The Labour Party

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). Its current leader is Michael Foot and the party is charged with forming Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

A History Edit

The Labour Party is the main political party of the left in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1900 by representatives from the Trade Union Congress and a number of other political organisations, Labour has its roots deep in the trade union movement and as such is socialist, or democratic socialist, party. Sometimes during the post-war period the party has often been referred to, both by its opponents and supporters, as the Socialist Party. The Labour Party generally supports socialist methods to run the economy, including planning controls, state ownership of large sections of the national economy, a comprehensive welfare state and a high level of personal taxation, but it is not a Marxist party.

The main divisions in the Labour Party, in 1981, exist over defence and foreign affairs, and the economy. On the right of the party are the 'revisionists', who generally support the economic status quo, the welfare state, and attempting to control the rate of inflation. The revisionists, led in this period by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Healey, tend to support (although there are some exceptions) British membership of the European Economic Community and NATO, and the retention of the UK's nuclear deterrent. However, the right of the party does still support what are called 'Keynesian' means of controlling the economy, and are still devoted to state control of industry and a degree of planning in the economy. Contrary to today's New Labour, they generally oppose the free market and privatisation, preferring to see a mixed economy.

Their opponents are a mixture of groups on the left of the Labour Party. The best-known politician in the early 80s of this particular faction was Tony Benn, hence Labour left wingers were often referred to as 'Bennites'. The 'Bennites', for ease of reference, support a wide variety of aims and contain a number of groupings - some are very socially liberal, for example, and seek to push for feminist causes and gay rights - but generally speaking, they tend to be supportive of increased nationalisation of British industry and business, for example the banks, tariffs against foreign imports, increased personal taxation on the wealthy and an enhanced level of economic planning and state control. They tend to oppose Britain's membership of the EEC and NATO, seeing them as 'capitalist clubs' and 'puppets of the USA'. A large majority also strongly oppose Britain's nuclear deterrent, which is a key issue of contention between the Labour right and left.

The Labour Party was in government from 1974 - 79 under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, but due to increasing economic troubles lost the 1979 election to Mrs Thatcher's Conservatives. The late 70s and early 80s are a time of increasing strife within the Labour Party. The Militant Tendancy, a group of Trotskyites, have infiltrated many local Labour Party branches and are attempting to cause havoc within the ranks by deselecting MPs and candidates not in their view sufficiently 'socialist'. Members and supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are also becoming increasingly more prominent in the party, enough to elect Michael Foot, a well-known CND supporter, as Labour Party Leader in 1980. Many on the right of the party have reacted with dismay, and there has been talk of a number of MPs splitting off from the party to form their own grouping.

The Labour Party has a strong connection to the trade union movement, and many sitting MPs and candidates are endorsed by such unions as the National Union of Mineworkers, the Transport and General Workers Union and others. The Party also receives substantial funding from the trade unions, and in return is pledged to uphold trade union interests in Parliament and in the country. The party's main bases of support are in the inner cities and industrial and mining areas, mostly in Scotland, Wales and the North of England, but they also attract much middle class student support. Excluding the membership of affiliated trade unions, the Labour Party in 1981 has approximately 300,000 fully paid up members

Political Parties of the United Kingdom

The Conservative Party | The Labour Party | | The Liberal Party | The SDP