What are the origin stories of the main political parties?

As the General Election draws nearer, take a look back at the roots of each major political party.

While you might know the leaders of each major political party and perhaps even have a broad idea of what they each stand for, it’s a little less likely that you’re as clued up on where each party came from.

So if you have fatigue from the current election campaign, take a look back to where the parties we now know so well actually sprung up from.


Conservative party
(Danny Lawson/PA)

What year was the party established?

The term “Conservative” to describe the party was first used by John Wilson Croker in 1830.

How was the party founded?

It is seen as the heir of the Tories – who dominated in the 17th century – and the Whigs – who were prominent in the 18th century.

The party was founded as a reaction to the Reform Bill of 1832, which gave the middle class voting rights. Early Conservatives encouraged people to vote if they now could, and saw themselves as part of a new political force championing voting rights.

Who was its first leader?

The party’s first leader in government was Sir Robert Peel.

What were its founding principles?

In 1834 Peel published the Tamworth Manifesto, which is seen as guideline for the principles of the early Conservatives. Britannica says it stressed “the timely reform of abuses, the necessity of law and order, an orderly system of taxation, and the importance of both landed interests and trade and industry”. It also called for a review of political and ecclesiastical bodies, which would be improved if needed.

At its core, Peel was saying that the Conservatives “would reform to survive”, but he opposed unnecessary change in the established order of the country. It was under these principles that he led the newly formed party. Essentially, Peel wanted to maintain a balance of the status quo.


Labour Party
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

What year was the party established?

The Labour party is younger than the Conservative, being officially founded in 1900.

How was the party founded?

The party’s roots lie with the working classes and trade unions. In 1900 the Labour party was born of a collaboration between the Trades Union Congress and the Independent Labour Party (which was founded in 1893).

This new group officially took the name the Labour Party in 1906.

Who was its first leader?

Keir Hardie, who helped found the party and was its first MP.

What were its founding principles?

The party was founded due to a gap in politics for the representation of the working class. As such, helping this group of people has traditionally been central to the party’s policies. This included championing secular education and welfare reforms.

Much of the early policies were preoccupied with helping the workforce, whether it was solidifying job security or improving pay and conditions for workers.

Liberal Democrats

Tim Farron
(Philip Toscano/PA)

What year was the party established?


How was the party founded?

The Liberal Democrats as we know them today came as a result of the merging of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.

It was formed as an alternative to the Labour and Conservative parties.

Who was its first leader?

Paddy Ashdown was elected the first leader of the new party in July 1988. He was previously in the Liberal party and an MP.

What were its founding principles?

Ashdown initially set out the Lib Dem agenda as centring around support for free-market economics. Some of the party’s most popular early policies included its pledge to raise income tax and invest more in education and its commitment to the environment.

Reform of the voting system has been a core principle of the Lib Dems from the start.

The Scottish National Party (SNP)

Nicola Sturgeon
(Jane Barlow/PA)

What year was the party established?


How was the party founded?

Similar to many of the other parties, the SNP was founded by the merging of two parties – in this case the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party.

Who was its first leader?

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham.

What were its founding principles?

The party’s founding principle is similar to what it still holds today: strongly campaigning for Scottish independence. It dedicated much of its time criticising how Westminster dealt with Scottish affairs.

Information has come from Britannica.

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