa. In 2017, a trainee from the Academy was invited to participate in the Annual Labour Party Conference where exposure to training helped her address challenges unique to women in politics in her own country. The participant, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to stand for the Presidency of the Youth League in her political party.
Union of Latin American Parties (UPLA)
In 2017-18, the Conservative Party started partnering with UPLA to help them develop a women’s network, with the aim of giving women a greater voice within political parties in the region and to help more women get into political leadership roles.
The network was launched in June 2018. Additional work to support women’s political participation in the region included the provision of training for women politicians from 13 Latin American countries on communication skills and campaigning.
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