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Conservative Party
Leader David Cameron
Chairman Eric Pickles
Founded Historical 1678,
Modern 1912
Headquarters Conservative Campaign Headquarters, 30 Millbank,
London, SW1P 4DP
Ideology Conservatism,
British unionism
Internal factions: [1]
Liberal conservatism,[2]
One nation conservatism,
Traditionalist conservatism
Political position Centre-right
International affiliation International Democrat Union
European affiliation Movement for European Reform
European Parliament Group European Conservatives and Reformists
Official colours Blue
House of Commons
House of Lords
European Parliament
London Assembly
Scottish Parliament
Welsh Assembly
Local government[3][4]
Politics of the United Kingdom
Political parties

The Conservative and Unionist Party, more commonly known as the Conservative Party, is a political party in the United Kingdom. Founded in its present form during the early 19th century, it has since been the principal centre right party in the UK.

The Conservative Party is descended from the old Tory Party, founded in 1678, and is still often referred to as the Tory Party and its politicians, members and supporters as Tories. It added the moniker Unionist in the early 20th century, following the Conservatives' alliance with that part of the Liberal Party, known as the Liberal Unionists, who opposed their party's support for Irish Home Rule.

The Conservative Party was in government for two-thirds of the twentieth century. Since losing the 1997 election to the Labour Party, as the second largest political party in terms of MPs it has constituted the official opposition. The current party leader is David Cameron, who acts as the leader of the opposition and heads the shadow cabinet. As of 2009, it has more councillors in local government, British members of the European Parliament and members of the London Assembly than any other party.


Organisation and membership

A graph showing the percentage of the popular vote received by major parties in general elections, 1832-2005.

In the organisation of the Conservative Party constituency associations dominate the election of party leaders and the selection of local candidates while the Conservative campaign headquarters 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.[5]

Membership declined through the 20th century, and, despite an initial boost shortly after Cameron's election as leader in December 2005, later resumed its fall in 2006 to a lower level than when he was elected. In 2006 the Conservative Party had about 290,000 members according to The Daily Telegraph.[6] The membership fee for the Conservative party is £25, or £5 if the member is under the age of 23.

In the year 2004, according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission, the party had an income of about £20 million and expenditures of about £26 million.[7]

Internationally the Conservative Party is member of the International Democratic Union, and in Europe it is a member of the European Democrat Union.


Under the leadership of David Cameron, the Conservative party has changed its electoral symbol from the freedom torch to that of a stylised oak tree and its official party colours from red, white and blue to blue and green. Before and after, the colour blue is most generally associated with the party. (In the Cumbrian constituencies of Penrith and the Border and Westmorland and Lonsdale the party has yellow as its colour after the coat of arms of the Earls of Lonsdale).


Sir Robert Peel, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and founder of the Conservative Party.

Origins in the Whig Party

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). Originally 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.

Not all members of the party were content with the "Tory" name. George Canning first used the term 'Conservative' in the 1820s and it was suggested as a title for the party by John Wilson Croker in the 1830s. It was later 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 the Tamworth Manifesto.

Conservatives and Unionists

Sir Winston Churchill, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The widening of the electoral franchise in the nineteenth 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 1906 when it split over the issue of free trade. In 1912 the party formally merged with the Liberal Unionists and was officially known as the Unionist party until 1925.

The Conservatives served with the Liberals in an all-party coalition government during World War I, and the coalition continued under Liberal PM David Lloyd George (with half of the Liberals) until 1922. Then Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin led the breakup of the coalition and the party governed until 1931 when it entered another coalition, 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 resurgent Labour Party.

Upon their election victory in the 1951 general election, the Conservatives supported part of Labour's 'welfare state' policies and industry nationalisation programme, though Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home continued to promote relatively liberal trade regulations and less state involvement throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Macmillan's bid to join the European Economic Community in early 1963 was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle.

Electoral performance

This chart shows the electoral performance of the Conservative Party in general elections since 1900.[8]

A graph showing the percentage of the popular vote received by major parties in general elections, 1832-2005.
Election Number of votes for Conservative Share of votes Seats Outcome of election
2005 8,785,941 32.4% 198 Labour Victory
2001 8,357,615 31.7% 166 Labour Victory
1997 9,600,943 30.7% 165 Labour Victory
1992 14,093,007 41.9% 336 Conservative Victory
1987 13,760,935 42.2% 376 Conservative Victory
1983 13,012,316 42.4% 397 Conservative Victory
1979 13,697,923 43.9% 339 Conservative Victory
October 1974 10,462,565 35.8% 277 Labour Victory
February 1974 11,872,180 37.9% 297 Labour Hung Parliament
1970 13,145,123 46.4% 330 Conservative Victory
1966 11,418,455 41.9% 253 Labour Victory
1964 12,002,642 43.4% 304 Labour Victory
1959 13,750,875 49.4% 365 Conservative Victory
1955 13,310,891 49.7% 345 Conservative Victory
1951 13,724,418 48.0% 321 (302+19) Conservative Victory
1950 11,507,061 40.0% 282 Labour Victory
1945 8,716,211 36.2% 197 Labour Victory
1935 10,025,083 47.8% 386 National Government (Conservative) Victory

Party leadership since the 1970s

Edward Heath

Edward Heath's 1970-1974 government was notable for its success in taking the UK into the EU, although the right 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 had until the summer of 1975 to call the next general election,[9] but chose to do so in February 1974 in a bid to win public support as tensions ran high over the miners strike. However, his attempt to win a second term in power at this "snap" election backfired spectacularly as a deadlock result left no party with an overall majority. The Tories 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 a majority of three seats.[10]

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher,[11] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990).

Margaret Thatcher won her party's leadership election in 1975 and led them to subsequent victory in the 1979 general election. In the years preceding her election, the UK had experienced sustained inflation (above 20% by the time of the election, and rarely below 10%), rising unemployment and the "Winter of Discontent" in which the UK was blighted by a series of strikes.[12]

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 socialist orientated 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. Holding 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 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. However, 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. While unemployment had doubled between 1979 and 1982, this was largely due to Mrs Thatcher's committed battle against the inflation which had ravaged the British economy throughout the 1970s. At the time of the 1979 election, inflation was at a modern day high of 27%; but it had fallen to 4% by the start of 1983.[13]

However, the period of deep 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 was formed in 1981 and consisted of more than 20 breakaway Labour MPs, who quickly formed an alliance with the Liberals. By the turn of 1982, the Alliance was ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls, but the Falklands triumph in June that year was quickly followed by the Tories returning to the top of the opinion polls.[14]

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 Tories at the next election and for virtually the entirety of Mrs 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 Tories to Labour, with the Alliance occasionally scraping into first place.[15]

By the time of the election in June 1987, however, the economy was stronger, with lower inflation and falling unemployment and Mrs Thatcher secured her third successive election win.[16]

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 autumn of that year, opinion polls were showing that Labour had a lead of up to 16 points over the Tories and they faced a tough 18 months ahead of them if they were to prevent Neil Kinnock's ambition to be prime minister from being realised. At the same time, the economy was sliding into another recession.[17]

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 finally resigned on 22 November 1990, making way for a new Tory leader more likely to win the next general election in the interests of party unity.[18]

John Major

John Major won the party leadership contest on 27 November 1990, and his appointment led to an almost automatic boost in Tory fortunes. A MORI poll six days before Mrs Thatcher's resignation had shown the Tories to be 11 points behind Labour, but within two months the Tories had returned to the top of the opinion polls with a slim lead.[19]

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 Tories and Labour regularly swapped places at the top of the opinion polls, and Major resisted Kinnock's numerous calls for an immediate election.[20]

The election was finally held on 9 April 1992 and the Tories won, even though the economy was still in recession and most of the pollsters 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 time first prime minister to attract 14,000,000 votes in a general election), as was a high profile campaign by The Sun newspaper which waged a high profile campaign against Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who resigned in the aftermath of the election to be succeeded by John Smith.[21]

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"; at that time, David Cameron, later to become leader of the party, was Special Advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont (1942).

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[22] bringing economic recovery and a rise in employment.

The Tory 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 Tories. The Labour lead was gradually narrowed over the next two years, as the Tories gained some credit for the strong economic recovery and fall in unemployment. But as the 1997 general election loomed, it was still looking certain that Labour would win.[23]

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 Tories were voted out of power and was succeeded by William Hague. Though a strong debater, a Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph found that two-thirds of voters regarded him as laughable,[24] for headlines such as his claim that he drank 14 pints 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.[25] 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".[26] The BBC also reported that Conservative peer Lord Taylor criticised Hague for not removing the whip from Conservative MP John Townend, after the latter made a speech in which he termed the British "a mongrel race", although Hague did reject Townend's views.[27]

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 Tories briefly take a narrow lead over Labour in the opinion polls.[28]

Having privately set himself a target of 209 seats, matching Labour's performance in 1983 – a target which he missed by 43 - William Hague resigned soon after.

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 Tory support equalling that of Labour in the months leading up to his departure from the leadership.[29]

Michael Howard then stood for the leadership unopposed on 6 November 2003.

Under Howard in the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party increased their total vote share by around 0.6% (up to 32.3%) and – more significantly – their number of parliamentary seats by 33 (up to 198 seats). This gain accompanied a large fall in the Labour vote, and the election reduced Labour's majority from 167 to 66. The Conservative party actually won the largest share of the vote in England, though not the largest number of seats. The campaign - based around the slogan,"Are you thinking what we're thinking?" - was designed by Australian pollster Lynton 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

David Cameron won the subsequent leadership campaign. 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.[30] Although Cameron's views are probably left of the party membership and he has sought to make the Conservative brand more attractive to young, socially liberal voters,[31] he has also expressed his admiration for former PM 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.[32]

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.[33] The Conservatives gained control of the London mayoralty for the first time in May 2008 after Boris Johnson defeated Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone.[34]

The Conservative Party today

The Conservative Party, having the second largest number of affiliate elected members in the House of Commons, forms Her Majesty's Official Opposition to the Labour Government of Gordon Brown, which currently holds a majority of 64 in a House of Commons of 646 Members of Parliament. The Conservatives now number 193 MPs.

Current policies

Since the election of David Cameron as leader, party policy has increasingly focused on 'social' and 'quality of life' issues such as the environment, government services (most prominently the National Health Service and the Home Office) and schools. Cameron has frequently called the UK a "broken society".[35] Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, once said that "society does not exist"[36] and the policies she enacted on that basis moved former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, a "One Nation" conservative, to use his maiden speech in the House of Lords to express concern over "the growing division of Conservative prosperity in the south and the ailing north and Midlands.... a new kind of wicked hatred that has been brought in by different types of people."[37]

Defence of the Union

The Conservative Party continues to argue for the continuation of the Union and against Scottish independence.[38] Current leader, David Cameron, has insisted that he was willing to "do everything and anything to keep our two countries as one."[39]

Conservatives hold a varying record of opposition and support on parliamentary devolution to the nations and English regions of the UK. They opposed devolution of Wales and Scotland in the 1997 referendums while supporting it for Northern Ireland. They also opposed the government's unsuccessful attempt at devolution of power to North East England in 2004. However, now a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly exist, the Conservatives have pledged not to reverse these reforms. Recently the Conservatives have begun to support - as a proposal but not yet as a policy - the idea that only English MPs should vote on policies that affect only England. (See the article on the West Lothian Question for fuller explanation of the issues involved).

Economic policy

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 1992 Maastricht 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 successive Conservative leaders, including David Cameron, have positioned the party firmly against the abolition of the pound. This policy is broadly popular with the British electorate, although voters typically rank Europe as an issue of low importance compared to education, healthcare, immigration and crime.[40]

Following Labour's victory in the 1997 general election, the Conservative Party opposed Labour's decision to grant the Bank of England independent control of interest rates - on the grounds that it would be a prelude to the abolition of the pound 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.[41] The Conservatives accepted Labour's policy in early 2000.[42]

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 2008-9 recession, the Conservatives have not ruled out raising taxes, and have said it will be difficult to scrap the 50% top rate of income tax. They have said how they would prefer to cut a recent rise in national insurance. Furthermore, they have stated that government spending will need to be reduced, and have only ringfenced international aid and the NHS.

Social policy

Scarborough Conservative Club.

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. Since 1997 a debate has continued within the party between 'modernisers' such as Michael Portillo, who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and 'traditionalists' such as Boris Johnson, William Hague, and David Davis, 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,[citation needed] 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 analysts that 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".[43] Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said in 2008 that multiculturalism had created a "terrible" legacy, a cultural vacuum that has been exploited by "extremists".[44] However the far right asserts that Cameron's is an equally multicultural outlook[45] and that the Conservative Party has itself promoted extremists by establishing the Conservative Muslim Forum, "a dangerous flirtation with Islamic extremism that should be brought to an end, as well as a dangerous step towards ethnic and religious balkanization within the party. It closely parallels some of the same mistakes made by the Labour government, which has all too often lent credibility to Muslim groups claiming to be moderate, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)."[46]

Foreign policy

For much of the twentieth century the Conservative party took a broadly Atlanticist stance 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 the Democratic administration of John F. Kennedy. Though the US-British relationship in foreign affairs has often been termed a 'Special Relationship', a term coined by Sir Winston Churchill, this has often been observed most clearly where leaders in each country are of a similar political stripe. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher built a close relationship with American President Ronald Reagan in his opposition to the former Soviet Union, but John Major was less successful in his personal contacts with former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.[citation needed] 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 and George W. Bush. However, Republican 2008 presidential candidate John McCain spoke at the 2006 Conservative Party Conference.[47]

The Conservatives have proposed Pan-African Free Trade Area, which it says could help entrepreneurial dynamism of African people.[48] The Conservatives have also pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.[48]

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[49] and met with 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.

Defence policy

  • Welfare

Improving the welfare of Britain’s military service personnel is a priority for the Conservative Party. One of their main goals is to repair the Military Covenant. [50] and strengthen the ties between the armed forces and a future government. Some of their policy commitments at the next general election will be: to double the operational bonus for troops serving in Afghanistan; to fund higher education for children of those service personnel killed in action and; to properly resource and staff the NHS to deal optimally with the particular needs of the Armed Forces.

Mental health has always a been a very important issue for the Conservative Party, particularly when it comes to service personnel. [51] The Party is committed to addressing issues of mental health before they arise with a mental health follow-up telephone service for veterans and personnel who have deployed on operations or to places in support of operations. It will be customer-service driven and at the convenience of the veteran. The Conservative Party have also pledged to support greater awareness of the programmes that offer help to armed forces personnel.

  • Afghanistan

Since the terrorists attacks of September 11th the Conservative party has supported the coalition military action in Afghanistan. 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.[52] They have repeatedly criticized the current 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.[53] The Conservative’s support General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy and Liam Fox was one of the first British politicians to support this strategy.

  • Strategic Security and Defence 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 comprehensive Strategic Security and Defence 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 step change, and will ensure that Britain maintains generic and flexible capability able 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 national and domestic security policy with overseas interests and defence priorities.[54]

As well as an SDSR, the Conservative Party has pledged 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, conduct 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 has 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.[55]

The Conservative’s 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 have pledged to re-examine some of Britain’s EU Defence commitments to determine their practicality and utility if they form the next Government. Specifically, they have pledged 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.[56] 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.

A future Conservative Government will 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.

  • Nuclear Deterrent

A future Conservative Government will maintain Britain’s continuous at sea, independent, submarine based strategic nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile system.[57]

The European Union

No subject has more divided the Conservative Party in recent history than the UK's relations with the European Union (EU). Though the principal architect of the UK's entry into the then European Communities (now the European Union) was Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, and both Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan favoured 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 of Margaret Thatcher (1979–1990) and were cited by several ministers resigning, including Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe, 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 Eurosceptic MPs 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.

The Conservatives are a member of the International Democrat Union and its European Democrat Union. In the summer of 2006 the Conservatives became founding members of the Movement for European Reform, following Cameron's pledge to end the fourteen-year-old partnership between the largely Eurosceptic Conservatives and the more Euro-integrationist, European People's Party (EPP). Within the European Parliament, however, the Conservatives remain members of an informal bloc called the European Democrats (ED), which is committed to sit in a coalition arrangement with the EPP as the EPP-ED group until 2009. Paradoxically, the EPP group is a strongly pro-EU integrationist grouping in the EP, while the ED is a eurosceptic grouping.

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".[58] However, on 14 June 2009 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,[59] which they did on 2 October 2009.

In June 2009, the Conservative Party leader David Cameron sealed a new alliance with conservative Polish Law and Justice party (PiS), which at the time sat in opposition. Cameron attended a gathering at Warsaw's Palladium cinema celebrating the foundation of the new alliance; also present were Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, and Mirek Topolánek, leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the Czech Republic.[60]

As of June 2009, Cameron required a further four partners apart from the Polish and Czech supports to qualify for official fraction 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.[60] In forming the caucus, Cameron is reportedly breaking with two decades of co-operation by the UK's Conservative party with the mainstream centre-right Christian democrats in the European parliament, the European 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.[60] EPP leader Wilfried Martens, former prime minister of Belgium, has 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."[60]

In 2009 Foreign Secretary David Miliband accused the Conservative Party of having links to far-Right parties. He reiterated this in October, saying he was "astounded" by comments of the ECR group's chairman, the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, who had said that he believed that the murder of hundreds of Jews in Jedwabne should be considered a lesser crime than those committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.[61]

In October 2009, the Conservative party came under pressure from the US administration concerning its alliances in the European Parliament.[62] According to reports, the Conservative party's links to far-right parties within Europe has caused a "host of condemnation"[62] from Jewish groups in the US; Ira Forman, chief executive of the National Jewish Democratic Council, stated that "There is obviously concern in the US when there is legitimacy conferred on individuals and political parties that have had some association with anti-Semitism."[62]

Party factions

One Nation Conservatives

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 Benjamin 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 hues.

Free-Market Conservatives

The second main grouping in the Conservative party is the "free market" or Thatcherite 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. The group has disparate views of social policy: Thatcher herself was socially conservative and a practising Methodist but her supporters harbour a range of social opinions from the libertarian views of Michael Portillo and David Davis to the traditional conservatism of William Hague. The Thatcherite wing is also associated with the concept of a "classless society."

Many are also Eurosceptic, perceiving most EU regulations as interference in the free market and/or a threat to British sovereignty. 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". Thatcherites also tend to be Atlanticist, dating back to the close friendship between 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.

Traditionalist Conservatives

This right-wing grouping is currently associated with the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Flag and Family), and is the third main tradition within the Conservative Party. The name stems from its support for three English social institutions: 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. They have been credited with securing a last minute u-turn by the Government who were planning to further liberalise the UK's abortion laws, when in 2008 to the surprise of many MPs the Leader of the House announced plans to shelve these proposals. Some members in the past have expressed support for capital punishment. Prominent MPs from this wing of the party include Andrew Rosindell, Nadine Dorries, Ann Widdecombe and Edward Leigh—the last two prominent Roman Catholics, 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.

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 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.

Associated groups

See also

Further reading

  • R. T. McKenzie and A. Silver (1968), Angels in Marble: Working-class Conservatives in Urban England
  • Geoffrey Wheatcroft (2005), The Strange Death of Tory England


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  62. ^ a b c The recently formed European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is headed by Polish politician Michal Kaminskiof the Polish PiS (Law & Justice) party and the Latvian "For Fatherland & Freedom" party, some of whose MPs notably Roberts Zile attend th 16 March commemoration of the two Waffen SS units of Latvian Legion. The European Conservatives and Reformists includes nationalist, euro-sceptic and anti-federalist MEPs from Hungary, Czech, the Netherlands, Belgium and Lithuania. MacAskill, Ewan; Nicholas Watt (20 October 2009). "William Hague under pressure from US over Conservative allies in Europe: Clinton urged to condemn party's links with Polish and Latvian right-wingers". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 21 October 2009. 

External links

Official party sites

Internal party policy groups



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