But parties can only be organised if they are permanent. Short-lived parties are just transitory phases of political developments over passing issues or temporary problems. They are not parties, but groups without any unified programme and policy and without any definite influence on the electorate. And since the life of the groups is short and precarious, they rarely develop lasting traditions and loyalties. Nor do they dominate the government and instead become an instrument in the hand of a clever politician. “An organised party is almost like a small state within a big one.” It has its active membership and its passive adherents, its local branches or constituencies, with their branches of propaganda, fund collecting and recruiting, its election to the party councils, responsible for its choice of leaders and officials, and the adoption of the party policy. By degrees which to the ordinary citizen were imperceptible says Finer, “these nationwide fellowships have come into being and organised themselves with a gigantic and complex apparatus.
They possess buildings and newspapers, printing presses and advertising experts, songs and slogans, heroes and martyrs, money and speakers, officials and prophets, feast days and fast days; like all religions they disrupt families and produce heretics, and among their agencies of discipline and subordination are the novitiate and penance.” Party organisation, thus, operates incessantly and the permanence of organisation and activity differentiate the parties of the present from the parties of a century ago. Before the middle of the last century political parties were loosely organised and remained inactive before elections. They would mobilise their men and resources just before the election and demobilise after the polling day.
Today, the parties operate throughout and all through, partly because victory in parliamentary elections is otherwise impossible, but also because in the modem State there are many local elective offices to fill. Local elections are the index of public opinion and they give the shape of things to come. The trends of opinion expressed at local elections indicate the electoral support the party is likely to secure at the General Elections.
Every party must, therefore, keep itself abreast of the public opinion. In fact, the local party branch plays a most important part in the party organisation. “The party branch,” says Soltau, “is a local unit of the army, provides the recruits, and is also a centre of intelligence as to what is going on within the party and in the country in general.” It is here that the citizen expresses his views freely and easily and makes his mark in the party policies. The local influence, which he exercises, paves a way for him to enter the arena of national policies. A local branch of the party is, in fact, a school of democracy, and public life.
It is also the nerve centre of information as to what is being thought and said of the party and its politics. Political parties are organized along different lines in every State. Generally speaking, in European States all political parties have annual meetings of party leaders to decide policy and plan programme.
The debates and discussions at such meetings are of immense value both to the leaders and the rank and file members in promoting and understanding of the issues and evaluating the competence of the total leadership in the party. Once the party policy and programme have been decided, members at all levels of the party are required to strictly follow it. Any deviation there from may make the member subject to party discipline. In Britain party discipline is particularly strict. The two major political parties in the United States are formally organized on a hierarchical basis with a national committee, a state committee, a county committee, and city, town, borough, village, parish and other committees. The control of this complex organization does not flow from the top to the bottom. The units at the local level are the most important.
The county executive committee is also an extremely important part of the party structure. It has the deciding voice in matters of policy and of local patronage. The party members, it is significant to note, are not subject to any discipline. Nor is there any machinery to enforce it. The obligations of members are voluntary. The result is that the members of the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress do not hesitate to cross party lines to support legislation “more in keeping with their own predilections or those of their narrow and localized constituencies.
” The American political system, therefore, makes little provision for the real and responsible leadership such as the Cabinet system requires.