The politics of the UK, plain and simple - though, nowhere near as much so (nor as bland) as the food.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a constitutional monarchy, meaning that it is officially "ruled" by a monarch (currently Elizbeth II) whose powers are controlled by constitutional law. In reality, the monarch is a powerlessnote symbolic figurehead and the country is governed by its legislature: a Parliament made up by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Although Britain has a parliamentary system and the Prime Minister (currently Boris Johnson), the de facto head of government, is supposed to simply be the executive of a ruling political party, some recent Prime Ministers, notably Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, have tended towards a "Presidential" executive style of rule. More concisely, the monarch is head of state and the prime minister is the head of government, compared to a nation like the US where the head of state and head of government are the same person.
An extremely important thing to note about the British government is that it is more or less synonymous with Parliament (the Civil Service notwithstanding): all authority flows from Westminster. Indeed, the "keystone" of the British constitutional order as identified by the celebrated AV Dicey is this: "Parliament...has...the right to make or unmake any law whatever, and further, that no person or body is recognized by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of parliament."note
This setup is a result of the English Civil War (164151), the result of which was the monarchy handing over all its power (which in the Tudor era had been de facto absolute) to Parliament a process helped by the fact that George I and II barely spoke English and didn't much care for governing Britain anyway and incidentally resembles Thomas Hobbes' conception of government. In any case, though this sounds rather scary at first in theory, British liberty could be dead with a single Act of Parliamentnote — the UK's membership in the EU and its institutions, as well as a couple of other well-enforced treaties, have added a measure of restriction to the actions of Parliament; for the first time, Parliament has to deal with potentially making illegal laws.note
The complex and controversial events following the 2016 Referendum are showing that it is, in fact, far from simple or easy for a Government to bypass the House of Commons.
The House of Commons is staffed by Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by each constituency. These are similar to a Congressional district in the US a large city will have multiple constituencies. A constituency is represented by a single MP. Each of these constituencies will have an individual name. Every decade or so, the boundaries are re-drawn by the non-partisan Boundary Commission, which does take representations from the parties.
The House of Commons is elected for a period of 5 years (elections used to be called at any earlier time at the Prime Minister's whim, but this practice has been recently abolished in favour of fixed-term Parliaments) or can be earlier if either (a) the government loses a vote of confidence or (b) 2/3rds of the entire House of Commons votes in favour of dissolving itnote . MPs are elected on the basis that the candidate winning the most votes is declared the winner, even if they only have one more vote than the next candidate when there are multiple candidates; i.e. it is not necessary to win more than 50% of the votes cast. (Nobody has ever actually won by just one vote, although several seats have been won by just two votes, most recently North East Fife at the 2017 election. In the event that the top two candidates tied for number of votes, the winner would be declared by drawing lots.)
Results are only given for the whole constituency, not individual wards. When boundaries change, the "results" of the previous election for the new seats are estimated by the media from local council results. These should be treated with some caution.
When in the Commons, MPs are not addressed by each other by name, but as "The Honourable Member for [name of constituency]" / "My Honourable friend" for someone from your own party, or "The Honourable gentleman/lady" for people not in your party. There are some varying titles, such as "Right Honourable", used for members of the Privy Council, "Learned" (pronounced "learn-ed") for MPs who are also barristers, and "Right Honourable and Learned" for MPs who are barristers and members of the Privy Council.
Parliamentary debates and question times are far more rowdy than the (modern) United States Congress, with creative insults and heckling being the order of the day, but Floor Fights are very rare. The chamber is presided over by the Speaker or one of his/her deputies. The Speaker is a non-partisan figure — once elected Speaker, they renounce their party affiliation, and at a general election they will stand as "The Speaker seeking re-election". (It is convention that the major parties do not contest the Speaker's constituency, so it is highly unlikely that they will not be re-elected. The deputy Speakers do not have to leave their party, but they still have to remain impartial and do not take part in partisan politics — although they are allowed to take part in politics relating to their constituency.)
During debates in the Commons, all remarks are addressed to the Speaker; speaking directly to your opposite number and using words like "you" gets you a slapped wrist. Particularly controversial media issues may be raised in Parliament, including this particular gem from a Conservative MP. The current Speaker is Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a former Labour member from Chorley. The Speaker, in the event of a tie, will nearly always vote to keep debate open and will almost never vote for a bill, as doing so would create a majority where one did not exist; the main exception is if the bill is a confidence or supply measure — i.e., if the bill fails, the government collapses and either a new PM and new government must be chosen or new elections must be held — in which case the Speaker will generally vote in favour.
There are 650 elected MPs, all but one of whom note are usually members of a political party. Westminster is most near to a "two-and-a-half party" system, with the two dominant parties since the 1920s being Labour and the Conservatives. The Liberals had been the second major party prior to the formation of a coalition government with the Conservatives in the 1920s, which decimated their support in favour of Labour. They and their successor party, the Liberal Democrats, found themselves the perpetual third party for most of the elections until 2015 - when, after forming another coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, they found themselves reduced at the 2015 election from 57 MPs to 8 and replaced as the third largest party by the SNP.
The first-past-the-post electoral system slightly favours the two main parties and heavily disadvantages the Liberal Democrats (and small parties in general), reflecting the two main parties' concentrations of support in certain areas (urban and working-class areas for Labour, and affluent and rural areas for the Conservatives), and the Lib Dems having a fairly even support spread nationwide. In theory, the Lib Dems could even beat the Conservatives into second and Labour could remain the largest party with twice as many seats as the Lib Dems. The voting system can, and has done, in some cases cause political parties to lose seats even though their popular vote increases; this happens to the minor parties more than Labour and the Conservatives, although Labour actually managed to lose an election that way: in 1951 Clement Attlee beat Winston Churchill by three-quarters of a million votes, but ended up with fewer seats. The same happened to the Conservatives in the June 2017 election - despite their popular vote share increasing by several percentage points to levels unseen since the 1980s, they managed to lose their overall majority due to Labour experiencing a similar skyrocket in vote share.
Proposals have been made to switch to a more proportional system, with ultimately little success the main argument against the change was that it would almost always ensure weak, minority governments or coalitions. Due to the Liberal Democrats (in favour of electoral reform) forming a coalition government with the Conservatives after the 2010 election, a referendum was promised on the voting system as part of the coalition agreement. On 5 May 2011, the nationwide referendum was held on whether to switch from the existing First Past The Post system to Alternative Vote, which if passed was expected to more fairly represent smaller parties like the Lib Dems and the Greens. There were vocal campaigns both for and against the switch to AV. Because of a legendarily terrible campaign from the Yes side that will be autopsied for years to come, it was defeated resoundingly, leading to the coalition becoming a lot more adversarial (Summary, in musical form). Given the levels of support that parties such as the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP tend to receive nationwide result in disproportionately few (if any) seat returns, and the obvious disgruntlement it causes them, it is unlikely this issue has gone away just yet.
It is worth noting that because a General Election is fought over 650 small constituencies, which change little (if at all) between elections, small political parties can make gains by concentrating all their efforts on one constituency. This is how the Green Party won their only seat in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and why UKIP didn't win any despite having more support nationwide. Any Parliamentary constituency has a tendency to become a two horse race with a bunch of also-rans, but exactly which of the parties are the two front runners depends on the constituency. Scottish seats tend to be SNP-Labour (in urban areas) or SNP-Lib Dem (in rural and island areas), with some Tory-SNP constituencies now appearing following backlash from independence uncertainty. The South of England tends to be Lib Dem-Tory battles outside of urban Labour areas, and some of the deepest rural areas were shaping up as UKIP-Tory battlegrounds prior to UKIP's vote collapse in 2017.
If a party can command a majority, it is often considered the ruling party. Their elected leader, chosen by the party through varying methods,note then chooses a cabinet of which he/she serves as primus inter pares (first among equals). These men and women are responsible for various departments of government; there are currently 27 cabinet members (including the Prime Minister) who between them hold 42 positions during the Labour governments of Blair and Brown, Harriet Harman acquired the nickname "Three Hats Harman" for having three separate posts. They're often referred to as "The X Secretary", but their actual title is "The Secretary of State for X". Cabinet membership is not subject to Parliamentary approval, and may not even be along party lines (although, these days, it nearly always is), so it chops and changes frequently, with much attendant press speculation.
Contrary to public assumptions, and the press' frequent bellyaching, the Prime Minister is not directly elected, thus calling a PM "unelected" doesn't really mean anything, except to take a swipe at a PM you don't like; Gordon Brown got a lot of this to the point of being the press' Butt-Monkey in the run-up to the 2010 election, despite the fact that, of the 23 Prime Ministers since 1900, fourteen ascended to the position in the middle of a Government; even Winston Churchill was "unelected" for his first run at the premiership during World War II (in fact, Churchill never actually "won" a democratic election - his second government in 1951 was, as detailed above, a fluke of the system as he took considerably fewer votes than his Labour opponent).
Below these people are the Ministers of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State (PUSSYs). Below them are the Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS), who are unpaid lackeys for the Cabinet members. They sit behind the front bench at Prime Minister's Questions, with the result that the camera cuts their heads off. Those who are not chosen or refuse offers for the Cabinet or for junior ministerial office are called "backbenchers", as opposed to those who sit on the Government "front bench".
The official title of the largest party that is not in Government is "Hernote Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition". Fittingly for a British institution, the name of this post started off as a joke; the term was coined in 1826 by Whig MP John Hobhouse, who was riffing on the term "His Majesty's Government" in the midst of a critique of the policies of then-Foreign Secretary George Canning. The idea took off, however, as many came to realise that it was a much better way of understanding the relationship between Government and Opposition than had been before — namely, rather than regarding the Opposition as just a few steps shy of treasonous, both Government and Opposition would emphasise their common loyalty to the Crown and the institution of Parliament while simultaneously disagreeing about everything else. The Opposition's job description is to question and hold to account "Her Majesty's Government" to ensure that any policies have been well thought-out. The leader of the largest party out of government is also known as "The Leader of the Opposition" and is a member of the Privy Council. The Opposition party will also select a cabinet, known as a Shadow Cabinet. Despite sounding very cool, this cabinet does not do anything in practical terms. Instead, their job is to call on their cabinet counterpart during meetings in the Commons, typically to question their decisions (the other MPs, including the backbenchers, can also do this to whomever they wish). They also work out the party's policies in relation to their position i.e., the Shadow Secretary for Education will look at schools and universities ready for the next election. The smaller parties also select their own "frontbench teams" too, where appropriate, depending on the number of MPs they possess.
Unlike in the United States, changes of government occur very quickly. It is possible, and common, for the polls to close at 10 pm on Thursday, the result be more-or-less certain at about 3am on Friday, the defeated Prime Minister to go to Buckingham Palace to resign before lunch on Friday, with the new PM meeting the Queen and being invited to form a Government that Friday afternoon, and cabinet posts sorted out over the weekend. Obviously, there are times when the result goes right down to the wire and the result not known until breakfast the following morning, most lately in 1992 (Conservative majority of only 20), 2010 (hung parliament), and 2017 (also a hung parliament).
The following list includes political parties with regional representation or better,note ordered by numbers of MPs (Members of Parliament, out of 650), MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament, out of 129), MLAs (Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, out of 90), and AMs (Members of the National Assembly of Wales, out of 60; or the London Assembly, out of 25), where applicable.
(365 MPs, 244 Lords, 31 MSPs, 10 Wales AMs, 8 London AMs, 5 Mayors, 9,237 local.)
Current Leader: Boris Johnson (Prime Minister and MP, Uxbridge & South Ruislip).Regional leaders
Formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, indicating their position on The Irish Question (and now the 'Scottish Question'), although this isn't always emphasised - especially given that 2019 polling indicates that most of their voters would be happy to give up Northern Ireland (and possibly Scotland) to 'get Brexit done'. The party which currently has the PM and the Cabinet (Executive Branch). The traditional party for rural voters, suburban voters, the aspirational working class/Nouveau Riche types, and the wealthy. They have tended to take a more populist approach to politics in recent years, especially during the Margaret Thatcher years and under David Cameron's leadership, and until the 2016 Referendum, were usually perceived these days as a centre-right party with a middle-class focus and classical liberal economic tendencies.note Having moved towards the middle in recent years (though with some right-wing traditionalist opinions such as on fox-hunting and benefits), following the 2016 EU referendum, , they've moved sharply back to the right under Theresa May and Boris Johnson (enforced on May by the powerful pro-Brexit 'Economic Research Group' of backbenchers, and embraced by Johnson), courting former Labour working class voters. The popular opinion between 1997 and 2015 was that there was very little difference between them and Labour. With the Brexit Referendum and the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn, emblem of the Labour Party's left wing, that has since changed.
Traditionally they have been popular in the South-East of England and rural areas. The party colour is blue, and their icon appears to be a child's drawing of a tree, supposedly an attempt by the PR staff of David Cameron to emphasise the party's environmentalist credentials; it also harks back to the traditional symbol of Toryism, the Royal Oak. From 1975 to 2006, the symbol was a torch of liberty. They are popularly known as the "Tories", a term that originally was an insult against Irish cattle thieves and which was the name of the modern party's forebear. The current leader, taking over from Theresa May, is arguably its most well-known member, Boris Johnson - famous for his appearances on the show Have I Got News for You. Has many detractors they gained under Margaret Thatcher that they've never got rid of, to the point where the Tories are seriously seen by a substantial amount of the population as evil incarnate. While Cameron tried, and largely succeeded, in detoxifying the party's reputation, a faint but nasty smell of Islamophobia and general racism remained and post-2016, has been driven into overdrive, particularly after 21 members of the party's moderate wing walked out of the party in protest in 2019 at Boris Johnson's policies. Since Johnson's former newspaper columns include references to African citizens of Commonwealth states as "picanninies with watermelon smiles" and to Muslim women wearing burqas as resembling "letterboxes", you can see why. This disdain was traditionally held by northerners and the working class, but after the EU Referendum of 2016, increasingly younger and urban voters as well. By contrast, in the 2019 election, many of said working class/Northern voters opted to vote Conservative, flipping constituencies that had been Labour strongholds since before WWII.
The Conservatives currently form a majority government in Westminster following the 2019 election, having previously governed as a minority following the loss of their majority in the 2017 election (poor leadership, utterly bland campaigning, and a rather questionable manifesto were all considered to be factors), relying on the support of the Northern Irish DUP (see below), which while being their only possible ally in the current Parliament, is raising a few eyebrows among both supporters and detractors alike. Johnson then gambled on another election, and won big, gaining the biggest Conservative majority since the 1980s, gobbling up much of the former 'Red Wall' of Labour seats in North Wales and the Midlands/North of England - old industrial regions that had voted Leave - which hadn't voted anything but Labour in generations.
- Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.
Current Leader: Jeremy Corbyn (MP, Islington North).Regional leaders
Started off as a socialist, working man's party (hence the name) but became more pro-market in the late 1980s and moved closer to the centre under Neil Kinnock and especially Tony Blair, before moving slightly back to the left under Jeremy Corbyn.note In the mid 1990s, Blair dubbed his centrist vision for the party "New Labour", a piece of branding designed to distance Labour from its bitter infighting and more left-wing early 1980s incarnation, which the image-obsessed Blair thought had a negative perception amongst voters; this label came to be used more as a term of abuse by the party's enemies and internal dissenters rather than a badge of honour, and the party itself has since dropped it. There was between 1994 and 2010 a dangerous divide between the Blairites, named after Tony Blair, and Useful Notes/Brownites, named after Gordon Brown, and no one was quite sure what the difference was; the general consensus was that Brown was deemed slightly more socialist and Eurosceptic, while Blair was more centrist and pro-European and - in the view of his detractors from all sides of the political spectrum - had no discernible principles whatsoever.
Officially a left-wing democratic socialist party, the party has taken a "broad church" approach to working class politics, inclusive of ideologies ranging from staunch Marxism to centrist "Third Way" politics, which has secured their reputation for infighting - seemingly dispatched by New Labour, but resurgent following the election of Corbyn and the 2016 EU Referendum, which has split the party down Leave/Remain lines. They've even flirted with authoritarian right-wing policies, especially with regard to civil liberties to the point that a historically very conservative Tory triggered a by-election in 2006 to protest a counter-terrorism bill and anything Peter Mandelson got his hands on, which mostly appeared to be desperate attempts at populism. They are traditionally popular in London, the North of England, Scotland, South Wales, large urban areas, and among trade unionists. The Labour party's current icon is the rose (a traditional symbol of European social-democratic parties), and the party colour, used in election materials and identification of Labour constituencies on maps, is red.
You'll see a number of Labour members listed as "Lab/Co-Op". This means that they are also sponsored by the Co-operative Party, the political arm of the UK Co-operative movement (as in the supermarket chain Co-op). The Co-op Party differ very little from Labour, apart from an emphasis on fair trade, and don't run candidates themselves. Labour lost its majority in the general election of May 6, 2010, and Brown was already planning to resign when the Liberal Democrats began flirting with forming a coalition with both Labour and the Conservatives. Although they made it clear they would only consider a coalition with Labour if Brown resigned, upon learning Brown was already going to resign, they formed a coalition with the Conservatives, citing the pragmatism of greater numbers for passing policy.note
Brown's successor was Ed Miliband, who bested his brother David (and three other candidates who had little to no chance of victory) in a tight leadership election. Jon Culshaw was reportedly happy, as Mili-E sounds exactly the same as Jon's impression of Tony Blair. However he too suffered a crushing defeat in the 2015 elections. At the time this was reported to be from a combination of Labour's lack of alternative to the Conservatives' economic policies, and the public's apparent inability to see Miliband as Prime Minister.
Miliband resigned shortly after losing, triggering another leadership election. Initially pretty much no one cared, but the elevation of dark horse candidate Jeremy Corbyn from an outsider to front runner to actual winner galvanised supporters and the public throughout the contest, with him being seen by many as the only alternative to a "Tory-lite" leader. Corbyn, a veteran socialist and activist from the left wing of Labour, developed enormous popularity among the party's rank and file membership. However, most Labour MPs were less enthusiastic about his leadership, with many fearing his more left-wing views would doom the party in a general election. In summer 2016, conflict between Corbyn and the Parliamentary Party in the aftermath of the EU referendum (in which he was accused of deliberate sabotage of his own party's Remain campaign) culminated in yet another leadership challenge less than a year into his premiership. Corbyn's loyal support among membership won that election by an even greater margin, and, for better for worse, cemented his position as leader.
With press coverage of the Labour Party being rather stacked against them since Corbyn's ascension (many British newspapers [and their owners] having much more incentive to support the Conservatives' more right-wing views), many had written off Labour as being doomed to fall even to third-party status in the next election, with a common prediction being that most of their traditional working-class support would migrate to UKIP, leaving Labour to scrap with the Liberal-Democrats for the more metropolitan segments of the voting population. However, in the snap election of 2017, Labour managed to climb all the way back from a 20 point lag in the polls to a 1 point lag in two months, leaving the Conservatives without an overall majority in the Commons and making net gains of 30 seats. While obviously not being an outright victory, the sheer unexpected dark-horse nature of this result, not to mention the implication that Jeremy Corbyn might actually be able to win after all, has confounded both pollsters and more right-wing Labour MPs alike.
However, the knives are once more out, following dire performances in the 2019 European and General Elections. These came as a result of (in the first case) the historically Eurosceptic Corbyn's policy of sitting on the fence in regards to a second Brexit Referendum, on the rather thin grounds that he wants to unite the country again after years of it being polarised over Europe (translation: he doesn't want to lose seats in pro-Leave or pro-Remain Labour seats). This resulted in Corbyn presenting himself as being in favour of a 'jobs first Brexit' (whatever that means) while also saying that he'd support a second referendum... but only if every other option had been eliminated first (and only after being forced to do so at metaphorical knife-point by his MPs). Not only has this ambiguity angered the very pro-Remain Parliamentary party, it absolutely infuriated the membership and younger/more liberal voters, who're very focused on socially conscious policies (like Corbyn), but also very pro-Europe (not like Corbyn). They promptly punished Labour by flocking to the resurgent Liberal Democrats - Labour even lost Islington to the Lib Dems, which includes Corbyn's own constituency.
While Corbyn kept his seat in the following General Election, many others didn't in a brutal election defeat that left Labour with barely 200 seats, and the Conservatives with their largest majority since the 1980s. To add insult to injury, the traditional 'Red Wall' of Labour seats, spreading from North Wales across Northern England/the Midlands, being smashed by the Conservatives, who hoovered up working class Leave voters (the region including some of the most pro-Brexit constituencies in the country). Corbyn has since stated that he will step down, but the wording of that (he won't lead them into the next election) is ambiguous enough that one suspects that Corbynism isn't quite dead (the idea being that the problem was not the message, but the - unfairly smeared - messenger) and he is looking to secure a like-minded successor. Either way, it is generally suspected that the post-mortem and the resultant political knife-fight for control of the party is going to be very bloody indeed.
The anthem of the Labour Party is "The Red Flag", by Jim Connell, to the tune of "O Tannenbaum":note
- Then raise the scarlet standard high,Within its shade we'll live and die,Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,We'll keep the red flag flying here.
More popularly however, the anthem Oh Jeremy Corbyn is becoming a trend among the young.
Current Acting Leaders: Sir Ed Davey (MP, Kingston and Surbiton) and Mark Pack.Regional leaders
Traditionally a centre-left, liberal (in the European sense) party, they were widely perceived as being slightly to the left of post-Blair Labour, and are sometimes treated as simply a "trendier" version of Labour. Formed from the merger of the old Liberal Party (itself a descendent of the original Whig party), which saw its vote collapse after the rise of the Labour Party, and the Social Democratic Party, which was formed of former Labour MPs (and one Conservative) who'd become disenchanted with their parties' policy shifts. Notable for having a very favourable educational policy and for getting rid of their alcoholic leader in 2006, then the one after him within two years.
They are traditionally very popular in Scotland, Cornwall, and Devon. During the early 21st century, they gained significant support in constituencies with a sizeable student population. Their party colour is gold, and their icon is the dove. The slang adjective is "Lib Dem" or "Whig". Suffer a lot from being the Third Option; when they were treated equally to the main two parties during the 2010 election campaign, they even registered first place on the polls. Although these polls turned out to be overly optimistic for them, they still won an impressive 23% of the vote, but in seat terms they remained in distant third party status — due to their relatively even support nationwidenote — explains why one of their key party policies is the introduction of proportional representation through the single transferable vote.
Since the Liberals' fall from popularity back in the 20s, their realistic aims have been to be kingmakers in a hung parliament, which they did in the 2010 election, deciding to ally with the Tories after talks with Labour failed. note They have now suffered from that decision, having gone from 56 MPs down to 8 in 2015. Some of this was because people thought they had betrayed their voters by a) getting into a coalition with the Toriesnote and b) splitting in half to vote to raise tuition fees despite promising not tonote . The rest was because many of their MPs depended on tactical voting to keep Labour/the Tories out in their seat, and the coalition meant this broke down on both sides.
They have currently been superseded by the Scottish National Party as the third-largest party in Westminster (though maintaining a much larger presence than the SNP at local government level), bringing the traditional idea of the "Big Three" parties into serious contention, something ironically lampshaded every now and then by former leader Tim Farron. They managed to make a small recovery in the 2017 election, increasing their tally from 8 to 12 MPsnote , but time will tell as to whether they will be able to recover to the tens of MPs they used to return at each election. Farron resigned after the 2017 election, being replaced by party veteran Vince Cable, who returned to parliament in that election and had previously been interim leader a decade prior.
While still rather diminished, they made a big comeback in the local and European elections in 2019, taking second place in the latter after scooping up tens of thousands of centrist/centre-left voters from both Labour and the Conservatives (but mainly Labour, even taking the European parliament's Islington constituency - which contains the UK Parliamentary of constituency of none other than Jeremy Corbyn himself) who were frustrated and angry with their respective parties over Brexit policy. Labour, because most of the Labour membership (and many of the supporters in general) are very pro-Europe and sick of Corbyn's attempts to avoid openly declaring that he was in favour of a Second Referendum. The Conservatives, because the Conservatives have traditionally had the reputation as the sober and financially responsible party that doesn't rock the boat, but in an attempt to fend off the likes of the Brexit Party (essentially UKIP under another name), have lurched towards the far-right. Speaking of a Second Referendum, it is a policy that, as 'a People's Vote', the Lib Dems can genuinely claim to have championed from the start. Until mid 2018, it was dismissed as a mere fringe policy, but within 6 months, became extremely popular amongst Remainers and those who think that Brexit is really, really not going to plan/that it's the only way to break Parliament's deadlock, with most of the Labour party demanding it become official party policy and a number of Conservative MPs remarking off the record that it's probably the best of a number of awful options.
Cable resigned following the European elections, becoming a rare example of a party leader whose career did not end in failure (given he had just taken the party to some of its best electoral performances ever and he was able to go at a time of his own choosing). He was succeeded by Jo Swinson in the following leadership election. Swinson lead her party for less than five months; after losing her parlimantery seat to the SNP in the 2019 election, she was no longer egligable to continue as leader according to party rules. Her seat was the only seat the Lib Dems lost in the election.
The Liberal Democrats' party anthem, "The Land", is of unknown authorship, but is widely considered the most rousing (former Labour leader Michael Foot thought it was better than "The Red Flag"), especially seeing as it's sung to the tune of "Marching Through Georgia":
- The land, the land,'Twas god who made the land.The land, the land,The ground on which we stand.Why should we be beggars,With the ballot in our hand?God gave the land to the people!
- The Scottish National Party (Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba in Gaelic/Scottis Naitional Pairtie in Scots)
(47 MPs, 62 MSPs, 429 local.)
Current Leader: Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister of Scotland and MSP, Glasgow Southside).And...
AKA the SNP. The party's raison d'être is Scottish independence. Formed in 1934 after the amalgamation of the National Party with the Scottish Party. Eight years after the re-congregation of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP emerged as the largest party and formed a minority administration with confidence-and-supply support from the Green Party (and later the Conservatives). In 2011, it won an overall majority, something which the Scottish Parliament's mixed-member electoral system was specifically designed to make impossible. The SNP-formed Scottish Government held a referendum on independence on 18 September 2014, with Scotland choosing to remain in the United Kingdom. In the 2016 Holyrood elections, they retained dominance as Scotland's largest party, but lost their overall majority. The Conservatives leapfrogged Labour to become the second party of Scotland, reclaiming seats that had converted to Tony Blair's New Labour, and leaving the historic positions of SNP and Labour now thoroughly flipped.
Despite the similarity of their names, they couldn't be more different to the BNP (whose founding it predates): the SNP are noted for being positive towards immigration, and are in favour of Scotland's membership of the EU (or the European Economic Area, depending on how they feel that day). The SNP officially supports the monarchynote and has policies that mostly resemble modern-day social-democratic parties found in mainland Europe. As a point of principle, the party does not appoint any members to the House of Lords, and officially backs its abolition and replacement with an elected chamber. They are also strongly opposed to the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system, which is based in Scotland, and have worked alongside other anti-nuclear weapons parties and the Scottish CND in calling for it to be scrapped.
Years of growing public disaffection with the two main parties, catalysed by the 2014 referendum in which Labour and the Conservatives worked together closely in Better Togethernote , meant that in the 2015 UK general election the SNP scored a massive landslide, winning 56 of the 59 Scottish seats and essentially wiping out Labour's power in Scotland. With the collapse of the Liberal Democrat party, they are now the third largest party in the house; a drastic shift in the power balance, and almost unheard-of for a party that only contests elections in one part of the UK.
Following the UK's referendum on membership of the EU (the 'Brexit' referendum) - in which the UK as a whole narrowly voted 52-48 in favour of leaving the EU, but where Scotland voted 62-38 in favour of staying - the SNP released a three-tiered plan in response, calling for: A) a "soft" Brexit that would retain Single Market membershipnote ; B) a tailored Brexit deal taking Scotland's specific circumstances - and vote - into accountnote ; or C) if both of those options fail, a second referendum on Scottish independence (shunted firmly out of certainty following the SNP's 2017 losses)note .
The manifesto on which the SNP were elected in the 2016 elections explicitly said that there should be the opportunity to hold a second independence referendum if there was a "material change" in circumstances since the last one, with 'Leaving the EU against Scotland's will' being cited as the prime example. Therefore, the SNP argue that they have an democratic mandate to call a second referendum, and they have been supported in this by the Scottish Green Party, meaning that there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament for it should a vote occur, although national polling does not currently indicate much support among the population for another referendum.
In the 2017 election, the SNP found their support slashed - although they managed to win a majority of the seats in Scotland, they only managed to poll about 40% of the vote, with the remaining 60% split among parties who explicitly vowed to oppose another independence referendum.note In addition, their two most notable MPs, former First Minister Alex Salmond, and Westminster group leader Angus Robertson, found themselves losing their seats to Conservative candidates. This resulted in some loss to their momentum, but they made more than a dozen net gains (including Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson's seat) in the 2019 election, thus putting the issue of a second independence referendum firmly back onto the agenda. However, with the Conservatives having an 80-seat majority at Westminster, this may prove difficult to achieve.
The anthem of the Scottish National Party is "Scots Wha Hae", by Robert Burns, to the traditional Scottish tune "Hey Tuttie Tatie":Wha, for Scotland's king and law,Freedom's sword will strongly draw,Freeman stand, or Freeman fa,Let him on wi me.
- The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)
Current Leader: Collective.
Very left-wing Scottish party. Campaigned for independence with the SNP, and at one point had 6 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Currently has no representation at any level. The SSP took part in an electoral coalition for the 2016 elections called RISE - Scotland's Left Alliancenote which gained little traction, accruing only 0.5% of the vote and no seats in Holyrood.
- Plaid Cymru
(4 MPs, 1 Lord, 10 Wales AMs, 202 local.)
Current Leader: Adam Price (AM, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr)And...
"The Party of Wales" in English, a Welsh nationalist and republican party who campaign for full Welsh independence and an expansion of the Welsh language, among other things. Like the SNP, they're a centre-left party, but not so keen on independence as a short-term aim. Although the Welsh are fiercely independent in cultural matters, political independence is not as popular, seeing as England and Wales have been joined at the hip since the thirteenth century. They only field candidates in Wales, unsurprisingly. Since the formation of the National Assembly for Wales, Welsh Labour has governed in all five electoral terms. However, it has never had a strong majority, either only just reaching the majority (30 seats) or being the largest party in a minority or coalition government. As a result, Welsh Labour have relied heavily on Plaid Cymru for most of the Assembly's existence for either formal coalition partnership or less formal "agreements" to get policies through the Senedd. For those not versed in the Welsh language, the party's name is pronounced "Plide Cumree" and the seat of power is pronounced "SEN-eth"note . And you thought that English spelling was weird.
- Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall)
Current Leader: Dick Cole (Local Councillor, Cornwall).
Left-of-centre party agitating for Cornish autonomy, in the style of Celtic region devolution. Nothing more than a handful of members of Cornwall County Council. Regarded by non-Cornish people as not much more than a joke.note
- English Democrats
Current Leader: Robin Tillbrook (No current seat).
English nationalist party in the vein of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Generally close in ideology to the Conservatives, with most of their elected party members former Tories, but with support for an devolved legislature and an elected Lords. No representation beyond a single councillor.
In Northern IrelandWith the exception of the Conservatives and UKIP (neither of whom win any seats anyway), the main UK parties do not contest seats in Northern Ireland, and do not stand for elections to the Northern Irish Assemblynote . Instead, a series of regional parties holds sway here.
- Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
(8 MPs, 4 Lords, 27 MLAs, 125 local.)
Current Leader: Arlene Foster (First Minister of Northern Ireland and MLA, Fermanagh & South Tyrone).And...
Presently the largest party in Northern Ireland to favour the continued union with Britain, and the biggest NI party as a whole. While their economic policies are broadly centre-left due to the influence of the party's working class support, they're strongly right-wing virtually everywhere else, mostly as a result of the leadership of Reverend Ian Paisley, the founder of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church. Have also had some sketchy relationships in the past with loyalist paramilitaries.
Although they're most famous for being *stringently* reactionary, the party has tried to mellow out a bit since Paisley (and then his successor, Peter Robinson) became First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2005. They are strongly against same-sex marriage, strictly not in favour of extending the UK's abortion rights to Northern Ireland, want creationism taught in science classes, and are ambivalent about the existence of climate change and dinosaurs. Got into a bit of trouble for using cross-community procedural measures (designed to stop unionists or nationalists disenfranchising the other) to block the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, and their stringent opposition to allowing abortion in Northern Ireland, among other similar matters.
Also responsible for developing a rather questionable renewable heating scheme in Northern Ireland. The scheme was set up in such a cocked-up way that businesses paying in to it managed to get more money out just for heating empty buildings. There have also been allegations that family members and associates of DUP members were set to benefit from this scheme, and were potentially even complicit in its development. This is set to cost the Northern Ireland budget hundreds of millions of pounds over two decades, and the DUP's unwillingness to admit any responsibility or wrongdoing, or even show the slightest bit of humility, led to Sinn Fein collapsing the coalition government in Stormont in early 2017. Despite a snap Assembly election and ongoing negotiations, it still has not been restored.
Found themselves in the role of kingmaker following the 2017 election, as the support of their 10 MPs gave the Conservatives enough votes to pass legislation as a minority government. Given the unwillingness of *any* other party in the Commons to prop up the Conservatives, this was their only option. How this will influence the UK government's impartiality in negotiations over Northern Ireland, however, remains to be seen.
Subsequently were returned to minor party status with the 2019 election when the Conservatives won an overall majority, no longer relying on DUP support to pass legislation.
- Sinn Féin (SF; pronounced "shin fane", Irish for "we ourselves")
(7 MPs, 26 MLAs, 105 local.)
Current Leader: Mary Lou McDonald (TD, Dublin Central)note .And...
The second largest party in Northern Ireland and the main nationalist (favouring Irish unification) party in the NI Assembly. While they've been elected to the House of Commons, they don't actually take their seats as they see NI's membership of the UK as illegitimate.note The cheeky buggers still claim the Crown's expenses, however. During The Troubles, they were (rightly) perceived as the political wing of the Provisional IRA — when the then-leader Martin McGuinness said in negotiations, "We'll have to consult the [IRA] army council on this", the then-Foreign Minister (later Taoiseach) of Ireland, Brian Cowen, replied, "Yeah, well, there's a mirror in the toilet if you want to go in there and talk to them" — but like the DUP they've generally managed to distance themselves from their more radical past.
One of the few heartwarming episodes in Northern Irish history was the solid partnership and genuine friendship that developed between Paisley and McGuinness, during their term as (respectively) First Minister and Deputy First Minister, before Paisley's death in 2014. They were so frequently photographed laughing together that they got nicknamed the "Chuckle Brothers". Imagine a hardline, right-wing Israeli MP developing a friendly working partnership with a leader of Hamas, and you'll get a sense of how unlikely this was.
- Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP; Irish language: Páirtí Sóisialta Daonlathach an Lucht Oibre)
(2 MPs, 12 MLAs, 87 local.)
Current Leader: Colum Eastwood (MP, Foyle).And...
Moderate NI nationalist party, formed from the dying remnants of the old Nationalist Party in the original devolved Northern Ireland Parliament. Originally the majority nationalist party in the later Northern Ireland Assembly, before Sinn Féin took over this role in the mid-2000s. Historically linked to both the British and Irish Labour Parties, its members (when it has any) take the Labour whip in Westminster. Former party leader John Hume received a Nobel Peace Prize (along with then-UUP leader David Trimble) for his key role in helping negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Lost all three of its Westminster seats to Sinn Fein in the 2017 election, but regained two of them in 2019.
- Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
(2 Lords, 10 MLAs, 99 local.)
Current Leader: Steve Aiken (MLA, South Antrim).
Moderate NI unionist party, they were the majority in the original devolved Northern Ireland Parliament for all 51 years of the its existence (192172), with policies broadly similar to the Conservative Party in the mainland UK. Used to be the standard 'majority unionist' party in the later Northern Ireland Assembly from 1998, until supplanted in that role by the DUP in the mid-2000s. Have been physically linked to the Conservative Party at various points in their history, but have wavered between emphasising and distancing that link depending on the national politics of the time. Former party leader David Trimble received a Nobel Peace Prize (along with then-SDLP leader John Hume) for his key role in helping negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Lost their only two Westminster seats to the DUP in the 2017 election.
- Alliance Party (APNI)
(1 MP, 8 MLAs, 44 local.)
Current Leader: Naomi Long (MLA, Belfast East).
A non-sectarian party, specifically set up to provide a compromise between the traditional camps of unionism and nationalism. Historically linked to the Liberal Democrats, and when in Westminster takes their whip on any non-Northern Ireland issues.
- People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA)
(1 MLA, 1 local.)
Current Leader: Collective.
A non-sectarian socialist party. Also contests elections in the Republic of Ireland with the Anti-Austerity Alliance.
- Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)
(1 MLA, 6 local.)
Current Leader: Jim Allister (MLA, North Antrim).
Even more right-wing unionist party than the DUP. Supports *very* socially-conservative policies, and repeatedly advocates for the ceasing of the Irish language (used occasionally by Sinn Féin MLAs) in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and removal of the Northern Irish Assembly itself in favour of direct rule from Westminster. In 2015 a TUV local councillor in Larne opposed the erecting of a plaque in memory of eight women convicted of witchcraft in the 18th century, on the grounds, he said, that the women might really have been actual witches.
- Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)
Current Leader: Billy Hutchinson (Local Councillor, Belfast).
Left-wing NI unionist party, with "close ties" (in the vein of Sinn Féin) to loyalist (not in the vein of Sinn Féin) paramilitaries. Occasionally gains representation in the Assembly. Currently the only left-wing unionist party contesting elections in Northern Ireland.
The minor national parties
- The Green Party
(1 MP, 2 Lords, 6 MSPs, 2 MLAs, 2 London AMs, 389 localnote .)
Current Co-Leaders (England and Wales): Siân Berry (London AM, Additional Member) and Jonathan Bartley (Local Councillor, Lambeth).
Scotland Co-Conveners: Patrick Harvie (MSP, Glasgow) and Lorna Slater.
Northern Ireland Leader: Clare Bailey (MLA, Belfast South).
Technically three separate parties - one in England and Wales, one in Scotland, and one in Northern Ireland - but with broadly similar policies throughout, and usually considered nationally as one party in the media. Originally an environmental single-issue movement, they have attempted to branch out into other areas of policy in which they tend to take a standard British-left-wing viewpoint. The Scottish Greens in particular, due to being the joint-fourth largest party in the Scottish Parliament, tend to develop a very fleshed-out policy programme.
The Greens used to differ from other left-wing parties with regard to science, where they embraced many "alternative" (and scientifically rubbished) ideas such as homeopathy, partially as a result of their manifesto being completely democratic, even to people not versed in either science or politics. Nowadays, their only "anti-science" policies are opposition to nuclear power and scepticism of GM crops - though many of their members still favour "alternative" medicines. Their position on Europe is to take a reformist Eurosceptic view - they would prefer to stay in the EU, but want to see it massively reformed. The Scottish Greens are pro-independence (and have the backing of Franz Ferdinand), while the Northern Irish Greens purposely do not take any position on The Irish Question. The English and Welsh Greens won the first Green seat at Westminster in 2010, its leader Caroline Lucas beating Labour's Nancy Platts to win the seat of Brighton Pavilion in East Sussex. They held the seat in both 2015 and 2017, winning only one seat despite getting well over one million votes nationally. The Greens' colour, surprisingly, is green, and the English and Wales party's icon is a sunflower. The Scottish, English and Welsh, and Irish branches of the Greens use their own variations on the theme.
- The UK Independence Party (UKIP)
(1 Wales AM, 259 local.)
Current Leader: Vacant.
A party which has attained victories primarily in Britain's elections for members of the European Parliament, but ironically want to change that situation by pulling the UK out of the EU altogether. Although founded as a "wide-spectrum" single-issue party united by opposition to British membership of the European Union, they have since emerged as a populist, nationalist, anti-immigration grouping of disgruntled Thatcherite Conservatives disillusioned with their "home" party, and their general outlook is very similar to that of the right "Sir Bufton Tufton" wing of the Conservative Party that was dominant in the '80s but unofficially marginalised post 2005. In recent years however they have made a play for disgruntled Lib-Dem and Labour voters, and in the 2015 elections arguably emerged as the main opposition party in traditionally Labour areas, picking a large number of second places in Labour safe seats. The party's first European parliamentarians had a tendency to make embarrassing jingoistic far-right gaffes, although a succession of leaders later made effective efforts to improve the party's image. Their party colour is purple, and their icon is a pound symbol (£) — representing their opposition to the Euro — with the party initials "UKIP" forming the bar across the middle. Following the defection of Douglas Carswell in 2014 and his subsequent win for their party in the Clacton by-election, they gained their first MP; Mark Reckless defected shortly afterwards, won his seat in the by-election, but lost it in the subsequent general election). The party was the third largest in vote share in the 2015 general election (with the best part of four million votes), but won only one seat, Douglas Carswell's. In the 2016 devolved elections, they won 7 seats in the Welsh Assembly, mostly from the regional vote which is based on proportional representation. The majority of their votes come from disgruntled Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem voters in regions that combine high levels of poverty, unemployment and immigration. Several of these new UKIP AMs are former Tories, including the aforementioned Mark Reckless, though one AM has since resigned the whip due to an argument over who gets to be in charge, and indeed Mr Reckless has now switched back to the Conservatives again.
With the UK voting in a 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, thereby removing the party's entire reason for existence, they are now in the process of wondering what on Earth to do now. While many in the press talked up their chances of replacing Labour as the main opposition party (by snapping up their working-class support in northern England, in much the same way that Labour was utterly obliterated by the SNP north of the border at the previous election), any chance of this was derailed by a disastrous few months in which long-standing leader Nigel Farage retired, only for his favoured successor to be unable to stand to replace him due to not filing the correct paperwork in time (and subsequently resigning from the party following a physical altercation with another MEP). Farage's eventual successor Diane James resigned from the leadership after just a few weeks, leaving Farage back in charge until another leadership election installed Paul Nuttall as leader. While Nuttall's appointment was widely praised by the press and claimed by some to be what the party needed to finally displace Labour, his attempt at getting into parliament via a by-election in February 2017 ended in failure after a campaign where he was accused of lying about being a survivor of the Hillsborough disaster and committing electoral fraud, putting the party back to square one.
After numerous reports of party in-fighting; their only MP, Douglas Carswell, eventually decided in 2017 that he'd had enough, and left the party to sit as an independent. This means UKIP now no longer has any representation in Westminster. Worse was to follow at the 2017 local elections, in which every single UKIP councillor standing for re-election was defeated, and the party only managed to gain a single council seat from the other parties. In the general election of June 2017, UKIP found their vote utterly collapsing nationwide, with UKIP voters returning back to both the Conservatives and Labour in relatively even numbers. As such, they now have no Westminster representation, and were again forced to search for a new leader following Paul Nuttall's resignation the day after the election (he failed to win in Boston and Skegness, a constituency estimated to have the highest Leave vote of the entire country). This leadership election was won by Farage supporter Henry Bolton, seeing off a challenge from far-right extremist Anne-Marie Waters, who wanted to turn the party into the political arm of her anti-Islam organisation. Four months into Bolton's leadership, the party dissolved into outright civil war sparked off by a controversy over a model Bolton left his wife for who turned out to be a racist, with the party's ruling body passing a vote of no confidence in Bolton only for him to refuse to resign, and MEPs and councillors quitting the party en masse. The party finally managed to get rid of Bolton after he lost a confidence vote amongst the wider membership, leaving the party facing its fourth leadership election in less than eighteen months, which eventually resulted in interim leader Gerard Batten being elected unopposed as permanent leader (with it being widely theorized that other potential candidates held off on contesting the leadership on the grounds that the party simply couldn't afford another leadership contest on top of the six-figure payout they faced having to make due to a libel suit). Batten's leadership initially saw an improvement in the party's polling ratings, as Theresa May's government increasingly came under fire for its indecisive handling of Brexit. However, everything went horribly wrong near the end of 2018, as Batten recruited several prominent members of the alt-right, along with former BNP and English Defence League activist Tommy Robinson, the latter of which in particular saw many prominent members, including Nigel Farage, quit the party in disgust to form the Brexit Party. With Farage's new party taking most of their former vote, the 2019 European parliament elections saw UKIP wiped out completely (it was only defending three seats as all their other MEPs had left the party), sparking off the fifth leadership election in less than four years due to Batten losing his own seat. Many current and former members now acknowledge that, with the Brexit Party's success in the European elections and even polling up there with the Tories and Labour in the Westminster polls, UKIP is effectively dead as a serious electoral force; something only emphasized when the party finished behind the Monster Raving Loonies at the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in August 2019.
- Change UK: The Independent Group
(No current representation)
Final Leader: Anna Soubry (No seat).
Not a newspaper conglomerate.
A group of independent MPs who were a little different from actual Independents (see below). The Independent Group formed in 2019 when a group of MPs resigned from both the Labour and Conservative parties over dissatisfaction with their current leadership and party policies. By resigning their party's whip, they automatically become Independent MPs, but have chosen to form themselves into a like-minded aligned group... hence, "Independent Group".
This move attracted both support and criticism from all sides of the Commons.
Their policy programme took time to be fleshed out, with their primary unifying aspect being their opposition to Brexit, and desire for a second referendum on the UK's EU membership.
While the Group claimed they weren't a political party (unlike the SDP breakaway of the 1980s), the coincidentally-quick appearance of a corporate back structure and branded logos indicated that things were swiftly going to move in that direction. And indeed, they formed into an actual party (re-branded as "Change UK") in time for the 2019 European Parliament elections.
The results of the 2019 EU elections did not bode well for their future, and shortly afterwards the group split, with six of its eleven MPs choosing to sit as actual independents instead. Several of them since found their way over to the Liberal Democrats (who unequivocally managed to become the strongest pro-Remain party at the EU elections). Subsequently, at the 2019 General Election, the party lost all of their seats in the Commons, and finally wound itself up in December 2019 after the election.
- The Brexit Party
(4 Wales AMs, 35 local)
Current Leader: Nigel Farage (no current seat).
A party that wants Brexit.
A single-issue party formed by Nigel Farage in 2019 to contest the European Parliament elections, taking over where UKIP left off.
Other than wanting a "clean" Brexit, no-one really knows what they're about, as the party refuse to produce a manifesto or otherwise answer any policy questions whatsoever where the answers aren't, "Get out of Europe."
Some people like this, some people don't.
In the 2019 EU Parliament elections, they basically swapped places with UKIP and picked up a few extra MEPs - not really changing things much compared to the previous elections in 2014. It remains to be seen whether they'll have any kind of impact in other elections; their first test domestically came in the Peterborough by-election shortly after the EU election, where they did have an impact, but perhaps not in the way that had been expected — the Tories had been predicted to win the seat in a landslide after the previous Labour MP was kicked out of office for obstruction of justice, but instead found their vote being split by the Brexit Party, allowing Labour to just barely retain the seat.
In the 2019 general election, the Brexit Party tried to avoid this by agreeing an informal electoral pact with the Conservatives - where the Brexit Party didn't stand in any seats that were normally Conservative-held. This appears to have paid off, with the Conservatives retaining most of their seats from 2017, and the Brexit Party draining votes from Labour in traditional Labour heartlands, allowing Conservative candidates to take the seat.
- The British National Party (BNP, colloquially known as the British Nazi Party)
Current Leader: Adam Walker (No current seat).
Proof that the Second World War didn't really teach some British people anything, they are an ultra-populist far-right (so far-right they believe the Conservatives to be Marxist) party and believe in withdrawal from the European Union, isolationism, strongly authoritarian anti-crime measures, "better rights" for "native" (i.e. white) Britons, and "voluntary repatriation" of what they regard as "non-native" Britons (i.e. deporting anyone who isn't white).note They are usually elected in areas with high levels of racial tension. They are derided by other far-right groups such as the National Front for trying to make themselves appear respectable. They have recently been playing up their anti-immigration policies in order to gain popular support, but remain very niche and have no MPs, although they had several councillors and had a few MEPs in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2014. Their colours are red white and blue, and the party's logo is a heart with a Union Jack pattern beneath.
The appellation "far-right", by the way, applies strictly to their social, foreign, and law and order policies; their economic policy is somewhat standard and, as long as you're white, you'd probably get the same financial assistance from the state as you would under Labour. One of the only political parties to be banned from most university campuses, due to their far-right policies. They are almost universally hated and are considered Acceptable Targets, as demonstrated when their leader Nick Griffin went on Question Time. For everyone except him, Hilarity Ensued.
- Mostly appears in Fictional Counterpart form.
- Recently had its membership list leaked by a disgruntled party worker, and, rather hilariously, declared its intention to use the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and that it actively campaigned to have repealed, against the leaker. Sandi Toksvig on The News Quiz: "Sometimes you don't have to write jokes." The worker was ultimately fined, but only a pittance, due to the BNP's aggressive case.
- Their campaign literature has a tendency to be poorly researched; for instance, one campaign leaflet showed pictures of ordinary Britons and images from World War II such as a Spitfire. However, it turned out that most of the "ordinary Britons" were stock photographs of non-British models, and the Spitfire belonged to 303 (Polish) Squadron a delicious irony given that one of the BNP's particular bugbears is immigration from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Likewise, as any far-right nationalist party would, they have a love of using England's patron saint, St George: a Palestinian who would've almost certainly have been told to go home under their policies.
- Since the threat of racial discrimination lawsuits looked to financially cripple the party, they are now required to allow the entry of people of ethnic minorities — and have, in fact, one non-white membernote , as of 2010.
- During the 2015 election, it put up 8 candidates and got less than two thousand votes nationwide. In January 2016, the Electoral Commission deregistered the British National Party after it had failed to pay its annual registration fee of £25. The party was subsequently reregistered, and it still exists, but it has no representation on any level and only contested 10 seats at the 2017 election.
- They were to the 2000s decade as the National Front were to the 1970s and the British Union of Fascists were to the 1930s. That is to say, they were mostly a one-decade wonder as far as popularity and media attention went.
- The National Front
The main ultra-nationalist party in the 70s and 80s and a predecessor of the BNP, it still fields a handful of candidates, although most of its members have moved to the BNP. The main difference between the NF and the BNP is that the BNP at least pretends not to be racist. In a lot of more politically aware fiction set in the Thatcher years (This Is England for example), the NF (or a Fictional Counterpart) often loom on the horizon.
- RESPECT: The Unity Coalition
A hodgepodge of anti-Iraq War socialists and ultraconservative Muslims. Notable for electing famous cat imitator and useful idiot George Galloway in 2005 after he moved from a Labour safe seat in Glasgow to the very Muslim Bethnal Green and Bow following his expulsion from the Labour Party for bringing the party into disrepute on charges including inciting Arabs to fight British troops. Galloway moved a little south to Poplar to contest the 2010 election and crashed and burned, leaving RESPECT with a handful of council seats in Birmingham and London. However, in April 2012, Galloway was elected MP for Bradford West in a by-election. He lost the seat at the subsequent general election. The party ceased to exist in August 2016.
- There are also several communist and socialist parties, mainly notable for their sheer number; most famously the Socialist Worker's Party, but also including the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Communist Party of Britain, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Totally insignificant from a practical point of view, having membership in the hundreds rather than thousands. Came in for a lot of ribbing in Monty Python's Life of Brian, where the Judean separatist movements and their in-fightingnote were a parody of this. The CPGB actually won two seats back in 1945 before news of Stalin's purges made communism unpopular, and they lost them both at the 1950 election and proceeded to collapse into irrelevance thanks to their following the Moscow party line (their support for the 1956 invasion of Hungary revolted leftists and earned them the pejorative nickname "tankies") and eventually disbanded in 1991. Since 2010, many of these far-left groups have stood for election under the banner of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). This is more a flag of convenience than a genuine party, though.
Notably, these parties had — and to a degree still have — an incredibly high turnover rate of activists and members, especially the Moscow-backed CPGB. There are two reasons for this: first, they attracted young, intelligent, rebellious, free-thinking radicals ... who were then expected to become rigidly-obedient drones the moment they had their membership cards. Second, the CPGB's rank-and-file who did stay were told that the allegations of the party being reliant on "Moscow gold" from the KGB to survive was a filthy smear spread to discredit the British left ... until they became senior enough to learn that it was completely true.
Not really parties, but listed for completion:
(1 MP, 1 MSP, 2 Mayors, 1,674 local)
A small part of political process, mostly being in the legislatures from elected for local issues (such as Dr. Richard Taylor, who was elected an MP in 2001 and 2005 to save his local hospital), from leaving their own party in protest to some issue (such as Sylvia Hermon, who was an ex-UUP member; and Douglas Carswell, who was an ex-Conservative and ex-UKIP member), or being kicked out of their own party for misbehaviour (Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry had to withdraw from the SNP whip, and Simon Danczuk had to withdraw from the Labour whip, all three due to being the subject of police investigations; all three were still independents at the time of the 2017 election and were barred by their former parties from standing again). Genuine independents are rare in the House of Commons (Sylvia Hermon having been the only "true" independent MP until 2019), and most of them are far more likely to be people who originally represented a party before having the whip removed.
Their numbers were somewhat inflated in September 2019 when Boris Johnson expelled 21 members of the Conservative Party for rebelling on a no-deal Brexit vote (a deeply controversial move for a number of reasons beyond just how many of them they were; the rebellion included two former Chancellors, three other former cabinet ministers and Winston Churchill's grandson).
As of the 2019 election, the Commons is back down to 1 independent - an SNP member who was suspended from the party after nominations closed, meaning he still appeared on the ballot as SNP and won the seat. With Sylvia Hermon standing down at the 2019 election, there are no MPs directly elected as independents.
Current Convenor:note Lord Hope of Craighead.
The most common Lords version of independentsnote , and account for about 20% of the members of the upper house. Generally, they are composed of experts in certain fields (for example, back in the eighties, the Lords brought in several veterinarians to help with the animal welfare debate) and people given a peerage as a form of honour because they'd run out of knighthoods to give them/the things they'd done warranted more than a knighthood (e.g. the architect Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank), and have no official affiliation. Sit on the "crossbenches" in the Lords (between Government and Opposition, directly across from the Woolsack and Throne), unsurprisingly.
- Lords Spiritual
(set by statute as the 26 most senior bishops in the Church of England)
Current Convenor:note David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham.
This curious inclusion in the House of Lords is due to Anglicanism being the "established church" of England (i.e. it is partially funded by the Treasury and the Government has some input in the selection of bishops). Generally don't vote on anything but ecclesiastical matters, but modern secularism and their hand in immensely watering down a Government bill in 2010 are gradually making this arrangement... unpopular.
And last, but certainly not least...
- The Official Monster Raving Loony Party (OMRLP)
Current Leader: Alan "Howling Laud" Hope (Local Councillor, Fleet).
Joke party who exist to draw attention to political issues through satire. For a long time, the party was led by Screaming Lord Sutch, but after his suicide, their current leader, Howling Lord Hope, took over. Notable for actively trying not to get elected; their performance in the 1990 Bootle by-election, beating The Remnant of the SDP (who had almost won Richmond a year previous) both killed off the SDP and deeply disturbed Sutch. Several apparently "Loony" policies of theirs have actually been implemented over the years, including lowering the voting age to eighteen (the party's original platform as the "Teenage Party"), the issuing of passports for pets, and all-day opening for pubs.
- While having few seats, they in fact get a surprisingly large amount of votes, considering their stance.
- When the first National Front councillor was elected, the media predictably went into crazy mode. Screaming Lord Sutch defused the situation by pointing out that, at the time, there were also three serving Loony councillors.
UKIP's first major electoral success occurred in the National Assembly of Wales elections in 2016, where they gained 7 AMs from 0 as a result of disaffected Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem voters in regions that combine high unemployment, poverty and immigration. Nationally, UKIP and the Green Party have had very little electoral success, despite levels of support that would suggest returning a handful of legislators (2015: 12.6% and 3.8% respectively); the first MP from either party to get elected to the Commonsnote was the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas in 2010. However, they have been more successful in getting members elected to the European Parliament, although UKIP, in common with a number of other minor parties in history, have had a party member defect to them. Until 2009, the BNP (2010: 1.9%) had never been elected to anything more significant than a few local council seats until electing two MEPs in 2009, though they now have none. Before anyone gets too worried about the implications, they actually received fewer votes than the previous election, but lower turnout, in part due to an ongoing political scandal affecting the main parties more than hard-line BNP supporters, meant they received a higher proportion of the total. Given that it effectively disenfranchises a great deal of the population, this, along with the Liberal Democrats' low seats-to-votes ratio, is one of the most common arguments for proportional representation. This can be seen in the 2016 Welsh elections where the regional vote, which is based on proportional representation, is how UKIP gained its 7 AMs.
Political parties based in Great Britain, especially Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats, do not generally contest elections in Northern Ireland, although the Conservative party has contested elections and failed to make much of an impact. Instead, there is a completely separate set of political parties: Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) are nationalist parties, supporting Northern Ireland leaving the UK and becoming part of the Republic of Ireland; while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) are unionist parties, favouring Northern Ireland continuing as part of the UK; and the Alliance Party is non-sectarian.
Sinn Féin is an abstentionist party, i.e. when its candidates win an election to the House of Commons, they refuse to take their seats as they would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. Sinn Féin also fields candidates across the border in the Republic of Ireland (where they do take their seats, but have historically done far worse; the 2011 elections did see a large improvement, however, and their candidate finished third, out of seven candidates, in the 2011 Presidential election). It is one of two political parties to actively operate in both the UK and Ireland.note
- The Whigs: (16781868) Supported aristocrats, the Hanoverian succession and Presbyterians. Opposed to absolute monarchy. The roots of the Liberal Party. The Whigs were the anti-war party during The American Revolution, with Edmund Burke — a prominent Whig — making several impassioned speeches at least vaguely supportive of the American cause in Parliament. As a result, the American revolutionaries identified themselves with the Whigs and the Loyalists with the Tories. This had a few strange consequences. On one hand, when the New England wing of the Democratic-Republicans merged with the remainder of the Federalists, they decided to call themselves the Whig Party (go figure). On the other hand, the American Whigs, being anti-slavery, were responsible for naming and providing the ideology for the True Whig Party of Liberia, which, starting in 1870 (and ending only in 1971), was the ruling party in the world's first one-party state. Oops.
- The Radicals (late 18th century1859): progressive grouping which supported parliamentary reform, Catholic Emancipation and freedom of the press. They opposed the Corn Laws (a high tariff on cereal crops designed to protect rich landowning British aristocrats from Canadian and American competition; this policy made bread and beer more expensive, to the detriment of Britain's poor).
- The Peelites' (1846-59): Members of the Conservative Party who backed Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, they followed Peel when he left the Tories over his opposition to the Corn Laws. Supported by intellectuals and entrepreneurs, the Peelites advocated for free trade and what we would term technocracy in the Civil Service. Twenty years after the split with the Conservatives, they merged with the Whigs and Radicals, creating the Liberal Party. Noted Liberal PM William Gladstone was originally a Peelite.
- The Liberal Party: (18591988) Successors to the Whigs, Radicals and Peelites. One of the two major parties in the 19th and early 20th century (along with the Conservatives). Supported Home Rule for Ireland and the expansion of the electoral franchise. Destroyed by The Irish Question, internal fighting, the rise of the Labour Party and the First World War. Precisely what was ultimately responsible is a subject of historical debate, with one analogy being that of a man being run over by a bus while having a heart attack. The remnants much later merged with the Social Democratic Party to form the modern Liberal Democrats. Of course, this being the UK, a remnant of the remnant continues to call itself the Liberal Party and claim a continuity with the earlier party. Said remnant is only popular in a few small places, i.e. Liverpool Council, which has a handful of Liberal councillors. Famous members included William Gladstone, David Lloyd George and, before he went back to the Tories, Winston Churchill.
- The Irish Parliamentary Party, also known as the Home Rule Party: (18731918) Another fallen giant. A moderate Irish nationalist party that was the third largest party in Westminster during their existence, and actually held the balance of power at several points. Campaigned for Home Rule, a precursor of the current devolution situation. Destroyed by the rise of Sinn Féin, the party has the rather sad honour of the worst election meltdown in British political history: they went into the 1918 general election with 76 seats and emerged with just 7. A remnant staggered on in Northern Ireland until the 1970s as the Nationalist Party, eventually merging with the Northern Ireland Labour Party and a few other stragglers to become the SDLP. Famous members include Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond.
- The Social Democratic Party (the SDP): (19811988) A mildly centre-left party formed in the early 1980s by members of the Labour Party who felt that the Labour Party was moving too far left to be electable. They got a few dozen Labour MP's and a lone Conservative MP to join the party. The SDP almost immediately formed a close electoral alliance with the Liberal Party. For a time this "SDP/Liberal Alliance" looked like they could win the 1983 election and forever alter the political landscape of Britain. But then The Falklands War broke out, they came out with only a couple dozen MPs (despite a vote share the Lib Dems have been unable to match since) and, after limping along a few more years, merged with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats. Like the Liberals, a remnant exists that claims continuity with the old SDP, but does far worse than the Liberal remnant.
Wikipedia has a list of all political parties of note here.
The upper chamber of the Houses of Parliament. Members are one of three possible components:
- Life peers - appointed by the monarch on behalf of the government of the day. These appointments can be for political reasons (to reward a donor, a minister who lost their seat, or just to butter someone up); or for technocratic reasons (to inform debates by including expert opinions in the chamber). As you can imagine, the former tend to be distinctly more common. Can choose whether or not they take a party whip. If they do not wish to identify with a political party, they can sit as Crossbenchers or Non-Affiliated Lords (see above).
- Lords Spiritual - the twenty-seven seniormost bishops of the Church of England. This is a holdover from the Church of England technically being part of the state. Normally don't play a part in actual debates, but have been known to flout this now and then.
- Hereditary peers - members whose peerages are passed from parents to children. The chamber used to be almost entirely composed of this variety (who are traditionally from the landed gentry and upper classes), until reforms by the Blair government in the 1990s got rid of most of them in favour of appointed life peers. A set number of 92 linger on, "elected" by all hereditary peers eligible to sit in the House. Can choose to identify with or without a party whip in the same manner as life peers.
The purpose of The House of Lords is to act as a checking system for The House of Commons and to scrutinize any bills that are passed through Parliament (although they can also submit new bills, this happens only rarely). This rather divides opinion in political experts; some think that unelected members of Parliament goes against the principles of democracy and that the second House should also be elected by the public, while others believe that having two elected chambers would be a bad idea, since it would lead to the same party being dominant in both, and thus be able to force bills through with no opposition.
The Lords consist of 741 active members and have the power to veto or delay any move by the Commons, which explains why they still exist. However, there are restrictions; the Lords cannot permanently affect any bill that seeks to fulfill promises made in the Government's manifesto, nor can they affect any bill that is concerned solely with public money or taxation. The Government can also force a bill past the House of Lords via the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, although this is rare, being last done over fox-hunting. If you were wondering how a bill allowing the Commons to bypass the Lords was created, the Lords voted in favour of it (eventually; the Prime Minister got the King to threaten to stack the House in his favour by appointing more Lords).
The House of Lords historically featured Law Lords (formally the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary), who acted as the highest court of appeal in the UK (usually as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, with decisions being presented and pro forma passed as motions by the Lords as a whole). However, the Blair Government, desiring to increase the separation of the judiciary and the legislature (partly because the EU had made some noises about the arrangement being suspicious), abolished the system. The new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was established in 2009, taking over the Appellate Committee's duties...and pretty much everything else about the Appellate Committee, as well, since the Law Lords all became Supreme Court Justices, the Law Lords who had become Justices got to keep their seats in the House (not that it mattered, since they never used them), and future Justices would be given baronial titles without seats. So essentially, nothing changed.
The Privy Council has nothing, usually, to do with toilets. It has a lot less power than it used to (the Cabinet, a subcommittee, has most of that). It consists of former and current Cabinet members, leaders of the big three political parties, plus a few other people that get invited to the show. The main advantages of membership is that a) it's for life, b) you can call yourself "Right Honourable", c) you can sit on the steps of the throne during debates if you're a member of the House of Lords and d) you get access to top secret documents.
The Privy Council also has a Judicial Committee, consisting of the Justices of the Supreme Court and a few other judges. Its domestic jurisdiction, once wide-ranging, is now limited to a few random tribunals which for the most part almost nobody has heard of or cares about (the ecclesiastical courts? the High Court of Chivalry? The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons?note ); the main exception is that it hears cases on appeal in admiralty — that is, the law of seagoing vessels — from certain courts. It may also give "advice" should the Government ask for itnote . However, it serves as the highest court of appeal for Britain's Crown Dependencies (The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) and Overseas Territories (numerous, most notably Gibraltar and The Falkland Islands), certain Commonwealth Realms, certain Commonwealth Republics, and the Sultanate of Brunei. When sitting for this purpose, jurists from the country in question are appointed to the Privy Council to hear the case. This procedure has been abolished in the more developed Commonwealth Realms, although it existed more recently than you might think — Australia abolished it so recently that one of the most famous Judicial Committee decisions, the "Wagon Mound" case of 1961, was actually an appeal from the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
Upon the death of the monarch, sovereign power devolves to the Privy Council until the latter officially proclaims the heir to be King or Queen; the Council, in turn, generally does so right away and in any case is required to do so as soon as the monarch takes his/her oath to protect the Church of Scotland (the only oath the monarch is required to take upon taking the throne rather than at coronation).
Government Departments, Agencies and The Civil Service
To actually administer the country, there are a considerable number of government bodies. The highest rank are the Government Departments (the name "Ministry" is virtually unused now), many of whom are based in Whitehall — although, in true British fashion, stuff will be farmed out elsewhere. These departments have a tendency to chop and change with each new administration, since there is no law regulating them. However, the ones that have stood the test of time are:
- The Cabinet Office:
Current Cabinet Office Minister: Michael Gove (MP, Surrey Heath)
Based in Downing Street, they aid the PM in his or her job. For the benefit of confused Yanks, that makes them roughly equivalent to the Executive Office of the President, i.e., the immediate staff of the leader him/herself. They have a rather cool briefing room called COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A), which ministers will meet in during a crisis.
- Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster:
Current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Also Michael Gove (MP, Surrey Heath)
Ostensibly the office for the person responsible for the estates and rents of the British sovereign's private estates, in reality the holder of this post's involvement in these affairs is slight, and the post tends to go to someone considered the Prime Minister's "fixer", providing cross-departmental oversight; indeed, the position has frequently been doubled up with that of Cabinet Office Minister in the past.
- The Treasury:
Current Chancellor of the Exchequer: Rishi Sunak (MP, Richmond (Yorks))
Current Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Stephen Barclay (MP, North East Cambridgeshire)
By far the most important institution of British government following Parliament itself; indeed, the Prime Minister's official title, by which he/she gets most of his/her perks, is 'First Lord of the Treasury'. Featuring two Cabinet ministers - the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his deputy, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (although since the 2015 election the latter has been downgraded to "also attending cabinet" rather than a full member). Sets taxation policies.
- The Home Office:
Current Home Secretary: Priti Patel (MP, Witham)
Nothing to do with housing, this is the department that deals with the police and the security services. Was split into two in 2007, with the new Ministry of Justice getting prisons and absorbing the Department of Constitutional Affairs, after being declared "not fit for purpose". Officially the "Home Department", but no-one ever calls it this.
- The Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
Current Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State: Dominic Raab (MP, Esher and Walton)
Formerly the Foreign Office, which people often call it today, it's run by the Foreign Secretary and its job is rather obvious. (The bit about the "Commonwealth" is because Commonwealth countries - and especially Commonwealth Realms, which do, after all, have the same head of state as Britain - are not technically "foreign"; witness how Britain has an Ambassador to the U.S. but a High Commissioner to Canada and India).
- Ministry of Defence (MoD):
Current Defence Secretary: Ben Wallace (MP, Wyre and Preston North)
Again self-explanatory. Home is a large imposing white building in Whitehall, with statues around it, which is not particularly advertised, but rather obvious.
- The Northern Ireland Office, The Scotland Office, and The Wales Office:
Current Northern Ireland Secretary: Brandon Lewis (MP, Great Yarmouth)
Current Scotland Secretary: Alister Jack (MP, Dumfries and Galloway)
Current Wales Secretary: Simon Hart (MP, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire)
Before the devolution settlements of the 1990s, these were the people in charge of running the local affairs of the non-English parts of the UKnote . Many of their powers, particularly those of the Scotland Office, were removed after devolution, and nowadays the departments chiefly act as liaisons and lobbyists between the Westminster government and the devolved government, and have certain reserve powers to intervene if the devolved government falls apart.note Because of this, these offices are seen as less important as they were prior to devolution, and for several years the Scotland Secretary would simultaneously run another department as well (Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander were both simultaneously Secretaries of State for Scotland and Transport, and Des Browne doubled up with Defence).
The other departments in the Cabinet have been known to change on the whim of a Prime Minister (the last change being in 2018 when the Communities and Health Departments were randomly renamed for no reason), but are currently the following:
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS):
Current Business Secretary: Alok Sharma (MP, Reading West)
Created in 2016 from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Responsible for business policy, consumer affairs, competition regulation, research, energy policy, intellectual property... and outer space.
- Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS):
Current Culture Secretary: Oliver Dowden (MP, Hertsmere)
The department which has to try and make people excited about the British Olympics team, while convincing everyone the country's broadband infrastructure is the best ever.
- Department for Education (DfE):
Current Education Secretary: Gavin Williamson (MP, South Staffordshire)
Responsible for schools, teachers, the curriculum, and adoption. But again, only in England.
- Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA):
Current Environment Secretary: George Eustice (MP, Camborne & Redruth)
Responsible for keeping the farmers happy. Also handles national parks, air quality, conservation... basically anything environmental.
- Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC):
Current Health Secretary: Matt Hancock (MP, West Suffolk)
Responsible for keeping the NHS running (though in which direction is debatable depending on your views) and telling junior doctors that they don't know anything about being junior doctors. But only in England.
- Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG):
Current Housing Secretary: Robert Jenrick (MP, Newark)
Has to deal with the cries of local councils. Also responsible for housing,note building regulations, the fire service, and making people be nice to each other. But only in England - Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have their own regional equivalents (see the "Devolution" section).
- Department for International Development (DfID):
Current International Development Secretary: Anne-Marie Trevelyan (MP, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Manages the UK's aid budget and foreign development schemes.
- Department for International Trade (DfIT):
Current Trade Secretary: Liz Truss (MP, South West Norfolk)
The department which has to convince people that they want to stock British things in their country. Re-formed in 2016 (the department had been divided up since the 1980s) when the need for international trade deals (formerly negotiated by the EU on behalf of Britain) suddenly became a bit... more pressing. Also serves as President of the Board of Trade (a role held by the Business Secretary prior to 2016).
- Ministry of Justice (MoJ):
Current Justice Secretary: Robert Buckland (MP, Swindon South)
For the whole UK - responsible for human rights, data protection, and the Supreme Court. In England and Wales only, gets to deal with all the prisons. The Justice Secretary is also Lord Chancellor.
- Department for Transport (DfT)note :
Current Transport Secretary: Grant Shapps (MP, Welwyn Hatfield)
Responsible for Network Rail (but not the trains, or most of the stations, or anything in Northern Ireland), and selling the rights to run trains on UK railways to other countries' state railways, while refusing to run train services themselves wherever possible.
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP):
Current Work and Pensions Secretary: Thérèse Coffey (MP, Suffolk Coastal)
The ones responsible for benefits, employment and health and safety. But only in England, Scotland and Wales. Gets a little bit of controversy for accusing everyone of being benefits cheats.
Also not strictly Cabinet posts, but included for completion since their holders usually attend Cabinet meetings:
- Leader of the House of Commons / Lords:
Current Leader of the House of Commons: Jacob Rees-Mogg (MP, North East Somerset)
Current Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
The people responsible for dealing with all the procedural nonsense in either House, and basically helping arrange what goes on in the government's allotted speaking time (the Speaker or Lord Speaker decides how much time in general that the government and opposition get).
- Attorney General
Current Attorney General: Suella Braverman (MP, Fareham)
The government's legal advisor... but only in England and Wales. Has to basically make sure the government is acting within established law at all times.
- Chief Whip
Current Chief Whip: Mark Spencer (MP, Sherwood)
Responsible for government discipline - making sure government MPs vote the way they're supposed to, trying to avoid the leaks of any embarrassing information to the press, and acting as a communication channel between the backbenchers and Cabinet. Usually a rather secretive (and occasionally forgotten) role as the Chief Whip naturally avoids interviews. Given a new light and brought into the public consciousness by an entirely fictional character - the Machiavellian Francis Urquhart of House of Cards.
The Civil Service are the people who run the departments. There are a lot of people with the title "Secretary" in these departments, but they're not actual secretaries: there's a Yes, Minister scene that ends with the line "Mrs. McKay types... She's the secretary."
The Prime Minister may also appoint a Deputy Prime Minister or First Secretary of State (the latter of which is usually referred to as "Deputy Prime Minister in all but name", and indeed some people have held both posts simultaneously), although this is not obligatory and both offices have gone unused for extended periods of time. Indeed, in Theresa May's ministry, David Lidington held neither office, but was considered her de facto deputy.
Despite implying seniority over all other members of the Cabinet, both titles are purely honorific and carry no specific power or authority of their own and are often doubled up with another Cabinet-level post (George Osborne was both Chancellor and First Secretary in the second Cameron ministry). The post of Deputy Prime Minister is currently vacant, however that of First Secretary of State is currently held by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Although the UK Parliament is in the Westminster area of London, England, three of the four constituent countries have their own regional administrations - the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. London also has its own devolved administration in the form of the Greater London Authority. England as a whole, however, does not have devolution in that sense.
These structures have limited powers over their respective countries; with several matters remain in the hands of the UK national Government. They each have different degrees of self-control, with Scotland having devolved the most power (and having its own, entirely different legal system).
Each of the three devolved administrations also contains a distinguishable nationalist element. The Scottish Parliament has the SNP, the Welsh Assembly has Plaid Cymru, and the Northern Ireland Assembly has Sinn Féin and the SDLP. These parties all advocate a separation of their respective country from the United Kingdom in some form or another. With the exception of the Scottish Parliament, however, these elements have not usually been in the majority in devolved elections. Although Plaid Cymru has held greater power in Wales than its voting success might initially indicate, it's been the main party to support the Welsh Labour government through successive minority or weak-majority assembly terms, either through formal coalition government or less formal "agreements". In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin has formed one half of the mandatory coalition government since 2005, but is usually only just beaten in terms of vote numbers by the unionist DUP.
England does not currently have its own parliament - possibly because England's size relative to other parts of the UK is such that an English parliament will not be more representative than the UK parliament. There have been proposals for English regions to have devolved parliaments or 'regional assemblies', and there is currently a Greater London Assembly, that has similar powers to a devolved parliament, but no others as yet.
Northern Ireland previously had a devolved parliament (Stormont) with an actual Prime Minister (between 1921-1972). This wielded a great deal more power than the current Assembly (and indeed the other UK devolved administrations), but was abolished in 1972 due to the worsening Troubles, with the country being directly ruled from Westminster. The current Northern Ireland Assembly was only officially established in 1998, replacing the Northern Irish Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Greater London Assembly are elected for fixed terms of four yearsalthough... . All devolved legislatures have an element of proportional representation in the electoral process (or in the case of Northern Ireland, are entirely proportional) to ensure that the eventual composition of the elected assembly more nearly reflects the proportion of votes cast for the various parties; e.g. the Welsh Assembly has 60 members, 40 of whom are elected for geographical constituencies which match the 40 House of Commons seats which Wales has; the other 20 members are elected from regional lists to adjust the overall seat distribution in each region in line with the proportion of votes cast between the parties.
Following the 2016 elections, control of the devolved parliaments is as follows:
- The Scottish Parliament and Government are run by the Scottish National Party (SNP), who lost their overall majority in the 2016 elections, and now operate as a single-party minority government, holding 63 out of 129 seats. (Note that the electoral system used by the Scottish Parliament was designed in such a way that one party winning an overall majority was meant to be impossible.) The Conservatives have now become the official opposition of the Scottish Parliament, after attaining more MSPs than Labour in the 2016 election.
- The Welsh Assembly and Government are run by Labour. Labour won exactly 29 seats in the 60 seat assembly, falling short of the traditional majority. To get round this, Labour have incorporated Wales' only remaining Liberal Democrat AM into the Cabinet to reach a majority, so technically are governing as a Labour-LibDem coalition.
- The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are run by a coalition government of five parties - the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, UUP, and Alliance Party. The NI Assembly is designed to be run by a mandatory coalition of at least two parties (one nationalist, one unionist), to prevent either the unionist or nationalist 'sides' from excluding the other. Smaller parties (of sufficient relative size) may also join the Executive if they so wish. The DUP supplanted the UUP as the largest unionist party, and Sinn Féin supplanted the SDLP as the largest nationalist party, in the mid-2000s. This situation has remained unchanged since.
- The Greater London Assembly is under no overall control, but with Labour as the biggest party, holding 12 out of 25 seats. The current Mayor of London is Labour's Sadiq Khan, who upon election in May 2016 became the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital, as well as the politician with the largest personal mandate in the history of the United Kingdom.
The Mayor of London should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of London. The latter is an entirely ceremonial position in the separate administrative area of the City of London, which has its own police, and serves only for a year at a time, while the former runs the Greater London area. The most famous Lord Mayor of London is Richard Whittington (c.1350-1423), who served as the inspiration for the pantomime character Dick Whittington.
The devolution of Scotland has brought something called "The West Lothian Question" to greater prominencenote . This is the rather odd situation in which a Scottish MP can vote on English education policy, but not vice versa (despite Scottish education being devolved and there being no restriction on English MPs also running as MSPs): this was exactly how top-up fees got introduced in 2004; Scottish Labour MPs, who wouldn't be affected by their introduction, voted overwhelmingly in favour for them, giving the party their majority (of 5!) votes to push the legislation through. The Conservatives want Scottish MPs to be barred from these sorts of votes, while the SNP argue that that will create two tiers of MP, and as a UK party, they should vote on UK issues.
This issue was partly solved in 2016 when the Conservatives introduced what they called "English Votes for English Laws". This allowed the Speaker to designate sections of bills as "England only", or "England and Wales only". These would then first be voted on by a so-called "legislative grand committee" of all English MPs (or English and Welsh MPs as appropriate), before later being considered by the House as a whole. While not entirely a complete solution, given that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can still vote on these laws at a later stage, it is at least a start. This dilemma was further complicated by the 2017 Conservative minority government relying on the votes of Northern Irish DUP MPs (who would not be affected thanks to devolution) to pass its legislation. With the return to a majority government in 2019, this "East Antrim question" has been resolved.
Local government in the UK is a very complex subject, with not all areas having the same system. Most areas of England have County Councils, with District Councils below them (many districts are called Boroughs or Cities). However, there are some Unitary Authorities (whose councils are either called London Boroughs, Metropolitan Boroughs, Cities, Counties, Districts or simply just Councils) which can be best thought of by Americans as what you would get if the entirety of Southern California became one state and combined its local and state authorities into one government. The whole of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are divided into Unitary Authorities. Northern Ireland has Districts (though 2 have City status), Scotland has council areas (4 being City Councils) and Wales has Principal Areas known as either Counties, Cities or County Boroughs.
In most rural parts and some urban areas of England the districts are sub-divided into Civil Parishes which are run by Parish Councils despite which, despite what it looks like in the BritCom The Vicar of Dibley, have nothing to do with the Church of England (which is also divided into parishes which are run by Parochial Church Councils). Sometimes the 2 councils may have the same people on them but they are totally separate entities. Parish Councils have very little power normally but if they cover a small town the local district or county council may devolve certain matters to them - e.g. public parks. Parish Councils that cover towns are called Town Councils, and those that cover cities are, naturally enough, City Councils; such councils are led by a Town or City Mayor. Some parishes have too small a population to have a council and instead have an annual parish meeting where the whole parish is invited to discuss local matters. Wales has similar bodies called Community Councils. The equivalent bodies no longer exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Local government is responsible for things like planning, schools, libraries and refuse collection.
Local councils are elected every May: which ones and which seats vary from year to year, but most seats are generally four years long. These elections, like US mid-terms, are often an opportunity to protest against the government. Local issues also play a big role.