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'One nation', 'one nation conservatism', and 'Tory democracy' are terms used in political debate in the United Kingdom to refer to the left wing of the Conservative Party. The term denotes a political stance aspiring towards unity of the citizenry in the nation, as well as harmony between divergent classes and interest groups, as opposed to the societal polarisation seen in the likes of both militant socialism and Thatcherism.

The term derives indirectly from one of Benjamin Disraeli's political novels, Sybil, or the Two Nations, in which he described Britain as "Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets: the rich and the poor." Lord Randolph Churchill would also use the term "Tory democracy" in this Disraelian sense in the late-Victorian era.

British prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, as well as men such as Rab Butler, were leading figures of One Nation Conservatism.


One nation conservatives and Thatcher

One nation conservatism fell into disfavour in the mid 1970s. The rising generation of Conservative politicians, represented by such figures as Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph, and John Nott, felt that the old model of one nation Tory paternalism, as practised by Macmillan and Heath, had, by 1979, failed. Its political failure had been evident in the Conservatives losing four out of the past five general elections, and its socio-economic failure was manifest in the relatively high levels of unemployment and inflation of the UK of the 1970s.

The new breed (referred to as the "dries", as opposed to the One Nation "wets") believed that One Nation Conservatism had been mistaken in not challenging the post-war consensus, and that a radical new approach to governing was necessary if the United Kingdom was to ever break out of the pattern of decline that had come to a head in the 1979 Winter of Discontent. However, whilst inflation came under control during the Thatcher years, unemployment spiralled out of control,reaching as high as 3.6 million.

Unsurprisingly, one nation Conservatives (e.g. Edward Heath) were often the most vocal critics of Thatcher's policies within the UK Conservative Party.

Modern revival?

Since their electoral defeat in 1997 some Conservatives have tried to reclaim the "one nation" ideal for their party: ground which many believe to be now occupied by the New Labour agenda.

In his 2000 Macmillan Lecture, the Conservative front-bencher Damian Green MP asked "Who Needs One Nation Conservatism?". He answered: "My answer to the question posed tonight, 'Who needs One Nation Conservatism?' is first the Conservative Party, and secondly the British people." Elsewhere the Conservative Party's former leader William Hague said, 'The Conservative Party I feel at home in is the party of One Nation reflecting the whole nation'."[citation needed]

However, since 2004, Damian Green MP, the last Tory Reform Group Conservative on the front bench, lost his position (although he returned to the front bench in 2005) and David Cameron declared the "Nine Principles" of the Conservative Way Forward group to be the basis of the party's policy formation. Other factors include

  • Defections to more left-wing parties of several members.
  • The growth of the importance of Europe on the political scene, attracting new Eurosceptic members.
  • The dissolution of the Oxford University Tory Reform Group into the Oxford University Conservative Association due to lack of members.

Together, these indicate a relative decline in influence of the Tory Reform Group in the face of the Conservative Way Forward group, a pro-Thatcherite group that has, notably, publicly supported the eventual winner of every leadership contest in the party since 1997.

Ferdinand Mount's 2004 book Mind the Gap[1], offers a clear articulation of the modern British One Nation Conservative viewpoint.

Iain Duncan-Smith's work with the Centre for Social Justice is perhaps the best example of the revival of One Nation Conservatism in the UK.

Phillip Blond, advocate of communitarian conservatism (outlined in his "Rise of the red Tories" article[2]), is said to have Mr Cameron's ear[3].


Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was heavily influenced by the ideals of the 'one nation' movement. Gad Horowitz would trace the ideological development in Canada, and would coin the term Red Tory to describe it. Canadian philosopher George Grant stated that, "One cannot understand the Conservatism of Canada without thinking of Disraeli."

"One nation" was also used in the Progressive Conservative Party in opposition to the proposed deux nations policy.


  • Grant, George, Globe and Mail, Saturday May 8, 1982, pg 15

See also

External links



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