Written by Polly Bowden
Illustrated by Shazmeen Khalid
It can be said that we live in the age of information, yet the testing political times the UK is seeing have made it notoriously difficult to work out what is going on let alone what to think about it. In the absence of a political education in many schools and universities, a lack of non-biased and accessible resources as well as years of unprecedented referenda, elections, hung parliaments and non-majority governments – knowing your political left vs right can be a minefield. As such, here’s a very simplistic breakdown of what the main parties in the UK stand for.
The UK has what is often described as a two-party system. This means there are two main players, on the left is The Labour Party and on the right The Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats are often held up as the ones which could upset this yoyo-like model, but aside from the party’s coalition with the Conservatives under Nick Clegg – which arguably saw them completely side-lined as a leadership authority – the 1988-founded Liberal Democrat Party has never been wholly in power or got anywhere near having a majority.
Why you should get familiar with your local MP
Parties consist of MPs who hold their own political views and can work for the party they think aligns most with their views. The MP’s job is to vote for policies, lobby the party in power [i.e. influence government as individuals], and represent local issues on a national level.
Remember – you vote for an MP, the MP candidate with the most votes in your area wins. The party with the most successful MPs wins. The leader of the party is voted for by the MPs in that party, as well as party members (those members of the public who pay a small donation fee to a party on a yearly basis.) So although you only vote for an MP, your vote counts for who you want to represent your views locally, the party who gets into power in government and the prime minister of the country – so you have to consider carefully who you want to vote for.
Here’s a list of the two main parties’ ideologies. There are other smaller parties who stand for different and sometimes more niche causes (eg. the Green Party who have a lot of environmental policies, or the Brexit Party who stand for the single issue of leaving the European Union). These parties don’t realistically stand a chance of making their way into government but votes for those parties still matter as they take votes away from the two main players. As such, those two main parties have to adapt their policies and ideas to stop their audiences voting for these fringe parties instead.
The Conservatives, often dubbed Tories, traditionally believe in wealth coming from businesses so they invest heavily into this sector in the hope that businesses can in turn offer cheaper products to more people. This means that more people spend/can afford to spend and then a proportion of the money spent on those products comes back to the government as taxes. It works, but it also means that businesses sometimes get more money than public services (things like the NHS, schools, charities, infrastructure).
The Tories also don’t like taxing rich people and high earners too heavily. This is because income tax is relative to what you earn, therefore the more you earn, the more you have to pay in tax. Sometimes a way to avoid tax is to move money and businesses to accounts abroad so that the government can never collect it.
Many Conservative voters believe that if you work hard and earn lots of money then it should be yours to keep. On the other hand, some people believe that if you work hard and earn lots of money, you can afford to pay more tax to help public services than those earning less than you.
Conservatives also like people to earn money instead of relying on welfare and benefits, which us why they tightened up the whole welfare system. Whilst this has put lots and lots of people back into work, it has also led to some people being declared fit for work when in reality they’re not.
Conservatives also like private funding, they sell things like train services, broadband providers and electricity to privately run companies so that they become businesses. The idea is that they all regulate each other. For example, if energy is cheaper at Eon than at EDF, no-one will get their electricity at EDF so EDF will be forced to lower their prices to attract more customers. Same with trains, if the Virgin train is cheaper than the Cross Country train, no-one will buy Cross Country train tickets so they will have to lower their prices.
Whilst the companies do generally regulate each other, offering these services through private companies can make things that we all need (i.e. electricity, gas, transport) more expensive overall because private companies ultimately need to make a profit.
The Conservatives are really divided on this. Some believe the more immigration the better because immigrants prop up so many industries & services (doctors, nurses, fruit pickers, transport, construction – all sorts). Some think that we spend too much money on sorting out immigration and offering welfare benefits and public services to people who move here which they deem unfair on those who were born and already work here.
They want to leave the EU no matter what. Lots of Conservative MPs don’t like Brexit and have resigned – even Boris Johnson’s own brother resigned over Brexit. This makes it hard for Boris to make Brexit happen because he has less support in his party.
Under David Cameron the Conservatives called for the referendum on Brexit so are as good as duty-bound to see it through. Cameron called the referendum to settle once and for all the divide in his party over whether Britain should be in the EU, an issue which was magnified by the growing popularity of UKIP – the only other well-known party clear on its’ intentions to leave the EU. In reality, no-one actually thought the Leave campaign would win, so essentially the Conservatives created a rod for their own backs.
The EU won’t give the UK a good deal on Brexit. This is because several other EU countries want to leave too (or at least have a large population of people who want to leave) so the EU can’t make it easy for us to leave as that will see everyone else follow us and leave off the back leading to a slow, painful end to the EU altogether. Therefore, the Conservatives are delivering Brexit on either a bad deal, or without a deal.
On the whole, like the name suggests, Conservatives are conservative. They don’t go for a lot of legislation for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights or rights for refugees. However, they were responsible for legalising gay marriage – this was under considerable pressure from the Labour Party (the opposition) and other fringe parties.
They also, as mentioned, invest a lot in businesses and enterprises, so some say that they do a lot to increase opportunities for young people and minorities by boosting the job market. Sometimes it’s best to have a look at individual MP’s voting records on social issues. You can do that by clicking here.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party can be quite divided on economic policy. Some MPs adopt a similar stance to the Conservatives in that they believe that investing in private businesses is a good way to generate income. Others believe that more money should be spent on public services because more people use and benefit from them. This means that people are in better health, more mobile and better educated so they are able to contribute more to the government by working and paying income tax.
The Labour Party is much more likely to tax high earners more heavily so that they can spend the money on more public services. The left traditionally have been inclined to nationalise things too. This means that they take lots of public services and run them themselves without making any profit on them. This means we could get things like train tickets and household bills much cheaper.
But on the other hand, governments don’t tend to have an awful lot of money, so sometimes they don’t have enough money to run public services properly and therefore (still using the example of trains) while they could be cheaper, they could also be late, dirty, slow and/or not well maintained because the government doesn’t have enough money to fund them properly.
The Labour Party is also known to borrow money to be able to invest it in services, this is with the aim that the investment pays off and everybody benefits a little more, so, again, they can contribute more in income tax while working which in turn allows the government to pay back what it owes. Some people say this is very irresponsible because it’s proved to not work and we should instead try to live within our means instead of borrowing.
This is what the Conservative Party did with austerity – they stopped pumping money we didn’t have into services in order to not spend more than what we have or earn as a country. This also means that lots of services went without/struggled/closed down because they didn’t get the funding they needed. This is what is known as the deficit – the deficit is what a country doesn’t make [ie. the amount of money that a country spends and doesn’t recuperate in income]. Most western countries run a deficit.
Most Labour MPs are pro-immigration. This is because they believe immigrants contribute much more by working lots and therefore paying lots of income tax than they take from welfare and public services. They also believe in the cultural benefit to us of immigration.
Labour want to offer a second referendum on the deal. This means we won’t necessarily vote for whether we want to leave or remain again, but whether we want to accept the deal or not. Jeremy Corbyn is a tough egg to crack on the EU/Brexit debate. Lots of people believe that he is quite eurosceptic himself because the structure of the EU and some of its aims lean towards more right wing values (business and trade over public services and shared wealth). However, the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs are pro-remain.
Labour engage much more with grassroots movements. This means that it has a more intimate understanding of different groups’ needs and try to find ways to support these groups. The Labour Party was responsible for giving us the NHS. They have close relationships with trade unions who support workers rights and lots of human rights within the workplace and beyond. The Labour Party have also been responsible for lobbying Conservative governments on wage increases, better housing laws and regulations, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and rights for refugees to name a few.
So if you aren’t interested in the Conservatives or Labour – what about the others?
Here’s a smaller breakdown of two other parties and what they’re offering by Ruby Hinchliffe
The Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems have morphed and changed depending on each election campaign and what the two main parties are offering. This years’ election has seen them take a notable interest in the environment – taxing frequent flyers and renewable energy targets are included in its top policies. The party also wants to move towards a health and care tax to help protect the NHS and offer free childcare to parents of children between 2-4 years old.
These social policies fit with its liberal ethos, but as for money and economics, the party is doing something many would see to be wholly unpopular. It proposes a basic tax rise for everyone – this is different to both the Tories and Labour, who either reduce tax or just tax one bracket of society.
As for Brexit, it’s very clear. Leader Jo Swinson says she wants to revoke Article 50 (stopping Brexit) and have another referendum on whether we should leave the EU.
The Green Party
It’s in the name – this party’s main focus is on the environment. Promising to spend £100 billion a year on cutting emissions in this election, you know where the bulk of your tax money is going with this party. Within a decade, the country would see petrol and diesel vehicles replaced. Gas heating boilers would be no longer, perhaps swapped out for hydrogen-fuelled alternatives, homes would be better insulated and we would all eat less meat, drive less and fly less or not at all.
As for non-environmental policies, the Greens are very liberal. They want to invest billions more in social care each year and say they will scrap tuition fees just like Labour. But unlike Labour, they will raise the money through different kinds of taxes – for example, taxes on carbon emissions.
On Brexit, the Green Party want a second referendum with Remain on the ballot again – much like the Lib Dems. If the vote is Leave again, the party would still want to stay in the Single Market – something which is not part of any leave deals at present.
Conclusion (with a heavy focus on Brexit)
The upcoming election will be won or lost around Brexit. The chances are that the Conservatives will win as they are the biggest party offering Brexit for definite. The Brexit Party offered not to stand against Conservative seats in the election as they don’t want to divide voters and risk the Conservatives – those most likely to win and deliver Brexit – losing.
There are three main parties offering remain or another vote – the Labour Party (a vote on the deal), the Lib Dems (a remain or leave vote) and the Green Party (remain or leave vote). The problem is that those people voting who believe in Remain can’t agree on what kind of Remain. And further still, do they vote for a party which offers a Leave or Remain vote even if they don’t necessarily like other policies?
This internal struggle of Remainers is likely to split their vote, meaning whilst most Leave voters (which make up roughly 50% of the population according to the last referendum) will vote Conservative, having multiple Remain parties means the other 50% of the vote will be far more scattered.
Without a base understanding of what it means to be on the left or on the right – a “raging Tory” or a “champagne socialist” – it can feel overwhelming when expected to know where to stand on political issues. You can find yourself watching the news but without the prerequisite knowledge to understand the topics shown, let alone form a stance on it.
Ultimately, you can decide which issues you feel are the most important and have a look through the manifestos to see how that party will deal with that issue. It may be that you’d prefer to see what will happen on a local level – many council authorities put together “hustings” where candidates from each party discuss what they will look to do in your area – hustings are free to attend, so web search your local authority for details of hustings in your area.
Despite always being told that discussing politics is impolite – have a chat with those around you and who they will be voting for. Make a note of the points you find yourself agreeing and disagreeing with to help you decide. However you decide to vote, it counts for an awful lot – so use it wisely, ask questions, weigh up the headlines and make sure that you’re registered to vote!