Open main menu

Leader of the Labour Party (UK)

The Leader of the Labour Party is the most senior political figure within the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. Since 12 September 2015, the office has been held by Jeremy Corbyn, who has represented the constituency of Islington North since 1983.

Leader of the Labour Party
Jeremy Corbyn closeup.jpg
Jeremy Corbyn

since 12 September 2015
Member ofNational Executive Committee
PrecursorChair of the PLP
Inaugural holderKeir Hardie
Formation17 January 1906
DeputyTom Watson

Harriet Harman was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Acting Leader since the resignation of Ed Miliband on 8 May 2015 following Labour's defeat at the 2015 general election. On 12 September 2015, she was replaced by Jeremy Corbyn, who won the Labour leadership election. Tom Watson is now the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and was elected on the same day. Corbyn's leadership was challenged in mid-2016, but he was re-elected in the subsequent leadership election.


The post of Leader of the Labour Party was officially created in 1922. Before this, between when Labour MPs were first elected in 1906 and the general election in 1922, when substantial gains were made, the post was known as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.[1] In 1970, the positions of Leader of the Labour Party and Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party were separated.

In 1921, J. R. Clynes became the first Leader of the Labour Party to have been born in England; prior to this, all party leaders had been born in Scotland. In 1924, Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority administration which lasted nine months. Clement Attlee would become the first Labour leader to lead a majority government in 1945. The first to be born in Wales was Neil Kinnock, who was elected in 1983. The most electorally successful Leaders of the Labour Party to date are: Tony Blair, who won three consecutive electoral victories in 1997, 2001 (both landslide victories), and 2005, and Harold Wilson, who won three general elections out of five contested, in 1964, 1966 and October 1974.


Unlike other British political party leaders, the Labour Leader does not have the power to dismiss or appoint their Deputy. Both the Leader and Deputy Leader are elected by an Alternative Vote system. From 1980 to 2014 an electoral college was used, with a third of the votes allocated to the Party's MPs and MEPs, a third to individual members of the Labour Party, and a third to individual members of all affiliated organisations, including socialist societies and trade unions. The 2015 leadership election used a "one member, one vote" system, in which the votes of party members and members of affiliated organisations are counted equally. MPs and MEPs votes are not counted separately, although a candidate needs to receive the support of 10%[2] of Labour MPs in order to appear on the ballot.


When the Labour Party is in Opposition, as it currently is, the Leader of the Labour Party usually acts as the Leader of the Opposition, and chairs the Shadow Cabinet. Concordantly, when the Party is in Government, the Leader would usually become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service, as well as appointing the Cabinet.

Leaders of the Labour Party (1906–present)Edit

Note: the right-hand column does not allocate height proportional to time in office.

A list of leaders (including acting leaders) since 1906.[3]

Portrait Constituency Took office Left office Prime Minister (term)
Keir Hardie
  Merthyr Tydfil 17 February 1906 22 January 1908 Campbell-Bannerman 1905–1908
Arthur Henderson
(1st time)
  Barnard Castle 22 January 1908 14 February 1910
Asquith 1908–1916
George Barnes
  Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown 14 February 1910 6 February 1911
Ramsay MacDonald
(1st time)
  Leicester 6 February 1911 5 August 1914
Arthur Henderson
(2nd time)
  Barnard Castle 5 August 1914 24 October 1917
Lloyd George 1916–1922
William Adamson
  West Fife 24 October 1917 14 February 1921
J. R. Clynes
Manchester Platting 14 February 1921 21 November 1922
Law 1922–1923
Ramsay MacDonald
(2nd time)
  Aberavon 21 November 1922
28 August 1931
Baldwin 1923–1924
himself 1924
Baldwin 1924–1929
himself 1929–1931
Arthur Henderson
(3rd time)
28 August 1931
25 October 1932 MacDonald 1931–1935
George Lansbury
  Bow and Bromley 25 October 1932
8 October 1935
Baldwin 1935–1937
Clement Attlee
Walthamstow West
8 October 1935
7 December 1955[4]
Chamberlain 1937–1940
Churchill 1940–1945
himself 1945–1951
Churchill 1951–1955
Eden 1955–1957
Herbert Morrison[b]
  Lewisham South 7 December 1955 14 December 1955
Hugh Gaitskell
  Leeds South 14 December 1955
18 January 1963
(died in office)
Macmillan 1957–1963
George Brown[b]
  Belper 18 January 1963 14 February 1963
Harold Wilson
Huyton 14 February 1963
5 April 1976
Douglas-Home 1963–1964
himself 1964–1970
Heath 1970–1974
himself 1974–1976
James Callaghan
  Cardiff South East 5 April 1976
10 November 1980 himself 1976–1979
Thatcher 1979–1990
Michael Foot
  Ebbw Vale 10 November 1980
2 October 1983
Neil Kinnock
(b. 1942)
  Islwyn 2 October 1983
18 July 1992
Major 1990–1997
John Smith
Monklands East 18 July 1992
12 May 1994
(died in office)
Margaret Beckett[b]
(b. 1943)
  Derby South 12 May 1994 21 July 1994
Tony Blair
(b. 1953)
  Sedgefield 21 July 1994
24 June 2007
himself 1997–2007
Gordon Brown
(b. 1951)
  Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 24 June 2007
11 May 2010 himself 2007–2010
Harriet Harman[b]
(b. 1950)
(acting: 1st time)
  Camberwell and Peckham 11 May 2010 25 September 2010 Cameron 2010–2016
Ed Miliband
(b. 1969)
  Doncaster North 25 September 2010
8 May 2015
Harriet Harman[b]
(b. 1950)
(acting: 2nd time)
  Camberwell and Peckham 8 May 2015 12 September 2015
Jeremy Corbyn
(b. 1949)
  Islington North 12 September 2015
May 2016–2019
Johnson 2019–present


It is not uncommon for a retired Leader of the Labour Party to be granted a peerage upon their retirement, particularly if they served as Prime Minister; examples of this include Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. However, Neil Kinnock was also elevated to the House of Lords, despite never being Prime Minister, and Michael Foot declined a similar offer.

Living former party leadersEdit

There are six living former party leaders: four elected and two acting. From oldest to youngest:

Leader Term of office Date of birth
The Lord Kinnock 1983–1992 (1942-03-28) 28 March 1942 (age 77)
Gordon Brown 2007–2010 (1951-02-20) 20 February 1951 (age 68)
Tony Blair 1994–2007 (1953-05-06) 6 May 1953 (age 66)
Ed Miliband MP 2010–2015 (1969-12-24) 24 December 1969 (age 49)
Acting Leader Term of office Date of birth
Dame Margaret Beckett MP 1994 (1943-01-15) 15 January 1943 (age 76)
Harriet Harman MP 2010 & 2015 (1950-07-30) 30 July 1950 (age 69)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Henderson was defeated in his Burnley seat in the 1931 election, and did not return to Parliament during his third term as leader. George Lansbury acted as the Labour parliamentary leader, until formally succeeding Henderson as party leader.
  2. ^ a b c d e Deputy Leaders who assumed the role of party leader temporarily because of the death or resignation of the incumbent, serving until the election of a new leader. Herbert Morrison acted as leader for the 7 days between Clement Attlee's resignation and Hugh Gaitskell's election as leader. George Brown and Margaret Beckett acted as leader following deaths of Gaitskell and John Smith, respectively. Harriet Harman acted as leader twice when Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband resigned.


  1. ^ Thorpe, Andrew. (2001) A History Of The British Labour Party, Palgrave, ISBN 0-333-92908-X
  2. ^ "Labour proposals 'all-but guarantee leftwing Corbyn successor'". Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  3. ^ "Leaders of the Labour Party". United Kingdom Election Results. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  4. ^ Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds (2010), Attlee: A Life in Politics, London: I B Tauris, p. 260

Further readingEdit

  • Clarke, Charles; James, Toby S. (2015). British Labour Leaders. London: Biteback.