British Left

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Timeline of parties in the broad socialist movement

The term British Left refers to left-wing movements, parties and activists in Great Britain. The biggest political party associated with the British Left is the Labour Party, also the largest political party in the UK with over 350,000 members.[1] As an opposition party under the leadership of Ed Miliband from 2010 to 2015, the Labour Party was criticised by some, including former party leader Tony Blair, as straying leftwards from the "centre ground" of British politics,[2] and that Miliband was a "traditional left-wing" politician.[3] However, others disputed this view, and put Labour's loss of the 2015 UK election down to the party being too right wing.[4][5] The unexpected landslide victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election[6] represented a resurgence of the Labour Left and led to a surge in membership.[7] 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.[8]

Aside from Labour, the biggest left-wing party is considered to be the Green Party. As of May 2015, membership of the Green Party of England and Wales was over 65,000 (according to party leader Natalie Bennett).[9] Scottish Green Party membership increased dramatically following the Scottish Independence Referendum,[10] and they became the fourth biggest party by membership in Scotland, overtaking the Scottish Liberal Democrats.[11] The Green Party of England and Wales is now the second largest party of the European Greens, and has increased significantly in the 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 status of the Greens as a party of the Left is disputed.[12][13][14]

The Labour Party has 232 seats in the House of Commons. The Green Party has one MP. The only other left-wing party with parliamentary representation is Plaid Cymru,[15] who have three MPs (in addition to seats in the National Assembly for Wales and European Parliament).

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was the largest left-of-Labour organisation historically from its formation in 1920 until its dissolution in 1991, with a peak membership of 56,000 (and two MPs) in 1945. A split occurred in 1988, leading to the foundation of the Communist Party of Britain, now considered its successor organisation,[16] and which is associated with the nominally-independent daily newspaper, the Morning Star.

A number of smaller leftist parties enter elections as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). A new party, Left Unity, was formed in November 2013 and backed by a number of existing leftist parties after an appeal by director Ken Loach seeking to create a united left front, following the successes of Syriza in Greece. Left Unity has an electoral pact with TUSC.[17] Other, much smaller, Left parties contest elections independently, such as the Socialist Party of Great Britain (the oldest extant Left party, having formed in 1904) and the Socialist Labour Party.


Active in England[edit]

Labour Party[edit]

The biggest centre-left party in the UK in terms of members and representation is the Labour Party, originally 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,[18] causing it to be identified as neoliberal rather than democratic socialist, and no longer a party of the Left;[19][20] Blair himself described New Labour's ideology as a "Third Way". When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour Party in 2010, however, he described the Labour Party as "democratic socialist",[21] pledging to clamp down on tax avoidance, introduce a wealth tax in the form of a Mansion Tax, raise income tax on the highest earners in Britain and break up the banks.[22]

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.[23][24][25]

Internal groups[edit]

Magazine support[edit]

Green Party of England and Wales[edit]

In 2015, the membership of the Green Party quadrupled, and its support in national opinion polls sextupled.[26] Several factors have contributed, including the collapse of the Liberal Democrat 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.[27] Other factors include the Scottish referendum, which has 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 Green Party during and following their successes in the European elections. A petition against the media blackout of the Green Party reached 260,000 signatures.[28] The party also received a significant spike in membership during January, 2015 following David Cameron's demand that the Green Party be included in the leaders' debates for the 2015 General Election. The Green Party has been included in a seven-way television debate.[29] The Green Party of England and Wales' spring conference had 1,300 members attend, a record for the party.

Internal groups[edit]

Respect Party[edit]

The Respect Party, which at one point had the support of other Left groups (such as the Socialist Workers Party, CPGB(PCC), Socialist Unity Network, Socialist Resistance and RCPBML), and was the second largest left-wing party in the UK after Labour, lost its final two councillors in the 2014 local elections,[30] and its one MP, George Galloway - who is also the party leader[31] - in 2015.

Other organisations[edit]

The largest Left organisation (at least electorally) is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, comprising the Socialist Party (England and Wales), Socialist Workers Party, Independent Socialist Network, and others. TUSC contested the 2014 United Kingdom local elections with 554 candidates, winning 68,031 total votes, composed of 64,098 votes for the council candidates and 3,933 votes for the three mayoral candidates. The average vote for TUSC candidates was 3.4%, with one candidate winning 43% of the vote, and 8 others gaining more than 10%.[32] TUSC stood 100 candidates in the 2015 General Election - gaining 36,327 votes - and 1,000 council candidates in the local elections. TUSC has a small number of local councillors. Following the 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, TUSC floated plans for an electoral pact with any Labour councillors standing on an anti-austerity platform. [33]

Electoral groups[edit]

Groups working within TUSC[edit]
Groups working within Left Unity[edit]
Further information: Left Unity (UK)

Entryist groups within Labour Party[edit]

Further information: Entryism

Non-electoral groups[edit]

Further information: Anti-revisionism

Active only in Scotland[edit]

Active only in Wales[edit]


Publications affiliated to parties[edit]



Further reading[edit]

  • 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)
  • Buchanan, Tom. "Britain's Popular Front?: Aid Spain and the British Labour Movement," History Workshop Journal, 31, 1991
  • Callaghan, John. British Trotskyism: Theory and Practice (Blackwell 1984)
  • Callaghan, John. Socialism in Britain since 1884 (Blackwell, 1990)
  • Callaghan, John. The Far Left in British Politics (1987)
  • Chun, L. The British New Left (1993)
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. Ages of Reform: Dawns and Downfalls of the British Left (I.B. Tauris, distributed by Palgrave Macmillan; 2011) 314 pages; the history of the British left since the Great Reform Act of 1832.
  • Parker, Martin, et al. The Dictionary of Alternatives Zed Books, 2007.[45]
  • Shipley, Peter. Revolutionaries in Modern Britain (1976)

Labour Party[edit]

  • Cole, G. D. H. A history of the Labour Party from 1914 (1969)
  • Pelling, Henry. A short history of the Labour Party (12th ed. 2005)
  • Pugh, Martin. Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party (2011) [46]
  • Taylor, Robert. The Parliamentary Labour Party: A History 1906–2006 (2007)
  • Thorpe, Andrew and Jeremy Black. A History of the British Labour Party (3rd. ed. 2008)[47]
  • Worley, Matthew. Labour Inside the Gate: A History of the British Labour Party between the Wars (2009)[48]

Communist Party[edit]

  • Callaghan, John. Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1951–68 (Lawrence & Wishart, 2001) [49]
  • Britain's Road to Socialism - the programme of the Communist Party of Britain
  • Croft, Andy, (ed.) A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party in Britain (Pluto Press, London, 1998)
  • Pearce, Brian, and Michael Woodhouse. A History of Communism in Britain


  • 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)
  • Jackson, Angela. British Women and the Spanish Civil War (Routledge 2002)[50]
  • 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)


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Tony Blair says Labour 'left-wing' warning 'misinterpreted'". BBC News. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Blair claims 'left-wing' comments about Miliband were 'misinterpreted'". ITV News. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Wintour, Patrick (13 May 2015). "Labour did not lose election because it was too leftwing, says Unite chief". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "More than 65,000". Natalie Bennett. 2015. 
  10. ^ "SCOTTISH GREENS THANK OVER 3,000 NEW MEMBERS". Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  11. ^ Bradley, Jane (8 January 2015). "Scots Greens blast TV debate snub as Ukip included". The Scotsman (Johnston Press). Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
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  17. ^ Hill, Dave. "On relations between Left Unity and TUSC". Left Unity. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
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  21. ^ "Ed Miliband: I'm bringing socialism back to Britain", The Telegraph, September 2013.
  22. ^ "Labour will restore 50p top rate of income tax, says Ed Balls", The Guardian, January 2014
  23. ^ Singh, Amit (8 May 2015). "The most embarrassing part of the election? Seeing people mistake Labour for a left-wing party". The Independent (London). 
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Ramsay, Adam (6 March 2015). "Today, Natalie Bennett must deliver the speech of her life". New Statesman. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  27. ^ See: list of political parties in the United Kingdom opposed to austerity.
  28. ^ ""Invite the Greens" petition handed in to the BBC". Green Party of England and Wales. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  29. ^ "Election 2015: Seven-party TV debate plan announced". BBC News. 23 January 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  30. ^ Helen Pidd "Labour gains control of Bradford as Respect fail" (The Northerner Blog), 23 May 2014
  31. ^ Helen Pidd "Who is the leader of the Respect party these days?" (The Northerner Blog), 28 October 2013
  32. ^ [1], 30 May 2014
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  49. ^ online
  50. ^ [9]