The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom, and one of the two main British political parties along with the Conservative Party. The Labour Party was founded in 1900 and overtook the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929–1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after which it formed a majority government under Clement Attlee. Labour was also in government from 1964 to 1970under Harold Wilson and from 1974 to 1979, first under Wilson and then James Callaghan.
The Labour Party was last in national government between 1997 and 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, beginning with a majority of 179, reduced to 167 in 2001 and 66 in 2005. Having won 258 seats in the 2010 general election, the party currently forms the Official Opposition in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Labour has a minority government in the Welsh Assembly, is the main opposition party in the Scottish Parliament and has 13 MEPs in the European Parliament, sitting in the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. The Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International and Party of European Socialists. The current leader of the party is Ed Miliband MP.
Throughout its history, the Labour Party has usually been thought of as being left-wing or, more recently, centre-left in its political position. Officially, it has maintained the stance of being a socialist party ever since its inception, part of the social democratic ideological trend that rose among sections of the working classes across Europe at the end of the 19th Century. The party currently describes itself as a “democratic socialist party“. The most influential branch of socialism within the Labour Party, other than democratic socialism, has been ethical socialism, promoted most recently by Tony Blair. The party has been described as a broad church, containing a diversity of ideological trends from strongly socialist, to more moderately social democratic.
Historically the party was broadly in favour of democratic socialism, as set out in Clause Four of the original party constitution, and advocated socialist policies such as public ownership of key industries, government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers, the welfare state, publicly funded healthcare and education. Throughout its early history, from the participation of the Social Democratic Federation in its founding to the expulsion of Militant Tendency in the 1980s, there were radical Marxist trends in the Party. In 1947, the Labour Party published a reprint of the Communist Manifesto with an introduction by Harold Laski. Beginning in the late-1980s continuing to the current day, the party has adopted free market policies, leading many observers to describe the Labour Party as social democratic or Third Way, rather than democratic socialist. Other commentators go further and argue that traditional social democratic parties across Europe, including the British Labour Party, have been so deeply transformed in recent years by prevailing economic and social neoliberalism that it is no longer possible to describe them ideologically as ‘social democratic’, and claim that this ideological shift has put new strains on the party’s traditional relationship with the trade unions.
Party electoral manifestos have not contained the term socialism since 1992, and in 1995 the original Clause Four was abolished. The new version states:
The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.