Parties have already been encountered at several points in this book. In Chapter 4 we saw that democratic government was basically party government and in Chapter 5 it was noted that, although unknown to the British Constitution, these voluntary organisations were in fact essential to its working. In Chapter 6, we examined the role of party in government and, in Chapter 10, the functions and organisation of the parties in parliament, with special reference to their tasks in opposition. Chapter 12 will consider the role of parties in the electoral system and how they organise for general elections. This chapter focuses on the parties themselves, dealing with such important matters as their internal organisation, their financing and membership as well as recent trends in their support and some major interpretations of the changing party system. Before launching into these themes, however, we briefly summarise the major functions of party in the British political system. These are: first, to provide government and opposition; second, to serve as agencies of representation; and third, alongside other methods such as pressure groups, to enable popular participation in politics to take place.
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