The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a political party in the United Kingdom. It is the majority party in the House of Commons, having won 330 of the 650 seats in the 2015 general election.Between 2010–15, it was the largest single party with 304 Members of Parliament and governed in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It is the largest party in local government with 8,296 councillors.
The Conservative Party was founded in 1834 from the Tory Party—giving rise to the Conservatives’ colloquial name of Tories—and was one of two dominant parties in the 19th century, along with the Liberal Party. In the 1920s, the Liberal vote greatly diminished and the Labour Party became the Conservatives’ main rivals. Conservative Prime Ministers led governments for 57 years of the 20th century, including Winston Churchill (1940–45, 1951–55) and Margaret Thatcher (1979–90). Thatcher’s tenure led to wide-rangingeconomic liberalisation and saw the Conservatives become the mosteurosceptic of the three major parties.
The Conservatives are the joint-second largest British party in the European Parliament, with twenty MEPs, and sit with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group. The party is a member of theAlliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) Europarty and the International Democrat Union (IDU).
The party is the second-largest in the Scottish Parliament and third-largest in the Welsh Assembly. The Conservatives were formerly allied to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in Northern Ireland but there is now a separateNorthern Ireland Conservative party similar to the Welsh and ScottishConservative parties. The party is also organised in Gibraltar.
The Conservative Party traces its origins to a faction, rooted in the 18th-century Whig Party, that coalesced around William Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister of Great Britain 1783–1801 and 1804–1806). They were known as “Independent Whigs”, “Friends of Mr Pitt”, or “Pittites”. After Pitt’s death the term “Tory” came into use. This was an allusion to the Tories, a political grouping that had existed from 1678, but which had no organisational continuity with the Pittite party. From about 1812 on the name “Tory” was commonly used for the newer party.
The term “Conservative” was suggested as a title for the party by a magazine article by J. Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review in 1830. The name immediately caught on and was officially adopted under the aegis of Sir Robert Peel around 1834. Peel is acknowledged as the founder of the Conservative Party, which he created with the announcement of theTamworth Manifesto. The term “Conservative Party” rather than Tory was the dominant usage by 1845.
Conservatives and Unionists (1867–1965)
The widening of the electoral franchise in the 19th century forced the Conservative Party to popularise its approach under Lord Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, who carried through their own expansion of the franchise with the Reform Act of 1867. In 1886 the party formed an alliance with Lord Hartington (later the 8th Duke of Devonshire) and Joseph Chamberlain‘s new Liberal Unionist Party and, under the statesmen Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour, held power for all but three of the following twenty years before suffering a heavy defeat in 1906when it split over the issue of free trade. In 1912, the Liberal Unionists merged with the Conservative party. In Ireland, the Irish Unionist Alliance had been formed in 1891 which merged anti-Home Rule Unionists into one political movement. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster, and in essence formed the Irish wing of the party until 1922.
First World War
The Conservatives served with the Liberals in an all-party coalition government during World War I, and the coalition continued under the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George (with half of the Liberals) until 1922. Keohane finds that the Conservatives were bitterly divided before 1914, especially on the issue of Irish Unionism and the experience of three consecutive election losses. However the war pulled the party together, allowing it to emphasise patriotism as it found new leadership and worked out its positions on the Irish question, socialism, electoral reform, and the issue of intervention in the economy. The fresh emphasis on anti-Socialism was its response to the growing strength of the Labour Party. When electoral reform was an issue it worked to protect its base in rural England. It aggressively sought women voters in the 1920s, often relying on patriotic themes.
In 1922, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin led the break-up of the coalition and the Conservatives governed until 1923, when a minority Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald came to power. The Conservatives regained power in 1924 and remained in power for the full five-year term. They were defeated in 1929 as a minority Labour government took office. In 1931, following the collapse of the Labour minority government, it entered another coalition, which was dominated by the Conservatives with some support from fractions of both the Liberals and Labour party (National Labour and Liberal Nationals). In May 1940 a more balanced coalition was formed, the National Government, which, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, saw the United Kingdom through World War II. However, the party lost the 1945 general election to the resurgentLabour Party.
In the late 1940s the Conservative Party exploited and incited growing public anger at food rationing, scarcity, controls, austerity, and omnipresent government bureaucracy. They used the dissatisfaction with the socialist and egalitarian policies of the Labour Party to rally middle-class supporters and build a political comeback that won the 1951 general election. Their appeal was especially effective to housewives, who faced more difficult shopping conditions after the war than during the war.
Modernising the party
In 1947 the party published its Industrial Charter which marked its acceptance of the “post-war consensus” on the mixed economy and labour rights. David Maxwell Fyfe chaired a committee into Conservative Party organisation that resulted in the Maxwell Fyfe Report (1948–49). The report shifted the balance of electoral funding from the candidate to the party, with the intention of broadening the diversity of MPs. In practice, it may have had the effect of lending more power toconstituency parties and making candidates more uniform.
The success of the Conservative party in reorganising itself was validated by its victory in the 1951 election. Churchill, the party leader, brought in a Party Chairman to modernise the creaking institution. Lord Woolton was a successful department store owner and wartime Minister of Food. As Party Chairman 1946–55, he rebuilt the local organisations with an emphasis on membership, money, and a unified national propaganda appeal on critical issues. To broaden the base of potential candidates, the national party provided financial aid to candidates, and assisted the local organisations in raising local money. Lord Woolton emphasized a rhetoric that characterised the opponents as “Socialist” rather than “Labour”. The libertarian influence of Professor Friedrich Hayek‘s 1944 best-seller Road to Serfdom was apparent in the younger generation, but that took another quarter century to have a policy impact. By 1951, Labour had worn out its welcome in the middle classes; its factions were bitterly embroiled. Conservatives were ready to govern again.
With a narrow win in the 1951 general election, Churchill was back. Although he was aging rapidly, he had national and global prestige. Apart from rationing, which was ended, most of the welfare state enacted by Labour were accepted by the Conservatives and became part of the “post-war consensus” that would later be satirised as Butskellism, and which lasted until the 1970s. The Conservatives were conciliatory toward unions, but they did de-nationalise the steel and road haulage industries in 1953. During the Conservatives’ 13 years in office, pensions went up by 49% in real terms, sickness and unemployment benefits by 76% in real terms, and supplementary benefits by 46% in real terms. However, family allowances fell by 15% in real terms during that period.
The Party won in 1955 and 1959 with ever larger majorities. Conservative prime ministers Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home promoted relatively liberal trade regulations and less state involvement throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. They oversaw a period of economic prosperity, with Macmillan proclaiming during the 1959 general election that Britain had ‘never had it so good’.
In 1958, Geoffrey Howe co-authored the report A Giant’s Strength published by the Inns of Court Conservative Association. The report argued that the unions had become too powerful and that their legal privileges ought to be curtailed. Ian Macleod discouraged the authors from publicising the report. Macmillan believed that trade union votes had contributed towards the 1951 and 1955 victories and thought that it “would be inexpedient to adopt any policy involving legislation which would alienate this support”.
Macmillan’s bid to join the European Economic Community in early 1963 was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. The period saw the decline of the UK as a prominent world leader, with the loss of practically the entire empire and a laggard economy.
Following controversy over the selections of Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home via a process of consultation known as the ‘Magic Circle’, a formal election process was created and the first leadership election was held in 1965. Of the three candidates, Edward Heath won with 150 votes to Reginald Maudling’s 133 and Enoch Powell’s 15.
Edward Heath‘s 1970–74 government was known for taking the UK into the EEC, although the right-wing of the party objected to his failure to control the trade unions at a time when a declining British industry saw many strikes, as well as a recession which started in 1973 and lasted for two years.
Since accession to the EU, British membership has been a source of heated debate within the Conservative party.
Heath had come to power in June 1970 and the last possible date for the next general election was not until mid-1975. However a general election was held in February 1974 in a bid to win public support during a national emergency caused by the miners’ strike. However, Heath’s attempt to win a second term in power at this “snap” election failed, as a deadlock result left no party with an overall majority. The Conservatives had more votes than Labour, who had four more seats. Heath resigned within days, after failing to gain Liberal Party support in order to form a coalition government, paving the way for Harold Wilson and Labour to return to power as a minority government. Heath’s hopes of returning to power later in the year were ended when Labour won the October 1974 election with an overall majority of three seats.
Loss of power weakened Heath’s control over the party and Margaret Thatcher deposed him in the 1975 leadership election. The UK in the 1970s had seen sustained high inflationrates, which were above 20% at the time of the leadership election, subsequently falling to below 10%; unemployment had risen, and over the winter of 1978–79 there was a series of strikes known as the “Winter of Discontent“. Thatcher led her party to victory in the 1979 general election with a manifesto which concentrated on the party’s philosophy rather than presenting a ‘shopping list’ of policies.
As prime minister, Thatcher focused on establishing a political ideology that became known as the “New Right” or Thatcherism, based on social and economic ideas from the United States. Thatcher believed that too much social-democratic-oriented government policy was leading to a long-term decline in the British economy. As a result, her government pursued a programme of economic liberalism, adopting a free-market approach to public services based on the sale of publicly owned industries and utilities, as well as a reduction in trade union power. She held the belief that the existing trend of Unions was bringing economic progress to a standstill by enforcing “wildcat” strikes, keeping wages artificially high and forcing unprofitable industries to stay open.
Thatcher led the Conservatives to two further election victories with landslide majorities in 1983 and 1987. She was greatly admired by her supporters for her leadership in the Falklands War of 1982—which coincided with a dramatic boost in her popularity—and for policies such as giving the right to council house tenants to buy their council house at a discount on market value. She was also deeply unpopular in certain sections of society due to unemployment, which reached its highest level since the 1930s, peaking at over 3 million following her economic reforms, and her response to the miners’ strike. Unemployment had doubled between 1979 and 1982, largely due to Thatcher’s monetarist battle against inflation. At the time of the 1979 election, inflation had been at 9% or under for the previous year, having fallen under Callaghan, then rose to over 20% in the first two years of the Thatcher government, but it had fallen again to 5.8% by the start of 1983 (it continued to be under 7% until 1990). The UK economy benefitted in the first Thatcher term by tax income from North Sea oil coming on stream.
The period of unpopularity of the Conservatives in the early 1980s coincided with a crisis in the Labour Party which now formed the opposition. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed in 1981 and consisted of more than 20 breakaway Labour MPs, who quickly formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance with the Liberal Party. By the turn of 1982, the SDP-Liberal Alliance was ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls, but victory in the Falklands war in June that year, along with the recovering British economy, saw the Conservatives returning quickly to the top of the opinion polls and winning the 1983 general election with a landslide majority, due to a split opposition vote.
Thatcher now faced, arguably, her most serious rival yet after the 1983 election, when Michael Foot resigned as Labour leader and was succeeded by Neil Kinnock. With a new leader at the helm, Labour were clearly determined to topple the Conservatives at the next election and for virtually the entirety of Thatcher’s second government it was looking a very serious possibility, as the lead in the opinion polls constantly saw a change in leadership from the Conservatives to Labour, with the Alliance occasionally scraping into first place.
By the time of the election in June 1987 the economy was stronger, with lower inflation and falling unemployment and Thatcher secured her third successive election victory with a second, though smaller, landslide majority.
The introduction of the Community Charge (known by its opponents as the poll tax) in 1989 is often cited as contributing to her political downfall. The summer of 1989 saw her fall behind Neil Kinnock’s Labour in the opinion polls for the first time since 1986, and her party’s fall in popularity continued into 1990. By the second half of that year, opinion polls were showing that Labour had a lead of up to 16 points over the Conservatives and they faced a tough 18 months ahead of them if they were to prevent Kinnock’s ambition to be prime minister from being realised. At the same time, the economy was sliding into another recession.
Internal party tensions led to a leadership challenge by the Conservative MP Michael Heseltine; and, after months of speculation about her future as prime minister, she resigned on 28 November 1990, making way for a new Conservative leader more likely to win the next general election in the interests of party unity.
John Major won the party leadership contest on 27 November 1990, and his appointment led to an almost automatic boost in Conservative fortunes. A MORI poll six days before Mrs Thatcher’s resignation had shown the Conservatives to be 11 points behind Labour, but within two months the Conservatives had returned to the top of the opinion polls with a slim lead.
An election had to be held within the next 18 months and the UK economy was sliding into recession, but 1991 was a year of electoral uncertainty as the Conservatives and Labour regularly swapped places at the top of the opinion polls, and Major resisted Neil Kinnock’s numerous calls for an immediate election.
The election was finally held on 9 April 1992 and the Conservatives won, even though the economy was still in recession and most of the polls had predicted either a Labour win or a hung parliament. Major’s vigorous campaigning, notably his claim that the UK would have higher prices and higher taxes under a Labour government, was seen to have been crucial in his election win (in which he became the first – and as of 2015, only – prime minister to attract 14,000,000 votes in a general election), as was a high profile campaign by The Sun newspaper against Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who resigned in the aftermath of the election to be succeeded by John Smith. The Party also touched upon the issue of immigration, claiming that under Labour, immigration would rise hugely.
The UK economy was deep in recession by this stage and remained so until the end of the year. The pound sterling was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on 16 September 1992, a day thereafter referred to as Black Wednesday.
Soon after approximately one million householders faced re-possession of their homes during a recession that saw a sharp rise in unemployment, taking it close to 3,000,000. The party subsequently lost much of its reputation for good financial stewardship although the end of the recession was declared in April 1993 bringing economic recovery and a rise in employment.
From 1994 to 1997, Major privatised British rail, splitting it up into franchises to be run by the private sector. Its success is hotly debated, with a large increase in passenger numbers and investment in the network balanced by worries about the level of subsidy.
The party was plagued by internal division and infighting, mainly over the issue over policy towards the European Union. The party’s eurosceptic wing, represented by MPs such as John Redwood, opposed further EU integration, whilst the party’s pro-European wing, represented by those such as Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, was broadly supportive. The issue of the creation of a single currency also inflamed tensions, and these would continue to dog the party until the early 2000s (decade). These divisions gave off an impression of a divided party, which had lost touch with the voters.
Major also had to survive a leadership challenge in 1995 by the Secretary of State for Wales, the aforementioned John Redwood. He survived, but Redwood received 89 votes from MPs, as well as the backing of the Sun newspaper, which described the choice as being between “Redwood or Deadwood”. This further undermined Major’s influence in the Party.
The Conservative government was also increasingly accused in the media of “sleaze“. Their support reached its lowest ebb in late 1994, after the death of Labour Party leader John Smith and the election of Tony Blair as his successor, when Labour had up to 60% of the vote in opinion polls and had a lead of some 30 points ahead of the Conservatives. The Labour lead was gradually narrowed over the next two years, as the Conservatives gained some credit for the strong economic recovery and fall in unemployment. But as the 1997 general election loomed, despite their high profile New Labour, New Danger campaign, it was still looking certain that Labour would win.
An effective opposition campaign by the Labour Party culminated in a landslide defeat for the Conservatives in 1997 that was Labour’s largest ever parliamentary victory. The 1997 election left the Conservative Party with MPs in just England, all remaining seats in Scotland and Wales having been lost and not a single seat having been gained anywhere.
Back in opposition: William Hague
John Major resigned as party leader after the Conservatives were voted out of power and was succeeded by William Hague. Though Hague was a strong debater, a Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph found that two-thirds of voters regarded him as “a bit of a wally”, for headlines such as his claim that he drank 14 pints (8 litres, 1.75 gallons) of beer in a single day in his youth. He was also criticised for attending the Notting Hill Carnival and for wearing a baseball cap in public in what were seen as poor attempts to appeal to younger voters. Shortly before the 2001 election, Hague was much maligned for a speech in which he predicted that a re-elected Labour government would turn the UK into a “foreign land”. The BBC also reported that the Conservative peer Lord Taylor criticised Hague for not removing the whip fromJohn Townend, a Conservative MP, after the latter made a speech in which he said the British were becoming “a mongrel race”, although Hague did reject Townend’s views.
The 2001 election resulted in a net gain of just one seat for the Conservative Party, just months after the fuel protests of September 2000 had seen the Conservatives briefly take a narrow lead over Labour in the opinion polls.
Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard
Iain Duncan Smith (2001–2003) (often known as IDS and by satirists as “the quiet man”) is a strong Eurosceptic, but the issue did not define Duncan Smith’s leadership, though during his tenure Europe ceased to be an issue of division in the party as it united behind calls for a referendum on the proposed European Union Constitution.
However, before he could lead the party in a general election Duncan Smith lost the vote on a motion of no confidence by MPs who felt that the party would not be returned to government under his leadership. This was despite the Conservative support equalling that of Labour in the months leading up to his departure from the leadership.
Under Howard in the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party increased their total vote share by around 0.7% (up to 32.4%) and – more significantly – their number of parliamentary seats by 33 (up to 198 seats). This gain accompanied a larger fall in the Labour vote, and the election reduced Labour’s majority from 167 to 68 and its share of the vote to 35.2%. The campaign, based on the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”, was designed by Australian pollsterLynton Crosby. The day after the election, on 6 May, Howard announced that he did not feel it was right to continue as leader after defeat in the general election, also saying that he would be too old to lead the party into another campaign and would therefore step down after allowing time for the party to amend its leadership election rules.
David Cameron (in opposition and in government)
David Cameron won the 2005 leadership election. Cameron beat his closest rival, David Davis, by a margin of more than two to one, taking 134,446 votes to 64,398. He then announced his intention to reform and realign the Conservatives, saying they needed to change the way they looked, felt, thought and behaved, advocating a more centre-right stance as opposed to their recent staunchly right-wing platform. Although Cameron’s views are probably to the left of the party membership and he has sought to make the Conservative brand more attractive to young, socially liberal voters, he has also expressed his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, describing himself as a “big fan of Thatcher’s”, though he questions whether that makes him a “Thatcherite”. For most of 2006 and the first half of 2007, polls showed leads over Labour for the Conservatives.
Polls became more volatile in the summer of 2007 with the accession of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, although polls gave the Conservatives a lead after October of that year and, by May 2008, with the UK’s economy sliding into its first recession since 1992, and a week after local council elections, a YouGov poll commissioned by The Sun newspaper was published giving the Conservative Party a 26-point lead over Labour, its largest lead since 1968. The Conservatives gained control of the London mayoralty for the first time in May 2008 after Boris Johnson defeated the Labour incumbent,Ken Livingstone.
The Conservative lead in the opinion polls had been almost unbroken for nearly three years when Britain finally went to the polls on 6 May 2010, though since the turn of 2010 most polls had shown the Conservative lead as less than 10 points wide. The election ended in a hung parliament with the Conservatives having the most seats (306) but being 20 seats short of an overall majority. Following the resignation of Gordon Brown as prime minister and Labour Party leader five days afterwards, David Cameron was named as the country’s new prime minister and the Conservatives entered government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats – the first postwar coalition government.
In May 2014 the Conservatives were defeated in the European parliamentary elections coming in third behind the UK Independence Party and Labour. UKIP ended with 24 MEPs, Labour 20, and the Conservatives 19. The result was described by UKIP leader Nigel Farage as “disastrous” for Cameron, and the leaders of the other main parties.
In September 2014 the Unionist side, championed by Labour as well as by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, won in the Scottish Independence referendum by 55% No to 45% Yes on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country”. This can be seen as a victory for British Unionism, a core part of traditional Conservative ideology, and also for David Cameron as the incumbent Prime Minister.
In the 2015 general election, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the Commons and formed a single-party government under David Cameron. The party increased its national vote share, becoming the first incumbent party to do so since 1900. The result was unexpected and exceeded even the party leadership’s expectations, as most polls had predicted a hung parliament. This was also the first general election since 1992 in which the Conservatives had won an overall majority, although the vote share of 36.9% was lower than the previous four Conservative majority governments under Thatcher and Major.
In June 2016 Cameron announced his intention to resign after he failed to convince the British public to stay in the European Union.
The party’s reputation for economic stewardship was dealt a blow by Black Wednesday in 1992, in which billions of pounds were spent in an effort to keep the pound within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) system at an overvalued rate. Combined with the recession of the early 1990s ‘Black Wednesday’ allowed Tony Blair and then-Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to promise greater economic competence.
One concrete economic policy of recent years has been opposition to the European single currency. Anticipating the growing Euroscepticism within his party, John Major negotiated a British opt-out from the single currency in the 1992Maastricht Treaty, although several members of Major’s cabinet, such as Kenneth Clarke, were personally supportive of EMU participation. Following Major’s resignation after the 1997 defeat, each of the four subsequent Conservative leaders, including David Cameron, have positioned the party firmly against the adoption of the euro. This policy is broadly popular with the British electorate.
Following Labour’s victory in the 1997 general election, the Conservative Party opposed Labour’s decision to grant theBank of England independent control of interest rates—on the grounds that it would be a prelude to the abolition of thepound sterling and acceptance of the European single currency, and also expressed concern over the removal of monetary policy from democratic control. However, Bank independence was popular amongst the financial community as it helped to keep inflation low. The Conservatives accepted Labour’s policy in early 2000.
The Conservative Party under David Cameron has redirected its stance on taxation, still committed to the general principle of reducing direct taxation whilst arguing that the country needs a “dynamic and competitive economy”, with the proceeds of any growth shared between both “tax reduction and extra public investment”.
In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008–9, the Conservatives had not ruled out raising taxes, but since coming to power, the 50% top rate of income tax was dropped to 45% in 2013. They have said how they would prefer to cutnational insurance than lower the top rate further. Furthermore, they have reduced government spending, and haveringfenced only international aid, the NHS and education. Details of the cuts to government spending under the Conservative–Liberal coalition can be found in the following article: United Kingdom government austerity programme.
In recent years, ‘modernisers’ in the party have claimed that the association between social conservatism and the Conservatives (manifest in policies such as tax incentives for married couples, the removal of the link between pensions and earnings, and criticism of public financial support for those who do not work) have played a role in the electoral decline of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s (decade). Since 1997, a debate has continued within the party between ‘modernisers’ such as Alan Duncan, who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and ‘traditionalists’ such as Liam Fox  and Owen Paterson, who believe that the party should remain faithful to its traditional conservative platform. This may have resulted in William Hague‘s and Michael Howard‘s pre-election swings to the right in 2001 and 2005, as well as the election of the stop-Kenneth Clarke candidate, Iain Duncan Smith, in 2001. Iain Duncan Smith, however, remains influential. It has been argued by analyststhat his Centre for Social Justice has forced Cameron to the right on many issues, particularly crime and social welfare.
The party has strongly criticised Labour’s “state multiculturalism“. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said in 2008 that multiculturalism had created a “terrible” legacy, a cultural vacuum that has been exploited by “extremists”. However conservative critics such as Peter Hitchens assert that Cameron’s is an equally multicultural outlook and accuse the Conservative Party of promoting what they see as “Islamic extremists.”
For much of the 20th century, the Conservative party took a broadly Atlanticiststance in relations with the United States, favouring close ties with the United States and similarly aligned nations such as Canada, Australia and Japan. The Conservatives have generally favoured a diverse range of international alliances, ranging from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the Commonwealth of Nations.
Close US-British relations have been an element of Conservative foreign policy since World War II. Winston Churchill during his 1951–1955 post-war premiership built up a strong relationship with the Eisenhower Administration in the United States. Harold Macmillan demonstrated a similarly close relationship with theDemocratic administration of John F. Kennedy. Though the US–British relationship in foreign affairs has often been termed a ‘Special Relationship‘, a term coined bySir Winston Churchill, this has often been observed most clearly where leaders in each country are of a similar political stripe. The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher built a close relationship with the American President Ronald Reaganin his opposition to the former Soviet Union, but John Major was less successful in his personal contacts with George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Out of power and perceived as largely irrelevant by American politicians, Conservative leaders Hague, Duncan-Smith, and Howard each struggled to forge personal relationships with presidents Bill Clinton andGeorge W. Bush. However, the Republican 2008 presidential candidate, John McCain, spoke at the 2006 Conservative Party Conference.
The Conservatives have proposed a Pan-African Free Trade Area, which it says could help entrepreneurial dynamism of African people. The Conservatives have also pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.
David Cameron had sought to distance himself from former US President Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy, calling for a “rebalancing” of US-UK ties and met Barack Obama during his 2008 European tour. Despite traditional links between the UK Conservatives and US Republicans, and between Labour and the Democrats, London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, endorsed Obama in the 2008 election.
Beyond relations with the United States, the Commonwealth and the EU, the Conservative Party has generally supported a pro free-trade foreign policy within the mainstream of international affairs. The degree to which Conservative Governments have supported interventionist or non-interventionist presidents in the US has often varied with the personal relations between a US President and the British Prime Minister.
Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Conservative party has supported the coalition military action inAfghanistan. The Conservative Party believes that success in Afghanistan is defined in terms of the Afghans achieving the capability to maintain their own internal and external security. They have repeatedly criticised the former Labour Government for failing to equip British Forces adequately in the earlier days on the campaign—especially highlighting the shortage of helicopters for British Forces resulting from Gordon Brown’s £1.4bn cut to the helicopter budget in 2004.
Strategic Defence and Security Review
The Conservative Party believes that in the 21st century defence and security are interlinked. They have pledged to break away from holding a traditional Strategic Defence Review and have committed to carrying out a more comprehensiveStrategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) immediately upon coming into office. This review will include both defence and homeland security related matters. The Labour Government last conducted a review in 1998. To prevent a long gap in the future they have also pledged to hold regular defence reviews every 4–5 years, and if necessary will put this requirement into legislation. Party officials claim that the SDSR will be a major improvement, and will ensure that Britain maintains generic and flexible capability to adapt to any changing threats. It will be a cross-departmental review that will begin with foreign policy priorities and will bring together all the levers of domestic national security policy with overseas interests and defence priorities.
As well as an SDSR, the Conservative Party pledged in 2010 to undertake a fundamental and far reaching review of the procurement process and how defence equipment is provided in Britain. They have pledged to reform the procurement process, compile a Green Paper on Sovereignty Capability, and publish another Defence Industrial Strategy following on from the Defence Industrial Strategy in 2005. The Conservative Party has said that there will be four aims for British defence procurement: to provide the best possible equipment at the best possible price; to streamline the procurement process to ensure the speedy delivery of equipment to the front line; to support our industry jobs at home by increasing defence exports; to provide defence procurement that underpins strategic relationships abroad and; to provide predictability to the defence industry.
The Conservative Party also pledged to increase Britain’s share of the global defence market as Government policy.
Europe and NATO
The Conservative Party aims to build enhanced bilateral defence relations with key European partners and believes that it is in Britain’s national interest to cooperate fully with all its European neighbours. They have pledged to ensure that any EU military capability must supplement and not supplant British national defence and NATO, and that it is not in the British interest to hand over security to any supranational body.
The Conservatives see it as a priority to encourage all members of the European Union to do more in terms of a commitment to European security at home and abroad.
Regarding the defence role of the European Union, the Conservatives pledged to re-examine some of Britain’s EU Defence commitments to determine their practicality and utility; specifically, to reassess UK participation provisions like Permanent Structured Cooperation, the European Defence Agency and EU Battlegroups to determine if there is any value in Britain’s participation.
The Conservative Party upholds the view that NATO should remain the most important security alliance for United Kingdom. They believe that NATO, which has been the cornerstone of British security for the past 60 years, should continue to have primacy on all issues relating to Europe’s defence, and pledged in 2010 to make NATO reform a key strategic priority.
They have also called on the so-called fighting/funding gap to be changed and have called on the creation of a fairer funding mechanism for NATO’s expeditionary operations. As well as this, the Conservatives believe that there is scope for expanding NATO’s Article V to include new 21st Century threats such as energy and cyber security.
In 1945, the Conservatives first declared support for universal healthcare. Since entering office in 2010, they have introduced the Health and Social Care Act, constituting the biggest reformation that the NHS has ever undertaken. However, there has been much criticism and protest about the 2010 government’s actions on the NHS, focussing on budget cuts and privatisation of services. After a 2013 union protest said by police to have been one of the largest protests seen in Manchester, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that austerity was having a devastating effect, with 21,000 NHS jobs lost over the previous three months alone, and that “The NHS is one of Britain’s finest achievements and we will not allow ministers to destroy, through cuts and privatisation, what has taken generations to build.” The Department of Health responded that there was “absolutely no government policy to privatise NHS services”.
Views on drug legality and policing vary greatly within the Conservative Party. Some Conservative politicians such as Alan Duncan take the libertarian approach that individual freedom and economic freedom of industry and trade should be respected. Other Conservative politicians, despite being economically liberal, are in favour of full prohibition of the ownership and trade of many drugs. Other Conservatives are in the middle ground, favouring stances such as looser regulation and decriminalisation of some drugs. Legalisation of cannabis for medical uses is favoured by some Conservative politicians, including Boris Johnson.
In education, the Conservatives have pledged to review the National Curriculum, and introduce the English Baccalaureate. The restoration of discipline was also highlighted, as they want it to be easier for pupils to be searched for contraband items, the granting of anonymity to teachers accused by pupils, and the banning of expelled pupils being returned to schools via appeal panels.
In Higher education, the Conservatives have increased tuition fees to £9,000 per year, however have ensured that this will not be paid by anyone until they are earning over £21,000, and that those who fail their studies, will not pay anything at all. The Scottish Conservatives also support the re-introduction of tuition fees in Scotland.
Jobs and welfare policy
One of the Conservatives’ key policy areas of 2010, was to reduce the number of people in the UK claiming state benefits, and increase the number of people in the workforce. They have stated that all those in the UK claiming incapacity benefit, will face a review of their cases. Until 1999, Conservatives opposed the creation of the National Minimum Wage, citing that they believed it would cost jobs, and businesses would be reticent to start business in the UK from fear of high labour costs. However the party have since pledged support and in the July 2015 Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced a national living wage of £9/hour, to be introduced by 2020, for those aged 25 and over. They support, and have implemented, the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings, and seek to raise retirement age from 65 to 66.
Energy/climate change policy
David Cameron brought several ‘green‘ issues to the forefront of his 2010 campaign. These included proposals designed to impose a tax on workplace car parking spaces, a halt to airport growth, a tax on cars with exceptionally poor petrol mileage, and restrictions on car advertising. Many of these policies were implemented in the Coalition – including the ‘Green Deal’
Justice and crime policy
In 2010, the Conservatives campaigned with the conviction to cut the perceived bureaucracy of the modern police force and pledged greater legal protection to people convicted of defending themselves against intruders. They also supported the creation of a UK Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, but this was vetoed by their coalition partners theLiberal Democrats. Some Conservatives, particularly within the socially conservative Cornerstone Group, support the re-introduction of the death penalty; although the majority of party members oppose it.
European Union policy
No subject has proved more divisive in the Conservative Party in recent history than the role of the United Kingdom within the European Union. Though the principal architect of the UK’s entry into the European Communities (which became the European Union) was Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, and both Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillanfavoured some form of European union, the bulk of contemporary Conservative opinion is opposed to closer economic and particularly political union with the EU. This is a noticeable shift in British politics, as in the 1960s and 1970s the Conservatives were more pro-Europe than the Labour Party. Divisions on Europe came to the fore under the premiership ofMargaret Thatcher (1979–1990) and were cited by several ministers resigning, including Geoffrey Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, whose resignation triggered the challenge that ended Thatcher’s leadership. Under Thatcher’s successor, John Major (1990–1997), the slow process of integration within the EU forced party tensions to the surface. A core of EuroscepticMPs under Major used the small Conservative majority in Parliament to oppose Government policy on the Maastricht Treaty. By doing so they undermined Major’s ability to govern.
In recent years the Conservative Party has become more clearly Eurosceptic, as the Labour Government has found itself unwilling to make a positive case for further integration, and Eurosceptic or pro-withdrawal parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party have made showings in UK elections. But under current EU practices, the degree to which a Conservative Government could implement policy change regarding the EU would depend directly on the willingness of other EU member states to agree to such policies.
In 2009 the Conservative Party actively campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty, which it believes would give away too much sovereignty to Brussels. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that, should the Treaty be in force by the time of an incoming Conservative government, he would “not let matters rest there”. However, on 14 June 2009 the shadow Business Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, said in an interview to the BBC that the Conservative party would not reopen negotiations on the Lisbon Treaty if the Irish backed it in a new referendum, which they did on 2 October 2009.
The Conservative Party pledged an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union after a renegotiation, and it occurred on 23 June 2016, resulting in the Brexit.
The Conservatives staunchly support the maintenance of the United Kingdom, and oppose the independence of any of thecountries of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland from it. They have had a mixed history on support for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution.
In 1968, Edward Heath issued his ‘Perth declaration‘, in support of a Scottish assembly, in the wake of growing nationalism. However, the cause went unanswered during his turbulent premiership, and under Margaret Thatcher and John Major‘s leadership, the Conservatives vehemently opposed devolution, and campaigned against it in the 1997 devolution referendum. Following the Scottish Parliament‘s establishment in 1999, they have vowed to support its continued existence, and along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, they supported the Scotland Bill (2011), granting further devolution of power. They campaigned alongside Labour and the Liberal Democrats against full Scottish Independence in the 2014Scottish Independence referendum.
In Wales, the Conservatives campaigned against devolution in the 1997 referendum, however likewise as with Scotland, they have vowed to maintain the Welsh Assembly‘s continued existence, and in 2011 supported the further devolution of power.
In Northern Ireland, the Conservatives suspended the parliament in 1973 in the wake of the growing Troubles, and made unsuccessful attempts to re-establish it in the same year, and in 1982. They supported the Belfast Agreement negotiated by the Blair government in 1998, and in 2009, negotiated an electoral pact with the declining Ulster Unionist Party, whom it had previously been allied to before 1973.
The party opposed Labour’s attempts to devolve power to the northern regions of England in 2004. They declared support for a commission into the West Lothian Question, as to whether or not only English MPs should be able to vote on issues solely affecting English matters following the Scottish Independence Referendum.
The British Constitution
Traditionally the Conservative Party have been defenders of Britain’s unwritten constitution and system of government. The party opposed many of Tony Blair‘s reforms, such as the removal of the hereditary peers, the incorporation of theEuropean Convention on Human Rights into British law, and the 2009 creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, a function formerly carried out by the House of Lords. Until 2001 most members of the party were against an elected House of Lords; however opinion was later split, shown in the vote on the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012, when 80 backbenchers voted for an 80% elected upper chamber, and 110 did not. There was also a split on whether to introduce a British Bill of Rights which would replace the Human Rights Act 1998; David Cameron expressed support, but Ken Clarke described it as “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.
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31 / 129
11 / 60
|Northern Ireland Assembly||
0 / 108
In the organisation of the Conservative Party, constituency associations dominate the election of party leaders and the selection of local candidates (although some associations have organised open parliamentary primaries), while the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) leads financing, organisation of elections and drafting of policy. The leader of the parliamentary party forms policy in consultation with his cabinet and administration. This decentralised structure is unusual.
The Conservative Party Board is the party’s ultimate decision making body, responsible for all operational matters (including fundraising, membership and candidates) and is made up of representatives from each (voluntary, political and professional) section of the Party. The Party Board meets about once a month and works closely with CCHQ, elected representatives and the voluntary membership mainly through a number of management sub-committees (such as membership, candidates and conferences).
The Conservative Party has a membership of paid-up supporters, which, as of September 2014, is 150,000.Membership peaked in the mid-1950s at approximately 3 million, before declining steadily through the second half of the 20th century. Despite an initial boost shortly after David Cameron’s election as leader in December 2005, membership resumed its decline in 2006 to a lower level than when he was elected. In 2010, the Conservative Party had about 177,000 members according to activist Tim Montgomerie, and in 2013 membership was estimated by the party itself at 134,000. The membership fee for the Conservative Party is £25, or £5 if the member is under the age of 23. From April 2013 people could join Team2015 without being Party members, and take part in political campaigning for the party in the 2015 general election.
The Conservative Party maintains a youth wing for members under 30 called Conservative Future. Conservative Future is the largest such youth wing in the United Kingdom, with approximately 20,000 members. It has branches at both universities and at parliamentary constituency level. This reflects Conservative Future’s origin as a merger of the Young Conservatives, Conservative Collegiate Forum, and the National Association of Conservative Graduates, brought about in 1998. Young members in Scotland belong to an independent organisation, called Conservative Future Scotland.
The major annual party events are the Spring Forum and the Party Conference, which takes place in Autumn in alternately Manchester or Birmingham.
In the first decade of the 21st century, half the party’s funding came from a cluster of just fifty “donor groups”, and a third of it from only fifteen. In the year after the 2010 general election, half the Tories’ funding came from the financial sector.
For 2013, the Conservative Party had an income of £25.4 million, of which £749,000 came from membership subscriptions.
The Conservative Party is affiliated to — and plays a leading part in — a number of international organisations. As a global level, the Conservatives are a member of the International Democrat Union, which unites centre-right parties and its European subdivision, the European Democrat Union.
As a European level, the Conservatives are members of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR), which unites centre-right parties in opposition to a federal European Union. In the European Parliament, the Conservative Party’s MEPs sit in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which is affiliated to the AECR. Party leader David Cameron pushed the foundation of the ECR, which was launched in 2009, along with the Czech Civic Democratic Party and the Polish Law and Justice, before which the Conservative Party’s MEPs sat in the European Democrats, which had become a subgroup of the European People’s Party in the 1990s. Since the 2014 European election, the ECR group has been the third-largest group, with the largest members being the Conservatives (nineteen MEPs), Law and Justice (eighteen MEPs), the Alternative for Germany (seven MEPs), and the Danish People’s Party and New Flemish Alliance (four MEPs each).
As of June 2009, Cameron required a further four partners apart from the Polish and Czech supports to qualify for officialfraction status in the parliament; the rules state that a caucus needs at least 25 MEPs from at least seven of the 27 EU member states. In forming the caucus, Cameron is reportedly breaking with two decades of co-operation by the UK’s Conservative Party with the mainstream European Christian Democrats and conservatives in the European parliament, theEuropean People’s Party (EPP) on the grounds that it is dominated by European federalists and supporters of the Lisbon treaty, which is opposed by the Tories. EPP leader Wilfried Martens, former prime minister of Belgium, stated “Cameron’s campaign has been to take his party back to the centre in every policy area with one major exception: Europe. […] I can’t understand his tactics. Merkel and Sarkozy will never accept his Euroscepticism.”
The Conservative Party has a variety of internal factions or ideologies, including Cameronism, One-nation conservatism, Social conservatism, Thatcherism, Neoconservatism, Hard euroscepticism, Pro-Europeanism,Localism and Green conservatism.
One-nation conservatism was the party’s dominant ideology in the 20th century until the rise of Thatcherism in the 1970s, and included in its ranks Conservative Prime Ministers such as Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath.The name itself comes from a famous phrase of Disraeli. The basis of One-Nation Conservatism is a belief in social cohesion, and its adherents support social institutions that maintain harmony between different interest groups, classes, and—more recently—different races or religions. These institutions have typically included the welfare state, the BBC, and local government. Some are also supporters of the European Union, perhaps stemming from an extension of the cohesion principle to the international level, though others are strongly against the EU (such as Sir Peter Tapsell). Prominent One Nation Conservatives in the contemporary party include Kenneth Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and Damian Green; they are often associated with the Tory Reform Group and the Bow Group. One Nation Conservatives often invoke Edmund Burke and his emphasis on civil society (“little platoons”) as the foundations of society, as well as his opposition to radical politics of all types. Ideologically, One Nation Conservatism identifies itself with a broad liberal conservative stance. The ‘Red Tory’ theory of Phillip Blond is a strand of the ‘One Nation’ school of thought. Prominent ‘Red Tories’ include Iain Duncan Smithand Eric Pickles in the Cabinet and Jesse Norman on the backbenches.
The second main grouping in the Conservative party is the “free-market wing” of economic liberals who achieved dominance after the election of Margaret Thatcher as party leader in 1975. Their goal was to reduce the role of the government in the economy and to this end they supported cuts in direct taxation, the privatisation of nationalised industries and a reduction in the size and scope of the welfare state. Supporters of the “free-market wing” have been labelled as “Thatcherites“. The group has disparate views of social policy: Thatcher herself was socially conservative and a practisingAnglican but the free-market wing in the Conservative Party harbour a range of social opinions from the civil libertarianviews of Michael Portillo, Daniel Hannan, and David Davis to the traditional conservatism of former party leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. The Thatcherite wing is also associated with the concept of a “classless society.”
Most free-marketeers are also Eurosceptic, perceiving most EU regulations as interference in the free market and/or a threat to British sovereignty. EU centralisation also conflicts with the localist ideals that have grown in prominence within the party in recent years. Rare Thatcherite Europhiles include Leon Brittan. Many take inspiration from Thatcher’s Bruges speech in 1988, in which she declared that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed at a European level”. A number of free-market Conservatives have signed the Better Off Out pledge to leave the EU. Thatcherites and economic liberals in the party also tend to be Atlanticist, identifying strongly with the founding principles of the United States. This was demonstrated with the close friendship between Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan.
Thatcher herself claimed philosophical inspiration from the works of Burke and Friedrich Hayek for her defence of liberal economics. Groups associated with this tradition include the No Turning Back Group and Conservative Way Forward, whilstEnoch Powell and Sir Keith Joseph are usually cited as early influences in the movement.
This socially conservative right-wing grouping is currently associated with the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Family, Flag), and is the third main tradition within the Conservative Party. The name stems from its support for three British social institutions (though the Church is an English institution): the Church of England, the unitary British state and the family. To this end, they emphasise the country’s Anglican heritage, oppose any transfer of power away from the United Kingdom—either downwards to the nations and regions or upwards to the European Union—and seek to place greater emphasis on traditional family structures to repair what they see as a broken society in the UK. They are strong advocates of marriage and believe the Conservative Party should back the institution with tax breaks and have opposed Labour’s alleged assault on both traditional family structures and fatherhood. Most oppose high levels of immigration and support the lowering of the current 24 week abortion limit. Some members in the past have expressed support for capital punishment. Prominent MPs from this wing of the party include Andrew Rosindell, Nadine Dorries and Edward Leigh—the latter a prominent Roman Catholic, notable in a faction marked out by its support for the established Church of England. The conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton is a representative of the intellectual wing of the Cornerstone group: his writings rarely touch on economics and instead focus on conservative perspectives concerning political, social, cultural and moral issues.
Relationships between the factions
Sometimes two groupings have united to oppose the third. Both Thatcherite and Traditionalist Conservatives rebelled over Europe (and in particular Maastricht) during John Major‘s premiership; and Traditionalist and One Nation MPs united to inflict Margaret Thatcher’s only major defeat in Parliament, over Sunday trading.
Not all Conservative MPs can be easily placed within one of the above groupings. For example, John Major was the ostensibly “Thatcherite” candidate during the 1990 leadership election, but he consistently promoted One-Nation Conservatives to the higher reaches of his cabinet during his time as Prime Minister. These included Kenneth Clarke as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Michael Heseltine as Deputy Prime Minister.
|Election||Votes||Vote %||Seats||Outcome of election|
273 / 658
314 / 658
367 / 658
325 / 656
330 / 654
264 / 654
298 / 654
289 / 658
271 / 658
350 / 652
237 / 652
247 / 670
394 / 670
|Conservative Victory (supported by Liberal Unionists)|
313 / 670
411 / 670
|Conservative and Liberal Unionist Victory|
402 / 670
|Conservative and Liberal Unionist Victory|
156 / 670
272 / 670
|Liberal government in hung Parliament|
271 / 670
|Liberal government in hung Parliament|
332 / 707
344 / 615
258 / 625
|Labour government in hung Parliament|
412 / 615
260 / 615
|Labour government in hung Parliament|
470 / 615
|National Government Victory|
386 / 615
|National Government Victory|
197 / 640
282 / 625
321 / 625
345 / 630
365 / 630
304 / 630
253 / 630
330 / 630
297 / 635
|Labour government in hung Parliament|
277 / 635
339 / 635
397 / 650
376 / 650
336 / 651
165 / 659
166 / 659
198 / 646
306 / 650
|Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition|
330 / 650