Party Structures

The organisation of political parties at both local and national level.


The organisation and structure of UK Parties. 

Political Parties- functions and funding 

Political Parties 

Traditionally the Conservatives were seen as the most top down party with a dominant leader and the Labour party was bottom up with more powerful local organisation. However the most open and internally democratic of the three main UK political parties is generally considered to be the Liberal Democrats. The party with the least scope for direct membership participation is  still the Conservatives, and Labour is more centralised than was true before the changes made by Tony Blair. However, all of the main parties have recently displayed a tendency towards centralising power in the hands of the leadership, while the Conservatives have moved towards slightly more internal party democracy in recent years. For instance, its ordinary party members, not Tory MPs, now have final say over the choice of leader.



Local Conservative Associations, sometimes with ward branches below them.

 Role-Local Conservative Associations play a key role in organising the grassroots of the party, and in planning local campaigning and selecting candidates, although with less autonomy in the latter than previously.


The national HQ is Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) at Millbank, Westminster. Previously, Conservative Central Office was based in Smith Square, London. Day-to-day running of the party machine is undertaken by the Board of the Conservative Party, made up of representatives from each section of the party, including MPs and local associations. Only three of its 18 or so members are from the grassroots party, which is overseen by the Annual Convention.

The Conservative Policy Forum was set up in 1998 to enable more grassroots participation in policy-making, although its role is advisory as opposed to binding. In general, the Tories have left the writing of their manifesto to their leader and their trusted advisers. Major could boast of the winning 1992 manifesto ‘It was all me’, but much of the 2019 manifesto was co-written by Rachel Wolf. She had been an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during Cameron’s premiership.

How leaders are chosen

MPs vote in a series of ballots to narrow the choice of candidates down to just two names. In 2019, nine MPs secured enough support to stand, but after a succession of votes by Conservative MPs, seven were eliminated, leaving just Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson on the ballot for party members to make their choice.

Party members make the final pick on a one member, one vote (OMOV) basis. Johnson won a clear victory in 2019 with around two-thirds of the vote, after 16 regional hustings before party members and several televised debates.



Each constituency has a Constituency Labour Party (CLP). Many also have council ward level Branch Labour Parties (BLP).

CLP takes the lead in local and national election campaigns.


Labour’s national base is in Victoria St, London, and day-to-day running of the party is undertaken by the National Executive Committee (NEC). The NEC enforces party discipline and can, on occasion, expel members for breaking party rules. It has the final say over the selection of parliamentary candidates. The NEC is comprised of around 40 members and automatically includes representatives from the parliamentary party, affiliated trade unions, CLPs, local councillors and Young Labour. Elections to the NEC are often highly factionalised. By-elections for two CLP reps held in April 2020 were regarded as a victory for new leader, Keir Starmer, as candidates backed by the moderate groups Progress and Labour First triumphed over Corbynite candidates.

Until the 1990s, the annual conference was the sovereign policy-making body, but its role has since diminished.

How leaders are chosen

Candidates must first secure the backing of at least 10% of Labour MPs/MEPs, and also either 5% of constituency parties or at least three affiliates (two of which must be trade unions). In 2020 in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry failed to get sufficient support from the affiliates section so was unable to proceed to the first round of the vote. Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy all qualified to stand in the first round of the vote of party members.

Party members and registered supporters vote on an OMOV basis using the alternative vote system to make the final choice. In 2020, as Keir Starmer won over 50% of the vote in the first round, there was no need for a second round of voting.

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have local branches but are also organised along federal lines with separate national parties for England, Wales and Scotland.

Local branches take the main role in running constituency- level campaigns and can also submit motions to conference for debate.


The party has national headquarters in Great George Street, London. The Federal Board (FB) is the national governing body. It comprises 35 voting members, including the party president (who chairs it), the leader and three other MPs/peers, the chairs of the three national parties, a councillor, a Young Liberals representative and 15 members directly elected by party members.

The process largely replicates the party’s federal structure. Motions debated and passed at conference become official national party policy. Policies that affect the whole of the UK or just England are voted on by the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference, while Scottish, Welsh and regional conferences set policy that only affects their own area.

How leaders are chosen

Candidates must gain support from at least 10% of other Liberal Democrat MPs, and be supported by at least 200 members from more than 20 local parties.

Party members vote on an OMOV basis using the alternative vote to make the final choice. Ed Davey won the leadership race in 2020, securing 63.5% of the vote by party members in the first and only round.