election: June 2017
► The result
Details and analysis here: ►
The Conservatives have lost their majority, but remain the
largest party in the House of Commons;
Theresa May has vowed to continue as prime minister, but how long can
she remain in power? And what happens
the elections: Is
The British electoral system
Britain uses a historic "first-past-the-post" electoral system.
There is just one round of voting, and the candidate with the
most votes wins. That's it. Thus, if there are ten candidates standing
for a seat, candidates A to J, and candidates B to J each get 9.95 % of
the vote, 0.4% of the votes are invalid, and candidate A gets 10% of
the vote, candidate A is elected. There is no runoff.
Though 10% of the vote is a small
minority, it is more than any other candidate, and is thus
described as a relative
, or as a "plurality" in American English.
political parties from their origins to today
A short history
of political parties in Britain
has the oldest parliament in the world. The English
met for the first time at the Palace of Westminster in the year 1265,
but it took more than four centuries before the concept of "political
parties" gave a new dimension to political life in Britain.
Before the birth of political parties in the seventeenth century, the
English parliament consisted of aristocrats and wealthy men
formed alliances and majorities based on specific factors or loyalties.
It was not until after the English Civil War, and parliamentary
upheavals during the Republican years of the Commonwealth and
Protectorate (1649-1660), that the first English political parties
began to take shape. During the years from 1678 to 1681, and
constitutional crisis known as the Exclusion
, most members of the English parliament
formed into two "parties", named Whigs
The descendants of these two original parties are the two parties that
formed the coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron from
2010 to 2015.
Until the early 20th century,
alone or in coalition with other groups, these two political parties in
turn formed successive British governments, based on the results of
Initially, the Whigs
were the party of the liberal and reforming aristocracy. In contrast to
the Tories, the Whig Party attracted people more favorable to
constitutional reforms, and in 1832 led the most significant
modernization of the British Parliament, the Reform Act, which
rebalanced parliamentary constituencies, and greatly expanded the
electoral base to the middle classes. In the 1850's, the Whig Party
became the most important element of a union of Whigs and Radicals who
took the name "Liberal
This centrist party continued until 1988, when it merged with the new
but smaller Social Democratic Party to form today's Liberal Democrats
. The word Tory
early supporters of strong royal power; Tories were monarchists and
traditionalists, especially at the time of the Restoration of the
monarchy in 1660. During the eighteenth century, the Whigs dominated
British politics, and the Tory party played a relatively small role in
the political life of the United Kingdom.
changed in the last three decades of the eighteenth century, when the
rise of reformism and radicalism in Europe, which was to lead notably
to the French Revolution (1789), gave a new impetus to defenders of the
status quo and conservatism
The Tories re-emerged as a major force in British politics in 1770 -
but this time as a modern party in favor of maintaining the best
traditions of Britain, but at the same time strongly supporting the new
opportunities created by the industrial revolution and imperial and
commercial expansion. During the 19th century - as today - the Tory
party, which became the Conservative
in 1834, was torn between its traditionalists and its reformers.
Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative prime minister from 1874 to 1880,
was one of the great reformers of the 19th century.
After the First World War, a
new party came to power in the British Parliament, the Labour
. The first Labour
MPs had been elected in 1900 as representatives of the Independent
Labour Party. The Labour Party formed a minority government in 1924,
but it did not last. Labour first formed a majority government in 1929.
The rise of the Labour Party came however at the expense of
other non-Conservative party, the Liberals, and Labour
the Liberals as the main alternative to the Conservatives.
From 1929 to 2010, power alternated
between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.
Following the general election of 2010, no single party
with an absolute majority of MPs; so for the first time in living
memory, a coalition government was formed, with the Conservatives and
the Liberal Democrats sharing power.
prime ministers past and present. Left to Right Gordon Brown and Tony
Blair (Labour), John Major (Conservative), Nick Clegg (Liberal
Democrat, deputy PM) and David Cameron (Conservative, PM in 2014)
this historical overview shows, the British political
general has until very recently been characterized by a remarkable
stability. The British
electoral system, a system of "relative majority" (known as the " first
past the post" system) 1
, has not
changed for more
than four centuries, and is favorable to large parties and stable
governments. It tends to prevent parties fragmenting into
factions or clans, and encourages consensus positions around strong
In a referendum in
2011, British voters reaffirmed their commitment to this
electoral system, rejecting a new system that would have introduced an
element of proportional representation.
three major parties are all now more than a century old, and the system
makes it very hard for new parties to get a foot on the ladder. The
rise of the Labour Party in the early 20th century was the result of
major changes in society. Since then, no new party has succeeded in
establishing itself in England, and new parties that are
remain marginal in terms of representation, or merge with larger ones.
The situation is different in other parts of the United Kingdom, where
nationalist parties have broken into the political landscape, even to
the point of becoming the principal political party in Scotland.
The Political landscape in Britain today
Parties in turmoil
"Brexit" referendum has plunged the main British political parties into
turmoil, with both main parties Conservative and Labour being
(irreparably?) divided about Britain's relationship with the European
The Conservative party has been split down the
opposition between pro- and anti-Europeans; but with a few exceptions,
most of the Conservative MP's who formerly campaigned against Brexit
have fallen silent since the election of Mrs. May.
The Labour Party is riven
by dissention between a militant party membership, and the party's
generally moderate MPs. Labour MPs overwhelmingly
vote of no confidence in leader Jeremy Corbyn, who nevertheless refused
stand down as he was elected overwhelmingly by party members.
Of the three main traditional parties, only the
party has emerged intact from the chaos: the Lib-Dems always have
been, and remain, firmly pro-European.
The Labour Party remains torn between a hard-left
party membership, and a largely social-democrat Parliamentary party
(its MPs). Internally fractured, Labour was seen, since the
election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, as being unable to present itself
as a credible challenge to the
Conservative government. By April 2017 opinion polls showed
that support for
Labour had fallen to a historic low (around
25%), prompting Mrs. May to
call another general election. However, thanks to an excellent
campaign, Labour seriously narrowed the gap, and though they did not
beat the Conservatives in the June 2017 election, they increased their
representation in parliament, depriving the Conservatives of the
absolute majority they had enjoyed since 2015.
parties (excluding regionalist parties / nationalsts )
or conservative parties
The Theresa May government
The present British government, the government in charge of negotiating
Britain's exit from the European Union (Brexit
is a strange mix of right-wing nationalism and centrist "compassionate
Conservatism". In her speech to the Tory Party conference in Autumn
2016, Theresa May sounded almost like a leader of the Labour Party in
her promises to help the "Jams" (those who are
Just-About-Managing to get by in life) ; yet on Brexit, her
rhetoric has been that of strident nationalism. Much to the alarm of
the Conservative centre, she has pledged not only to take the UK out of
the EU, but also out of the Single European Market, the free trade area
that extends beyond the EU.
, May has had to depend for support on an
agreement (not a coalition) with "friends and allies" in the
right-wing protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, to
form a government. This is a marriage of convenience which could, in
the medium and long term, prove very difficult to manage.
is the British party of the right, including a broad range of
traditional conservatives and royalists, neo-liberals and social
conservatives. For the last forty years, the party has been deeply
divided over issues of sovereignty and the role of Britain in the
European Union. A majority of party members are in favour of a revision
of the terms of Britain's membership of the European Union, and the
holding of a referendum on withdrawal. But other
Conservatives, including industrial and business leaders, are strongly
pro-European. Recent leaders have been beset by problems trying to
reconcile the strongly opposing views of party members on this issue.
the divisions were sharply amplified during the campaign for the Brexit
referendum; two thirds of the Party's MPs - essentially the
centre-right moderate wing of the party - were in favour of remaining
in the EU; one third, the Conservative sovereignist hard-liners and the
neo-conservative faction, were in favour of leaving. However,
grass-roots Conservative party activists are on the whole further to
the right than their MPs.
Since the resignation of David Cameron, the Party has moved to the
right, as pro-Brexit and sovereignist MPs have taken up key
positions in Mrs. May's cabinet.
The Conservative Party is made up of local Associations which play a
major role in the selection of candidates and the appointment of the
party leader. The importance of this local structure reflects the very
old tradition of territorial representation in British politics, a
tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. However, "Central Office"
often imposes candidates on local associations to enable
up-and-coming stars to enter parliament, as was the case with Margaret
In her short speech to the press, on taking up her
job as Prime Minister, Theresa
positioned herself very clearly as a "one-nation" moderate
Conservative, keen to build a new Britain for ordinary people,
just for the wealthy. It was a speech that could equally well have been
made by David Cameron, or most of the recent leaders of the Labour
UKIP - The UK
sovereignist party that wants Britain to withdraw from the European
Union. The party has little in the way of policies, apart from
Europe-bashing, but is surprisingly popular with voters disgruntled
with the perceived failures of the main parties . In the 2015 election,
UKIP obtained just one member of
Parliament, a sitting MP who had moved over from the conservatives.
UKIP has several members in the European Parliament.
UKIP provided the foot-soldiers of the campaign to take Britain out of
the European Union; but the non-UKIP part of the Leave campaign has
sought to distance itself from UKIP since the referendum, worried at
the damage that UKIP's xenophobic campaigning has done to Britain.
BNP - British
An extreme right-wing party , with nationalistic and xenophobic views.
No members of parliament
Parties of the
The Liberal Democrat party - the Liberal Democrats , or
party of the centre, formed in 1988 by the merger of the Liberal Party
and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) , the latter being made up of
dissidents from the Labour party. The Lib Dems are thus a mixture of
social conservatives and social democrats. The party is the
pro-European of the major British parties, and until 2015 shared
power with the Conservative Party in the coalition government.
Many of those who voted Lib-Dem in 2010 were furious when the
party chose to go into colaition with the Conservatives, and in the
2015 election, the Lib Dems lost most of their MPs.
However, following the election of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn to the
head of the Labour party in September 2015, and the subequent internal
divisions in the Labour party, support for the Lib-Dems has begun to
expectations have been raised further since the Brexit referendum vote.
The Liberal-Democrats are starting to appear as the only
party at the Centre of British politics, as the Conservative party
moves to the right, and the Labour Party moves increasingly to the
left. In December 2016, an unknown Lib-Dem candidate achieved a
dramatic success by beating the Conservatives, with a swing of 21% away
from the Conservatives, in a parliamentary by-election fought almost
entirely on the issue of Brexit.
In the June 2017election, the
Lib-Dems increased their number of MPs from 8 to 12, taking seats from
the Conservatives and the Scottish Nationalists. However they did not
emerge as the new party of opposition, and as well as gaining seats,
they lost some
The Greens - The Green Party
centre-left party, in many ways rather middle-class, committed to the
promotion of environmental issues. One Member of Parliament (since 2010)
The parties of the Left
The Labour Party
Labour party covers virtually the whole spectrum of left wing politics
in Britain, and includes a smaller party known as the Co-operative
party. Until 2010, since the time of Tony Blair, it had been
dominated by the
social-liberal centre-left (initially known as New
the collectivist "Old Labour" views were very much in a minority . From
2010 to 2015, under the leadership of Ed Miliband, it remained
essentially a centre-left party; but in September 2015, with the
election to the leadership of a left-winger Jeremy Corbyn
party has moved into a new period in its history. (see below)
The party is supported and funded by the British
trade unions, but it
is not controlled or significantly influenced by them, and this
influence was further reduced in 2015. Very weak following the
recession of the 1970s, the party was largely reformed later by Tony
Blair, who transformed it into a modern social democratic party.
The Labour Party is made up of local parties (Constituency Labour
Parties), most British trade unions and other associations. These
structures send delegates to party conferences, depending on the number
of their members. Party Conferences define the general lines of party
policy, but conference decisions are not binding on the parliamentary
party . Until 2014 Labour party leaders were elected by three
colleges, individual members , Labour MPs, and trade unions,
college representing a third of the final result. The last leader,
Ed Miliband, was elected by the weight of union vote, even though both
Labour MPs and individual members preferred his brother David Miliband.
election, and to reassure not only the country but also a large number
of his constituents , Ed Miliband sought to emphasize his total
independence from the unions. In 2014, he announced plans to reduce the
role of the unions even further in the election of the party leader.
A new electoral process was introduced, whereby the leader is
elected by paid up members of the party and anyone else who signs up
and pays to vote in the electoral process.
Following the party's defeat in the 2015 General Election, Miliband
stepped down as leader of the Labour Party. In September however, Party
members and other electors chose as the new leader of the labour Party
a radical left-winger, Jeremy
the most left-wing
the party has ever had. Corbyn's election has sparked a serious rift in
the party, and within hours of his election, eight members of the
cabinet had announced that they would not be part of Corbyn's team.
Others are expected to follow.
For Corbyn's supporters, his election marks a return by the
Labour party to its core socialist values; for his opponents, it has
simply made the Labour Party unelectable for at least ten years.... if
not longer. Opinion polls persistently show that while Labour party
militants may favour a strong left-wing agenda, British voters as a
whole do not.
during the Brexit referendum campaign, Jeremy Corbyn was repeatedly
accused of showing only half-hearted support for his party's official
position, which is in favour of Britain remaining in the European
Union. In the days following the vote, eleven members of his Shadow
cabinet either resigned or were sacked, and a motion has been tabled
calling on Corbyn to step down, on the grounds that he does not show
the leadership qualities that the party needs if it wants to have any
hope of winning another General Election.
However, in September, Corbyn was reelected as
the Labour Party, with an increased majority, thanks to a surge in
In April 2017,
polls showed the Labour party to be at a historic low level of around
25% – with many traditional Labour voters moving towards the
Conservatives on account their support for Brexit and their rhetoric on
When Theresa May called the surprise general election, it
was expected that Labout would lost a lot of seats as more and more
traditional voters in working-class areas moved over to the
Conservatives. However thanks to poor campaigning by the
Conservatives and very good campaigning by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour
instead gained 29 seats and the Conservatives lost 12, and lost their
absolute majority in Parliament.
The party of a populist left-wing Labour party dissident,
George Galloway, who was its sole MP until 2015.
The Communist Party of Great Britain
Very marginal, the party has only ever had two elected MPs. It was
never a mass party, not even when at its peak in the 1940's.
Main regional and nationalist
does not have any serious regional parties, however, regional or
nationalist parties are now very important in the political landscape
of other countries that make up the United Kingdom.
SNP - Scottish Nationalist Party
the most important political party in Scotland, and the party in power
in the Scottish Parliament . A left-of-centre nationalist party, that
organized a referendum on Scottish independence in autumn 2014. In the
referendum, Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
following the result of the Brexit referendum vote in which Scotland
overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union, party leader
Nicola Sturgeon is currently looking at the possibility of holding a
second Scottish independence referendum before the UK actually leaves
the European Union (if that should actually happen, which for the time
being, remains a possibility).
In the 2017 General Election,
the SNP lost 19 of its 50 seats in the UK parliament, as many Scots
turned away from the issue of Scottish nationalism towards parties in
favour of remaining in the UK. However the SNP still holds an
absolute majority of Scottish seats in the UK parliament.
Plaid Cymru - Welsh nationalist party
Welsh party, which did control the Welsh Assembly, but is now on a par
with the Labour Party, which is also very well established in this part
of the United Kingdom. In 2017 Plaid Cymru (pronounced Plied Coomry)
has three MPs in the UK parliament.
Democratic Unionist Party 2
DUP, the conservative Protestant majority party in Northern
Ireland (Ulster), is very favorable to the maintenance of
within the United Kingdom, but not to Britain remaining in the European
Union. They are in favour of Brexit, and reject the idea that
Northern Ireland could have special status in the UK after Brexit;
however they want Britain - or at least Northern Ireland - to retain
full access to the European market (in the framework of a
"Comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with
Union") , positions that may be hard to reconcile.
The DUP was first formed in 1971 as a hard-line Protestant
break-away party, dissatisfied with the direction taken by the official
Ulster Unionist party, which was closely allied with the Conservatives.
As from June 2017,
the DUP has agreed to support the Conservatives in the Westminster
Parliament, allowing Theresa May to form a new government in spite of
losing her absolute majority in the House of Commons. The DUP
has 10 MPs.
Sinn Fein 2
majority party among the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, in
favour of the withdrawal of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom,
and the reunification of Ireland.
Party and Labour Party of Northern Ireland, a non-sectarian social
democratic party made up of both Catholics and Protestants.
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and texts © About-Britain.com 2009-2017 except where otherwise
1. The system of relative majority; The winner of any election is the
person who gets the greatest number of votes, even if this is not an
majority of the votes cast.
2. The Northern Ireland Assembly is
currently in the hands of a coalition between DUP and Sinn Fein , once
bitter enemies of each other. However the Northern Ireland Assembly was
suspended in 2016 following the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to
continue working together.
top of page: Whigs and Tories are strongly opposed on reforming the
British parliament in 1832. Satirical cartoon by Robert