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.
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.