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Labour Party (UK)

Related subjects UK Politics & government

Labour Party
Labour logo
Leader Gordon Brown
Founded February 27, 1900
Headquarters 39 Victoria Street
London, SW1H 0HA
Political Ideology Democratic socialism (Official Position)
Social Democracy
Third Way
Political Position classically left-wing, today centre-left
International Affiliation Socialist International
European Affiliation Party of European Socialists
European Parliament Group Party of European Socialists
Colours Red (traditionally associated with socialist and communist parties)
Website www.labour.org.uk
See also Politics of the UK

Political parties

The Labour Party is a political party in the United Kingdom. Founded in the early 20th century, it has been since the 1920s the principal party of the left in England, Scotland and Wales (but not in Northern Ireland, where the Social Democratic and Labour Party occupies a roughly similar position on the political spectrum). It has formed the national government of the United Kingdom since 1997. It is also the largest party in the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales and the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament. It holds the London mayoralty and is represented in the European Parliament. Its current leader is Gordon Brown.

The Labour Party surpassed the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Conservatives in the early 1920s. It has had several spells in government, first as minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-31, then as a junior partner in the wartime coalition from 1940-1945, and then as a majority government, under Clement Attlee in 1945-51 and under Harold Wilson in 1964-70. Labour was in government again in 1974-79, under Wilson and then James Callaghan, though with a precarious and declining majority.

Labour won a landslide 179 seat 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 Labour 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.

Party ideology

The Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement and socialist political parties of the 19th century, and continues to describe itself as a party of democratic socialism. Labour was the first political party in Great Britain to stand for the representation of the low-paid working class and it is the working class who are known as the Labour Party grassroots and traditional members and voters

The Labour Party traditionally was in favour of socialist policies such as public ownership of key industries, government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers and trade unions, and a belief in the welfare state and publicly funded healthcare and education.

Since the mid-1980s, under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair the party has moved away from its traditional socialist position towards what is often described as the " Third Way" adopting some Thatcherite and free market policies after losing in four consecutive general elections.

This has led many observers to describe the Labour Party as social democratic or even neo-liberal rather than democratic socialist. Blair himself has described New Labour's political position as a " Third Way".

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. Questions of internal party democracy have frequently provoked disputes in the party.

For many years, Labour has held to a policy of uniting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by consent, and had not allowed residents of Northern Ireland to apply for membership, instead supporting the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which takes the Labour whip at the House of Commons. Yet Labour has a unionist faction in its ranks, many of whom assisted in the foundation in 1995 of the UK Unionist Party lead by Robert McCartney. The 2003 Labour Party Conference accepted legal advice that the party could not continue to prohibit residents of the province joining, but the National Executive has decided not to organise or 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 £35,000,000 (£3,685,000 from membership fees) and expenditure of about £50,000,000.

Party electoral manifestos have not contained the term socialism since 1992, although when Clause 4 was abolished the words "the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party" were added to the party's constitution.


Early years

The Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893
The Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893

The Labour Party's origins lie in the late 19th century numeric increase of the urban proletariat and the extension of the franchise to working-class males, when it became apparent that there was a need for a political party to represent the interests and needs of those groups. Some members of the trade union movement became interested in moving into the political field, and after the extensions of the 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.

Keir Hardie, one of the Labour Party's founders and first leader
Keir Hardie, one of the Labour Party's founders and 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 the left-wing organisations and form them into a single body which would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and this special conference was held at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London on February 27-28, 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations; trade unions representing about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.

The Conference created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to coordinate attempts to support MPs, MPs sponsored by trade unions and representing the working-class population. It had no single leader. 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 effectively campaign. Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful: Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.

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 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. The LRC won two by-elections in 1902–1903.

Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House 8 Farringdon Street (demolished 2004)
Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House 8 Farringdon Street (demolished 2004)

In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats — helped by the secret 1903 pact between Ramsay Macdonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone, which aimed at avoiding Labour/Liberal contests in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.

In their first meeting after the election, the group's Members of Parliament decided adopt the name "The Labour Party" ( February 15, 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 an individual membership until 1918 and operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies until that date. 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.

The recession of 1908-09 and subsequent rise in unemployment led to increased industrial unrest and the desire for radical change among the working class. There was increasing support both for syndicalism and for change through parliament. In the two 1910 elections, Labour gained 40 seats and then 42 seats. Support grew further for during the 1910–1914 period along with an unprecedented level of industrial action with Seamen, rail workers, cotton workers, coal miners, dockers and many other groups all organising strikes. This was called the period of "Great Unrest" with many sympathy strikes also occurring. This was no doubt helped by the sometimes heavy-handed measures of the Liberal government (e.g., Winston Churchill's sending troops to the Rhondda valley in 1910 against coal miners, with some fatalities resulting).

World War I and the lead up to the first Labour government (1914-1923)

During the First World War the Labour Party split between supporters and opponents of the conflict and opposition within the party to the war grew 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 and was soon accepted into H. H. Asquith's War Cabinet.

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

Arthur Henderson resigned from the Cabinet in 1917 amidst calls for Party unity, being replaced by George Barnes. The growth in Labour's local activist base and organisation was reflected in the elections following the War, with 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 Liberal Party splitting between supporters of leader David Lloyd George and former leader H. H. Asquith allowed the Labour Party to co-opt some of the Liberals' support, and by the 1922 general election Labour had supplanted the Liberal Party as the second party in the United Kingdom and as the official opposition to the Conservatives. After the election, the now rehabilitated Ramsay MacDonald was voted the first official leader of the Labour Party.

Labour's electoral base resided in the industrial areas of Northern England, the Midlands, central Scotland and Wales. In these areas Labour Clubs were founded to provide recreation for working men, with many of these clubs becoming affiliated to The Working Men's Club and Institute Union. Because of the concentrated geographical nature of Labour's support, industrial downturns tended to hit Labour voters directly. Anecdotal evidence suggests that party membership was often working-class but also included many middle-class radicals, former liberals and socialists. Accordingly, the more middle-class branches in London and the South of England tended to be more left-wing and radical than those in the primary industrial areas.

Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, 1924, 1929–35 ( National from 1931-35)

The first Labour government (1924)

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

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, and the Conservatives were returned to power, although Labour increased its vote from 30.7% of the popular vote to a third of the popular vote - most of the Conservative gains were at the expense of the Liberals. The Zinoviev letter is now generally believed to have been a forgery.

The General Strike (1926)

The new Conservative government led by Stanley Baldwin faced a number of labour problems most notably the General Strike of 1926. Ramsay MacDonald continued with his policy of opposing strike action, including the General Strike, arguing that the best way to achieve social reforms was through the ballot box, although Labour claimed that the BBC was biased in its reporting against the party over the issue.

Second Labour government and the split under MacDonald

The election of May 1929 left the Labour Party for the first time as the largest grouping in the House of Commons with 287 seats, and 37.1% of the popular vote (actually slightly less than the Conservatives). However, MacDonald was still reliant on Liberal support to form a minority government. MacDonald's government included the first ever female cabinet minister Margaret Bondfield.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and eventual Great Depression occurred soon after this election, and the crisis hit Britain hard. By 1930 the unemployment rate had doubled to over two and a half million.

The Labour government struggled to cope with the crisis and found itself attempting to reconcile two contradictory aims; achieving a balanced budget in order to maintain the pound on the Gold Standard, whilst also trying to maintain assistance to the poor and unemployed. All of this whilst tax revenues were falling. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden refused to permit deficit spending.

By 1931 the situation had deteriorated further. Under pressure from its Liberal allies as well as the Conservative opposition who feared that the budget was unbalanced, the Labour government appointed a committee headed by Sir George May to review the state of public finances. The May Report of July 1931 urged public-sector wage cuts and large cuts in public spending (notably in payments to the unemployed) in order to avoid a budget deficit.

This proposal proved deeply unpopular within the Labour Party grass roots, the trade unions, which along with several government ministers refused to support any such measures. MacDonald, and Philip Snowden, insisted that the Report's recommendations must be adopted to avoid incurring a budget deficit.

One junior minister Oswald Moseley put forward a memorandum in January 1930, calling for the public control of imports and banking as well as an increase in pensions to boost spending power. When this was turned down, Moseley resigned from the government and went on to form the New Party, and later the British Union of Fascists.

The dispute over spending and wage cuts split the Labour government; as it turned out, fatally. The cabinet repeatedly failed to agree to make cuts to spending or introduce tarrifs. The resulting political deadlock caused investors to take fright, and a flight of capital and gold further de-stabilised the economy. In response, MacDonald, on the urging of King George V, decided to form a National Government, with the Conservatives and the Liberals.

On August 24 1931 MacDonald submitted the resignation of his ministers and led a small number of his senior colleagues, most notably Snowden and Dominions Secretary J. H. Thomas, in forming the National Government with the other parties. MacDonald and his supporters were then expelled from the Labour Party and formed the National Labour Party. The remaining Labour Party, now led by Arthur Henderson, and a few Liberals went into opposition. The Labour Party denounced MacDonald as a "traitor" and a "rat" for what they saw as his betrayal.

Soon after this, a General Election was called. The 1931 election resulted in a Conservative landslide victory, and was a disaster for the Labour Party which won only 52 seats, 225 fewer than in 1929. MacDonald continued as Prime Minister of the Conservative dominated National Government until 1935.

Opposition during the time of the National Government

Arthur Henderson, who had been elected in 1931 as Labour leader to succeed MacDonald, lost his seat in the 1931 General Election. The only former Labour cabinet member who survived the landslide was the pacifist George Lansbury, who accordingly became party leader.

The party experienced a further 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. The ILP embarked on a long drawn out decline.

Public disagreements between Lansbury and many Labour Party members over foreign policy, notably in relation to Lansbury's opposition to applying sanctions against Italy for its aggression against Abyssinia, caused Lansbury to resign during the 1935 Labour Party Conference. He was succeeded by Clement Attlee, who achieved a revival in Labour's fortunes in the 1935 General Election, winning a similar number of votes to those attained in 1929 and actually, at 38% of the popular vote, the highest percentage that Labour had ever achieved, securing 154 seats. Attlee was innitially regarded as a caretaker leader, however he turned out to be the longest serving party leader to date, and one of its most successful.

With the rising threat from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Labour Party gradually abandoned its earlier pacifist stance, and came out in favour of rearmament. This shift largely came about due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton who by 1937 also persuaded the party to oppose Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.

Labour achieved a number of by-election upsets in the later part of the 1930s despite the world depression having come to an end and unemployment falling.

Wartime Coalition

When Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister after the defeat in Norway in spring 1940, incoming Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided that it was important to bring the other main parties into the government and have a Wartime Coalition similar to that in the First World War. Clement Attlee became Lord Privy Seal and a member of the War cabinet, and was effectively (and eventually formally) Deputy Prime Minister for the remainder of the duration of the War in Europe.

A number of other senior Labour figure 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; and A. V. Alexander resumed the role of First Lord of the Admiralty he had held in the previous Labour government. The party generally performed well in government, and its experience there may have been partly responsible for its post-war success.

Post-War victory under Attlee

With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Labour resolved not to repeat the Liberals' error of 1918, and withdrew from the government to contest the 1945 general election (July 5) in opposition to Churchill's Conservatives. Surprising many observers, Labour won a landslide victory, winning just under 50% of the vote with a majority of 145 seats.

Although the exact reasons for the victory are still debated. During the war, public opinion surveys showed public opinion moving to the left and in favour of radical social reform. There was little public appetite for a return to the poverty and mass unemployment of the interwar years which had become associated with the Conservatives.

Clement Attlee: Labour Prime Minister 1945-51
Clement Attlee: Labour Prime Minister 1945-51

Clement Attlee's government proved to be one of the most radical British governments of the 20th century. It presided over a policy of selective nationalisation of major industries and utillities, including the Bank of England, coal mining, the steel industry, electricity, water, gas, telephones, and inland transport (including the railways, road haulage and canals). It developed the "cradle to grave" welfare state conceived by the Liberal economist William Beveridge. To this day, the party still considers the creation in 1948 of Britain's tax-funded National Health Service under health minister Aneurin Bevan its proudest achievement.

Attlee's government also began the process of dismantling the British Empire when it granted independence to India in 1947. This was followed by Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the following year.

With the onset of the Cold War, at a secret meeting in January 1947, Attlee, and six cabinet ministers including foreign minister Ernest Bevin, secretly decided to proceed with the development of Britain's nuclear deterrent, in opposition to the pacifist and anti-nuclear stances of a large element inside the Labour Party.

Labour won the 1950 general election but with a much reduced majority of five seats. Soon after the 1950 election, things started to go badly wrong for the Labour government. Defence became one of the divisive issues for Labour itself, especially defence spending (which reached 14% of GDP in 1951 during the Korean War). These costs put enormous strain on public finances, forcing savings to be found elsewhere. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell introduced prescription charges for NHS prescriptions, causing Bevan, along with Harold Wilson ( President of the Board of Trade) to resign over the dillution of the principle of free treatment.

Soon after this, another election was called. Labour narrowly lost the October 1951 election to the Conservatives, despite their receiving a larger share of the popular vote and, in fact, their highest vote ever numerically.

Most of the changes introduced by the 1945-51 Labour government however were accepted by the Conservatives and became part of the " post war consensus", which lasted until the 1970s.

The "Thirteen Wasted Years"

Following the defeat in 1951, the party became split over the future direction of socialism. The "Gaitskellite" right of the party led by Hugh Gaitskell and associated with thinkers such as Anthony Crosland wanted the party to adopt a moderate social democratic position. Whereas the "Bevanite" left, led by Anuerin Bevan wanted the party to adopt a more radical socialist position. This split, and the fact that the 1950s saw economic recovery and general public contentment with the Conservative governments of the time, helped keep the party out of power for thirteen years

After being defeated at the 1955 general election, Attlee resigned as leader and was replaced by Gaitskell. The trade union block vote, which generally voted with the leadership, ensured that the bevanites were eventually defeated.

The three key divisive issues that were to split the Labour party in successive decades emerged first during this period; nuclear disarmament, the famous Clause IV of the party's constitution, which called for the ultimate nationalisation of all means of production in the British economy, and Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). Tensions between the two opposing sides were exacerbated after Attlee resigned as leader in 1955 and Gaitskell defeated Bevan in the leadership election that followed. The party was briefly revived and unified during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Conservative party was badly damaged by the incident while Labour was rejuvenated by its opposition to the policy of prime minister Anthony Eden. But Eden was replaced by Harold Macmillan, while the economy continued to improve.

In the 1959 election the Conservatives fought under the slogan "Life is better with the Conservatives, don't let Labour ruin it" and the result saw the government majority increase. Following the election bitter internecine disputes resumed. Gaitskell blamed the Left for the defeat and attempted unsuccessfully to amend Clause IV. At a hostile party conference in 1960 he failed to prevent a vote adopting unilateral nuclear disarmament as a party policy, declaring in response that he would "fight, fight and fight again to save the party I love". The decision was reversed the following year, but it remained a divisive issue, and many in the left continued to call for a change of leadership.

The Wilson Years

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

Following Gaitskell's sudden death in 1963, Harold Wilson took over leadership of the party.

A downturn 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 wafer-thin 4 seat majority under Wilson in the 1964 election, and increased their majority to 96 in 1966 election remaining in power until the 1970 election which, contrary to expectations during the campaign, they lost.

Economic policies

The 1960s Labour government had a different emphasis from its 1940s predecessor. Harold Wilson put faith in economic planning as a way to solve Britain's economic problems. Wilson famously referred to the "white heat of technology", referring to the modernisation of British industry. This was to be achieved through the swift adoption of new technology, aided by government-funded infrastructure improvements and the creation of large high-tech public sector corporations guided by a Ministry of Technology. Economic planning through the new Department of Economic Affairs was to improve the trade balance, whilst Labour carefully targeted taxation aimed at "luxury" goods and services.

In practice however, Labour had difficulty managing the economy under the "Keynesian consensus" and the international markets instinctively mistrusted the party. Events derailed much of the initial optimism, especially a currency crisis which mounted until 1967 when the government was forced into devaluation of the pound and pressure on sterling was intensified by disagreements over US foreign policy.

Harold Wilson publicly supported America's engagement in Vietnam but refused to provide British assistance. This infuriated President Johnson who in response felt little obligation to support the pound. For much of the remaining Parliament the government followed stricter controls in public spending and the necessary austerity measures caused consternation amongst the Party membership and the trade unions, unions which by this time were gaining ever greater political power.

As a gesture towards Labour's left wing supporters. Wilson's government renationalised the steel industry in 1967 (which had been denationalised by the Conservatives in the 1950s) creating British Steel.

Social and educational reforms

The 1960s Labour government is probably best remembered for the liberal social reforms introduced or supported by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. Notable amongst these was the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, reform of divorce laws, the abolition of theatre censorship and capital punishment (except for a small number of offences - notably high treason) and various legislation addressing race relations and racial discrimination.

In Wilson's defence, his supporters also emphasise the easing of means testing for non-contributory welfare benefits, the linking of pensions to earnings, and the provision of industrial-injury benefits.

Wilson's government made significant reforms to education, most notably the expansion of comprehensive education and the creation of the Open University.

In Place of Strife

Wilson's government in 1969 proposed a series of reforms to the legal basis for industrial relations (labour law) in the UK, which were outlined in a White Paper entitled " In Place of Strife", which proposed to give trade unions statutory rights, but also to limit their power. The White Paper was championed by Wilson and Barbara Castle. The proposals however faced stiff opposition from the Trades Union Congress, and some key cabinet ministers such as James Callaghan. The opponents won the day and the proposals were shelved.

The 1970s

In the 1970 general election, Edward Heath's Conservatives narrowly defeated Harold Wilson's government reflecting some disillusionment amongst many who had voted Labour in 1966. The Conservatives quickly ran into difficulties, alienating Ulster Unionists and many Unionists in their own party after signing the Sunningdale Agreement in Ulster. Heath's government also faced the 1973 miners strike which forced the government to adopt a " Three-Day Week". The 1970s proved to be a very difficult time for the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan administrations. Faced with a mishandled oil crisis, a consequent world-wide economic downturn, and a badly suffering British economy.

Following the perceived disappointments of the 1960s Labour government, the party moved to the left during the early 1970s "Labour's Programme 1973", pledged to bring about a "fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families". This programme referred to a "far reaching Social Contract between workers and the Government". Wilson publicly accepted many of the policies of the Programme but the condition of the economy allowed little room for manoeuvre.

Return to power in 1974

Labour returned to power again under Wilson a few weeks after the February 1974 general election, forming a minority government with Ulster Unionist support. The Conservatives were unable to form a government as they had fewer seats, even though they had received more votes. It was the first General Election since 1924 in which both main parties received less than 40% of the popular vote, and was the first of six successive General Elections in which Labour failed to reach 40% of the popular vote. In a bid for Labour to gain a majority, a second election was soon called for October 1974 in which Labour, still with Harold Wilson as leader, scraped a majority of three, gaining just 18 seats and taking their total to 319.

European referendum

Britain had entered the EEC in 1973 while Edward Heath was Prime Minister. Although Harold Wilson and the Labour party had opposed this, in government Wilson switched to backing membership, but was defeated in a special one day Labour conference on the issue leading to a national referendum on which the yes and no campaigns were both cross-party - the referendum voted in 1975 to continue Britain's membership by two thirds to one third. This issue later caused catastrophic splits in the Labour Party in the 1980s, leading to the formation of the SDP.

In the initial legislation during the Heath Government, the Bill affirming Britain's entry was only passed because of a rebellion of 72 Labour MPs led by Roy Jenkins and including future leader John Smith, who voted against the Labour whip and along with Liberal MPs more than countered the effects of Conservative rebels who had voted against the Conservative Whip.

James Callaghan: Labour Prime Minster 1976-79
James Callaghan: Labour Prime Minster 1976-79

Wilson steps down

In April 1976 Wilson surprisingly stood down as Labour Party leader and Prime Minister claiming a long-standing desire to retire on his sixtieth birthday. There was immense suspicion of his reason for his resignation but it is now known that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He feared following his mother's path who had been a towering, impressive personality but who did not accept her failing abilities and carried on for too long spoiling her reputation. He was replaced by James Callaghan who immediately removed a number of left-wingers (such as Barbara Castle) from the cabinet.

In the same year as Callaghan became leader, the party in Scotland suffered the breakaway of two MPs into the Scottish Labour Party (SLP). Whilst ultimately the SLP proved no real threat to the Labour Party's strong Scottish electoral base it did show that the issue of Scottish devolution was becoming increasingly contentious, especially after the discovery of North Sea Oil.

Economic and political troubles

The 1970s Labour government faced enormous economic problems and a precarious political situation. Faced with a global recession and spiralling inflation. Many of Britain's traditional manufacturing industries were collapsing in the face of foreign competition. Unemployment, and industrial unrest were rising.

In the autumn of 1976 the Labour Government was forced to ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan to ease the economy through its financial troubles. The conditions attached to the loan included harsh austerity measures such as sharp cuts in public spending, which were highly unpopular with party supporters. This forced the government to abandon much of the radical program which it had adopted in the early 1970s, much to the anger of left wingers such as Tony Benn.

The 1970s Labour government adopted an interventionist approach to the economy, setting up the National Enterprise Board to channel public investment into industry, and giving state support to ailing industries. Struggling companies such as British Aerospace and British Leyland were nationalised. The Government succeeded in replacing the Family Allowance with the more generous child benefit, and introduced redundancy pay.

The Wilson and Callaghan governments were hampered by their lack of a workable majority in the commons. At the October 1974 election, Labour won a majority of only three seats. Several by-election losses meant that by 1977, Callaghan was heading a minority government, and was forced to do deals with other parties to survive. An arrangement was negotiated in 1977 with the Liberals known as the Lib-Lab pact, but this ended after one year. After this, deals were made with the Scotish National Party and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, which prolonged the life of the government slightly longer.

The "Winter of Discontent" and defeat by Margaret Thatcher

The 1973 oil crisis had caused a legacy of high inflation in the British economy which peaked at 26.9% in 1975. The Wilson and Callaghan governments attempted to combat this by entering into a social contract with the trade unions, which introduced wage restraint and limited pay rises to limits set by the government. This policy was initially fairly successful at controlling inflation, which had been reduced to under 10% by 1978.

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. However instead, he decided to extend the wage restraint policy for another year in the hope that the economy would be in a better shape in time for a 1979 election. This proved to be a big mistake. The extension of wage restraint was unpopular with the trade unions, and the government's attempt to impose a "5% limit" on pay rises caused resentment amongst workers and trade unions, with whom relations broke down.

During the winter of 1978-79 there were widespread strikes in favour of higher pay rises which caused significant disruption to everyday life. The strikes affected lorry drivers, railway workers, car workers and local government and hospital workers. These came to be dubbed as the " Winter of Discontent".

The perceived relaxed attitude of Callaghan to the crisis reflected badly upon public opinion of the government's ability to run the country. A vote of no confidence on the government was held and passed on 28 March 1979, forcing a general election.

In the 1979 general election, Labour suffered electoral defeat to the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher. The numbers 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, mainly from the ailing Liberals, and benefited from a surge in turnout.

The actions of the trade unions during the Winter of Discontent were used by Margaret Thatcher's government to justify anti-trade union legislation during the 1980s.

The 1980s

Michael Foot era

The aftermath of the 1979 election defeat saw a period of bitter internal rivalry in the Labour Party which had become increasingly divided between the ever more dominant left wingers under Michael Foot and Tony Benn (whose supporters dominated the party organisation at the grassroots level), and the right under Denis Healey. It was widely considered that Healey would win the leadership election, but he was narrowly defeated by Foot.

The Thatcher government was determined not to be deflected from its agenda as the Heath government had been. A deflationary budget in 1980 led to substantial cuts in welfare spending and an initial short-term sharp rise in unemployment. The Conservatives reduced or eliminated state assistance for struggling private industries, leading to large redundancies in many regions of the country, notably in Labour's heartlands. However, Conservative legislation extending the right for residents to buy council houses from the state proved very attractive to many Labour voters. (Labour had previously suggested this idea in their 1970 election manifesto, but had never acted on it.)

The election of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) veteran Michael Foot to the leadership disturbed many Atlanticists in the Party. Other changes increased their concern; the constituencies were given the ability to easily deselect sitting MPs, and a new voting system in leadership elections was introduced that gave party activists and affiliated trade unions a vote in different parts of an electoral college.

The party's move to the left in the early 80s led to the decision by a number of centrist party members led by the Gang of Four of former cabinet ministers ( Shirley Williams, William Rodgers, Roy Jenkins, and David Owen. ) to issue the " Limehouse Declaration" on January 26, 1981, and to form the breakaway Social Democratic Party. The departure of even more members from the centre and right further swung the party to the left, but not quite enough to allow Tony Benn to be elected as Deputy Leader when he challenged for the job at the September 1981 party conference.

Under Foot's leadership, the party's agenda became increasingly dominated by the politics of the hard left. Accordingly, the party went into the 1983 general election with the most left wing manifesto that Labour ever stood upon. The manifesto contained pledges for abolition of the House of Lords, unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the European Community, withdrawal from NATO and a radical and extensive extension of state control over the economy.

This alienated many of the party's more right-wing supporters. The Bennites were in the ascendency and there was very little that the right could do to resist or water down the manifesto, many also hoped that a landslide defeat would discredit Michael Foot and the hard left of the party moving Labour away from explicit Socialism and towards weaker social-democracy. Labour MP and former minister Gerald Kaufman famously described the 1983 election manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history". Michael Foot has countered, with typical wit, that it is telling about Gerald Kaufman that it is likely that his one oft quoted remark will be all that he is remembered for.

Much of the press attacked both the Labour party's manifesto and its style of campaigning, which tended to rely upon public meetings and canvassing rather than media. By contrast, the Conservatives ran a professional campaign which played on the voters' fears of a repeat of the Winter of Discontent. To add to this, the Thatcher government's popularity rose sharply on a wave of patriotic feeling following victory in the Falklands War, allowing it to recover from it initial unpopularity over unemployment and economic difficulty.

At the 1983 election, Labour suffered a landslide defeat, winning only 27.6% of the vote, their lowest share since 1918. Labour won only half a million votes more than the SDP-Liberal Alliance which had attracted the votes of many moderate Labour supporters.

Neil Kinnock

Michael Foot immediately resigned and was replaced by Neil Kinnock, initially considered a firebrand left-winger, he proved to be more pragmatic than Foot and progressively moved the party towards the centre; banning left-wing groups such as the Militant tendency and reversing party policy on EEC membership and withdrawal from NATO, bringing in Peter Mandelson as Director of Communications to modernise the party's image, and embarking on a policy review which reported back in 1985.

At the 1987 general election, the party was again defeated in a landslide, but had at least re-established itself as the clear challengers to the Conservatives and gained 20 seats reducing the Conservative majority to 102 from 143 in 1983, despite a sharp rise in turnout. Challenged for the leadership by Tony Benn in 1988, Neil Kinnock easily retained the leadership claiming a mandate for his reforms of the party. Re-organisation resulted in the dissolution of the Labour Party Young Socialists, which was thought to be harbouring entryist Militant groups. It also resulted in a more centralised communication structure, enabling a greater degree of flexibility for the leadership to determine policy, react to events, and direct resources.

During this time the Labour Party emphasised the abandonment of its links to high taxation and old-style nationalisation, which aimed to show that the party was moving away from the left of the political spectrum and towards the centre. It also became actively pro-European, supporting further moves to European integration.

John Major and a fourth successive defeat

Margaret Thatcher who had led the Conservative Party to three successive victories resigned as Conservative leader in November 1990 following a leadership challenge from Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Michael Heseltine, eventually leaving Labour facing a new Conservative Prime Minister in John Major.

By the time of the 1992 general election campaign, the party had reformed to such an extent that it was perceived as a credible government-in-waiting. Most opinion polls showed the party to have a slight lead over the Conservatives, although rarely sufficient for a majority. However, the party ended up 8% behind the Conservatives in the popular vote in one of the biggest surprises in British electoral history. Although Labour's support was comparable to the February and October 1974 and May 1979 General Elections, the overall turnout was much larger.

In the party's post mortem on why it had lost, it was considered that the "Shadow Budget" announced by John Smith had opened the way for Conservatives to attack the party for wanting to raise taxes. In addition, a triumphalist party rally held in Sheffield eight days before the election, was generally considered to have backfired. The party had also suffered from a powerfully co-ordinated campaign from the right-wing press, particularly Rupert Murdoch's The Sun. Kinnock resigned after the defeat, blaming the Conservative-supporting newspapers for Labour's failure and John Smith, despite his involvement with the Shadow Budget, was elected to succeed him.

John Smith

Smith's leadership once again saw the re-emergence of tension between those on the party's left and those identified as "modernisers", both of whom advocated radical revisions of the party's stance albeit in different ways. At the 1993 conference, Smith successfully changed the party rules and lessened the influence of the trade unions on the selection of candidates to stand for Parliament by introducing a one member, one vote system called OMOV — but only barely, after a barnstorming speech by John Prescott which required Smith to compromise on other individual negotiations. However, they benefitted from an increasingly unpopular and divided Conservative government, and soon began leading in opinion polls.

John Smith died suddenly in May 1994 from a heart attack, prompting a leadership election for his successor, likely to be the next Prime Minister. With 57% of the vote, Tony Blair won a resounding victory in a three-way contest with John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. Prescott became deputy leader, coming second in the poll whose results were announced on 21 July 1994.

New Labour


"New Labour" is 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 and presented by Labour as being the brand of the new reformed party that had in 1995 altered Clause IV and reduced the Trade Union vote in the electoral college used to elect the leader and deputy leader to have equal weighting with individual other parts of the electoral college.

Peter Mandelson was a senior figure in this process, and exercised a great deal of authority in the party following the death of John Smith and the subsequent election of Tony Blair as party leader.

The name is primarily used by the party itself in its literature but is also sometimes used by political commentators and the wider media; it was also the basis of a Conservative Party poster campaign of 1997, headlined "New Labour, New Danger". The rise of the name coincided with a rightwards shift of the British political spectrum; for Labour, this was a continuation of the trend that had begun under the leadership of Neil Kinnock. "Old Labour" is sometimes used by commentators to describe the older, more left-wing members of the party, or those with strong Trade Union connections.

Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Anthony Giddens and Alastair Campbell are most commonly cited as the creators and architects of "New Labour". They were among the most prominent advocates of the shift in European social democracy during the 1990s, known as the " Third Way". Although this policy was advantageous to the Labour Party in the eyes of the British electorate, it alienated many grass roots members by distancing itself from the ideals of socialism in favour of free market policy decisions.

The "modernisation" of Labour party policy and the unpopularity of John Major's Conservative government, along with a well co-ordinated use PR, greatly increased Labour's appeal to " middle England". The party was concerned not to put off potential voters who had previously supported the Conservatives, and pledged to keep to the spending plans of the previous government, and not to increase the basic rate of income tax. The party won the 1997 election with a landslide majority of 179. Following a second and third election victory in the 2001 election and the 2005 election, the name has diminished in significance. "New Labour" as a name has no official status but remains in common use to distinguish modernisers from those holding to more traditional positions who normally are referred to as "Old Labour".

Many of the traditional grassroots working-class members of the Labour Party who have become upset and disillusioned with "New" Labour, have left the Party and gone on to join political parties such as the British Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party and even Communist Party of Great Britain - all parties claiming to never neglect the "ordinary British people". David Osler, the journalist and author of "Labour Party plc" seems to hint in his book that Labour's supposed steady shift from Socialism and it's neglect of support for the working-class people of Britain began to show during the Party's years under Harold Wilson. In the book, Osler claims that the Party is now only a socialist party and indeed a "Labour" party in name only and is a full-capitalist embracing Party which differs little from the Tory Party.


The Scottish faction of the Party was, for much of the 20th century, the largest and most successful political party in Scotland. It surpassed the Conservative Party as the most popular Party north of the border in the mid-20th century, although the Tories did see regained support amongst the Scottish electorate in the 1990s however this remained steady for a short period and then began to again decline, as support for Labour and the Liberal Democrats increased heavily among Scots voters. Since devolution, which most if not all parties in Scotland supported, the Scottish faction of the Labour Party has had a decline in support; the Scottish faction of the Conservative Party reported a slight increase in support while the Scottish faction of the Liberal Democrats and the SNP reported major support. The plan of devolution was initially thought to kill the SNP "stone dead", however support for the nationalists has increased somewhat since devolution, quite possibly due to the Scottish electorate's disillusionment with New Labour, and the SNP now form the Government of Scotland. Recently, the Conservatives have claimed that it is possible for them to become the real alternative to New Labour north of the border pushing the Lib Dems down in to the Tories' current position. Despite this competition Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems in the Scottish Parliament have formed an anti-independence alliance in response to the formation of the Nationalist Government under Alex Salmond. Traditional Labour heartlands and strongholds in Scotland include most of Glasgow and much of Edinburgh as well as Aberdeen. However today New Labour is threatened with losses in Glasgow to the SNP, in Edinburgh to both the Tories and Lib Dems who both follow closely behind at elections in the country's capital and in Aberdeen to the Lib Dems. In the Scottish Parliament elections held in 2007 New Labour won 46 seats, the Tories won 17, the Lib Dems won 16 and the SNP won 47 and so formed a minority administration, with Salmond shortly afterwards becoming the new First Minister. The Labour Party uses the result to claim that it is still indeed the biggest and most popular party in Scotland and that the SNP only managed to gain one more seat by chance. Wendy Alexander leads the Scottish faction of the Party and took over from Jack McConnel following the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections.

In government

One of the first acts of the 1997 Labour government was to give the Bank of England operational independence in its setting of interest rates, a move mentioned neither in the manifesto nor during the election campaign. Labour held to its pledges to keep to the spending plans set by the Conservatives, causing strain with those members of the party who had hoped that the landslide would lead to more radical and increased spending. It also started its introduction of a major educational reform programme, in which Labour would introduce new ways of teaching, as well as later on introducing new forms of schools.

Since 1997 Labour's economic policies have sought to take a middle way between the more centralised socialist approach of past Labour governments and the free market approach of the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997. One of the most popular policies introduced was Britain's first National Minimum Wage Act. There have also been various programmes targeted at specific sections of the population; the target for reducing homelessness was achieved by 2000. Chancellor Gordon Brown oversaw the SureStart scheme intended for young families, a new system of tax credits for those working with below-average incomes and an energy allowance provided to pensioners during the winter. By most statistical measures, unemployment has fallen from just over 1.5 million in 1997 to around the one million mark.

The government has also been accused of being too far to the right in a number of policies. For example in December 1997, 47 left-wing Labour MPs rebelled when the government carried through the previous administration's plans to cut the benefits paid to new single-parents. Tuition fees for university students were also introduced with no debate within the Labour Party itself. The government also promoted wider use of Public Private Partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative, which were opposed particularly by trade unions as a form of privatisation.

The New Labour government has been closer to corporate business interests than any previous Labour government. Several Policy Taskforces in 1997 and 1998 included industrialists and business leaders such as Lord Simon, a former chairman of BP, Lord Sainsbury of the supermarket dynasty, and Alec Reed of Reed Employment. There have been various reports regarding the effect of such close links, in policies such as the Public-Private Partnerships, the deregulation of utilities, privatisation, and the tendency to outsource government services.

Labour's second term saw substantial increases in public spending, especially on the National Health Service, which the government insisted must be linked to the reforms it was proposing. Spending on education was likewise increased, with schools encouraged to adopt "specialisms". Teachers and their trade unions strongly criticised the Prime Minister's spokesman Alastair Campbell when he stated that this policy meant the end of "the bog-standard comprehensive".

In terms of foreign policy Labour aspired to put Britain "at the heart of Europe" whilst attempting to maintain military and diplomatic links to the United States. Initially, Robin Cook, as Foreign Secretary of the first Blair Cabinet, attempted to instigate an "ethical foreign policy". Whilst the next Foreign Secretary Jack Straw somewhat downplayed this, the Party has sought to put the promotion of human rights and democracy, and latterly the war against terrorism, at the core of British foreign policy. This was first evidenced when Blair and Cook initiated Operation Palliser, in which British troops intervened to stop massacres in Sierra Leone. This has led to a new emphasis on the Department for International Development, with ministers Clare Short and Hilary Benn holding some influence within the administration. Tony Blair managed to persuade Bill Clinton to take a more active role in Kosovo in 1999, and British forces took part in the international coalition which attacked the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 after the regime refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and expel Al Qaeda from the country in the aftermath of the 11 September, 2001 attacks.

Blair decided to send British troops to fight alongside the United States and a number of forces in smaller numbers from around the world in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Government's involvement in the invasion caused much public disapproval in the UK and within the Labour party, with many calling Tony Blair's credibility into question when questions were raised as to the veracity of intelligence concerning Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the alleged political pressure on the Foreign Office. This loss of support contributed to the substantial reduction of Labour's majority in the 2005 general election.


In left-wing circles, the name "New Labour" or Neo Labour is used pejoratively to refer to the perceived domination of the Labour Party by its right-wing. Indeed, some argue that Labour has become so fond of neo-liberal policies that it is Thatcherite rather than democratic socialist or even social-democratic (cf. " Blatcherism"). Some signs of dissatisfaction among working-class voters has seen the Liberal Democrats have been making electoral inroads into Labour areas, as well as support further to the left fragmenting away from the Labour Party i.e. Respect - The Unity Coalition, Forward Wales and a number of other small parties and Independents. In the London Borough of Newham there has been particular outrage over New Labour policies with regard to Queen's Market, Upton Park. Questions emerged regarding the centralised and highly personalised style of Tony Blair's leadership, with some critics seeing this as a sign of creeping presidentialism.

Labour's third successive term from 2005

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.
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.

The party's popularity and membership have steadily declined since 2003. . Labour won the 2005 general election with only 35.3% of the total vote and a majority of 66. Their majority fell to 62 following a by-election loss to the Liberal Democrats and Claire Short's decision to sit as an Independent MP.

Tony Blair's third term was dominated even more than the second by the issue of terrorism. Shortly after the General Election, in incidents in July 2005 referred to as 7-7, a number of bombs were detonated on buses and tube trains in London. A fortnight later, further attempts were made by alleged terrorists to launch bombings, although failed. As a result, relations between Labour and Muslims have become more important.

The Blair government has also attempted to crack down on the perceived threat of terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., eliciting claims that they are undermining civil liberties and the rule of law. Dissent within the parliamentary party substantially increased. The Labour government were defeated in a House of Commons vote over the length of time suspected terrorists could be detained without trial although most of the Terrorism Bill passed into law, the 90 day limit the government wanted was rejected when 48 Labour MPs rebelled, with a compromise limit of 28 days agreed by the House of Commons, receiving Royal Assent on 30 March 2006 passing into law.

The introduction of identity cards presents political and logistical difficulties as civil liberties groups increasingly oppose the creation of a biometric identity database. Despite opposition from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs, the Bill has passed through all of its readings in the Commons so far. However, recent leaked Home Office memos have condemned the scheme as originally devised.

The government faces continued controversy over the Education Reform Bill. This provides for greater financial autonomy for state schools, whilst reducing local government control, and has provoked a large parliamentary rebellion, forcing the leadership to depend on support from the opposition Conservative Party. The Bill has also resulted in outspoken criticism from those formerly in the mainstream of the Party, such as former leader Neil Kinnock.

Party finances

The party has suffered from the recent peerages for cash scandal involving a number of people from a number of parties, where donors could lend large sums of money for undefined periods (effectively giving money). Scotland Yard began investigating allegations in April 2006, and continues to do so as of December 2006. There were suggestions that major donors had been encouraged to describe the money they were giving as loans rather than donations. As a consequence, the Labour Party has run up large debts (some sources put this as much as £40 million), and is having difficulty raising further money. Some of their creditors are calling in their loans, leaving the trade unions in a far more powerful position than before as a vital source of revenue for the party.

This is not exclusively a problem of the Labour Party and other parliamentary parties are facing similar difficulties. Private individuals are less willing to provide donations, and party memberships are falling, leaving all the major parties more heavily reliant on a few rich donors. Both the Labour and Conservative frontbenches are openly considering extending state funding of political parties in the UK.

Resignation of Tony Blair

In the 4 May 2006 local elections, the Labour Party lost over 300 councillors across England. The gains went largely to the Conservative Party, who saw their best results since 1992. Elsewhere, the British National Party and the Green Party increased their numbers of councillors by 33 and 20 respectively, there were also gains for the left-wing Respect Unity party. The election followed the release by the Home Office of 1,043 foreign prisoners who had been slated for deportation, nurses being made redundant due to deficits within the National Health Service resulting in the Health Secretary being heckled at the annual conference of the Royal College of Nursing, and revelations about the two year extra-marital affair of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and his assistant private secretary Tracey Temple.

Following the poor election results, Tony Blair was forced into a planned cabinet reshuffle. Speculation about the date of his departure as leader and Prime Minister intensified. Blair had announced in 2004 that he would not fight a fourth general election as Labour leader but stated that he would serve a full third term. However as his term progressed, dissent within the party increased.He failed to pass three bills restricting civil liberties through parliament in 2005-2006. His refusal to call for an Israeli ceasefire during the 2006 Lebanon War increased his unpopularity within the party, and he was repeatedly undermined by failures in Iraq and the cash for peerages scandal. Following an apparent attempted coup to force him out, in which a number of junior government members resigned in protest at his continued leadership, he announced that the September 2006 TUC and Labour Party Conferences would be his last as leader and Prime Minister.

On 10 May 2007, he announced that he would stand down as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007. Gordon Brown, the long serving Chancellor of the Exchequer, had long been widely expected to succeed Blair. He duly launched his campaign on 11 May 2007, and a few days later was the only candidate with sufficient nominations to stand. He therefore took over as Labour leader on 24 June 2007 and took over as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007.

Previous to Gordon Brown's unopposed victory, his potential competitors included:

  • Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton -- he had announced that there should be a serious contender;
  • John McDonnell -- he, Gordon Brown and Michael Meacher declared themselves candidates for the Labour leadership, although he was unable to get the signatures of the 12.5% of Labour MPs required to proceed as a candidate. He has been a sitting MP since 1997 and is Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, although Alan Simpson is annoyed that he did not consult with other members before putting himself forward as a candidate.
  • Michael Meacher - On February 22nd 2007 declared his intention to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party claiming he had the support of a large number of MPs, many members of the Socialist Campaign Group are accusing Michael Meacher of trying to split the nominations and keep John McDonnell off the ballot paper.

Two potential candidates were touted in the media, but made it clear they would not stand:

  • Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs David Miliband ruled himself out of both the leadership and deputy leadership contests and backed Gordon Brown for the leadership.
  • Home Secretary John Reid announced he was not planning to run for any other job than Home Secretary, and a few days before Blair's resignation announcement said that he would leave the cabinet at the same time as Blair, and not serve in a Brown government.

Blair's deputy leader John Prescott faced pressure over marital affairs and friendship with Philip Anschutz. John Prescott confirmed that he would stand down as deputy leader at the same time as Tony Blair left Downing Street.

Some Labour MPs and members of the National Executive Committee attempted to get an election for the position of deputy leader abandoned in order to save the £2,000,000 it is estimated that the contest would cost. However, the nominations process has now been undergone, and the election proceeded, announcing its successful candidate on 24 June 2007.

Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas, Peter Hain, Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson all stood for the Deputy Leadership and obtained the necessary 45 nominations from Labour MPs. Harriet Harman won the deputy leadership narrowly defeating Alan Johnson with 50.43% of the final redistributed vote.

Government difficulties with public opinion

Many Labour supporters remain unhappy with the Labour government's policies regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, the pensions crisis, and treatment of public-sector workers. Others have been critical of increased tax (especially stealth taxes) and increased government spending on education and health with limited results and falling productivity.

The Labour party suffered significant defeats in devolved elections in Scotland, Wales and local elections England on May 3, 2007.

In Scotland, Labour was reduced to the second largest Party after the Scottish National Party (SNP). In Wales, although still the largest party, it lost its already minority control of the Welsh Assembly. In England it lost so many local Councillors that it was reduced from second to third place in local Government, being overtaken by the Liberal Democrats.

Party Funding through illegal means

The Donorgate scandal emerged on 26 November 2007 that the Labour party had received funding from David Abrahams via illegal means, the party's General Secretary immediately resigned. He took full responsibility, and the initial response from the party was that nobody knew who Abrahams was. The donations had been made via intermediaries in order to hide the original source. It later emerged that several contenders for the deputy leadership race - Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn - had both received donations from Abrahams. In Harman's case, the money had actually been received after the race had concluded. However, in an interview on the BBC's Newsnight, Abrahams claimed that he had only supported Hilary Benn in the contest, and when pressed on the issue of donating to Harman's campaign, he refused to give a decisive answer. Brown declared that the donations from Abrahams had been "unlawful" and all monies would be returned. The issue has yet to be quelled, however, as many questions still remain unanswered. The biggest of these surrounds who knew about Abrahams' donations. In his Newsnight interview, Abrahams quoted from a letter he had received from the party's chief fundraiser, Jon Mendelsohn, which said "The party is of course very happy about all the help you have given to the party... As one of the party's strongest supporters I would like to meet you." This casts serious doubt on the party's assertions that Abrahams' donations - and indeed Abrahams himself - were largely unknown.

Leaders of the Labour Party

Portrait Entered office Left office Length of Leadership Date of Birth and Death
1 Keir Hardie 17 February 1906 22 January 1908 1 year, 11 months 15 August 1856 - 26 September 1915
2 Arthur Henderson 22 January 1908 14 February 1910 2 years 13 September 1863 - 20 October 1935
3 George Nicoll Barnes 14 February 1910 6 February 1911 11 months 2 January 1859 - 21 April 1940
4 James Ramsay MacDonald Image:Ramsaymacdonald03.jpg 6 February 1911 5 August 1914 3 years, 5 months 12 October 1866 - 9 November 1937
5 Arthur Henderson 5 August 1914 24 October 1917 3 years, 2 months (See Box No.2)
6 William Adamson 24 October 1917 14 February 1921 3 years, 3 months 2 April 1863 - 23 February 1936
7 John Robert Clynes 14 February 1921 21 November 1922 1 year, 9 months 27 March 1869 - 23 October 1949
8 James Ramsay MacDonald Image:Ramsaymacdonald03.jpg 21 November 1922 1 September 1931 8 years, 9 months (See Box No.4)
9 Arthur Henderson 1 September 1931 25 October 1932 1 year, 1 month, 24 days (See Box No.2)
10 George Lansbury 25 October 1932 8 October 1935 2 years, 11 months 21 February 1859 - 7 May 1940
11 Clement Attlee 8 October 1935 14 December 1955 20 years, 2 months 3 January 1883 - 8 October 1967
12 Hugh Gaitskell 14 December 1955 18 January 1963 7 years 9 April 1906 - 18 January 1963
13 George Brown* Image:GeorgebrownUK.jpg 18 January 1963 14 February 1963 27 days 2 September 1914 - 2 June 1985
14 Harold Wilson 14 February 1963 5 April 1976 13 years, 1 month 11 March 1916 - 24 May 1995
15 James Callaghan 5 April 1976 3 November 1980 4 years, 6 months 27 March 1912 - 26 March 2005
16 Michael Foot 3 November 1980 2 October 1983 2 years, 10 months 23 July 1913 - present
17 Neil Kinnock Image:Neil kinnock.jpg 2 October 1983 18 July 1992 8 years, 9 months 28 March 1942 - present
18 John Smith 18 July 1992 12 May 1994 1 year, 9 months 13 September 1938 - 12 May 1994
19 Margaret Beckett* 12 May 1994 21 July 1994 2 months, 9 days 15 January 1943 - present
20 Tony Blair 21 July 1994 27 June 2007 12 years, 11 months 6 May 1953 - present
21 Gordon Brown Image:Gordon Brown 2005 IMF close.jpg 27 June 2007 Present Ongoing 20 February 1951 - present

*It should be noted that although these were technically Leaders of the Labour Party, they held this position only because of the death/resignation of the incumbent Leaders, and that neither was confirmed in the position by the party's electoral processes and therefore leaders by default.

Deputy leaders of the Labour Party since 1922

  • John Robert Clynes 1922–1931
  • Jointly John Robert Clynes 1931–1932 and William Graham 1931–1932 (died in office)
  • Clement Attlee 1932–1935
  • Arthur Greenwood 1935–1945
  • Herbert Morrison 1945–1955
  • James Griffiths 1955–1959
  • Aneurin Bevan 1959–1960 (died in office)
  • George Brown 1960–1970
  • Roy Jenkins 1970–1972
  • Edward Short 1972–1976
  • Michael Foot 1976–1980
  • Denis Healey 1980–1983
  • Roy Hattersley 1983–1992
  • Margaret Beckett 1992–1994
  • John Prescott 1994–2007
  • Harriet Harman 2007–present

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

  • Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane 1924-1928
  • Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor 1928-1931
  • Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede 1931-1935
  • Harry Snell, 1st Baron Snell 1935-1940
  • Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison 1940-1952
  • William Jowitt, 1st Earl Jowitt 1952-1955
  • Albert Victor Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough 1955-1964
  • Francis Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford 1964-1968
  • Edward Shackleton, Baron Shackleton 1968-1974
  • Malcolm Shepherd, 2nd Baron Shepherd 1974-1976
  • Fred Peart, Baron Peart 1976-1982
  • Cledwyn Hughes, Baron Cledwyn of Penrhos 1982-1992
  • Ivor Richard, Baron Richard 1992-1998
  • Margaret Jay, Baroness Jay of Paddington 1998-2001
  • Gareth Williams, Baron Williams of Mostyn 2001-2003
  • Valerie Amos, Baroness Amos 2003-2007
  • Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland 2007-

Other British political parties

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