The UK Conservative Party before 1979 The Conservative Party is the oldest of the 3 main parties in the UK, and its origins lie in the Tory faction of late-17 th century monarchists. It began calling itself the Conservative Party in 1824 but in its modern form it dates from 1834, when Robert Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto combined a defence of traditional institutions with a programme of moderate reforms. The party was split by the repeal of the Corn Laws – free trade v.s protectionism – in 1846. It regained strength in the 1870s under Benjamin Disraeli. It was in power almost continuously from 1886 until 1905, defending the union with Ireland until 1922.
The UK Conservative Party before 1979 The Conservative-led coalition under Churchill triumphed in WW2, but meanwhile the Conservative Party neglected domestic policy and its own management and fund-raising – hence Labour landslide defeat by Labour in 1945. In the post-war period until the 1970s, the Conservatives pursued Harold Macmillan’s ‘middle-way’. Under Edward Heath, the Conservatives took the UK into the EEC in 1973. However, traditional Tory pragmatism has alternated with phases of deep ideological division that invariably weakened the party.
Conservative prime ministers after 1945 Winston Churchill, 1951-55 Anthony Eden, 1955-57 Harold Macmillan, 1957-63 Alec Douglas-Home, 1963-64 Edward Heath, 1970-74 Margaret Thatcher, 1979-90 John Major, 1990-97
The UK Conservative Party 1979-2005 The philosophical foundations of the British Conservative Party were stable until the triumph of Margaret Thatcher and the New Right from 1979. The New Right came to the fore in the UK in the 1970s for a variety of reasons: Economic recession seemed to prove that Keynesian state intervention had failed. Many Conservatives perceived a growing culture of welfare dependency, which they rejected. They also rejected the permissive society of the 1960s and 1970s. UK membership of the EU since 1973 seemed to threaten national sovereignty.
The UK Conservative Party 1979-2005 Thatcherism was the UK variant of New Right conservatism, also known as the radical right. It combined free-market economics, privatisation of public services and cuts in taxation and welfare with authoritarian social, moral and law-and-order-policies. Thatcher won 3 general elections but became increasingly unpopular due to high levels of unemployment, the 198-85 miners’ strike , the poll tax and growing tensions over European policy. Margaret Thatcher was ousted by her own party in 1990.
Conservative leaders and policies since Thatcher
The UK Conservative Party today Three consecutive general election defeats, and a fourth leadership succession in as many years, resulted in the 2005 election of David Cameron as party leader. A moderniser – apparently anti-Thatcherite, despite his previous New Right credentials. The Conservative Party modernisers are largely moderate social liberals.
David Cameron’s priorities are, apparently two-fold: 1. To pull the party back towards a more centrist and moderate ideological stance. He has, for example, downplayed tax cuts and instead emphasised economic stability and the protection of public services. He has also opposed compulsory national identity cards, contrary to Thatcherite neo-conservative illiberalism.