I’ve seen quite a bit of traffic recently to a post I did before the last general election, setting out what the different parties stand for. As obviously some things have changed in the intervening time, here’s a rewritten version.
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. Obviously I’m a Lib Dem, so might be overly kind to my own side, but I believe I’m being fairly accurate in all cases.
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 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. For the last five years they have been the main party in government.
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 same-sex couples – but otherwise when in government from 1997 to 2010 they 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 spent much of the last five years, while they’ve not been in government, attacking the government for doing things Labour said they were planning on doing. Their leader is Ed Miliband.
The Liberal Democrats 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 spent the last five years working with the Conservatives in the government, because the last election didn’t produce a clear winner. This has led to a lot of people who voted for the Liberal Democrats being very upset, because they don’t like the Conservatives and the Conservatives have got their own way most of the time because they have far more MPs. The Liberal Democrats argue that by doing so, they have made sure that the government has been less cruel to poor people than it otherwise would have (though it’s still been quite cruel to them), and they’ve got a lot of important changes, like allowing people to marry partners of the same sex (“gay marriage”), or scrapping ID cards, through, but some people argue that that’s not worth the things the Conservatives have got. The Liberal Democrats’ leader is Nick Clegg. The preamble to the Lib Dem constitution, which goes into slightly more detail, is here.
The Green Party want to protect the environment. Their main focus is the environment, but they also share some of the ideas that the Lib Dems have, and some that Labour used to have, about helping poor people, and they think the government should be more involved in people’s lives. Liberal Democrats think some of the ways they want to do things won’t work properly, while Greens think Lib Dems are too similar to the Conservatives and Labour and not radical enough. The Greens currently only have one MP, but are hoping to get more. Their leader is Natalie Bennett.
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). A lot of Scottish people have recently started supporting the SNP because they think that the other parties are too similar. Nicola Sturgeon leads the SNP, and Leanne Wood 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.
The United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, refuse to tell anyone what their policies will be until closer to the election. Last election, their policies were mostly centred around not liking foreigners, so they didn’t want to be part of the European Union and they wanted to stop any foreign people coming over here and get rid of some of the ones who already are. However, in the last few years they have had a lot of people join who think all the other parties are being too similar, and who wish the Tories were more like they used to be. Those people don’t care so much about disliking foreigners, but want everything to be like it was in the 1950s. Nigel Farage is the leader of UKIP.