Party politics is a volatile space that can appear intimidating when trying to follow it for the first time. I am by no means an expert in this field, but I am going to set out an introduction to the UK’s two largest political parties – Labour and Conservatives – what drives them, and what distinguishes one from the other.
Left and Right
It’s easy to think of our two main political parties as the left-wing one (Labour) and the right-wing one (Conservative). This is a broadly helpful place to start.
The Conservative party generally subscribes more to, ahem, conservative values.
Perspectives will of course vary among the thousands of party members, but this might include things like lower taxes, privatisation (meaning they are run by for-profit businesses) of infrastructure such as train lines – a practice that really picked up steam in the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher’s government – and an emphasis on social order and hierarchy.
The Labour party, the current opposition, tend towards the more progressive. Again, this varies, and there are MPs in both parties whom you could easily see joining the other.
Labour policy may tend towards the raising of taxes, particularly for corporations and the wealthy, nationalisation (meaning they are publicly owned and controlled by the government) of infrastructure, most famously the NHS after the Second World War, and pushes towards greater equality in areas such as worker’s rights and unionisation, and social justice.
Since Keir Starmer won the leadership race back in April, it has been clear that he wants to appear to move the party away from the left
Passing the Baton
The above is a very broad snapshot of what each party’s priorities are likely to be. As new leaders come and go, this can vary wildly.
Take Labour, Jeremy Corbyn – love him or hate him – and his allies, such as John McDonnell, pushed for socialist policies that were often viewed as radical when compared to the norm.
Since Keir Starmer won the leadership race back in April, it has been clear that he wants to appear to move the party away from the left.
For many, ‘Corbynism’ was a tough pill to swallow in the last two elections, so it seems that Starmer’s aim is to make Labour more palatable, more electable (for some, at least).
Though evidently viewed as electable by a large part of the UK, Boris Johnson’s Conservative government actually exhibits more of a shift to the right.
This is perhaps best shown through when he sacked a large portion of the cabinet upon becoming leader of the Conservatives and replaced them with more right-leaning and Brexit supporting MPs, such as Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
(Lack of) Diversity
The diversity of MPs in all parliamentary parties has never not been an issue.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have faced numerous problems with racism and sexism.
However, it is perhaps strange that the Conservatives were elected without an equal reckoning for allegations of widespread racism (even enshrined in policy) and islamophobia, as well as Boris Johnson’s many, well-documented comments.
There are quite a few things that I haven’t mentioned here, obviously. Party politics is extraordinarily complex, and I should reiterate again that I am not an expert.
Nonetheless, I hope that what I have covered in this piece can serve as a basic grounding in what on earth is going on.
I have tried not to make any value judgments here, but as a disclaimer I should point out that I align with more socialist politics.
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