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Labour Party
Leader Gordon Brown MP
Deputy Leader Harriet Harman MP
Founded 1900 (1900)
Headquarters 39 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0HA
Ideology Constitutional

Democratic Socialism Ideological currents

Democratic Socialism
Social Democracy
Third Way
Political position Centre-left[1]
International affiliation Socialist International
European affiliation Party of European Socialists
European Parliament Group Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Official colours Red
House of Commons
House of Lords
European Parliament
London Assembly
Scottish Parliament
Welsh Assembly
Local Government[3][4]
Politics of the United Kingdom
Political parties

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom. Founded at the start of the 20th century, it has been seen since 1920 as the principal party of the Left in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, where it has only recently begun to organise again.[5] Labour first surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s.

Since then, the party has had several spells in government, at first in minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931, then as a junior partner in the wartime coalition from 1940-1945 and ultimately forming majority governments under Clement Attlee in 1945-1951 and under Harold Wilson in 1964-1970. Labour was in government again in 1974-1979, first under Wilson and then James Callaghan, though with a precarious and declining majority.

The Labour Party won a majority in the 1997 general election under the leadership of Tony Blair, its first general election victory since October 1974 and the first general election since 1970 in which it had exceeded 40% of the popular vote. The party's large majority in the House of Commons was slightly reduced to 167 in the 2001 general election and more substantially reduced to 66 in 2005. Labour is the leading partner in the coalition Welsh government and the main opposition party in the Scottish Parliament. It has 13 members in the European Parliament. The Labour Party is a member of the Party of European Socialists and the Socialist International. The party's current leader is Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Party ideology

The party grew out of the trade union movement and socialist political parties of the 19th century seeking workers' representation, and describes itself as a "democratic socialist party".[6] However, since the "New Labour" project began, a larger proportion of its support has come from middle-class voters and many perceive this support as key to Labour's electoral success since 1997.[6]

Historically the party was broadly in favour of socialism, as set out in Clause Four of the original party constitution, and advocated socialist policies such as public ownership of key industries, government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers, the welfare state, publicly-funded healthcare and education.

Beginning in the late-1980s under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, and subsequently under John Smith and Tony Blair, the party moved away from socialist positions and adopted free market policies, leading many observers to describe the Labour Party as Social Democratic or Third Way, rather than democratic socialist.[7]

Party electoral manifestos have not contained the term socialism since 1992, when the original Clause Four was abolished, although the new version says:

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

Party constitution and structure

The Labour Party is a membership organisation consisting of Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and the Co-operative Party, with which it has an electoral agreement. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions take part in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP). The party's decision-making bodies on a national level formally include the National Executive Committee (NEC), Labour Party Conference and National Policy Forum (NPF) — although in practice the Parliamentary leadership has the final say on policy. The 2008 Labour Party Conference was the first at which affiliated trade unions and Constituency Labour Parties did not have the right to submit motions on contemporary issues that would previously have been debated.[8] Labour Party conferences now include more "keynote" addresses, guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions, while specific discussion of policy now takes place in the National Policy Forum.

For many years Labour held to a policy of not allowing residents of Northern Ireland to apply for membership,[9], instead supporting the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).[10] The 2003 Labour Party Conference accepted legal advice that the party could not continue to prohibit residents of the province joining,[11] and whilst the National Executive has established a regional constituency party it has not yet agreed to contest elections there.

The party had 198,026 members on 31 December 2005 according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission, which was down on the previous year. In that year it had an income of about £35 million (£3.7 million from membership fees) and expenditure of about £50 million, high due to that year's general election.[12]

As a party founded by the unions to represent the interests of working-class people, Labour's link with the unions has always been a defining characteristic of the party. In recent years this link has come under increasing strain, with the RMT being expelled from the party in 2004 for allowing its branches in Scotland to affiliate to the left-wing Scottish Socialist Party.[13] Other unions have also faced calls from members to reduce financial support for the Party[14] and seek more effective political representation for their views on privatisation, cuts and the anti-trade union laws.[15] Unison and GMB have both threatened to withdraw funding from constituency MPs and Dave Prentis of UNISON has warned that the union will write "no more blank cheques" and is dissatisfied with "feeding the hand that bites us" [16].

Internationally, the Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists, while the party's MEPs sit in the Socialists & Democrats group.


The Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893

Founding of the party

The Labour Party's origins lie in the late 19th century, around which time it became apparent that there was a need for a new political party to represent the interests and needs of the urban proletariat, a demographic which had increased in number and had recently been given franchise.[17] Some members of the trades union movement became interested in moving into the political field, and after further extensions of the voting franchise in 1867 and 1885, the Liberal Party endorsed some trade-union sponsored candidates. In addition, several small socialist groups had formed around this time, with the intention of linking the movement to political policies. Among these were the Independent Labour Party, the intellectual and largely middle-class Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation and the Scottish Labour Party.

In the 1895 general election, the Independent Labour Party put up 28 candidates but won only 44,325 votes. Keir Hardie, the leader of the party, believed that to obtain success in parliamentary elections, it would be necessary to join with other left-wing groups.

Labour Representation Committee

Keir Hardie, one of the Labour Party's founders and its first leader

In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations - trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.[18]

After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to coordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population.[19] It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 "Khaki election" came too soon for the new party to campaign effectively; total expenses for the election only came to £33.[20] Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful; Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.[21]

Support for the LRC was boosted by the 1901 Taff Vale Case, a dispute between strikers and a railway company that ended with the union being ordered to pay £23,000 damages for a strike. The judgement effectively made strikes illegal since employers could recoup the cost of lost business from the unions. The apparent acquiescence of the Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour to industrial and business interests (traditionally the allies of the Liberal Party in opposition to the Conservative's landed interests) intensified support for the LRC against a government that appeared to have little concern for the industrial proletariat and its problems.[21]

Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House, 8 Farringdon Street

In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats — helped by a secret 1903 pact between Ramsay MacDonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone that aimed to avoid splitting the opposition vote between Labour and Liberal candidates in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.[21]

In their first meeting after the election the group's Members of Parliament decided to adopt the name "The Labour Party" formally (15 February 1906). Keir Hardie, who had taken a leading role in getting the party established, was elected as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (in effect, the Leader), although only by one vote over David Shackleton after several ballots. In the party's early years the Independent Labour Party (ILP) provided much of its activist base as the party did not have individual membership until 1918 but operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies. The Fabian Society provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the party. One of the first acts of the new Liberal Government was to reverse the Taff Vale judgement.[21]

Early years and the rise of the Labour Party

The 1910 election saw 42 Labour MPs elected to the House of Commons, a significant victory since, a year before the election, the House of Lords had passed the Osborne judgment ruling that Trades Unions in the United Kingdom could no longer donate money to fund the election campaigns and wages of Labour MPs. The governing Liberals were unwilling to repeal this judicial decision with primary legislation. The height of Liberal compromise was to introduce a wage for Members of Parliament to remove the need to involve the Trade Unions. By 1913, faced with the opposition of the largest Trades Unions, the Liberal government passed the Trade Disputes Act to allow Trade Unions to fund Labour MPs once more.

During the First World War the Labour Party split between supporters and opponents of the conflict but opposition to the war grew within the party as time went on. Ramsay MacDonald, a notable anti-war campaigner, resigned as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Arthur Henderson became the main figure of authority within the party. He was soon accepted into Prime Minister Asquith's war cabinet, becoming the first Labour Party member to serve in government.

Despite mainstream Labour Party's support for the coalition the Independent Labour Party was instrumental in opposing conscription through organisations such as the Non-Conscription Fellowship while a Labour Party affiliate, the British Socialist Party, organised a number of unofficial strikes.

Arthur Henderson resigned from the Cabinet in 1917 amid calls for party unity to be replaced by George Barnes. The growth in Labour's local activist base and organisation was reflected in the elections following the war, the co-operative movement now providing its own resources to the Co-operative Party after the armistice. The Co-operative Party later reached an electoral agreement with the Labour Party. The Communist Party of Great Britain was refused affiliation between 1921 and 1923.[22] Meanwhile the Liberal Party declined rapidly and the party suffered a catastrophic split that allowed the Labour Party to co-opt much of the Liberals' support.

With the Liberals in disarray Labour won 142 seats in 1922, making it the second largest political group in the House of Commons and the official opposition to the Conservative government. After the election the now-rehabilitated Ramsay MacDonald was voted the first official leader of the Labour Party.

First Labour government (1924)

Ramsay MacDonald: First Labour Prime Minister, 1924 and 1929–31

The 1923 general election was fought on the Conservatives' protectionist proposals but, although they got the most votes and remained the largest party, they lost their majority in parliament, necessitating the formation of a government supporting free trade. Thus, with the acquiescence of Asquith's Liberals, Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister in January 1924, forming the first Labour government, despite Labour only having 191 MPs (less than a third of the House of Commons).

Because the government had to rely on the support of the Liberals it was unable to get any socialist legislation passed by the House of Commons. The only significant measure was the Wheatley Housing Act, which began a building programme of 500,000 homes for rental to working-class families.

The government collapsed after only nine months when the Liberals voted for a Select Committee inquiry into the Campbell Case, a vote which MacDonald had declared to be a vote of confidence. The ensuing general election saw the publication, four days before polling day, of the notorious Zinoviev letter, which implicated Labour in a plot for a Communist revolution in Britain. The Conservatives were returned to power although Labour increased its vote from 30.7% to a third of the popular vote, most Conservative gains being at the expense of the Liberals. The Zinoviev letter is now known to have been a forgery.[23]

In opposition Ramsay MacDonald continued his policy of presenting the Labour Party as a moderate force. During the General Strike of 1926 he opposed strike action, arguing that the best way to achieve social reforms was through the ballot box.

Second Labour government (1929-1931)

The original "Liberty" logo, in use until 1983

In the 1929 general election, the Labour Party became the largest in the House of Commons for the first time, with 287 seats and 37.1% of the popular vote. However MacDonald was still reliant on Liberal support to form a minority government. MacDonald went on to appoint Britain's first female cabinet minister, Margaret Bondfield, who was appointed Minister of Labour.

The government, however, soon found itself engulfed in crisis: the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and eventual Great Depression occurred soon after the government came to power, and the crisis hit Britain hard. By the end of 1930 unemployment had doubled to over two and a half million.[24] The government had no effective answers to the crisis. By the summer of 1931 a dispute over whether or not to reduce public spending had split the government. As the economic situation worsened MacDonald agreed to form a "National Government" with the Conservatives and the Liberals.

On 24 August 1931 MacDonald submitted the resignation of his ministers and led a small number of his senior colleagues in forming the National Government together with the other parties. This caused great anger among those within the Labour Party who felt betrayed by MacDonald's actions: he and his supporters were promptly expelled from the Labour Party but went on to form a separate National Labour Organisation, the remaining Labour Party (again led by Arthur Henderson) and a few Liberals going into opposition. The ensuing general election resulted in overwhelming victory for the National Government and disaster for the Labour Party which won only 52 seats, 225 fewer than in 1929.

In opposition during the 1930s

Arthur Henderson, elected in 1931 to succeed MacDonald, lost his seat in the 1931 general election. The only former Labour cabinet member who has retained his seat, the pacifist George Lansbury, accordingly became party leader.

The party experienced another split in 1932 when the Independent Labour Party, which for some years had been increasingly at odds with the Labour leadership, opted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and embarked on a long, drawn-out decline.

Lansbury resigned as leader in 1935 after public disagreements over foreign policy. He was promptly replaced as leader by his deputy, Clement Attlee, who would lead the party for two decades. The party experienced a revival in the 1935 general election, winning 154 seats and 38% of the popular vote, the highest that Labour had achieved.

As the threat from Nazi Germany increased in the 1930s the Labour Party gradually abandoned its earlier pacifist stance and supported re-armament, largely due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton who by 1937 had also persuaded the party to oppose Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.[24]

Wartime coalition

The party returned to government in 1940 as part of the wartime coalition. When Neville Chamberlain resigned in the spring of 1940, incoming-Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to bring the other main parties into a coalition similar to that of the First World War. Clement Attlee was appointed Lord Privy Seal and a member of the war cabinet, eventually becoming the United Kingdom's first Deputy Prime Minister.

A number of other senior Labour figures also took up senior positions; the trade union leader Ernest Bevin, as Minister of Labour, directed Britain's wartime economy and allocation of manpower, the veteran Labour statesman Herbert Morrison became Home Secretary, Hugh Dalton was Minister of Economic Warfare and later President of the Board of Trade, while A. V. Alexander resumed the role he had held in the previous Labour Government as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Post-war victory under Attlee

Clement Attlee: Labour Prime Minister, 1945-51

At the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945, Labour resolved not to repeat the Liberals' error of 1918 but promptly withdrew from government to contest the 1945 general election in opposition to Churchill's Conservatives. Surprising many observers,[25] Labour won a formidable victory, winning just under 50% of the vote with a majority of 145 seats.

Clement Attlee's proved one of the most radical British governments of the 20th century, presiding over a policy of nationalising major industries and utilities including the Bank of England, coal mining, the steel industry, electricity, gas, telephones and inland transport including railways, road haulage and canals. It developed and implemented the "cradle to grave" welfare state conceived by the economist William Beveridge. To this day the party considers the 1948 creation of Britain's publicly funded National Health Service under health minister Aneurin Bevan its proudest achievement.[26] Attlee's government also began the process of dismantling the British Empire when it granted independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, followed by Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the following year. At a secret meeting in January 1947, Attlee and six cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, decided to proceed with the development of Britain's nuclear weapons programme,[24] in opposition to the pacifist and anti-nuclear stances of a large element inside the Labour Party.

Labour went on to win the 1950 general election but with a much reduced majority of five seats. Soon afterwards defence became a divisive issues within the party, especially defence spending (which reached a peak of 14% of GDP in 1951 during the Korean War),[27] straining public finances and forcing savings elsewhere. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell, introduced charges for NHS prescription drugs causing Bevan, along with Harold Wilson (then President of the Board of Trade), to resign over the dilution of the principle of free treatment on which the NHS had been established.

In the 1951 general election, Labour narrowly lost to the Conservatives despite receiving the larger share of the popular vote, its highest ever vote numerically. Most of the changes introduced by the 1945-51 Labour government were accepted by the Conservatives and became part of the "post war consensus" that lasted until the late 1970s.

Opposition during the 1950s

Following the defeat of 1951 the party underwent a long period of thirteen years in opposition. The party suffered an ideological split during the 1950s while the postwar economic recovery, given the social effects of Attlee's reforms, made the public broadly content with the Conservative governments of the time. Attlee remained as leader until his retirement in 1955.

His replacement Hugh Gaitskell, a man associated with the right-wing of the party, struggled to deal with internal divisions in the late 1950s and early 1960s and Labour lost the 1959 general election. In 1963 Gaitskell's sudden death from a heart-attack made way for Harold Wilson to lead the party.

Labour in government under Wilson (1964-1970)

Harold Wilson: Labour Prime Minister, 1964–1970 and 1974-1976

A down-turn in the economy along with a series of scandals in the early 1960s (the most notorious being the Profumo affair) engulfed the Conservative government by 1963. The Labour Party returned to government with a 4-seat majority under Wilson in the 1964 election but increased its majority to 96 in the 1966 election.

Wilson's government was responsible for a number of sweeping social and educational reforms such as the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality (initially only for men aged 21 or over). The 1960s Labour government also expanded comprehensive education and created the Open University. But Wilson's government had inherited a large trade deficit that led to a currency crisis and an ultimately doomed attempt to stave off devaluation of the pound. Labour went on to lose the 1970 election to the Conservatives under Edward Heath.

Heath's government, however, soon ran into trouble over Northern Ireland and a dispute with miners in 1973 which led to the "three-day week". The 1970s proved a difficult time to be in government for both the Conservatives and Labour due to the 1973 oil crisis which caused high inflation and a global recession. The Labour Party was returned to power again under Wilson a few weeks after the February 1974 general election, forming a minority government with the support of the Ulster Unionists. The Conservatives were unable to form a government as they had fewer seats despite receiving more votes numerically. It was the first general election since 1924 in which both main parties had received less than 40% of the popular vote and the first of six successive general elections in which Labour failed to reach 40% of the popular vote. In a bid to gain a proper majority a second election was soon called for October 1974 in which Labour, still with Harold Wilson as leader, managed a majority of three, gaining just 18 seats and taking its total to 319.


James Callaghan: Labour Prime Minister, 1976-1979.

For much of its time in office the Labour government struggled with serious economic problems and a precarious majority in the Commons, while the party's internal dissent over Britain's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), which Britain had entered under Edward Heath in 1972, led in 1975 to a national referendum on the issue in which two thirds of the public supported continued membership.

Harold Wilson's personal popularity remained reasonably high but he unexpectedly resigned as Prime Minister in 1976, citing health reasons and was replaced by James Callaghan. The Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s tried to control inflation (which reached 26.9% in 1975) by a policy of wage restraint. This was fairly successful, reducing inflation to 7.4% by 1978.[21] However it led to increasingly strained relations between the government and the trade unions.

Fear of advances by the nationalist parties, particularly in Scotland, led to the suppression of a report from Scottish Office economist Gavin McCrone that suggested that an independent Scotland would be 'chronically in surplus'[28]. By 1977 by-election losses and defections to the breakaway Scottish Labour Party left Callaghan heading a minority government, forced to trade with smaller parties in order to govern. An arrangement negotiated in 1977 with Liberal leader David Steel, known as the Lib-Lab Pact, ended after one year. After this deals were forged with various small parties including the Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, prolonging the life of the government slightly.

The nationalist parties, in turn, demanded devolution to their respective constituent countries in return for their supporting the government. When referenda for Scottish and Welsh devolution were held in March 1979 Welsh devolution was rejected outright while the Scottish referendum returned a narrow majority in favour without reaching the required threshold of 40% support. When the Labour government duly refused to push ahead with setting up the proposed Scottish Assembly, the SNP withdrew its support for the government: this finally brought the government down as it triggered a vote of confidence in Callaghan's government that was lost by a single vote on 28 March 1979, necessitating a general election.

Callaghan had been widely expected to call a general election in the autumn of 1978 when most opinion polls showed Labour to have a narrow lead.[21] However he decided to extend his wage restraint policy for another year hoping that the economy would be in a better shape for a 1979 election. But during the winter of 1978-79 there were widespread strikes among lorry drivers, railway workers, car workers and local government and hospital workers in favour of higher pay-rises that caused significant disruption to everyday life. These events came to be dubbed the "Winter of Discontent".

In the 1979 election Labour suffered electoral defeat by the Conservatives, now led by Margaret Thatcher. The number of people voting Labour hardly changed between February 1974 and 1979 but in 1979 the Conservative Party achieved big increases in support in the Midlands and South of England, benefiting from both a surge in turnout and votes lost by the ailing Liberals.

The "Wilderness Years" (1979-1997)

The local offices of the Otley and Yeadon Labour Party in Otley, West Yorkshire.

After its defeat in the 1979 election the Labour Party underwent a period of bitter internal rivalry between the left-wing, represented by Michael Foot and Tony Benn (whose supporters dominated the party's organisation of local activists), and the right-wing represented by Denis Healey. The election of Michael Foot as leader in 1980 dismayed many on the right of the party who believed that Labour was becoming too left-wing and potentially unelectable. In 1981 a group of four former cabinet ministers (Shirley Williams, William Rodgers, Roy Jenkins, and David Owen), who were from the right of the Labour Party, issued the "Limehouse Declaration" before forming the Social Democratic Party.

Margaret Thatcher's government was initially deeply unpopular due to high unemployment and inflation but the success of the Falklands War in 1982 along with the council house right to buy scheme revived her popularity while the formation of the SDP split the opposition vote. The Labour Party was defeated heavily in the 1983 general election, winning only 27.6% of the vote, its lowest share since 1918, and receiving only half a million votes more than the SDP-Liberal Alliance - which leader Michael Foot condemned for "siphoning" Labour support and enabling the Conservatives to win more votes.[29]

Labour Party logo under Kinnock, Smith and Blair's leaderships.

Michael Foot promptly resigned as leader and was replaced by the moderate Neil Kinnock who progressively moved the party towards the centre. Labour improved its performance in 1987, gaining 20 seats and so reducing the Conservative majority to 102 from 143.

Neil Kinnock was seen as right-wing by the Labour Left, especially the so-called Militant Tendency. Kinnock later forced this group out of the party and they would later form the Socialist Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Socialist Party; a remnant of Militant continues to operate within the Labour Party through the newspaper Socialist Appeal.[30]

In November 1990 Margaret Thatcher was forced out of office by her colleagues and replaced as Prime Minister by John Major. By the time of the 1992 general election the economy was in recession and, despite the personal unpopularity of Neil Kinnock, Labour looked as if it could win. The party had dropped its policy of Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament and other key policy differences with the Conservatives were ended as Labour dropped its policies of re-nationalisation of public utilities and Trade Union rights.[31] Most opinion polls showed the party to have a slight lead over the Conservatives, though rarely sufficient for a majority, or else predicted a hung parliament, but in the event the Conservatives were returned to power, though with a much reduced majority of 20.

After this unexpected defeat, Kinnock resigned as leader and was replaced by John Smith. Soon after the 1992 election the Conservative government ran into trouble when on Black Wednesday it was forced to take Britain out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. After this disaster for the Conservatives, Labour moved ahead in the opinion polls. John Smith's sudden death from a heart attack in May 1994 made way for Tony Blair to lead the party.

"New Labour"

Tony Blair continued to move the party further to the centre, abandoning the largely symbolic Clause Four at the 1995 mini-conference in a strategy to increase the party's appeal to "middle England". More than a simple re-branding, however, the project would draw upon a new political third way, particularly informed by the thought of the British sociologist Anthony Giddens.

"New Labour" was first termed as an alternative branding for the Labour Party, dating from a conference slogan first used by the Labour Party in 1994, which was later seen in a draft manifesto published by the party in 1996, called New Labour, New Life For Britain. It was a continuation of the trend that had begun under the leadership of Neil Kinnock. "New Labour" as a name has no official status, but remains in common use to distinguish modernisers from those holding to more traditional positions, normally referred to as "Old Labour".

'New Labour is a party of ideas and ideals but not of outdated ideology. What counts is what works. The objectives are radical. The means will be modern.'[32]

In government (1997-present)

Tony Blair: Labour Prime Minister, 1997-2007
Gordon Brown: Labour Prime Minister, 2007-present

The Labour Party won the 1997 general election with a landslide majority of 179; it was the largest Labour majority ever, and the largest swing to a political party achieved since 1945.

Among the early acts of Tony Blair's government were the establishment of the national minimum wage, the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the re-creation of a city-wide government body for London, the Greater London Authority, with its own elected-mayor. Combined with a Conservative opposition that had yet to organise effectively under William Hague, and the continuing popularity of Blair, Labour went on to win the 2001 election with a similar majority, dubbed the "quiet landslide".[citation needed]

A perceived turning point was when Tony Blair controversially allied himself with US President George W. Bush in supporting the Iraq War, which caused him to lose much of his political support.[33] The UN Secretary-General, among many, considered the war illegal.[34] The Iraq War was deeply unpopular in most western countries, with Western governments divided in their support[35] and under pressure from worldwide popular protests. At the 2005 election, Labour was re-elected for a third term, but with a reduced majority of 66. The decisions that led up to the Iraq war and its subsequent conduct are currently the subject of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry.

Current logo of the Labour Party

Tony Blair announced in September 2006 that he would quit as leader within the year, though he had been under pressure to quit earlier than May 2007 in order to get a new leader in place before the May elections which were expected to be disastrous for Labour.[36] In the event, the party did lose power in Scotland to a minority Scottish National Party government at the 2007 elections and, shortly after this, Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by his Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Although the party experienced a brief rise in the polls after this, its popularity soon slumped to its lowest level since the days of Michael Foot. During May 2008, Labour suffered heavy defeats in the London mayoral election, local elections and the loss in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, culminating in the party registering its worst ever opinion poll result since records began in 1943, of 23%, with many citing Brown's leadership as a key factor[37].

Finance proved a major problem for the Labour Party during this period; a "cash for peerages" scandal under Tony Blair resulted in the drying up of many major sources of donations. Declining party membership, partially due to the reduction of activists' influence upon policy-making under the reforms of Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, also contributed to financial problems. Between January and March 2008, the Labour Party received just over £3 million in donations and were £17 million in debt; compared to the Conservatives' £6 million in donations and £12 million in debt.[38].

Electoral performance

This chart shows the electoral performance of the Labour Party in general elections since 1900.[39]

A graph showing the percentage of the popular vote received by major parties in general elections, 1832-2005. The rapid rise of the Labour Party after its founding during the Victorian era is clear, and the party is now considered as one of the dominant forces in British politics.
Election Number of votes for Labour Share of votes Seats Outcome of election
1900 62,698 1.8% 2 Conservative Victory
1906 321,663 5.7% 29 Liberal Victory
1910 (January) 505,657 7.6% 40 Hung parliament (Liberal minority government)
1910 (December) 371,802 7.1% 42 Hung parliament (Liberal minority government)
1918 2,245,777 21.5% 57 Coalition Victory
1922 4,076,665 29.7% 142 Conservative Victory
1923 4,267,831 30.7% 191 Hung parliament (Labour minority government)
1924 5,281,626 33.3% 151 Conservative Victory
1929 8,048,968 37.1% 287 Hung parliament (Labour minority government)
1931 6,339,306 30.8% 52 National Government Victory
1935 7,984,988 38.0% 154 National Government Victory
1945 11,967,746 49.7% 393 Labour Victory
1950 13,266,176 46.1% 315 Labour Victory
1951 13,948,883 48.8% 295 Conservative Victory
1955 12,405,254 46.4% 277 Conservative Victory
1959 12,216,172 43.8% 258 Conservative Victory
1964 12,205,808 44.1% 317 Labour Victory
1966 13,096,629 48.0% 364 Labour Victory
1970 12,208,758 43.1% 288 Conservative Victory
1974 (February) 11,645,616 37.2% 301 Hung parliament (Labour minority government)
1974 (October) 11,457,079 39.2% 319 Labour Victory
1979 11,532,218 36.9% 269 Conservative Victory
1983 8,456,934 27.6% 209 Conservative Victory
1987 10,029,807 30.8% 229 Conservative Victory
1992 11,560,484 34.4% 271 Conservative Victory
1997 13,518,167 43.2% 419 Labour Victory
2001 10,724,953 40.7% 413 Labour Victory
2005 9,562,122 35.3% 356 Labour Victory

The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1918 in which all men over 21, and most women over the age of 30 could vote, and therefore a much larger electorate.

The first election under universal suffrage in which all women aged over 21 could vote.

Leaders of the Labour Party since 1906

Main article: List of United Kingdom Labour Party leaders

Deputy Leaders of the Labour Party since 1922

Main article: Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (UK)

Leaders of the Labour Party in the House of Lords since 1924

Labour Prime Ministers

Name Portrait Country of Birth Periods in Office
Ramsay MacDonald Ramsay MacDonald ggbain.29588.jpg Scotland 1924; 1929-1931
Clement Attlee Attlee BW cropped.jpg England 1945-50; 1950-1951
Harold Wilson Dodwilson.JPG England 1964-1966; 1966-1970; 1974-1976
James Callaghan James Callaghan.JPG England 1976-1979
Tony Blair Tony Blair WEF09.jpg Scotland 1997-2001; 2001-2005; 2005-2007
Gordon Brown Gordon Brown Davos 2008 crop.jpg Scotland 2007-present

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Hindmoor, A. New Labour at the Centre (2004)
  3. ^ Keith Edkins (30 November 2009). "Local Council Political Compositions". Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  4. ^ Nicholas Whyte (10 May 2005). "The 2005 Local Government Elections in Northern Ireland". Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive. Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  5. ^ Belfast Telegraph
  6. ^ a b "Labour's policies". Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  7. ^ New Labour and Thatcherism: Political Change in Britain, Richard Heffernan, 2001; New Labour has picked up where Thatcherism left off, Stuart Hall, The Guardian, 6 August 2003; From Thatcherism to New Labour: Neo-Liberalism, Workfarism and Labour Market Regulation, Professor Bob Jessop, Lancaster University; New Labour, Economic Reform and the European Social Model, Jonathon Hopkin and Daniel Wincott, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2006.
  8. ^ "Anger over 'union debate limit'". BBC News Website. 2007-09-19. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  9. ^ Labour Party membership form at the Internet Archive, ca. 1999. via Internet Archive. Accessed 31 March 2007. "Residents of Northern Ireland are not eligible for membership."
  10. ^ Understanding Ulster by Antony Alcock, Ulster Society Publications, 1997. Chapter II: The Unloved, Unwanted Garrison. Via Conflict Archive on the Internet. Accessed 31 October 2008.
  11. ^ Labour NI ban overturned, BBC News. 1 October 2003. Accessed 31 March 2007.
  12. ^ "The Labour Party — Financial Statements for 2005" (PDF). 
  13. ^ RMT 'breached' Labour party rules BBC News, 27 January 2004
  14. ^ Labour's link to unions in danger BBC News, 16 June 2004
  15. ^ CWU resolution to TUC Congress 2009
  16. ^ Local Government Chronicle
  17. ^ See, for instance, the 1899 Lyons vs. Wilkins judgement, which limited certain types of picketing
  18. ^ Mortimer, Jim, ‘The formation of the labour party - Lessons for today’ 2000 Jim Mortimer was a General Secretary of the Labour Party in the 1980s
  19. ^ History of the Labour Party - The Labour Party
  20. ^ Wright T. & Carter M,(1997) "The People's Party" Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0-500-27956-x
  21. ^ a b c d e f Thorpe, Andrew. (2001) A History Of The British Labour Party, Palgrave, ISBN 0-333-92908-x
  22. ^ Red Clydeside: The Communist Party and the Labour government [booklet cover] / Communist Party of Great Britain, 1924
  23. ^ "The truth about Churchill's spy chief and the Zinoviev Letter". The Independent. 
  24. ^ a b c Davies, A.J. (1996) To Build A New Jerusalem: The British Labour Party from Keir Hardie to Tony Blair, Abacus, ISBN 0349 108099
  25. ^ "1945: Churchill loses general election". BBC. 1945-07-26. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  26. ^ Proud of the NHS at 60 Retrieved 15 March 2010
  27. ^ Clark, Sir George, Illustrated History Of Great Britain, (1987) Octupus Books
  28. ^ Young Scots For Independence - Revealed: True oil wealth hidden to stop independence
  29. ^ BBC ON THIS DAY | 9 | 1983: Thatcher wins landslide victory
  30. ^ Britain: Nightmare on Downing Street - Time to reclaim the Labour Party Socialist Appeal, 12 May 2003
  31. ^ 1992: Tories win again against odds BBC News, 5 April 2005
  32. ^ "new Labour because Britain deserves better". 
  33. ^ European Opposition To Iraq War Grows | Current Affairs | Deutsche Welle | 13.01.2003
  34. ^
  35. ^ Unlikely alliance built on opposition to Iraq war now raises questions -
  36. ^ I will quit within a year - Blair BBC News, 7 September 2007
  37. ^ Lovell, Jeremy (2008-05-30). "Brown hit by worst party rating". London: Reuters. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  38. ^ "New figures published showing political parties’ donations and borrowing". The Electoral Commission. 2008-05-22. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  39. ^ Source:

Further reading

  • Davies, A.J, To Build A New Jerusalem (1996) ISBN 0349108099
  • Geoffrey Foote, The Labour Party's Political Thought: A History, Macmillan, 1997 ed.
  • Martin Francis, Ideas and Policies under Labour 1945-51, Manchester University Press, 1997. ISBN 0719048338
  • Roy Hattersley, New Statesman, 10 May 2004, 'We should have made it clear that we too were modernisers'
  • David Howell, British Social Democracy, Croom Helm, 1976
  • David Howell, MacDonald's Party, Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Ralph Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, Merlin, 1960, 1972. ISBN 0850361354
  • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour in Power, 1945-51, OUP, 1984.
  • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock OUP, 1992. ISBN 0192852701
  • Henry Pelling and Alastair J. Reid, A Short History of the Labour Party, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 ed. ISBN 1403993130
  • Ben Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
  • Raymond Plant, Matt Beech and Kevin Hickson (2004), The Struggle for Labour's Soul: understanding Labour's political thought since 1945, Routledge. ISBN 0415312841
  • Clive Ponting, Breach of Promise, 1964-70, Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0140132600
  • Greg Rosen, Dictionary of Labour Biography. Politicos Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1902301188
  • Greg Rosen, Old Labour to New, Politicos Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1842750453
  • Eric Shaw, The Labour Party since 1979: Crisis and Transformation, Routledge, 1994
  • Andrew Thorpe, A History of the British Labour Party, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. ISBN 0230500110
  • Phillip Whitehead, The Writing on the Wall, Michael Joseph, 1985.
  • Patrick Wintour and Colin Hughes, Labour Rebuilt, Fourth Estate, 1990.
  • John Pilger, Freedom Next Time, Bantam Press, 2006. ISBN 0593055527.

External links

Official party sites


Simple English

File:Logo Labour Party-red and
The logo of the Labour Party is the rose.

The Labour Party has been, since its founding in the early 20th century, the principal political party of the left in the United Kingdom. The Labour Party was in power in the United Kingdom government from 1997 to 2010, but now sits in opposition. It was in power in the Scottish Parliament (in coalition with the Scottish Liberal Democrats) until 2007, and is the second largest grouping on the London Assembly, although the Mayor of London until May 2008 was a Labour party member. It is also the 2nd largest party in Local Government and the 2nd largest UK party in the European Parliament.



The party was officially formed in 1906, just after the general election, as a successor of the Labour Representative Committee formed in 1900. In 1918, the party made a new constitution with the commitment to socialism, or the socialization of the industry. This could be found in Clause 4. The Labour Party won the general election in 1945 for the first time. From 1951 Labour was in opposition for thirteen years, during which there were serious fights between the left and right wings of the party. The leader of the left wing was Aneurin Bevan. His supporters were called the "Bevanites". They wanted a less confrontational policy in foreign affairs and more socialist actions. The leaders of the right wing were Clement Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell. They believed that Western capitalism had changed a lot and that socialism and public ownership was not so important. Gaitskell tried to remove Clause 4 from the party constitution at the 1959 conference, but he could not.

In 1994 Tony Blair could force the Labour Party to drop Clause 4. Clause 4 prevented slavery in the United Kingdom. This was an important step to change the party into "New Labour".

Past Leaders (Since 1906)

Labour Prime Ministers

Name Portrait Country of birth Time in Office
Ramsay MacDonald Scotland 1924; 1929-1931
Clement Attlee England 1945-1951
Harold Wilson England 1964-1970; 1974-1976
James Callaghan England 1976-1979
Tony Blair Scotland 1997-2007
Gordon Brown Scotland 2007-2010

Other websites


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