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  • Davina Kourdi and Ved Luhana

Political Parties, Explained

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

The main political parties in Westminster are the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is the third biggest party in Parliament even though it only stands for election in Scotland.

Read on to find out more about political parties both in Parliament and at a regional level.

Conservative Party

Who are they?

The Conservatives (also known colloquially as the Tories) are the current political party in government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They are the oldest political party who first emerged in the 19th century and are the second largest party by membership with 180,000 members as of September 2019.

Current representation in the House of Commons

They have 364 out of 650 seats. 277 of these MPs are men, 87 are women.

What does the party stand for?

They are a centre right to right-wing party.

Traditionally they have advocated for free markets, the promotion of private property and low taxation.

While the party historically campaigned for the preservation of traditional cultural values in recent years it has become less socially conservative particularly during the David Cameron government.

2019 General Election Manifesto

The Conservatives predominantly promoted the slogan that they will ‘get Brexit done’. They also advocated for extra funding for the NHS, with 50,000 more nurses and 50 million more GP surgery appointments a year, 20,000 more police officers and tougher sentencing for criminals. In terms of tax they promised to not increase income tax, VAT or national insurance.


Labour Party

Who are they?

The Labour Party is the main opposition to the incumbent Conservative Government. The current leader is Keir Starmer who has taken over after the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 election. The party was created in the 1900 as a rival to the left leaning Liberal Party and was named Labour in 1906. They were the creators of the NHS and the welfare state in Britain in the late 1940’s. Labour has the highest number of party members as it had 485,000 members as of July 2019.

Current representation in the House of Commons

Labour has 202 MPs of which 104 are women and 98 men.

The party lost 59 seats in the 2019 General Election creating the fall of so-called ‘Red wall’ of Northern England. Some commentators believe that the party’s position on the UK remaining in the EU led to its demise in the election.

What does the party stand for?

They can be characterised as a left-wing, progressive party.

One of their main policy aims is to widen the country’s welfare state and in particular improving the NHS.

Traditionally they were seen as the voice of the working class, however this is no longer the case.

2019 General Election Manifesto

The Labour party advocated strongly for Remain up until the 2019 General Election. Now they advocate for leaving the EU in a softer manner compared to the Conservatives.

Other manifesto promises were a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, creating jobs whilst staying green, increasing the health budget by 4.3% and introduce a ‘Real Living Wage’ in order to help reduce poverty and inequality.


Liberal Democrats

Who are they?

The current Liberal Democrat leader is Ed Davey who was elected in August 2020 following Jo Swinson, the previous leader, losing her seat in the 2019 General Election. The party formed through a merge between the Liberal Party and ex-members of the Social Democrats in the 1980s and is more colloquially known as the ‘LibDems’. They are the fourth largest party in terms of party membership with 120, 845 as of September 2019. Despite this, they have never won a majority, but formed a coalition in 2010.

Current representation in the House of Commons

The LibDems currently have 11 MPs in the House of Commons, seven of which are female.

What does the party stand for?

The LibDems try to occupy the centre ground of politics reaching a balance between liberal and social democratic values.

They have strong beliefs in liberty, equality and community and also advocate for the protection of the environment.

2019 General Election Manifesto

Their main policy was to stop Brexit and revoke Article 50. They also promoted the policy of paying a penny on every pound paid in income tax to raise money for the NHS and social care. In addition, they stand for free childcare, promised to aim to generate 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030, and tax frequent flyers.


Green Party

Who are they?

The Green Party is the environmentalist party in the UK. They are co-led by Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley since 2018. They have 48,500 members as of July 2019 and they were established in 1990.

Current representation in the House of Commons

They currently only hold 1 seat; however, the party holds a symbolic presence as the push to a greener future.

What does the party stand for?

The party can be defined as an environmentalist party with left-wing economic policies such as well-funded, locally controlled public services.

They are a progressive party in the UK supporting LGBTQ rights, animal rights, and take a no-violence stance on protests.

2019 General Election Manifesto

Their election manifesto was a simple one focusing on the environment with policies such as £100bn spending a year to cut emissions, planting 700 million trees by 2030 and building 100,000 zero-carbon homes.


Regional Parties

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru are a Welsh party which has been led by Adam Price since September 2018. They currently hold 3 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons, and 10 seats in the Welsh Parliament.

The party is a centre left-wing party and promotes Welsh nationalism and independence particularly through issues such as language. Their stance in the 2019 General Election was to back a second EU referendum.

Scottish National Party

The SNP is the largest political party in Scotland with 125, 534 members as of December 2019. The party is led by Nicola Sturgeon who is also Scotland’s First Minister.

The SNP is a socially liberal party and has campaigned against austerity. It opposes nuclear weapons and believes in free university education. Scotland is represented by 59 MPs in the House of Commons. 48 of these MPs are from the SNP.

The party’s biggest success came in the 2015 General Election where the party won 56 seats. Their position on Brexit during the 2019 General Election was to keep Scotland in the EU by holding another referendum on Scottish independence.

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein are a regional party that stand in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They are led by Mary Lou McDonald. The party name means ‘we ourselves’.

Sinn Fein is a centre left/left wing party which believes in nationalism and republicanism. They are focused on getting international recognition of Ireland as an island by ending the partition. Sinn Fein is historically associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) however, the party has tried to distance itself from the IRA.

The party holds 7 seats in the House of Commons but take a policy of abstentionism, so they refuse to sit in Parliament or vote on bills. Similarly, like other regional parties, they are opposed to Northern Ireland leaving the EU and suggested a referendum on the reunification of Ireland following the result of the Brexit referendum.

Democratic Unionist Party

The Democratic Unionist Party is a regional party that stand in Northern Ireland (NI), favouring a British identity who are led by Arlene Foster. The party supports Northern Ireland being part of the UK. It is therefore opposed to a united Ireland.

It tends to be described as a ‘right-wing populist’ party. The party wants greater controls on immigration and is socially conservative. For instance, it opposes same-sex marriage. The DUP is a Eurosceptic party, supporting the Conservatives in their Leave campaign.

They were founded in 1971 during the troubles in Paisley. They hold eight seats in the House of Commons and have one seat in the NI assembly.


Eurosceptic Parties

Eurosceptic parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) played a key role in bringing about the Brexit referendum in 2016. In 2015 UKIP obtained 12.6% of the vote, making it the third biggest party in terms of vote share but not in seats.

However, since the EU referendum and Nigel Farage leaving the party in 2019, UKIP has lost its political clout and currently has no seats in the House of Commons.

Further explore the structure of the UK government with resources from our UK Politics section.

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