BBC News Magazine

Which is the oldest political party still standing?

The terms "old" and "new" have been played around with in the cut and thrust of this election campaign but exactly how old are our current crop of political parties? The BBC's Elena Egawhary has taken a journey back through the decades to find out.

Looking only at those parties with a slate of at least 10 candidates standing in the General Election gives us a field of 23 political parties. The youngest of which is less then a year old while the three main parties all have pedigrees stretching back well over 100 years.


The newest party, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, was established as recently as 2009.

However, it is not the only political child of the 21st Century. The English Democrats, the Respect-Unity Coalition, the Christian Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice are all products of the past 10 years.

Another four parties, including Ukip, joined us in the 1990s. That decade also saw the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Two new parties were set up in the 1980s and remain with us for this election, the Monster Raving Loony Party and the British National Party. In 1988 the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party merged into what is now the Liberal Democrats.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the formation of many of Northern Ireland's modern-day political parties as well as the National Front and the Green Party.

The Alliance Party, the DUP and the SDLP all came into being between 1970 and 1971.

The nationalists

At this point in our journey more than two thirds of the field have melted away, leaving us with just seven parties which predate the mid 60s. Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party sprung up within a few years of each other in the 1920s. Although the SNP was known as the National Party of Scotland for a time.

Jumping back before World War I, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party were both born in 1905. In 2008 the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party agreed to form an alliance known as the Ulster Conservative and Unionist - New Force. Under the terms of the pact the parties agreed to run candidates on a joint ticket at Westminster and European elections, though they still exist as separate entities.

At the dawn of the 20th Century the Labour Party emerged. The party was formed to give a voice to working people and trade unionists who felt they were not being served by the Conservative and Liberal politicians of the time.

And then there were two

Reaching back into the 19th Century the Conservatives and the Liberals - the forerunners of today's Liberal Democrats - are the oldest parties still with us and still battling for significant numbers of seats in 2010.

They both have a rich history with roots that can be traced even further back to the 17th Century and the days of the Tories and Whigs.

The Tories were staunch royalists while the Whigs were determined to limit the power of the monarchy.

In 1859 the Liberal Party was formed as political opposition to the Conservatives.

This makes the Conservatives, set up in 1832, the oldest of the two parties by well over 20 years.

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