A bit later than I thought, here’s the second part of this. Before I start, some people were interested in exactly what happens in a balanced parliament situation – here’s a report from the Hansard Society (pdf) that sets it all out.
I’m going to try here to set out what all the major parties in the UK General Election believe, as simply as I can. I’m going to try to avoid words like ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism’ because I want this to be useful to as many people as possible – I genuinely know quite a few people who don’t know even what the most basic ideas of what the parties stand for even at this late stage. It should also, though, help my foreign friends understand things a bit better. If you’re a member or supporter of one of the parties listed and you think I’m being unfair or inaccurate (within the very simplistic way I’m doing this) please leave a comment.
The Conservative Party are the simplest party to explain. They believe that, more or less, the way things are is the best way they could be. They think that the people with power at the moment (not just politicians, but religious leaders, business leaders, banks and so on – ‘important’ people) are the people who should keep power. This also means that even though it’s not actually their policy, a lot of them think that middle-aged white straight men deserve more power than anyone who isn’t a middle-aged white straight male, though some individual Conservatives, including their current leader, don’t think that. The Conservatives are also called the Tories, and over Britain’s history they have been in government most of the time. Their leader is David Cameron.
The Labour Party are the hardest to explain. They used to believe that working people deserved to get a better share of the money than they do, and that government should make sure of that, but that otherwise it would be better to give people more freedom. Labour governments brought in the National Health Service, created the Open University, ended capital punishment (hanging) and legalised homosexuality and abortion. (Many of these were Liberal ideas originally, but Labour brought them in). However, after the Conservatives were in power for eighteen years, the leaders of the party decided that people didn’t want a government like that any more, and Labour became more-or-less identical to the Conservatives. There are some slight differences – they brought in the minimum wage and civil partnerships for gay people – but otherwise they have behaved almost exactly like the Conservatives (increasing the gap between rich and poor, supporting the Americans in illegal wars). Many Labour *members* though still hope the party will go back to the way it used to be. Labour have been in government for the last 13 years, and their leader is Gordon Brown.
The Liberal Democrats are both Britain’s oldest and newest party, being formed in 1989 from a merger between two other parties, the Liberals (Britain’s oldest party) and the Social Democrats (a new party formed by some ex-Labour members). We believe in freedom – that the government should not interfere in you doing what you want with your life. We realise, though, that you can’t be free without enough food to eat or somewhere to live or medicine if you’re sick, so we think the government should do what it can to make sure everybody has those things, even if it means interfering a bit with rich people’s freedom (by taking some of their money away) to make sure poor people have them. We also think it’s worth making sure we have a better environment for everyone, because the freedoms not to choke on fumes or to have your home not be flooded by dangerous weather are also important. We also want a fairer voting system, to give everyone the freedom to have a say in how they’re governed.
We also want to make sure that *everyone* has more freedom, so we support gay people, and transsexual people, and disabled people, and other people who have a hard time at the moment, and we want to make sure they have the same rights as everyone else and can also do what *they* want to with their lives.
The Liberal Democrats have never been in government, although the Liberals were a long, LONG time ago, and Nick Clegg is our leader.
The Green Party want to protect the environment, and to share money out more so poor people have more and rich people have less. They share a lot of the same ideals as the Liberal Democrats, but we think some of the ways they want to do things won’t work properly, while they think we’re too similar to the Conservatives and Labour and not radical enough. The Greens don’t have any Members of Parliament at the moment, but are hoping to get some. Caroline Lucas is their leader.
The Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru are nationalists – they believe that Scotland (for the SNP) and Wales (for Plaid Cymru) should become separate countries. As you would imagine, they don’t have many MPs (Scotland and Wales don’t have many people in compared to England), but they both have a lot of members of their respective assemblies (the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly). Alex Salmond leads the SNP, and Ieuan Wyn Jones leads Plaid Cymru.
There are *lots* of smaller parties in Northern Ireland, where the major mainland parties don’t stand. Roughly speaking the Unionist parties (those that want Northern Ireland to stay part of the UK, mostly Protestants) will support the Conservatives in Parliament, while the Republican parties (those that want Northern Ireland to join with the Republic of Ireland, mostly Catholics) will support Labour, but some Republican parties (like Sinn Fein) won’t take their seats in Parliament because you have to swear allegiance to the Queen. The Alliance Party, which tries to work with both communities and bring them together, are formally linked to the Liberal Democrats.
Racist UKIP The official name of this party is the United Kingdom Independence Party, but I refuse to refer to them as anything other than Racist UKIP, because I was threatened with legal action for saying they are racists. Racist UKIP’s policy is mostly centred around not liking foreigners, so they don’t want to be part of the European Union and they want to stop any foreign people coming over here and get rid of some of the ones who already are. Other than that, they’re mostly the same as the Conservatives. Their leader is Lord Pearson Of Rannoch , and they don’t have any MPs in the Commons but do have members in the House of Lords.
The Bastard Nazi Party, officially the British National Party, are a party that formed mainly to hate black people, though in recent years they have branched out and now hate Muslims too. Their leader is DickIbegyourpardonNick Griffin, and they are bastard Nazis. They don’t have any MPs at the moment, and if you vote for them you are scum.
best entry ever.
I’m not convinced that the Green Party is so similar to the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems believe in giving everybody a fair chance in life, to use the state to combat inequality but otherwise stay out of the way
The Greens seem much more keen on a much bigger state, giving money away to people whether they need it or not, and having oodles of Government quangos and interventions in just about every aspect of life.
Another way of putting it may be that the Lib Dems don’t have a problem with people making money, provided they’re doing so by, say, providing things that people want rather than, say, screwing the poor or the planet. The Greens seem to be generally unhappy ith the idea of people making money.
Oh, I agree in practice. I was trying to be as fair as possible to the different parties, and whenever I’ve talked with Greens they’ve always seemed to share most of the principles of most Lib Dems I know (supporting mutualism etc). It’s just when you look at their actual *policies* they’re an incoherent mess…
I used to have friends in the Green Party who’d badger me about it…this was years ago, and at that time they just sounded kinda scary, they were so single-issue you dreaded what they’d do if they got power…even if the issue wasn’t one I was on the other side of. But when I’d ask my friends, “well, what’s the Green position on legal issues, the justice system, any of that” they’d just say “oh, the Green party believes in justice and freedom for all!”
Which my brain interpreted as “we will crush all that oppose us”, and so that left me right out.
I’m happy to say they’ve adopted a much more nuanced and integrated perspective since them. I’d vote for them now.
Damn it! Since “then”, obviously…
Worst entry ever. Anyone reading this will come away with no extra understanding of the parties in the UK. I wish this was as insightful as your reviews. That only thing you’ve done is called the UKIP for who they are. Your comparison of the Conservatives and Labour is the same is a week cop out, and as bad as the Bush and Gore are the same mantra which many in the US later regretted.
Would you care to suggest any improvements? I genuinely don’t believe I’ve been unfair, and certainly this has been one of my more linked-to entries, so other people apparently disagree with you.
I’m trying to walk a fine line here between a broad brush-strokes description of the parties and getting over the nuances that matter. This is not aimed, primarily, at people with *any* previous knowledge – it’s a ‘beginners guide’ as I say, because I know several people who *literally* do not even *know of the existence* of several of these parties, and when campaigning I’ve had people say things like “Oh, the Liberal Democrats? You’re Mr Cameron’s lot!”
I think it unlikely that those people will see this site, but if one or two do and their confusion is lessened, then it will be worth it.
And comparing the Tories and Labour is *not* the same as the Bush/Gore comparison. Firstly, their policies *are* actually closer to each other in most areas than to the Lib Dems or many smaller parties. Both are authoritarian right-wing parties now (that wasn’t always the case, and I made that very clear, but it’s definitely been true for at least the last nine or ten years, if not longer). And secondly because the US Presidential election was a straight choice between two people, while in the British General Election *many* people are in three-way marginals, or in seats where one or other major party doesn’t have a chance.
For what may actually be the majority of people in the UK, their choice isn’t actually Labour/Conservative, but Labour/Lib Dem, Conservative/Lib Dem, Labour/SNP, Conservative/Plaid, Lib Dem/SNP or whatever. Someone in that position thinking ‘Labour and the Tories are the same’ would make little or no difference to their voting choices…
As you say it’s a beginners guide, I just don’t think your explanation that they are the same rings true. I could be wrong, as I don’t live in England, this is likely, but none of my Labour or Tory friends would agree with you.
Arguably the Tories are like the Republicans, and Labour like the Democrats. A poor comparison maybe, but possibly of assistance to beginners.
Not a comparison that’s going to help anyone who is going to be voting in this election. If you’re a UK citizen who knows nothing about UK politics, how much more opaque is US politics going to be?
If you know nothing about UK politics and you base your decision on what you read here, then there’ll be a LD landslide :)
Well, I guess I can see now why some folks in the UK like the “libertarian” word…the LibDem summation lacks a wee bit of soundbitey coziness. Hmm…
I think the description of the Tories is funny as hell — of course, they think the people with the power have it because they deserve it most, and that it’s best for the country that they do! A pretty nice and clean description, and doubtless why the post-Blair Tories’ brief attempt at “going libertarian” failed: when inequalities are the marker of things going right, having fewer of them just robs you of your most important political gauge. I like the Labour definition slightly less, just because I believe in making a pretty firm demarcation between “freedom” and “equality”…surely Labour was a party most interested in increasing overall political equality, and then its downfall was that it thought it could use Tory means to accomplish Labour ends? Unfortunately forgetting in its zeal that political equality isn’t about ends; political equality is fundamentally a means, and you can’t get rid of it and be for it at the same time. So you go crypto-Tory when you try…
But I dunno; too slapdash?
I mean me, obviously; not you.
I think you’re overlooking the biggest issue right now, and that’s unemployment. Jobs are the *only* issue in hard economic times.
Talking about freedom, civil rights issues, and the environment is all pie-in-the-sky stuff right now. It’s all about jobs, and nothing else.
It’s the main reason why the Tories are leading in polls right now, I’m sure. Plus I think people are just tired of Labour. When a party has been in power for so long, it gets too fat and content.
Well im a polotics begginer and i think you have to write a less biased article. It is clear from your wording who you support and with the way you have written this it could clearly sway people when they dont know what there doing. I think you should be more nutral with articles of this kind.
“Racist UKIP’s policy is mostly centred around not liking foreigners …”
… And of course their very real concern for the economic prosperity of Bulgaria.