27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.

In the second half of the 19th century, British politics was divided between the Liberals, who pitched themselves towards the middle class, and the Conservatives, who appealed to wealthier voters. However, the growth of the urban working class, combined with changes that increased their political power, meant that there was a need for a political party that represented their interests. At the same time, the fast-growing trade unions wanted to influence politics directly.

Initially, several small left-wing parties, such as the Independent Labour Party (ILP), contested elections, but a consensus soon emerged among the unions that they needed a single party. In February 1900, they formed the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), run by former ILP MP James Keir Hardie. The LRC won only two seats in the 1900 election, but support developed rapidly until it overtook the Liberals in 1922.

By that time, it had been renamed the Labour Party. It led coalitions in 1923-1924 and 1929-1931, but Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's decision to leave Labour and form a national government in 1931, with the Conservatives and Liberals, would nearly destroy it. It would not regain power until 1945.

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The 1945-1951 government was one of the most influential of modern times, creating the modern welfare state and the NHS. The party was subsequently in opposition from 1951-1964. After election defeat in 1979, internal splits and the creation of the rival Social Democratic Party in 1981, Labour spent 18 years in the wilderness. It finally returned to power in 1997.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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