Before I start to blog about some of the main parties in detail, I thought that it would be useful to write a brief post summarising who the big players in UK politics are and what they stand for. Obviously I haven’t included every party here (there are literally hundreds) but these are the ones that you’ll be hearing about on a day-to-day basis. It is a time of change in UK politics with several leaders standing down. If and when party leaders do change, I’ll update this post.
- Leader: Theresa May
- Political position: Right-wing
- Membership: 150,000
The governing Conservative (or Tory) party is led by Prime Minister Theresa May. A few weeks ago, David Cameron stood down during his second term as Prime Minister following the EU referendum. May was the only one out of 5 candidates left after all her rivals to lead the Tory party dropped out of the running and last week she became the 2nd ever female Prime Minister.
May is largely expected to lead a more liberal (less right-wing) party than Cameron but, in general, the Conservatives believe in less re-distribution of wealth and lower taxes than other parties. The Conservatives are most popular in the south of the country and (this is a real generalisation) with the middle classes. Big Conservative names include Boris Johnson (foreign secretary), George Osborne (until recently Chancellor/finance secretary) and Michael Gove (ex-education and justice secretary). Former Tory PMs include Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Winston Churchill and key policies include supporting Trident (the UK’s nuclear defence system), the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme and attempting to create a 7-day NHS.
- Leader: Jeremy Corbyn
- Political position: Left-wing
- Membership: 700,000
Labour is the official opposition in Parliament. This means that the party has the second-largest number of MPs in the House of Commons (after the Conservatives). Currently led by Jeremy Corbyn following Ed Miliband’s resignation after Labour’s 2015 General Election defeat, the party is in the middle of a bitter leadership battle (see my previous post here). Few can deny that Labour is in trouble at the moment and under Corbyn it is losing popularity. By September it is likely that he will have been ousted and replaced by his only challenger Owen Smith.
Labour was founded in 1900 by various trade unions. Historically, the party has been most popular with working-class voters and in northern England and Scotland. However, in the last election the party lost around 50 seats in Scotland, a significant reason for its defeat. Since then, Corbyn has been trying to win Scots back but is largely failing. Labour is anti-austerity (doesn’t like decreasing public spending in order to reduce government debt) and still has close links with various trade unions. Other key policies include being opposed to the bedroom tax and zero-hours contracts as well as supporting more distribution of wealth. Previous Labour PMs include Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Clement Attlee.
- Leader: Tim Farron
- Political position: Centre
- Members: 75,000
Historically Britain’s third party, after the last election the Lib Dems were almost wiped out in Parliament: they went from 57 seats to just 8. In 2010 they formed a coalition government with the Tories. Many say that this was a reason for their catastrophic defeat last year which saw Nick Clegg resigning and being replaced by Tim Farron. The party is showing some signs of recovering (membership is up and some Labour MPs are threatening to defect if Corbyn wins the upcoming leadership election) but a return to being Britain’s 3rd party is extremely unlikely.
The Liberal Democrats are in between Labour and the Conservatives when it comes to the political spectrum. They are more pro-benefits than the Tories but levy less taxes than Labour. There is currently talk of the Lib Dems merging with some Labour MPs to form a new opposition party; this could be a realistic option for them and Farron’s reasoning that the party needs a new image is understandable. Notable Liberal Democrats include Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Paddy Ashdown.
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
- Leader: Nigel Farage
- Political position: Far-right
- Members: 50,000
A relatively new party, UKIP is an anti-EU far-right party that until recently was led by Nigel Farage. Farage, who is stepping down as leader, is the arguably the main reason that his party has done so well in recent years. There is no clear contender to replace him.
UKIP lobbied repeatedly for the UK to leave the EU and now that we are leaving, it is difficult to see what their major policies will be. The party has just 1 MP, Douglas Carswell, but received over 12% of the vote in 2015. UKIP has long been accused of inspiring racism and having racist members (unsurprisingly Farage denies this). Whatever your view on this, UKIP has… overstepped the mark on several occasions. Whoever the new leader is, they have a tough job to keep the party at the forefront of UK politics.
Scottish National Party (SNP)
- Leader: Nicola Sturgeon
- Political position: Left-wing
- Membership: 120,000
The SNP is the party of Scotland. Its aim is to make Scotland an independent country and although it failed in its referendum campaign a few years back, leader Nicola Sturgeon is currently lobbying for another one. While the UK voted to leave the EU, Scotland wanted to stay in the block. This has given Sturgeon a good reason for holding another referendum, something that could pose a problem in the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
The party is further left-wing than Labour and last year stole over 40 of the latter party’s seats to go from having 6 MPs to a massive 54. While the SNP claims to represent Scotland’s interests, many Scots agree with the party’s call for independence but are frustrated by the party’s left-wing bias. There is no major right-wing party that is lobbying for Scottish independence. The SNP’s huge increase in momentum shows no signs of slowing down and Sturgeon is mainly responsible for the party’s huge growth in popularity.
- Leader: Natalie Bennett
- Political position: Far-left
- Membership: 60,000
Pictured here with her trademark necklace, Natalie Bennett is standing down as Green Party leader. The favourite to replace her is a combined bid from sole Green MP Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley. Lucas is a former Green leader and built the party up, helping to shake off its unelectable image. The Green party is (unsurprisingly) focussed on protecting the environment and tackling climate change. It is also firmly anti-austerity and one of the most left-wing parties in Britain (it has gone further left under Bennett).
The Green Party has been hurt by Corbyn leading the Labour party as he has convinced many Green members to join. With new Green and Labour leaders, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Greens take another couple of seats in 2020.
Plaid Cymru is the party of Wales and is led by Leanne Wood. It has 3 MPs and is another left-wing party. The BNP is another far-right party (even further-right than UKIP) and as well as repeatedly being accused of being racist has been hurt in recent years by the rise of Farage’s party. The Women’s Equality Party is not ‘on the political spectrum’. It’s sole aim is to achieve equal rights for women and has said in the past that it hopes that there will not be a need for the party to exist in the future. It is led by Sophie Walker and has gained 50,000 members in the one year that it has been active.
I hope that this post has cleared up any confusion and I intend to produce a ‘Who’s who in British politics’ page in the next few weeks. Northern Island’s parties have been omitted here because that’s a story for another post…