Labour party adaptation to multilevel politics: evidence from British general election manifestos

Lynn Bennie* (Corresponding Author), Alistair Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Some policy areas debated in British general elections are the responsibility of devolved institutions, not the UK parliament. Devolution means that state-wide parties produce different versions of their general election manifestos in the devolved territories. Deploying a multi-level party framework, this article examines intra-party variation in Labour’s manifesto content through an original study of British, Scottish and Welsh Labour party manifestos from 2001 to 2017. The analysis focuses on the content and structure of Labour’s general election manifestos across the UK. It examines the roles performed by these documents, revealing how the Labour party has responded to the challenges of devolution. The analysis highlights the variable speeds at which sub-state parties embrace autonomy. It finds that Welsh Labour is more inclined to diverge from the content of UK Labour manifestos than the Scottish party, suggesting Scottish Labour has been slow to understand the politics of national identity and reluctant to embrace opportunities created by devolution. The article has implications for three key literatures: approaches to manifesto analysis; the roles performed by party manifestos; and party adaptation in multi-level systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-432
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Politics
Early online date18 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to participants at the March 2018 ‘Manifesto Co-ordination in Multi-Level Settings’ workshop at Universitè Libre de Bruxelles and Waseda University for feedback on an earlier version of this paper. We are also grateful to the three anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful comments.


  • UK Labour
  • party manifestos
  • multi-level politics
  • party adaptation
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Multilevel politics
  • Party manifestos
  • Party adaptation


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