Guide to Parties
The Conservative Party is the main centre-right party in British politics and is committed to Conservative political values such as the family, society, individual responsibility, a small state, entrepreneurship and social justice.
A brief history:
The Conservative Party was one of the first of its kind in British politics and helped to define what we now understand as a modern democratic party.
It is without doubt that William Wilberforce has been one of the most influential figures in the Conservative Party’s history. His life-long battle to abolish the slave trade and his campaign to change society made a significant impact on Britain and the world during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
After political reforms in the late 1800s more people were able to vote and the Conservative Party – led by Benjamin Disraeli – attempted to make the Party more appealing to both rich and poor. This led to the birth of ‘one nation’ conservatism which in simple terms believed more should be done on behalf of the rich to help the poor.
The Conservative Party enjoyed success in the years prior to the First World War and the inter-war period. Following the Second World War, however, the Party was heavily defeated by Labour who brought huge change to the country such as comprehensive welfare and the NHS.
Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She was in favour of free market economics and privatisation – which meant private businesses (not the state) provided a lot of public services and were under less state control. From 1979-1987 Thatcher experienced a huge amount of public support as the economy boomed.
Towards the end of the 1980s, however, Thatcher’s strong-handed approach meant she became increasingly unpopular both with the British public and her own Party. John Major replaced Thatcher in 1990 and attempted to reform the Party’s image.
After a significant election defeat in 1997 to Blair’s Labour Party, the Conservatives continued to attempt to break away from the reputation it had gained of being a party that didn’t care about the poor. ‘One nation’ conservatism was revived as the Party adopted the view that people had a duty to care for everyone in society.
Around this time the Centre for Social Justice came about as a project of Iain Duncan Smith (now Secretary for Work & Pensions) and Tim Montgomerie (co-founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship). The Centre for Social Justice seeks to address poverty in Britain and has made some important contributions.
In 2010, the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, won the General Election but without a majority in parliament the party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Cameron calls himself a “modern compassionate conservative” who sees people’s general wellbeing as coming before financial competition. He also has been open about his views on Christianity and sees the Church as playing an important role in society.
Party’s website: www.conservatives.com
The Green Party is a left-wing party in British politics. Greens believe in ecological sustainability, a fairer more stable economy and a more equal society. The Green party is considered to be uniquely democratic – with policy being developed and passed by the membership – not the leadership.
A brief history:
The Green Party was founded in the 1970s as a response to growing ecological awareness with a focus on social justice. In the 1980s the party devolved into The Green Party of England & Wales, The Scottish Green Party and The Green Party in Northern Ireland.
The First Past the Post electoral system (which rewards the bigger parties with an exaggerated share of the MPs at the expense of smaller parties) has meant that Green representation in parliament has not reflected its share of the vote in general elections. Once Proportional Representation was adopted for European elections and for the London Assembly, Greens began to return members to both of those chambers.
The election of Caroline Lucas to party leader in 2008 coincided with the global financial crisis and a greater desire among the British public to find alternatives to unregulated capitalism. Since then, as Labour has stayed towards the centre of politics, the Greens have advocated for policies on the Left.
In 2010 Caroline Lucas was elected to Westminster as the first Green MP and in 2012 Nathalie Bennet took over as leader of the party. Green party membership more than doubled in 2014 as trust in established parties came under threat.
The Labour Party is the main party of the centre-left movement in British politics. With a strong Christian heritage, the party now consists of a variety of different expressions of social democracy, but remains committed to securing a fairer society for all.
A brief history:
Created in 1900, the Labour Party was born out of the struggle of working people and trade unions. Their goal was to make parliament more representative of working people; not just a ‘wealthy elite’. In 1929, Labour formed its first government, which lasted only a few months. It was clear, however, that from this point on Labour would be a significant feature of the British political landscape.
In 1945, Labour – led by Clement Atlee – won its first majority, allowing it to form a strong government. Labour captured the mood of change in the aftermath of the Second World War and brought in sweeping reform, including the creation of the NHS.
Suffering defeat in 1951, Labour again came into power from 1964 to 1970. During this period a strong secular tradition crept into the Party, with the idea that we can perfect society without the need for God or religion dominating many people’s thinking.
The next Labour government came into power in 1974, led by Harold Wilson. He was replaced, however, by James Callaghan and it was during this period that the Labour Party faced huge challenges such as inflation and militant trade unionism. As a result, in 1979, Britain turned to Margaret Thatcher for answers.
A period of soul-searching in the Labour Party followed the defeat in 1979 with large scale policy reviews. In 1994 John Smith became leader marking a distinct break with the past as he progressed towards a ‘new’ Labour.
After Smith’s death Tony Blair became the youngest ever Labour leader and took the Party even closer to the centre of politics, creating what has become known as the ‘Third Way’. This spelled the end of the traditional left-right political divide as Labour abandoned much of its socialist thinking and focussed on education as a means of bettering people’s opportunities to gain wealth as opposed to redistributing wealth to benefit the poor.
Blair won a landslide in 1997 and 2001 and in 2005 achieved a first in Labour history, forming a third consecutive government. In 2007 Gordon Brown took over the leadership of the Labour Party but was defeated in 2010.
Today the Labour Part is led by Ed Miliband, who has been particularly influenced by a new school of thought known as Blue Labour. Blue Labour combines respect for family, faith and work with a commitment to the common good.
The Liberal Democrat Party is the main ‘centre’ party in British politics. The party seeks to establish a fair, free and open society where all people are treated equally. The Liberal Democrats see the role of government as supporting people to contribute to society and better their communities.
A brief history:
The Liberal Party was born out of the Whig Party who were popular among Christians as they promised religious freedom to Christians who weren’t members of the Church of England. As such, the Liberal Party has had strong ties with the Catholic and nonconformist (non-CofE) churches. In the late 1800s under the leadership of William Gladstone (an evangelical Christian) the Liberal Party was largely made up of nonconformists and was particularly prominent in Wales which had recently experienced a ‘revival’ amongst its churches.
Today’s Liberal Democrat Party was formed in 1988 as the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (a breakaway of the Labour Party) merged. The first leader was Paddy Ashdown who established the party as a credible alternative to Labour and the Conservatives.
The party gained 46 seats in parliament in the 1997 General Election, marking its first real gain into parliament and into British politics. In 1999, Charles Kennedy became leader, furthering the party’s popularity due to his strong opposition to the Iraq war and his call to reform what he saw as the outdated way Britain does politics.
Menzies Campbell took over the leadership of the party in 2006 continuing to modernise the party’s organisation and policies. He was then followed by Nick Clegg in 2007 who formed a coalition with the Conservative Party following the 2010 election making himself Deputy Prime Minister.
Nick Clegg has continued to push for reforming the political system including getting rid of unelected members of the House of Lords and changing the rules on how we elect governments. He also is a supporter of staying in the EU and sees stronger ties across the continent as being beneficial to Britain.
Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party (SNP) was founded in 1934 with the aim of restoring Scottish independence which had come to an end in 1707 with the Act of Union creating one UK parliament.
A brief history:
The first major breakthrough for the SNP came in 1967 with a by-election win for Winnie Ewing and other highlights have included the election of 11 SNP MPs at Westminster in 1974.
Scotland regained its own parliament in 1999, when power was ‘devolved’ to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This allowed the SNP to fight elections ‘at home’ for the first time and resulted in 2007 with them becoming the largest party in Scotland.
Today, the SNP boasts 6 of the 59 Scottish seats in Westminster, as well as 2 Members of the European Parliament and an overall membership that falls only behind the Conservatives and Labour.
In September 2014, the SNP rose to particular prominence with the Scottish referendum in which around 85% of the Scottish public cast their vote on whether to stay a part of Britain. The SNP and their ‘Yes’ campaign was defeated, however, when 53% voted in favour of staying in the Union.
Following the referendum, SNP leader Alex Salmond retired and was replaced by Nicola Sturgeon.
Is Scotland different from England?
Some people would argue that Scotland is just another region of England, but the SNP strongly disagrees. There are surface level differences, such as Scotland’s oil resources, her under-population, and the separate national sports teams. There are also traditional differences in terms of Education, the Law, and the Church.
The Reformation in Scotland took a distinct direction. Where many feel that Henry VIII simply replaced the Pope as head of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland under John Knox followed Calvin and adopted a Presbyterian system. Therefore, the church and state have not been as close in Scotland as they have been in England and in this regard some would say Scotland is closer in religious and cultural terms to the Netherlands or Switzerland.
Politically too Scotland has tended to vote differently to England. Having a nationalist party has meant there have been four main parties to choose from and in recent years the Conservatives have not been one of the two main players. Both Labour and Conservatives in Scotland are to the left of their equivalents in England and this adds to the complexity of Scottish politics, with relationships between the parties complicated by their internal relationships with their cross-border cousins.
The SNP separatist agenda at Westminster has sometimes interfered with decisions made for the rest of the UK which became the West Lothian question. This has not made them popular among the family of Northern Irish, Welsh & English parties & voters.
Minorities that have a separatist nationalist agenda have become violent when they have not won, such as Northern Ireland in the 1972 when 57% of population voted to stay with the UK.
Free speech & free debate is a human right entitlement. Scenes like this one is best to avoid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XuTf-ZjXLs
We hope with the Scottish referendum with 55% voting to stay with UK that we dont have a repeat of this. Devo max is the route that Westminster is taking & we hope that all family members countries of the United Kingdom can continue to live in peace.
UK Independence Party
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is a right-wing party founded in 1993 out of the desire to gain independence from the European Union. It currently boasts two MPs in Westminster and three representatives in the House of Lords and is the largest UK party in the EU with twenty-four MEPs.
A brief history:
The party was first founded by Alan Sked – a professor and academic – in response to the Maastricht Treaty, which in 1991 saw the birth of the European Union. It drew early support from members of the Conservative Party who were disappointed by their party’s stance on greater European integration.
Following an unsuccessful 1997 General Election where UKIP was overshadowed by another anti-EU party called the Referendum Party, Alan Sked stepped down as leader, citing his fear that the party was being taken over by right-wing extremists.
The Referendum Party soon after dissolved, further bolstering UKIP’s membership under the leadership of millionaire businessman Michael Holmes. Holmes alongside Nigel Farage and one other became the first UKIP Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in 1999. However, the party remained unsuccessful in attempts to gain seats in Westminster as well as in Scotland and Wales.
Following various power struggles among the party’s leadership involving former Labour MP and television chat-show host Robert Kilroy-Silk, the party eventually came under the leadership of Nigel Farage in 2006.
Over the next few years UKIP continued to gain ground in Europe, becoming the second largest UK party in the EU in 2009 with 16.5% of the vote and 13 MEPs. The following year, however, the party again failed to gain a single seat in Westminster, although it did secure the largest number of votes for a party without a seat.
Following the 2010 General Election, UKIP’s rating in opinion polls has continued to increase and it witnessed huge successes in European and local elections in 2013 and 2014. It now also has two MPs in Westminster following the defection of Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell from the Conservative Party resulting in bi-election victories.
What does the party stand for?
Farage infamously described UKIP’s 2010 election manifesto, in which they outlined their proposals for the country, as ‘drivel’ and ‘nonsense’. As a result, there has been a concerted effort on behalf of UKIP to address this apparent shortcoming, with the party seeking more credibility through the development of workable policies.
The party’s primary focus remains on independence from the European Union. Withdrawal from the EU, UKIP believes, would result in millions of pounds no longer being paid in membership. Also, a ‘free-trade agreement’ would aim to be negotiated that would allow Britain to continue benefiting from trade with members of the EU as well as with the rest of the world.
Furthermore, without being tied to the EU, Britain – UKIP believes – would be able to ‘take back control of its borders’. Immigration would be controlled with work permits granted only to fill gaps in the jobs market. For those that are permitted, they would be required to have a job as well as accommodation, health insurance, and be able to speak English.
Published by Alex Stewart Clark.
South Fife Union Association, Courtyard Cottage, Dundas, Southqueensferry, West Lothian EH30 9SP.