British Left

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Timeline of parties in the broad socialist movement

The term British Left can refer to a range of political parties and movements in Britain. These can take the position of either centre-left, left-wing or far-left.

The largest political party associated with the British left is the centre-left Labour Party, which is also the biggest political party in the UK with over 575,000 members.[1] The Labour Party has 262 seats in the House of Commons.

The largest left-wing party in Britain, by membership, is the Green Party of England and Wales. As of December 2016, membership was 45,643.[2] The party has one Member of Parliament (MP).

The other two political parties on the left and with representation in parliament are the centre-left Scottish National Party (SNP) and the left-wing Plaid Cymru. The SNP are only active in Scotland and Plaid are only active in Wales. The SNP has 35 MPs and Plaid has 4 MPs.


Active in Britain

Labour Party

The biggest party on the left in the UK in terms of members and representation is the Labour Party, which was formed as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. With the party's rebranding as New Labour in the 1990s under Tony Blair's leadership, the party accepted a number of Thatcherite policy positions,[3] causing it to be identified as neoliberal rather than democratic socialist, and no longer a party of the Left;[4][5] Blair himself described New Labour's ideology as a "Third Way". When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour Party in 2010, however, he realigned the Labour Party as "democratic socialist",[6] pledging to clamp down on tax avoidance, introduce a wealth tax in the form of a Mansion Tax, raise income tax for higher earners and break up the banks.[7] The party was subsequently criticised by some, including Blair, as straying leftwards from the "centre ground" of British politics,[8] and that Miliband was a "traditional left-wing" politician.[9] However, others disputed this view, and put Labour's loss of the 2015 UK election down to the party being too right wing.[10][11]

The unexpected landslide victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election[12] represented a resurgence of the Labour Left and led to a surge in membership;[13] in the reshuffle that followed, John McDonnell (chairman of the Labour Representation Committee) and Diane Abbott (member of the Socialist Campaign Group) were appointed to the Shadow Cabinet.[14] The relative success of Labour in the 2017 UK general election[15][16] has been seen as a vindication of the left turn.[17][18]

Labour's status as a left-wing party has nevertheless been disputed by those who do not see the party as part of the Left.[19][20][21]

Internal groups

Magazine support

Green Party of England and Wales

In 2015, the membership of the Green Party quadrupled, and its support in national opinion polls sextupled.[22] Several factors contributed, including the collapse of the Lib Dem vote, the influence of social media and greater awareness among younger people about the rise of other leftist parties in Europe such as Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, as well as a rise in anti-austerity movements across Europe and Britain.[23] Other factors included the Scottish referendum, which proved an inspiration for a new kind of politics. Other key factors had been the contrast in conferences of the Green Party and Labour in September 2014, and the media exclusion of the Greens during and following their successes in the European elections; a petition against the media blackout of the Green Party reached 260,000 signatures.[24] The party also received a significant spike in membership during January, 2015 following David Cameron's demand that the Greens be included in the leaders' debates for the 2015 General Election. The Green Party has been included in a seven-way television debate.[25] The Greens' 2015 spring conference had a record 1,300 members attend; the party became the second largest of the European Greens in this period, as well as increasing significantly in national polls from an average 1% to 7%. It beat the Liberal Democrats to fourth place in the 2014 European Elections with 8%, under a proportional voting system, having a third MEP elected.

However the Greens achieved only a 1.6% vote share in the 2017 general election,[26] following a rejection by Labour of an election pact[27] and an increase in vote share by the two major parties. The status of the Greens as a party of the Left has, as with Labour, been disputed.[28][29][30]

Internal groups

Other organisations

The now defunct Respect Party (formed in 2004), which at one point had the support of other Left groups (such as the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Resistance) and some electoral success, lost its last local councillors in 2014[31] and its only MP George Galloway - who was also the party leader[32] - in 2015.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), founded in 2010, comprises the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party and RMT trade union. As of 2016, TUSC had a small number of affiliated local councillors. Following the 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, TUSC floated plans for a future electoral pact with any Labour councillors standing on an anti-austerity platform;[33] subsequently TUSC stood fewer candidates in the 2016 and 2017 local elections, based on a case by case reckoning of the political stance of local Labour candidates.[34] In May 2017, TUSC confirmed that it would field no candidates in the forthcoming general election, and give its full support to Labour.[35]

A new party, Left Unity, was formed in November 2013 and backed by a number of existing leftist parties. Left Unity had an electoral pact with TUSC for the 2015 elections[36] but has since renounced independent electoral activity in favour of Labour.[37]

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB), is a split from (and effectively the political successor to) the historical Communist Party of Great Britain, once the largest British far-left organisation.[38]. In 2017, the CPB announced that it would field no candidates in that year's general election, in support of Labour.[39]

Some small left and far-left parties continue to contest elections independently, such as the Socialist Party of Great Britain (the oldest extant left party, having formed in 1904). Other parties and groups are electorally inactive, renounce participation in elections,[40][41][42] or work unofficially in support of, or advocate a vote for, the Labour Party.

Electorally active parties

Parties working within TUSC

Non-electoral groups

Groups supporting the Labour Party
Entryist groups within Labour Party

Active only in Scotland

Active only in Wales

Local parties


Publications affiliated to organisations



  • Aufheben journal archive
  • Fabian Society archive
  • Institute for Workers Control archive
  • Marxism Today archive
  • Marxists Internet Archive/Britain
  • Revolutionary History journal
  • Socialist History journal
  • What Next Journal archive

Further reading

  • Barrow, Logic and Bullock, Ian. Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Beilharz, Peter. Labour's Utopias: Bolshevism, Fabianism and Social Democracy (Routledge 1992)
  • Biagini, E.F. and Reid, A.J., eds. Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organized Labour and Party Politics in Britain 1850–1914, (Cambridge University Press, 1991)
  • Black, L. The Political Culture of the Left in Affluent Britain, 1951–64: old Labour, new Britain? (Basingstoke, 2003)
  • Bryant, C. Possible Dreams: a personal history of British Christian Socialists (London, 1996)
  • Callaghan, John. Socialism in Britain since 1884 (Blackwell, 1990)
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. Ages of Reform: Dawns and Downfalls of the British Left (I.B. Tauris, dist. by Palgrave Macmillan; 2011), history of British left since the Great Reform Act, 1832.
  • Parker, Martin, et al. The Dictionary of Alternatives (Zed Books, 2007)[62]
  • Rees, Jonathan.Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain 1900-1940 (Oxford, 1984)


  • Bruley, Sue. Leninism, Stalinism and the Women's Movement in Britain, 1920–1939 (Garland, London and New York, 1986)
  • Graves, Pamela M. Labour Women: Women in British Working-Class Politics 1918–1939 (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Hannam, Julie. Socialist Women: Britain 1880s to 1920s (Routledge, 2002)
  • Jackson, Angela. British Women and the Spanish Civil War (Routledge 2002
  • Mitchell, Juliet, and Ann Oakley, (eds). The Rights and Wrongs of Women (Penguin, London, 1976)
  • Rowbotham, Sheila. Hidden from History: 300 Years of Women's Oppression and the Fight Against It (Pluto Press, London, 1973)

Labour Party

Communist Party


Miscellaneous critiques

  • John Sullivan, As Soon As This Pub Closes
  • Jim Higgins, Ten Years for the Locust
  • Jim Higgins, More Years for the Locust
  • Red Party critique of the AWL
  • AWL critique of the SWP
  • Socialist Party critique of the SWP
  • Socialist Party critique of Socialist Appeal
  • Communist Workers Movement critique of the SWP
  • Solidarity (U.S.) critique of the SWP (UK)
  • CPGB-ML critique of the SLP
  • CPGB-ML critique of the Morning Star/CPB
  • CPGB-ML critique of the RCPB-ML
  • "Carry on Recruiting": critique of the SWP, 1993
  • Trotspotting, 2009
  • Anon. One Step Beyond: Smash the Revolutionary Communist Party. Pirate Press/Phoenix Press. 1988
  • Hallas, Duncan Revolutionaries and the Labour Party (1982)
  • Hallas, Duncan. The Labour Party: Myth and Reality (1985)
  • Walker, Denver. Quite Right, Mr Trotsky! Harney & Jones. 1985 (NCPB on British Trotskyism)

See also


  1. ^ Perry, Alice (20 July 2017). "Labour NEC Report - July 2017". Alice Perry. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  2. ^ "Electoral Commission 2016". 31 December 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  3. ^ John Kampfner (17 April 2008). "Margaret Thatcher, inspiration to New Labour". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Peter Hain. "A smaller state? It's what got us into trouble to begin with". the Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "Ed Miliband: I'm bringing socialism back to Britain", The Telegraph, September 2013.
  7. ^ "Labour will restore 50p top rate of income tax, says Ed Balls", The Guardian, January 2014
  8. ^ "Tony Blair says Labour 'left-wing' warning 'misinterpreted'". BBC News. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "Blair claims 'left-wing' comments about Miliband were 'misinterpreted'". ITV News. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Stanley, Tim (15 May 2015). "Labour didn't lose because it was too Left-wing. But it will lose again if it becomes too Right-wing". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  11. ^ Wintour, Patrick (13 May 2015). "Labour did not lose election because it was too leftwing, says Unite chief". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  12. ^ ToHelm. "Corbyn hails huge mandate as he sets out leftwing agenda". the Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  13. ^ "Labour claim membership surge after Corbyn election". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  14. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn unveils 'unifying' shadow cabinet team". BBC News. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Singh, Amit (8 May 2015). "The most embarrassing part of the election? Seeing people mistake Labour for a left-wing party". The Independent. London. 
  20. ^ "Socialist Party :: Labour conference - no socialist policies". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  21. ^ "The Labour Party and socialism". Socialist Worker (Britain). Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  22. ^ Ramsay, Adam (6 March 2015). "Today, Natalie Bennett must deliver the speech of her life". New Statesman. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  23. ^ See: list of political parties in the United Kingdom opposed to austerity.
  24. ^ ""Invite the Greens" petition handed in to the BBC". Green Party of England and Wales. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  25. ^ "Election 2015: Seven-party TV debate plan announced". BBC News. 23 January 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Just how left wing is the Green Party?". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  29. ^ Suzanne Moore. "Forget the Greens – if the UK wants a truly leftwing party, it might have to grow its own". the Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  30. ^ ToMiller (14 April 2015). "The Greens are not a real party of the left – here's why". The Conversation. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  31. ^ Helen Pidd "Labour gains control of Bradford as Respect fail" (The Northerner Blog), 23 May 2014
  32. ^ Helen Pidd "Who is the leader of the Respect party these days?" (The Northerner Blog), 28 October 2013
  33. ^ Ian Silvera. "Far-left TUSC seeks anti-austerity electoral pact with Jeremy Corbyn's Labour". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Hill, Dave. "On relations between Left Unity and TUSC". Left Unity. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  37. ^
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  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ a b Barberis, P. et al. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century. A&C Black, 2000, p161
  51. ^ [1]
  52. ^ "Workers Revolutionary Party". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  53. ^
  54. ^ "Tories split - strike now! - The Socialist 23 March 2016". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  55. ^ "Socialist Appeal - The International Marxist Tendency". Socialist Appeal. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  56. ^ "Socialist Resistance". Socialist Resistance. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  57. ^ "Socialist Standard". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  58. ^ "Socialist Worker (Britain)". Socialist Worker (Britain). Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  59. ^ "Workers' Liberty". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  60. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 July 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-05. 
  61. ^ "World Socialist Web Site". Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  62. ^ [2]
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