The Conservative and Unionist Party and the Labour Party dominate the political scene in the United Kingdom (UK). Other major actors include the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats, and regional parties such as Plaid Cymru in Wales and numerous parties in Northern Ireland.
The Conservatives may trace their origins back to the late 1600s Tory movement, while Labour began in 1900 and rose to power in the 1920s, displacing the Liberal Party as a key force. The Liberal Democrats were created in 1988 as a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.
The Liberal Party, which had previously been prominent alongside the Conservatives, fell in the 1920s, paving the way for Labour’s growth. The Liberal Democrats were the third-largest party until recent years, when they suffered significant electoral losses, and they now possess 11 seats. The SNP, which advocates for Scottish independence, rose in popularity, eventually becoming the third-largest party in 2015.
Other minor parties with parliamentary representation include Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland.
There is also one seat for the Green Party of England and Wales, as well as independent MPs. After serving as a minority administration for two years, the Conservatives won a majority in the most recent general election in 2019.
Political Parties in the UK: Categorization Based on Parliamentary Representation
There are different categories of political parties in the UK, depending on their representation in the House of Commons.
- House of Commons Parliamentary parties
- Other Parliamentary Parties
- Non-Parliamentary Political Parties
- Parties without representation in the House of Commons, but with representation in other UK legislatures
- Historical Parties
Let us discuss these types of parties in detail:
A) House of Commons Parliamentary Parties
There are 12 different parties in the UK, i.e., England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
- Conservative and Unionist Party
- Labour Party
- Scottish National Party (SNP)
- Liberal Democrats
- Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
- Sinn Fein
- Plaid Cymru
- Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
- Alba Party
- Green Party of England and Wales
- Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
- Reclaim Party
B) Other Parliamentary Parties
- Since 2010, the Green Party of England and Wales has had one MP, Caroline Lucas, and had gained seats in the London Assembly as well as over 500 local councilors by May 2022. They had one MP earlier as well, Cynog Dafis, in 1992.
- The UK Independence Party (UKIP) once had one MP, 24 seats in the European Parliament, and a few local councilors. They earned prominence in elections, most notably by receiving the highest vote share in the 2014 European elections and becoming the country’s first MP. Their priority was to reduce immigration and leave the EU; however, they no longer had any MPs.
- George Galloway was a member of the anti-war Respect Party from 2005 to 2010, and again between 2012 and 2015.
- Change UK, a party created and dissolved in 2019, had five MPs, four from the Labour Party and one from the Conservative Party.
- Independent politicians with no political affiliation occasionally occupy seats in parliament. Martin Bell was elected as an independent candidate against corruption in 1997, while Dr. Richard Taylor was elected in 2001 as an opponent of hospital closures, eventually creating the party Health Concern.
C) Non-Parliamentary Political Parties
- Brexit Party: Founded in 2019 by Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party obtained considerable MEP representation in the EU Parliament before disbanding after the UK exited the EU in January 2020.
- Scottish Greens: The Scottish Greens have 8 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, are part of an SNP/Green coalition, and have 35 local councilors.
- Northern Ireland’s Green Party: previously had MLAs but now has 8 local councilors.
- Scottish Socialist Party (SSP): won seats in the Scottish Parliament after campaigning against the Iraq War and in support of programs such as free school meals, but lost all MSPs in 2007.
- British National Party (BNP): was previously well-known, with MEPs, London Assembly seats, and council representation, but by 2018, it had lost all elected posts.
- British Democratic Party (BDP): Formed in 2022 by ex-BNP members, the BDP is the only far-right UK party with elected seats.
- Aspire Party: With 24 out of 45 council seats, the Aspire Party has a majority in Tower Hamlets.
- Women’s Equality Party (WEP): Won its first council seat in 2019, but has no representation at the state or federal levels.
- Libertarian Party: Founded in 2008, it runs for office but has no elected representatives.
- English Democrats: Supporters of an English parliament elected a mayor in Doncaster in 2009.
- Other parties: These include socialist, communist, nationalist, and regional parties, as well as satirical parties such as the Monster Raving Loony Party. Some local parties have narrow agendas and little representation.
D) Parties Without Representation in the House of Commons but With Representation in Other UK Legislatures
- Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
- Scottish Greens
- Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)
- People Before Profit (PBP)
E) Historical Parties
Political parties in the United Kingdom have a rich and varied history, with different organizations representing distinct ideas and areas. From the early twentieth century until the present, the United Kingdom has had parties promoting socialism, nationalism, regionalism, and other ideologies.
The Labour Party, created in the early twentieth century and historically linked to the trade union movement, and the Conservative Party, frequently associated with conservatism and center-right politics, are two noteworthy parties.
Others, such as the Scottish National Party (SNP), have played a critical role in fighting for Scottish independence, while parties such as the Liberal Democrats have provided a moderate and liberal agenda.
Furthermore, smaller and more specialized parties that focus on certain issues or areas, such as the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland or regional parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party and Plaid Cymru in Wales, have emerged in the UK political scene.
Throughout history, each of these parties and movements has contributed to the complicated fabric of British politics, shaping legislation, debates, and the democratic process.
Also Read: Major Political Parties In India
Major Political Parties in the UK and Their Principles
Below is an overview of the House of Commons parliamentary parties.
1) Conservatives (Tories)
The Conservative Party, founded in 1834, has a long history and has developed its ideals and factions throughout time. Its philosophy is a synthesis of several streams, each with its own emphasis and objectives within the larger conservative framework.
Conservatism is the foundation of the party’s doctrine. It attempts to preserve established traditions and institutions, stressing stability, order, and gradual progress over sudden change.
Economic liberalism is based on free-market ideas and advocates for less government interference in the economy. Economic liberalism supporters, known as Thatcherites within the Conservative Party, push for policies that value individual initiative, private entrepreneurship, and less government control. They want lower taxes, deregulation, and free trade.
British unionism emphasizes the significance of preserving the United Kingdom’s unity and pushing for a cohesive and connected country. It is opposed to separatist movements inside the United Kingdom, especially those seeking independence for Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
There are many factions within the Conservative Party, such as The Thatcherites, Cornerstone Group, and The One Nation Conservatives, that stress the above-mentioned ideas to varied degrees.
The Thatcherites, named after former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stress free-market principles and minimal government spending and are wary of increased integration within the European Union (Eurosceptic). They are well-known for emphasizing economic policies that favor market forces over state involvement.
Cornerstone Group advocates for the preservation of traditional values and institutions, with a particular focus on social conservatism. They place a premium on matters like family, community, and national identity.
The One Nation Conservatives movement, sometimes known as “liberal conservatives,” takes a more inclusive approach, attempting to bridge social gaps and alleviate inequality. They frequently argue for a mixed economy, in which government involvement may be justified in certain sectors to remedy social ills or market failures. Their approach is more moderate, attempting to strike a compromise between social justice issues and conservative ideals.
2) Labour Party
The Labour Party, formed in 1900, has its origins in the labor movement and advocates a social democratic and democratic socialist worldview, aiming to create a better and more equitable society through government involvement and community action.
The Labour Party’s main ideas are social democracy and democratic socialism. Typically, social democracy advocates for a mixed economy that balances market capitalism and social welfare services. On the other hand, democratic socialism emphasizes social ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with the goal of achieving economic equality by democratic rather than revolutionary means.
The Labour Party has always been associated with trade unions and workers’ rights campaigns. Its basic ideals were based on the promotion of workers’ rights, better working conditions, and social justice.
The Labour Party has several internal factions, each with its own emphasis on policy and ideology. These factions are discussed below:
Momentum is a grassroots and activist movement that has evolved in recent years. It was founded to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and his more left-wing views. Momentum seeks to organize grassroots support for Labor’s objectives.
Open Labour is a centrist or moderate perspective within the Labour Party that advocates for a more open and inclusive approach to policymaking. They highlight the importance of more participation and collaboration inside the party as well as with the general public.
Progressive policies and goals are the focus of Progressive Britain. It frequently identifies with social liberalism, calling for progressive social and economic changes.
Blue Labour stresses communitarian and traditional principles within the Labour Party. It aims to re-establish the party’s connection to its working-class heritage, frequently pushing for socially conservative ideals and economic action.
Labor members joined forces with the Co-operative Party (since Labour and the Co-operative share certain policy aims). This group advocates for collaborative and community-based solutions to economic and social concerns.
3) Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is a notable political party in Scotland, formed in 1934, that advocates for various core ideas and objectives.
The SNP’s main mission is to advance the interests of Scotland and its people. They pushed for Scottish independence and autonomy from the United Kingdom. This view is based on the idea that choices affecting Scotland should be decided in Scotland.
The primary and long-standing aim of the party is Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. They want to arrange a referendum so that the people of Scotland may decide their country’s destiny apart from the rest of the UK.
The SNP adheres to social democratic ideas, focusing on social justice, equality, and the welfare state. They support policies that strive to reduce inequality, improve public services, and preserve workers’ rights.
Historically, the SNP has supported Scottish inclusion in the European Union (EU). They argue for Scotland’s continued or renewed EU membership, seeing it as advantageous to the economy, commerce, and international relations.
In addition to independence, the SNP supports expanded powers and autonomy for the Scottish Parliament. They want to devolve greater powers from the UK government to Scotland so that more decisions may be taken at the Scottish level.
The methodology and popularity of the party have evolved over time. The SNP has recently garnered enormous electoral support in Scotland, establishing itself as the dominant party in Scottish politics. The leadership and policies of the party, particularly its stance on independence and Scotland’s relationship with the UK and the EU continue to be crucial to its identity and electoral appeal.
4) Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats Party, created in 1988 by the merging of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), is based on libertarian, social libertarian, and pro-European ideals.
The party’s foundation is classical liberalism, which emphasizes individual freedoms, civil rights, and the state’s limited role in people’s lives. To promote a fair and inclusive society, social liberalism, a development of classical liberalism, focuses on social justice, equal opportunity, and a robust welfare state.
Historically, the Liberal Democrats have been ardent advocates of the European Union, campaigning for stronger relations and frequently expressing a wish to stay a part of it. This pro-Europeanism extends to their policies, which emphasize partnership with European states and institutions.
There are several internal factions and organizations inside the Liberal Democrats that impact the party’s orientation. Social Liberal Forum, Liberal Reform, and Social Democratic Influence are a few examples.
The Social Liberal Forum represents the party’s more left-wing or progressive side, fighting for social justice, environmental policy, and a strong welfare state. In policymaking, they stress the values of social liberalism.
The Liberal Reform group, considered a more moderate section within the party, favors economic liberalism. They argue for less government engagement in the economy and promote free-market ideals. This group argues that the party’s program should promote economic liberalism more prominently.
Despite the party’s libertarian beginnings, social democratic values are influencing certain factions of the party. This effect puts a greater emphasis on social justice, welfare measures, and equality, all of which are consistent with social democratic beliefs.
The internal variety of the party represents a range of liberal beliefs, from more economically liberal perspectives to those emphasizing social justice and a strong welfare state. The dynamics of these many factions frequently have an impact on the party’s policy decisions, communications, and overall strategy in elections and government.
5) Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was founded in 1971 and is still a major political force in Northern Ireland, focusing on numerous fundamental themes such as British Unionism and Nationalism, Right-Wing Populism, Euroscepticism, and Social Conservatism.
The DUP is a fervent supporter of Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom under British unionism and nationalism. British unionism emphasizes Northern Ireland’s status as a constituent part of the United Kingdom and opposes any movements toward Irish unity or closer links with the Republic of Ireland.
The party has frequently advocated positions aligned with right-wing populism, stressing the voice of the people and pushing policies that connect with the larger public feeling, particularly within Northern Ireland’s unionist population.
The DUP has frequently expressed doubts about or open hostility to the European Union. They have expressed worries about EU laws and their influence on Northern Ireland’s sovereignty, particularly in light of Brexit and the region’s possible consequences.
The party has a socially conservative stance on a variety of topics, including traditional family values, moral concerns, and social policy. Their views on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion tend to be conservative.
The DUP’s emphasis on British identity, Euroscepticism, and social conservatism have propelled it to prominence as a political force in Northern Ireland. It has frequently played an important role in Northern Irish politics and is a component of the power-sharing procedures specified in the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP’s influence and ideas, like those of many other political parties, have developed throughout time in response to evolving political landscapes and changes both inside Northern Ireland and on the larger stage of UK politics.
6) Sinn Fein
Sinn Fein is a political party in Ireland, formed in 1905 and rebuilt in 1970. Its philosophy is based on a number of basic concepts, including Irish Republicanism, Democratic Socialism, Left-Wing Nationalism, the Peace Process, and Power-Sharing.
Sinn Fein is profoundly entrenched in Irish republicanism and advocates for Ireland’s union as a single sovereign country. They have long opposed British authority in Northern Ireland and have advocated for the establishment of an independent, undivided Irish republic.
The party adheres to democratic socialist values, aiming for a society based on social justice, equality, and equitable income distribution. They promote policies that prioritize public services, workers’ rights, and the reduction of social inequality.
Sinn Fein’s nationalism tends toward left-wing beliefs. They are concerned with progressive notions about national identity, with the goal of creating an inclusive society that respects diversity and supports equality for everyone within a united Ireland.
Sinn Fein has been active in the Northern Ireland peace process, calling for nonviolent measures to attain their objectives. They’ve been an essential component of the power-sharing mechanisms envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement, contributing to regional peace and stability.
Sinn Fein has developed over time from being predominantly connected with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to a more mainstream political party active in both Irish and Northern Irish politics. The combination of Irish nationalism, socialist values, and a dedication to democratic procedures informs the party’s programs and approach to administration, tackling concerns like social welfare, economic equality, and the advancement of a united Ireland through peaceful and political methods.
7) Plaid Cymru
Plaid Cymru, founded in 1925, is a major political party in Wales that advocates for a number of core ideals, including Welsh nationalism, independence, and autonomy for Wales, and Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.
Welsh nationalism, which advocates for Wales’ sovereignty and independence, is at the heart of Plaid Cymru’s ideology. They want Wales to be an independent country apart from the United Kingdom.
The major purpose of the party is to secure more autonomy for Wales within the United Kingdom, or, preferably, total independence. They aim to strengthen Welsh institutions, promote Welsh language and culture, and devolve decision-making powers from the UK government to Wales.
Plaid Cymru’s ideas contain aspects of democratic socialism and social democracy. They are concerned with issues of social justice, equality, and progressive social policy. Their platform frequently includes calls for higher salaries, public control of important sectors, and more strong public services.
Throughout its history, the party has participated in a variety of electoral campaigns and policy initiatives to advance its aims of Welsh self-government and to represent Wales’ interests inside the UK and on the world stage. Their impact and participation in Welsh politics have influenced debates regarding Wales’ role within the United Kingdom and the level of self-determination it should have.
8) Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was created in Northern Ireland in 1970 and is still a powerful political force. Its guiding concepts are social democracy and Irish nationalism.
The SDLP is based on social democratic ideas, stressing social justice, equality, and a dedication to eliminating socioeconomic inequities. They push for measures that benefit public services, workers’ rights, and underprivileged populations.
The party is devoted to Irish nationalism and the reunification of Ireland. They envisage a unified Ireland in which all people, regardless of origin, have their rights and ambitions recognized and safeguarded.
Historically, the SDLP has been active in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, pushing for nonviolent measures to attain its objectives. They were essential in the Northern Ireland peace process and the discussions that led to the Good Friday Agreement, which aimed to end the violence and foster regional stability.
The party’s dedication to social democracy and Irish nationalism defines its policies and approach to government, with an emphasis on problems like social welfare and equality, as well as supporting the vision of a united Ireland through peaceful and democratic methods.
9) Alba Party
The Alba Party was established as a political body in Scotland in 2021, with Scottish independence as its primary and guiding premise. The following are some essential elements concerning the party: Scottish Nationalism and Independence, Pro-Independence Stance, Formation, and Political Landscape.
The Alba Party is completely committed to furthering the cause of Scottish nationalism, with a focus on Scottish independence. The party was created with the express purpose of offering an extra voice and support for the country’s independence from the United Kingdom.
Alba’s principal aim is to promote Scottish independence. The party’s goal is to provide a forum and political representation for people who passionately support Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom.
The party arose in the framework of Scottish politics with the goal of providing an option for individuals who are committed to independence but may have different opinions or misgivings about other parties working for this cause.
The Alba Party’s formation reflects the ongoing debates and tensions in Scottish politics over the question of independence. While it is a newcomer to the political scene, its concentration on Scottish nationalism and single-issue focus on independence distinguish it from other parties active in Scotland.
10) Green Party of England and Wales
The Green Party of England and Wales, founded in 1990, is noted for its devotion to numerous basic beliefs, including green politics and ecology, progressivism, and pro-Europeanism.
The fundamental focus of the party is on environmental sustainability and ecological problems. They push for legislation that addresses climate change, promotes renewable energy, conserves natural ecosystems, and lowers carbon emissions. Their program is heavily anchored in ecological principles, with the goal of creating a more sustainable and ecologically friendly society.
The Green Party supports progressive principles such as social justice, equality, and inclusion. They support policies aimed at reducing socioeconomic inequities, improving public services, and creating a more equitable society for all people, regardless of background.
Historically, the Green Party has supported the United Kingdom’s participation in the European Union. They push for partnerships with European states and organizations on environmental and social concerns, and some members of the party remain committed to maintaining close links with Europe after Brexit.
The Green Party distinguishes itself on the political scene by emphasizing ecological sustainability, progressive principles, and a dedication to social and environmental justice. They have frequently portrayed themselves as an alternative to the more established political parties, emphasizing environmental and social concerns in their programs and campaigns.
Also Read: What is Brexit?
11) Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, created in 1970, is based on a set of key values that set it apart from the Northern Irish political landscape, such as liberalism, non-sectarianism, and pro-Europeanism.
The philosophy of the party is liberal, stressing individual liberty, civic liberties, and a dedication to equality. They campaign for measures that advance social progress, human rights, and tolerance.
The Alliance Party’s non-sectarian approach to politics in Northern Ireland is one of its distinguishing features. They reject conventional unionist or nationalist designations in order to serve a larger base, inviting members of all groups regardless of religion or political affiliation. This position aims to transcend the historically established divides between unionist and nationalist parties.
Historically, the Alliance Party advocated Northern Ireland’s participation in the European Union. They promoted partnerships with European states and institutions, thinking that Northern Ireland would gain from European integration in terms of commerce, peacebuilding, and cross-border cooperation.
The Alliance Party has positioned itself as a centrist and moderate force, attempting to bridge the gap between the unionist and nationalist sectors. Its emphasis on liberalism, non-sectarianism, and a pragmatic governing approach strives to solve social and economic challenges while fostering a more inclusive and shared future for Northern Ireland.
12) Reclaim Party
The Reclaim Party developed as a political body in the UK in 2020, with a concentration on right-wing populist beliefs. Right-wing populism, anti-lockdown politics, and policy emphasis are some of the party’s core features.
The Reclaim Party is a populist political party that operates on the right side of the political spectrum. This entails appealing to a broad range of people’s frustrations and worries, frequently by presenting themselves as defenders of the regular or common people against perceived elites or established institutions.
The party gained traction and prominence, particularly in its early phases, due to its vehement opposition to COVID-19 lockdown tactics. It drew support from those who were opposed to lockdowns and other restrictions and who advocated for a more relaxed or non-interventionist approach to pandemic-related measures.
While the party’s program is constantly evolving, it typically advocates for policies that align with right-wing ideas. Individual liberties, fewer taxes, less government intrusion, and a focus on topics such as law and order, immigration, and national sovereignty might all be part of this.
The Reclaim Party’s actual policy ideas and long-term influence on UK politics are still emerging as a relatively young party. Its emergence represents a reaction to specific social, economic, and political sentiments among certain segments of the population, particularly those dissatisfied with mainstream politics or with government responses to specific issues, such as lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
UK’s Political Parties Membership: Decline and Statistics
Political parties provide membership programs that allow the public to participate in influencing the party’s policies, but with varying degrees of influence, particularly at the local level. Political party membership accounts for around 1% of the British electorate, which is lower than in other European countries except Poland and Latvia.
Since the 1950s, membership in these parties has been steadily declining. For example, the Conservative Party had 2.2 million members in 1951, while the Labour Party had 1 million members among an electorate of about 34 million by 1952. Several political parties exist in the United Kingdom, each with a different membership size and geographical focus.
- As of March 2021, the Conservative Party had 200,000 members, with a major focus on the whole United Kingdom.
- As of July 2021, the Green Party of England and Wales had 53,000 members, concentrating its efforts in England and Wales.
- The Labour Party, which had a considerable membership of 430,000 as of July 2021, is also active throughout the United Kingdom.
- As of December 2020, the Liberal Democrats had 98,247 members who participated in political activities in the United Kingdom.
- Plaid Cymru, based in Wales, had 11,500 members as of October 2018 and is largely concerned with Welsh issues.
- The Scottish Greens had 7,500 members as of August 2021, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) had 72,186 members as of March 2023, focused primarily on Scotland.
- The Women’s Equality Party, which had 30,000 members as of September 2020, works throughout the United Kingdom with a focus on gender equality concerns.
Also Read: Political Parties in the USA
A political party is a group of people who share the same views and goals and work together to achieve those goals. These ideals are explicitly expressed in a manifesto, which serves as a road map for action if the party wins an election. The United Kingdom is home to a number of political parties, each with their own set of policies.
The Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Green Party, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru in Wales, and the DUP and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are among the most notable. Political parties’ success is frequently dependent on their capacity to attract active members and raise funds through donations from supporters and party affiliates.
Political bodies have recently made significant investments in technology, employing websites and social media platforms to improve their communication with voters and supporters. Notably, the SNP used social media well to boost their election campaigns in 2019 and 2021.
What are the Seven Main Political Parties in the UK?
1. The Conservatives (Tories)
2. Labour Party
3. Scottish National Party
4. Liberal Democrats
5. Northern Ireland party
6. Plaid Cymru
7. Other parliamentary parties
8. Non-parliamentary political parties.
Which UK Parties are Right Wing?
Conservative Party – A center-right to right-wing political party that advocates for British conservatism and unionism.
The Labour Party – A center-left political party that advocates for social democracy and democratic socialism.
The Liberal Democrats are a centrist party that advocates for liberalism and federalism.
Who are the Tories in UK Politics?
Tory has become shorthand in Canada and the United Kingdom for a Conservative Party member or the party in general and can be used interchangeably with the word Conservative.
What Party is The Left Wing in England?
The Labour Party, formed in 1900 as the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), is the largest party on the political left in the United Kingdom in terms of membership and representation.