Who are the parties and what do they stand for?

In short, they are designed to create a broad umbrella for people who think largely similar things.

It all started…

In order to make life easier, elected MPs began to form coalition groups when they arrived at Parliament. It didn’t take long for people to make these groups before they got there. This is how political parties were formed.  

Who are they?

Here are some VERY general pointers about the political parties. If you think they’re wrong – feel free to get in touch! We’ve included links to some of the party websites and recent articles so you can read more about what the parties are doing.

Conservatives

Who are they?

The Conservative Party was founded in the nineteenth century, with the promise to back necessary public reform. The party supports rolling back the state and expanding the free market to create a spirit of competition and entrepreneurship.

The Conservatives are the largest party in Parliament with 316 MPs. After the 2017 General Election the Conservatives formed a minority government and signed a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party. This means that the DUP will back the Conservatives on votes in the House of Commons.

What are they doing?

The Conservatives are currently led by Theresa May who took over when David Cameron stood-down as Prime Minister following the referendum on the European Union in 2016.

As the governing party, the Conservatives can introduce bills which are a way of turning their policies into laws. You can read all about these bills in our Laws section, which is a good way of seeing what policies the Conservatives are trying to implement.

The Conservatives have a long-term economic plan which focuses on:

  • Reducing the deficit;
  • Cutting income tax;
  • Creating jobs;
  • Capping welfare and immigration;
  • Delivering the best schools and skills for young people.

The Conservatives are also committed to honouring the result of the EU referendum and making sure that Britain gets a good deal from the Brexit negotiations.  

Labour

Who are they?

Labour emerged from the trade union and socialist movements at the beginning of the twentieth century in order to represent workers in Parliament. They believe in tackling inequality and want society and the economy to be run in the interests of working people.

With 258 MPs, Labour are the second biggest party in Parliament and the official opposition to the government.

What are they doing?

Labour are currently led by Jeremy Corbyn and are concerned with building a grassroots movement against austerity (cuts to public services). Recently, they have focused on:

Challenging the Government’s cuts to the police force

Challenging the Government’s changes to Universal Credit and protecting free school meals for less well-off children

Campaigning to keep the NHS public and opposing Government cuts to NHS funding

Scottish National Party

Who are they?

The SNP are the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. They want to make Scotland independent from the rest of the UK and create a larger state, where many services are provided for free.

The SNP have 35 MPs, making them the third-biggest party in Parliament.

What are they doing?

The SNP lost the independence referendum in 2014, and subsequently Nicola Sturgeon replaced Alex Salmond as leader when he stood down. Since the Brexit vote, however, Nicola Sturgeon has said that Scotland should have another independence referendum.

Apart from Scottish independence the SNP focus on other policy areas including:

Campaigning to end homelessness

Promoting an “alternative to austerity” and increasing public spending

Campaigning for constitutional reform as a gateway to Scottish independence

Liberal Democrats

Who are they?

The Lib Dems formed in the 1980s, combining the existing Liberal Party and the Social Democrats, a group of MPs who split from Labour. They aim to create a society that values freedom, tolerance and social mobility.

The Lib Dems currently have 12 MPs.

What are they doing?

The Lib Dems are led by Sir Vince Cable, who took over from Tim Farron who stood down after the 2017 election. The Lib Dems have firmly positioned themselves as pro-EU and identified several key campaigning opportunities for the party. These include:

Protecting Britain’s place in Europe and campaigning to keep the UK in the single market

Campaigning to protect the NHS and proposing an extra penny in the pound on income tax to invest in health and social care

Demanding a fairer tax system where people earning less than the minimum wage do not pay tax    

Greens

Who are they?

The Green Party take a strong stand on environmental issues, such as reducing climate change, and aim to create a more equal society, putting forward policies such as a basic income for all citizens and a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on banks.

The Greens currently have 1 MP - Caroline Lucas.

What are they doing?

After Natalie Bennett stepped down as leader, Caroline Lucas MP has co-led the party with Jonathan Bartley. Recently, they have focussed on:

Campaigning for action on climate change and arguing that fossil fuels should be phased out

Opposing austerity measures and campaigning for fairer taxation

Working with other parties to secure proportional representation by 2021

UKIP

Who are they?

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is led by Gerard Batten, who took over from Henry Bolton in April 2018. UKIP is a Eurosceptic political party, whose main aim is to take Britain out of the European Union. They are strong supporters of the free market and lower taxes, but with higher government spending on defence.

UKIP do not have any Members of Parliament.

What are they doing?

UKIP’s main point of campaign is still to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

UKIP has a manifesto for local regions which promotes diverting money from foreign aid and spending it on local housing and keeping council tax as low as possible

Plaid Cymru

Who are they?

Plaid Cymru are dedicated to creating a stronger Wales, ideally making it independent from the UK. They want more powers devolved to Wales and aim to create a more equal society with greater investment in public services.

They currently have 4 MPs.

What are they doing?

Plaid Cymru, led by Leanne Wood, are focussing on:

Increasing opportunities for young people and lowering the voting age to 16

Investing more in public services - priorities include education, social care and transport

Campaigning to keep Wales in the European Single Market

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has a different set of parties. Here are the biggest 5.

Democratic Unionist Party

Who are they?

The DUP are a unionist political party - they want Northern Ireland to stay part of the United Kingdom. They are the largest party in Northern Ireland and joint fourth-largest in Westminster, with 10 MPs.

What are they doing?

The DUP are led by Arlene Foster and some of the party’s main priorities are (among other things):

Investing in Northern Ireland’s infrastructure including roads and improved public transport

Working to increase employment opportunities in Northern Ireland

Prioritise spending on the NHS

Sinn Fein

Who are they?

Sinn Fein formed with the aim of bringing different Irish nationalist groups together. They are dedicated to reunifying Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with independence from the UK. They have 6 elected MPs but they all boycott Westminster and do not sit in the Commons.

What are they doing?

Sinn Fein are led by Mary Lou McDonald and, apart from Irish reunification, they have a number of policies, including:

Campaigning for Northern Ireland to have special status after Brexit

Increasing NHS investment and prioritising disability services and mental health

Implementing a huge social housing build programme for the state - 100,000 by 2030

Ulster Unionist Party

Who are they?

The UUP are Northern Ireland’s oldest unionist party but have no MPs in the House of Commons.

What are they doing?

Led by Robin Swann, the UUP have a number of key policies they are focussing on, including:

Improving funding for mental health services and emphasising prevention measures

Supporting the police and prison services and tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime

Growing the “Knowledge Economy” and harnessing Northern Ireland’s skills base

SDLP

Who are they?

The SDLP formed from a civil rights movement in the 1970s, advocating a non-violent solution to the political troubles in Northern Ireland. The party believe in a reunited Ireland, outside of the UK. They currently have no MPs in Westminster.

What are they doing?

Led by Colum Eastwood, the SDLP prepared for the Northern Irish Assembly elections by focusing on issues that included:

Campaigning for educational reform in Northern Ireland

Reinvigorating the Northern Irish economy through jobs for young people and infrastructure projects

Establishing a Commission for A New Ireland and holding an Ireland wide consultation on north-south affairs

Alliance

Who are they?

The Alliance Party want the Nationalist and Unionist parties in Northern Ireland to work together to create a better future for everyone. They advocate shared public resources, a shared culture and a shared approach to Northern Irish history with input from both sides.

What are they doing?

Alliance made a ‘shared future’ one of their most important priorities in the run-up to the Northern Irish Assembly elections. This included:

Ensuring all new educational, health and leisure facilities are built for shared use

Tackling youth sectarianism and alienation so that the next generation is not divided too

Improving government relations with ethnic minorities and the LGBT community