Political parties of the United Kingdom

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A guide to

U.K. Politics

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God Save the Queen?

Ten political parties are represented in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, with a further two represented in the European Parliament and quite a few more with representation at a local level. As elections to the Parliament of the United Kingdom are operated under a 'first past the post system' and elections to the Parliament of the European Union are operated under a proportional representation system, minor parties who have support spread throughout the country, but not enough concentrated support to win an entire constituency, can often find representation in the EU. For this reason, the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party have MEPs but no MPs.

There are four legislative bodies in the United Kingdom alongside the European Parliament which are made up of officials elected by residents of the United Kingdom who hold citizenship to the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, or any Commonwealth nation. The House of Commons, located in London, England, is the primary governing body in the United Kingdom responsible for creating and upholding national law, except for areas devolved to the constituent nations, and with the power to alter and repeal those brought into effect by its devolved counterparts. Elections to the House of Commons take place once every five years under a first-past-the-post system. Members of the House of Lords are unelected; rather, they are made Lords and Ladies for their services, or for otherwise being incredibly rich.

Members of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly can be voted for by the aforementioned citizens living within jurisdiction of the legislative body concerned, each devolved body using a variation of the proportional representation system. Elections to the devolved Parliament and Assemblies take place once every four years. Elections to the European Parliament take place once every five years by proportional representation.

Contents

[edit] Major parties

[edit] Conservative Party

Members of Parliament: 307
Members of the European Parliament: 25
Members of the House of Lords: 186
Scottish Parliament: 15
Welsh Assembly: 14

The Conservative Party, officially the "Conservative & Unionist Party", and commonly known as "The Tory Party" or "the Tories" is one of the two largest political parties in the United Kingdom. Since World War Two, every Prime Minister has come from the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. Generally standing for lower taxation, a smaller state and lower welfare, the Conservative Party is the traditional right-wing party in the UK. Given that the Conservative Party vehemently opposed almost all of Blair's early manifesto promises and that the party leadership has now accepted many of them (minimum wage, Bank of England independence, civil partnerships, various anti-discrimination laws), the party can be quite fractured at times, with a significant minority being very much opposed to membership of the European Union. Notable figures include Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

[edit] Labour Party

Members of Parliament: 258
Members of the European Parliament: 13
Members of the House of Lords: 212
Scottish Parliament: 37
Welsh Assembly: 30

The Labour Party is the other main party. Founded as a socialist party, the Labour Party had a huge role in the creation of the Welfare State and the National Health Service. After nearly two decades of Conservative rule, the Labour Party moved much closed to the centre, stepping away from its socialist roots and becoming a "big tent" centrist party. This step clearly made them an electable opposition, as they won in a massive landslide in 1997, but it's now somewhat unclear exactly what they stand for other than "we're nicer and less right-wing than those bastard Tories". Notable figures include Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

[edit] Liberal Democrats

Members of Parliament: 57
Members of the European Parliament: 12
Members of the House of Lords: 79
Scottish Parliament: 5
Welsh Assembly: 5

The Liberal Democrats are traditionally the third party in the United Kingdom. The Liberal Party declined severely before World War Two as the Labour Party took over as the main left-wing party. The Liberals were less of a serious force in British politics, but they merged with the Social Democrat Party (a splinter group of the Labour Party) in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats are hugely popular among students and are often the go-to 'protest vote' of the middle classes. Advocating progressive taxation, nuclear disarmament and electoral reform, the Liberal Democrats saw a large surge in support as they were the only major party to seriously oppose the Iraq War. In a weird twist, they formed a coalition government with the Conservative Party in 2010, with the idea of 'taking the edge' off the Tory spending cuts and making them fairer for the poor. Their complete failure to do this has severely damaged their support among students, public sector workers, all those affected by the budget cuts, and lost them a lot of support at local government level, losing them control of many local councils. Notable figures include Nick Clegg, Charles Kennedy (the UK's favourite alcoholic), Vince Cable, and former leader Paddy Ashdown, who effectively ran Bosnia for a four year period.

[edit] Minor parties

[edit] United Kingdom Independence Party

Members of Parliament: 1
Members of the European Parliament: 12
Members of the House of Lords: 2

UKIP are right-wing political party who have benefitted greatly from proportional representation, holding over 16% of the UK's seats in the European Parliament. The triple whammy of being firm advocates of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, being seen as more right-wing than the Conservative Party and denying climate change has given them real appeal on the right-wing of the UK's political spectrum. In the UK's general election, they seem to just act as a spoiler party for the Conservatives. Some sources even seem to think the Tories would hold an overall majority if it weren't for UKIP. Notable figures include Nigel Farage and Christopher Monckton.

[edit] British National Party

Members of the European Parliament: 1

The British National Party is the product of years of in-fighting, mergers and hissy fits from extreme-right 'politicians' and racists from the United Kingdom (including the National Front). Holding a few dozens seats in local government (mainly in areas of racial tension) and two seats in the European Parliament, the BNP are not a major force in British politics, but get a lot of negative attention and condemnation as the only notable extreme-right group in the UK. Advocating an end to international aid and immigration, as well as deportation for recent immigrants, the party has had more than its fair share of controversies. Sickeningly, the party tries to claim Winston Churchill as their own. The judiciary recently ruled that their 'whites-only' membership policies are illegal. Notable figures include current leader Nick Griffin, whose leadership led them to short-lived national prominence, and is now leading disgruntled members to split off into tiny parties of their own, and party founder the late John Tyndall, an unabashed neo-Nazi who was replaced by Griffin in 1999. The future of the BNP includes the words "circling" and "drain." As is typical with such organisations, the BNP is in danger of becoming eclipsed by splitters, in this case in British Freedom and the English Defence League.

[edit] Green Party of England & Wales

Members of Parliament: 1
Members of the European Parliament: 2
Members of the House of Lords: 1

The Green Party are a left-wing party who advocate environmentalism, pacifism, eco-socialism and no-growth economics. They also take a very liberal approach to gay rights, electoral reform, drug policy, animal rights and human rights. Their roots as a political party go back to various ecological campaign groups from the 1970s. From the 1990s onwards they began to achieve some limited electoral success at local government elections in a handful of the UK's more progressive cities (Oxford, Norwich, Brighton), and MEP seats in European elections. Tightening themselves up somewhat (including booting out loonies like David Icke, and decided at last to have a party leader, rather than simply a governing committee), they finally secured their first first seat in the House of Commons in the general election of 2010, when party leader Caroline Lucas took Brighton Pavillion. This was followed by the Greens forming a minority administration running Brighton & Hove City Council in 2011. Lucas stood down as leader in 2012, in an attempt to boost the profile of other colleagues. The party is notably more eurosceptic than almost all left-wing parties.

[edit] Respect Party

Members of Parliament: 1

A socialist party whose driving force is George Galloway. Looks set to become the far left's answer to the BNP.

[edit] Really minor parties

[edit] Christian Party

Britain's biggest outpost of Christian wingnuttery.

[edit] Liberal Party

The Liberal Party was formed in 1989 by a group of individuals within the original Liberal Party who disagreed with the merger with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democrats. They claim to be the legal continuation of the old Liberal Party, resulting in them being jokingly referred to as the Continuity Liberal Party. They have about two dozen local government councillors, and occasionally beat the LibDems in Parliamentary elections in Liverpool.

[edit] Socialist Labour Party

Founded by veteran trade unionist Arthur Scargill, this lot rejected New Labour's moderation in favour of old-school policies. The SLP scores 1-2% of the vote in places where it stands (chiefly urban areas).

[edit] Official Monster Raving Loony Party

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party (OMRLP) are the most prominent joke party in UK politics. The current party leader is Alan "Howling Laude" Hope. They are the only party to have put forward a concrete global warming reduction strategy, namely the installation of air conditioning units onto the outside of buildings in order to lower the atmospheric temperature. Their idea of passports for pets managed to become law, somehow.

[edit] National Front

The ancestor of the BNP, the National Front was once the fourth largest political party in the country, with members elected to a few town councils in the late 1970s. It declined considerably with the rise of the BNP (same policies but dressed in suits and ties instead of the hooligan's favourite "bovver" gear).

[edit] Veritas

Robert Kilroy-Silk, former Labour Party shadow minister turned daytime TV host and tanning advocate, stood under the UKIP banner then decided he didn't really like UKIP, he decided to set up a party called "Veritas" (Latin for truth). It did even worse, although due to defectors from UKIP, it did have some seats in Brussels and in the London Assembly. After standing zero candidates in the 2010 general election, they are now mostly forgotten (sadly, thanks to reality TV show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, Kilroy-Silk has not been forgotten along with them).

[edit] Health Concern

Local Government: 13

Independent Community and Health Concern (often just called Heath Concern) began as a fringe party with the single issue of reopening their local hospital's casualty unit. Amazingly their candidate, a local doctor, was elected to Parliament in 2001, and kept his seat until 2010. Although still centred on their Kidderminster heartland, their gain of a council seat in a neighbouring county, and having a candidate in the Eastleigh by-election a hundred miles away, suggests this tiny party has ambition.

[edit] Independent Network

The Independent Network was created in 2005 to support and advise independent candidates. It is headed by Martin Bell[wp], a former independent MP. It doesn't have policies (although it won't support anyone with discriminatory views), and so probably doesn't really count as a political party.

[edit] We Demand a Referendum

Members of the European Parliament: 1

A single-issue party whose goal is to force a referendum on the UK's membership in the EU. Founded by MEP Nikki Sinclaire in 2012, after she was expelled from UKIP for refusing to work with other far-right parties in the EFD group.

[edit] Scottish parties

[edit] Scottish National Party

Members of Parliament: 6
Members of the European Parliament: 2
Scottish Parliament: 67

The Scottish National Party are a centre-left party who advocate Scotland's independence and full membership of the European Union. They have 69 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, making them the first majority government in Scottish Parliament's history (starting 1999). They are often more left-wing than the Conservatives or the Labour Party, and advocate strict controls on access to alcohol and minimum pricing for alcohol, progressive taxation, free higher education and are massive supporters of the National Health Service. They're also traditionally very anti-war, although they have recently voted to maintain NATO membership. Notable figures include Alex Salmond, the current First Minister of Scotland.

[edit] Scottish Green Party

Scottish Parliament: 2

Although working closely with the other Green Parties in the United Kingdom, the Scottish Green Party are fully independent and also want an independent Scotland. The party has previously held 7 seats in the Scottish Parliament, and came very close to gaining a seat in the European Parliament. Generally a very uncontroversial party, their co-leader is the first openly bisexual party leader in the UK.

[edit] Scottish Socialist Party

Scottish Parliament: 0

Until recently was led by Tommy Sheridan who was later jailed for lying to court about his visits to swingers clubs and participating in other sexually interesting activities, the SSP is what it says on the tin.

[edit] Margo McDonald (Independent)

Scottish Parliament: 1

Kinda dead.

[edit] Welsh parties

[edit] Plaid Cymru

Members of Parliament: 3
Members of the European Parliament: 1
Welsh Assembly: 11

Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales in Welsh) are a left to centre-left party who advocate Welsh independence and big efforts to revive the Welsh language. They're quite a pro-environmental party, working closely with the Scottish National Party in the European Parliament. Welsh people, on the whole, don't want independence - and support for Welsh independence is significantly less in Wales than the support for Scottish independence in Scotland. This goes part of the way to explaining why they play a much smaller role in devolved government than their Scottish counterparts. Despite this, they were junior partner in a coalition with the Labour party, who hold 26 seats in the Welsh Assembly. Notable figures include... uh..... Dafydd Wigley?

[edit] Northern Irish parties

Since the partitioning of Ireland and creation of Northern Ireland in 1922, Northern Irish politics has remained doggedly arranged on sectarian lines, with one set of parties being Unionist (and overwhelmingly Protestant), favouring continuation of the Union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain, and the other being Nationalist (and overwhelmingly Catholic) and campaigning for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join with the Republic of Ireland in a 'United Ireland'.

The mainstream British political parties have generally declined to field candidates in Northern Ireland. On the basis of their standing on a left wing/right wing axis, the Labour party regard the nominally socialist SDLP as their counterpart, the Conservatives likewise with the Ulster Unionist party, with the Liberals/LibDems paired against the Alliance party. This rather glosses over the Northern Irish parties' sectarian nature, although since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the parties have been obliged to broaden their scope somewhat from their single-issue sectarian agendas.

[edit] Democratic Unionist Party

Members of Parliament: 8
Members of the European Parliament: 1
Northern Irish Assembly: 38

The Democratic Unionist Party (or DUP) was founded in the 1970s, by Rev Ian Paisley. It was a split from the mainstream Unionist party. The iconoclastic Paisley had already formed his own church denomination, the Free Presbyterian Church, as a split from the Presbyterians. Like his church, the DUP tended to cater for the more fundamentalist, working class flavour of protestant bigot unionist. However following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the DUP grew to become larger than the Ulster Unionist Party it had split from. It is currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland assembly and the fourth largest in the United Kingdom Parliament. Contrary to Sinn Féin on not only constitutional matters, the DUP is viewed as a socially conservative right wing party, with strong links to Protestant churches. It is softly eurosceptic, has had several prolific members come out against homosexuality, and, most uncommonly in the United Kingdom, has also advocated the promotion of creationism in Northern Irish classrooms. Notable figures include founder Ian Paisley, current leader Peter Robinson, and his wife Iris Robinson. Iris was enveloped in a scandal in 2011 when it transpired she had been embroiled in a sexual relationship with a teenage orphan, whom she had known since he was nine, his late father being a family friend who had entrusted the boy to her care. She had also loaned five-figure sums of money to this lover, in business deals of dubious proprietary. Meanwhile she had been outspoken in her condemnation of homosexuality, referring her gay constituents for psychiatric treatment, and declaring in a House of Commons select committee that sodomy was a worse crime than paedophilia. Unsurprisingly, she has seen be forced to resign her Westminster seat and is said to be currently undergoing psychiatric care. DUP "environment" minister Sammy Wilson is a trenchant climate denialist.

[edit] Sinn Féin

Members of Parliament: 5 (abstentionist)
Members of the European Parliament: 1
Northern Irish Assembly: 29

Sinn Féin (Irish for "we ourselves") is the largest Irish nationalist party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, advocating the secession of Northern Ireland from the Union and its unification with the Irish Republic. Its political positioning and ideology is considered to be left-wing nationalist, advocating varying forms of welfare and the establishment of an Irish equivalent to the British National Health Service. Sinn Féin is the "political wing" of the Provisional IRA (the "provos"), with several SF members holding convictions for IRA membership and terrorist offences. Despite Irish nationalism typically being closely associated with Roman Catholicism, the party has no specific links to the Catholic church in Ireland, as officially the church takes a rather dim view of murder, racketeering and so forth. Notable figures include current party president Gerry Adams, and Martin McGuinness, a candidate for the 2011 Irish presidential election. Sinn Féin operates a policy of 'abstentionism' regarding the UK parliament in Westminster: it contests parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland, but if a candidate wins, they refuse to take their seat in the House of Commons, as they will not swear the necessary oath of allegience to the British Crown. This does not stop them, however, from claiming parliamentary expenses, including having an office provided for their use in Westminster. This of course leaves their constituents without representation in the UK parliament, and costs them the chance to help defeat the government in parliamentary votes.

[edit] Ulster Unionist Party

Peers of the House of Lords: 4
Members of the European Parliament: 1
Northern Irish Assembly: 16

Formerly the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, the UUP were overtaken by their erstwhile splitters the DUP in 2003, and devastated in the 2005 election. They have been in steady decline ever since. They are seen as more moderate than the DUP. However, they would not be considered 'real unionists' by quite a large portion of DUP voters. Much of this perception stems from the party's support for the Good Friday Agreement, which the DUP opposed to at the time, seeing it as a concession to Irish republican terrorism.

The pre-split Unionist party was the dominant instrument of government in Northern Ireland following the partition of the island of Ireland in 1922. Although Catholic voters constituted well over 40% of the Northern Ireland electorate, Unionists used gerrymandering tactics to ensure they held the overwhelming number of seats in the Northern Irish parliament in Stormont. This, combined with institutionalised state discrimination against Catholics in housing, jobs and other areas let to increasing civil unrest as the decades went by, culminating in the eruption of 'The Troubles' in 1968. Unionist rule of Northern Ireland was suspended by the UK Government in 1972, who imposed direct rule from Westminster. A notable defector to the Ulster Unionist party was Enoch Powell, who had been expelled from the UK Conservative party in 1968 over his notorious "Rivers of Blood" speech against immigration. Powell held a Westminster seat in South Down for the UUP until his death.

[edit] Social Democratic and Labour Party

Members of Parliament: 3
Northern Irish Assembly: 14

The SDLP were formerly the largest Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland and, along with the UUP, were instrumental in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. They were overtaken by Sinn Féin in the 2003 Assembly Election, though they had a brief stint as the once again second largest party following the devastation of the UUP in the 2005 election and continued abstentionism by Sinn Féin. Nevertheless, they have been declining since then and continually place fourth in the Assembly Elections.

[edit] Alliance Party

Members of Parliament: 1
Northern Irish Assembly: 8

Formerly considered a party of moderate unionism, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have come to focus on nonsectarianism and pragmatic liberal policies, often focusing on concerns of social equality and the environment. They have become a significant political force in the Belfast area and have been steadily rising. They have had a significant effect on the diminishing support for the UUP in Belfast.

[edit] The Workers Party & the Irish Republic Socialist Party (ISRP)

In a series of splits which will strike a resonance with those familiar with Monty Python's Life of Brian, the "Provisional" IRA split from the Irish Republic Army in 1968, in protest at the latter's lack of interest in murdering people. The dormant rump of the Irish Republic Army then became known as the "Official" IRA. The Workers Party arose as the "political wing" of the Official IRA, a counterpart to Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Provisional IRA.

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were a further set of (particularly bloodthirsty) paramilitary splitters in the 1970s, and they in their turn had their own obligatory "political wing", the IRSP.

Both the IRSP and Worker's Party tended to devote themselves to radical left-wing ideologies, along the lines of neo-Leninism or neo-Trotskyism. Neither of them ever achieved any degree of electoral success besides a handful of councillors in local government.

With the coming of the 21st century, they appear to have largely shrivelled up and died. In any case, the INLA's numbers diminished greatly due to a murderous feud, which only ended when the last remaining member realised that to continue the killing would be suicide. A new breed of post-Good Friday Agreement dissident splitters have taken to the stage instead, including the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, with their own inevitable political wings such as the '32 County Sovereignty Committee', whose mission is to non-consensually liberate the people of Ireland from their bipartisan decision not to murder each other, by murdering them.

[edit] English parties

[edit] English Democrats

Local government: 2

The English Democrats are an English federalist party who primarily campaign for the formation of an English parliament with powers at least equal to those of Scotland's government, and consider themselves England's answer to Wales' Plaid Cymru and Scotland's Scottish National Party. The English Democrats support independence from the European Union though would call a referendum to determine England's position on it. They advocate a tougher policy on immigration, supporting a points-based system for entry to the country. The English Democrats declare themselves totally opposed to racism, with no connection to the British National Party, simply campaigning for English national identity - although some ex-BNP members have moved to the English Democrats.

[edit] Mebyon Kernow

Local government: 21

Mebyon Kernow (Cornish for "Sons of Cornwall") is a small party based in Cornwall, which seeks a return to that county's status as a distinct legal entity; they also seek various protections for, and recognition of, the Cornish language. On this basis they would probably not like to be called an English party.

[edit] Former parties

The UK's political landscape is littered with the wreckage of former parties, some of which left a mark, or even a stain, on history.

The Chartists were a 19th century party who campaigned for the right of the working class to vote. They were most powerful in the industrial cities, and they rioted in Wales, but had faded away long before the universal franchise came into being.

Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists[wp] was a serious menace in the 1930s, so much so that the government saw fit to ban it, and imprison Mosley, during World War II. Mosley attempted to return to politics after the war, capitalising on anti-immigrant feeling, but was a spent force. However he remained a shadowy influence on the far right until his death in 1980.

In 1981 the Labour Party, defeated at the previous election, decided to wallow in a left-wing version of Tea Party-style ideological orthodoxy. This caused a group of moderates led by the former foreign secretary David Owen to split off and form the Social Democrats. They then formed an electoral pact with the Liberals for the elections of 1983 and 1987. The main effect of this was to undermine an already unpopular Labour, giving the Tories a free hand to sell off Britain's industrial base to the highest bidder. Cheers, guys. In the end the SDP fizzled out after internecine squabbling with the liberals doomed their electoral chances. in 2013 Nigel Farage described Tony Blair as "an SDP Prime Minister."[1]

[edit] See also

Political parties of the United Kingdom
British Freedom Party - British National Party - Christian Party - Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) - Conservative Party (UK) - English Democratic Party - English Democrats - Green Party of England & Wales - Islamic Party of Britain - Labour Party - Liberal Democrats - Liberty GB - National Front - New Communist Party of Britain - Official Monster Raving Loony Party - Plaid Cymru - Respect Party - Scottish Green Party - Scottish National Party - Socialist Party of Great Britain - Socialist Workers Party - United Kingdom Independence Party - Workers Revolutionary Party -
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