Labour Party

The UK Labour Party emerged in the 1900s as a 'new party for a new century', breaking the electoral dominance of the Liberal and Conservative parties. Over the course of 120 years, the Labour Party has experienced periods of electoral success and popularity, radically reshaping the UK with its policies. But the party has also endured periods of failure defined by electoral defeat and factional infighting. Let's take a dive into the ups and downs of the Labour Party's fascinating journey. 

Labour Party Labour Party

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Table of contents

    Formation of the Labour Party

    The formation of the Labour Party can be traced back to 1900 when the first Labour Representation Committee (LRC) met in Memorial Hall. This Committee was comprised of Trade Union Congress leaders and socialists from the Independent Labour Party (ILP), founded in 1893. Alienated from mainstream politics and seeking a party to represent working-class interests, the members of the LRC were the founding members of the Labour Party.

    Trade Union: an organisation of workers from a trade or profession, created to defend the employment rights of its members, as well as pressure employers to enact changes which will further the interests of workers

    One of the Committee members was Keir Hardie, a Scottish miner, Trade Union leader and journalist. Hardie had run for Parliament ten years earlier as a candidate for the ILP. In 1906, members of the LRC stood in their first General Election. With Hardie as its leader and 29 MPs sitting in Parliament, the LRC changed its name, and the Labour Party was born.

    Labour Party  Keir Hardie Formation of Labour Party StudySmarterA portrait of Keir Hardie, produced by Sylvia Pankurst circa 1910, NPG

    History of UK Labour Party

    The history of the UK Labour Party is therefore long, but here we will cover the interwar years, the post-war years, their time in opposition, and the Labour Party in the 21st Century.

    The Interwar Years (1918 - 1939)

    In 1918, as the Representation of the People Act extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and women over 30, Labour produced its first Socialist manifesto entitled 'Labour and The New Social Order'. This document outlined Labour's commitment to socialism, enshrining workers' rights and expanding social services.

    In the 1923 elections, the Labour Party gained 191 seats, meaning their vote share increased from 4.8% (1906) to 33% (1923). In January 1924, they formed a coalition with the Liberal Party and - led by Ramsey MacDonald - entered government for the first time.

    In 1929, the Labour Party again entered a coalition government with the Liberal Party - the last time they entered government until the Wartime Coalition united the major political parties in 1940.

    The Post-War Years (1945 - 1979)

    In the 1945 General Election, Labour achieved a comprehensive victory under Clement Attlee, gaining a 146-seat majority. Attlee, elected Labour Party leader in 1935, campaigned to deliver reforms following the horrors of the Second World War. Attlee's government promised to tackle the 'five evil giants of want, idleness, disease, ignorance, and squalor'. Labour developed a Welfare State to protect citizens 'from the cradle to the grave'. His government oversaw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), built social housing, universalised free education, and expanded social services.

    In the 1964 General Election, the Labour Party, now under the leadership of Harold Wilson, again took office. Wilson's administration favoured partnership with Trade Unions and prioritised this relationship until his government lost the 1970 election.

    In 1974, Wilson's Labour was re-elected. Over the next two years, Wilson's government struggled to remain in control of the warring factions of socialists and their opponents within the party. In 1975, the government entered a pact with the Liberal Party, due to holding a Parliamentary majority of only five seats. In 1976, Wilson resigned.

    The next three years, 1976 - 1979, proved disastrous for Labour. The new leader, James Callaghan, failed to maintain the party's relationship with the Trade Unions. The result was the "Winter of Discontent" (1978 -79), which saw leading Trade Unions in the UK opt for strike action in protest against working conditions and pay. The strike brought the country to a halt, and Labour's popularity nose-dived. In 1979, Callaghan lost the election to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party.

    Opposition (1979 - 1997)

    In the General Election of 1983 the new leader, Michael Foot, combated Thatcher's message of unrestrained capitalism with a manifesto committed to socialist principles. His proposals included the nationalisation of key UK industries and unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was dubbed as 'the longest suicide note in history' by opposition from within the party. The Labour Party lost 60 seats in Parliament, gained only 27.6% of the vote and left Thatcher's government in total control of the country. It was Labour's worst defeat in 50 years.

    After Foot, the Labour Party elected Neil Kinnock (1983 - 1992) and John Smith (1992 - 1994) as leaders. They both championed the vision of a 'Third-Way' model for Labour, moving it away from its Socialist origins and towards acceptance of the free-market economic model.

    The Twenty-First Century (1997 - present)

    In 1997, Tony Blair's Labour won a 179-seat majority in the General Election. As part of the New Labour movement, Blair changed the party through policies which devolved power to regions and the nations that make up the United Kingdom and continued Thatcher's policy of privatising industries. In the 2001 election, Labour's majority was reduced slightly to 167, but this was still the largest-ever majority for a government in its second term. Blair faced criticism over his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Despite this, in 2005, Blair's government won its third-consecutive General Election for the first time in the Labour Party's history.

    In 2007, Tony Blair resigned and handed leadership to former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Brown navigated the country through the 2008 financial crash before failing to gain a majority in the 2010 General Election. In May of the same year, Brown resigned.

    In 2010, Ed Miliband took control of the party with Trade Union support. Despite a strong showing in the 2012 General Election, 2015's results were deeply disappointing for Miliband and he resigned as leader of the party. In the same year, veteran left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader after an unprecedented grassroots campaign. Corbyn steered the party towards electoral gains in 2017, however the 2019 General Election was the Party's worst since 1935. In April 2020, Sir Keir Starmer was elected to replace Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.

    Labour Party  Elections Result Graph History of Labour Party  StudySmarterA graph produced to show the vote share achieved by all major political parties, 1918-2019, CommonsLibrary

    Labour Party UK Beliefs

    The UK Labour Party's beliefs cover a wide area, but the most important are Democratic Socialism, social justice, and decentralisation.

    Democratic Socialism

    Democratic socialism is the belief that it is the responsibility of the state to manage the economy in a way that benefits citizens, such as through intervention or Welfare polices. The Labour Party was originally founded as a socialist organisation. However, during the period of New Labour under Blair, Clause 4 was removed from the Labour party constitution. This was the clause which enshrined the party's desire to achieve socialist objectives and overthrow the capitalist economy. By adopting the title of a Democratic Socialist party, Labour has moved away from a purely socialist identity to broaden its appeal to more centrist voters.

    Social Justice

    The Labour Party has continually promoted itself as the party of social justice, seeking to break down the disparities caused by class and wealth inequality. At times in its history, such as during the Post-War years, the government implemented high taxation rates on wealthy individuals and companies, redistributing these resources through services aimed at benefitting the poorest in society. In recent years, the New Labour government has championed Social Justice by expanding access to Higher and Technical Education.

    Decentralisation

    The Labour party's belief in decentralised power can be seen in the internal party structure. The Labour Party can be broadly divided into three groups: The Constituency Labour Party (CLP), the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and the Trade Union affiliated groups. During the party's conference, these groups confer to discuss policies and the party's future. Furthermore, the party has also embraced e-democracy by inviting its members to participate in its National Policy Forum Consultation (NPF) before conferences. Until 2008, Trade Union groups had the power to veto policies put forward by the CLP and PLP.

    The Labour Party and Trade Union Funding

    Unlike many other political parties, which rely on individual or ad hoc donations, the Labour Party receives sustained funding from trade unions. A number of the Party-affiliated trade unions hold a 'political fund', which is made up of a portion of each member's monthly fee. For example, the UK's largest union, Unite, estimated in 2015 that its members contributed 66p per month towards its political fund. The Labour Party, with its historical values of championing workers' rights and supporting trade unions, has been the primary benefactor of these political funds.

    Labour Party Policies

    Some of the most important Labour Party Polices are devolution, nationalisation of key industries, and a move to a green and digital future.

    Devolution

    Hailed as one of Labour's key achievements during the New Labour years, devolution was championed by Blair during his three terms in government. Most notably, following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which saw an end to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Blair's government oversaw the creation of both the Northern Irish Assembly and Executive. New Labour also devolved power from Westminster via the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly (later the Welsh Parliament) in 1999.

    Devolution: a practice of 'top-down' power sharing, whereby legislative powers are transferred away from central government and handed over to (or 'devolved to') regional or national bodies

    Nationalisation of Key Industries

    Nationalisation has been at the heart of the Labour Party's historic economic policies since its foundation, although all its leaders or governments have not embraced it. The policy of nationalisation, bringing critical industries under the control of the state to ensure they serve the interests of citizens, laid the foundations for the NHS and the Welfare State in the Post-War years. However, in 2002, New Labour advocated the privatisation of Royal Mail, a state-owned institution, for 500 years. Today, nationalisation has become a divisive policy for the party. In 2022, faced with a crisis of energy costs, members of the Labour Shadow cabinet have publicly disputed the merits of nationalising the 'big six' energy companies.

    Green and Digital Future

    A recent policy proposal by the Labour Party has been to address the need for carbon neutrality through economic reforms. The Party has outlined the threat involved in the 'carbon delay' and the government's lack of action. Previous Labour manifestos have set out how the party, if elected, will utilise what it calls the 'low carbon and the digital economy' to phase out industries with the most significant detrimental environmental impact.

    UK Labour Party Leader

    The UK Labour Party leader is an important role, as they could be Prime Minister. To stand for Labour leadership, a candidate must receive nominations from 10% of MPs within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as well as from the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and affiliated groups (predominantly Trade Unions). Once a candidate has received sufficient nominations, they are placed on a ballot.

    The next stage involves further nominations from CLPs and affiliated groups, in which candidates on the ballot must receive nominations from 5% of the CLPs or three affiliated groups (2 of which must be trade unions). Once this final round of nominations is complete, candidates on the final ballot are selected by members of the Party on a one-member, one-vote system. On the 4th of April 2020, Sir Keir Starmer was elected leader of the UK Labour Party after gaining 56% of the final vote.

    Labour Party - Key takeaways

    • The Labour Party was officially founded in 1906, with Keir Hardie as its first leader.
    • By 1923, the Labour Party had formed its first government.
    • In 1945, Clement Atlee was elected Prime Minister and oversaw the creation of the Welfare State in the UK.
    • During this time, Labour identified as a socialist party.
    • After 15 years of Thatcherism, Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997 and removed the Socialist Clause 4 from the Labour constitution.
    • Over the next 10 years, Blair spearheaded the New Labour movement which saw the party adopt free-market economic principles.
    • The party champions the decentralisation and devolution of power in its policies and procedures.
    • Today, the party concerns itself with policies focused on ecological issues and social justice.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Labour Party

    What is the Labour party beliefs? 

    The Labour Party is a Democratic Socialist Party which has historically promoted Social Justice and Equality through economic and social policies

    What is the Labour Party?

    The Labour Party is a UK political party founded in 1906. It began with a commitment to socialism which saw it found the NHS in 1945, before becoming a Socialist Democratic party with an emphasis on Social Justice.

    When was the labour party formed?

    The Labour party was formed in 1906 as a product of the  Labour Representation Committee

    What are the policies of the Labour Party?

    The Labour party has a historical commitment to nationalisation and economic equality, however over recent years the party has begun to promote more free market principles and ideas

    Who is the leader of UK Labour Party?

    The current leader of the UK Labour Party is Sir Keir Starmer, who was elected in 2020

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