A quick guide to Labour

The Labour Party is the main party of the centre-left movement in British politics. With a strong Christian heritage, the party now consists of a variety of different expressions of social democracy, but remains committed to securing a fairer society for all.

A brief history:

Created in 1900, the Labour Party was born out of the struggle of working people and trade unions. Their goal was to make parliament more representative of working people; not just a ‘wealthy elite’. In 1929, Labour formed its first government, which lasted only a few months. It was clear, however, that from this point on Labour would be a significant feature of the British political landscape.

In 1945, Labour - led by Clement Atlee - won its first majority, allowing it to form a strong government. Labour captured the mood of change in the aftermath of the Second World War and brought in sweeping reform, including the creation of the NHS.

Suffering defeat in 1951, Labour again came into power from 1964 to 1970. During this period a strong secular tradition crept into the Party, with the idea that we can perfect society without the need for God or religion dominating many people’s thinking.

The next Labour government came into power in 1974, led by Harold Wilson. He was replaced, however, by James Callaghan and it was during this period that the Labour Party faced huge challenges such as inflation and militant trade unionism. As a result, in 1979, Britain turned to Margaret Thatcher for answers.

A period of soul-searching in the Labour Party followed the defeat in 1979 with large scale policy reviews. In 1994 John Smith became leader marking a distinct break with the past as he progressed towards a ‘new’ Labour.

After Smith’s death Tony Blair became the youngest ever Labour leader and took the Party even closer to the centre of politics, creating what has become known as the ‘Third Way’. This spelled the end of the traditional left-right political divide as Labour abandoned much of its socialist thinking and focussed on education as a means of bettering people’s opportunities to gain wealth as opposed to redistributing wealth to benefit the poor.  

Blair won a landslide in 1997 and 2001 and in 2005 achieved a first in Labour history, forming a third consecutive government. In 2007 Gordon Brown took over the leadership of the Labour Party but was defeated in 2010.

Following Gordon Brown, the Labour Party was led by Ed Miliband, who was particularly influenced by a new school of thought known as Blue Labour. Blue Labour combines respect for family, faith and work with a commitment to the common good. The notion of the Common Good particularly draws upon a Christian tradition and those involved in the Blue Labour movement see a strong role for the Church to play in society.

After election defeat in 2015 Ed Miliband resigned as leader, and following a leadership contest, the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader with a large mandate, receiving almost 60% of the vote despite initially being seen as an outsider in the contest. This has led to a surge in Labour membership, with many seeing Corbyn's leadership heralding a new future for the Party and a move towards a 'kinder' politics.

Party's website: www.labour.org.uk

Christians on the Left

Christians on the Left (CotL), formerly the Christian Socialist Movement, is a society affiliated to the Labour Party. It has a long history of involvement in British politics, dating back to the beginning of 1960. Donald Soper, a Methodist minister and influential Labour member, acted as the first chairman and later became President of the organisation in 1975.

The movement fulfilled a need among Christian political activists on the left in Britain for an organisation that would be politically engaged yet theologically reflective. It affiliated with the Labour Party formally in 1988.

Christians on the Left has over 40 members in the House of Commons and House of Lords and is today chaired by Jonathan Reynolds MP and led by Andy Flannagan, who is also co-director of Christians in Politics.

Find out more at christiansontheleft.org.uk

A quick guide to the Conservatives   A quick guide to the Liberal Democrats   A guide to the Scottish National Party
A quick guide to UKIP  

A quick guide to the Green Party


A quick guide to Plaid Cymru

Why should Christians be involved in politics?

  Christian groups within the parties   Going deeper