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Conservative Party

Conservative Party. The less reformist of the (normally) two main parties in British politics. It has a longer history than any other political party, perhaps anywhere, with an institutional continuity under that name from the early 1830s, though it drew upon older traditions including a church and king Toryism. (In common currency ‘Tory’ has often been interchangeable with ‘Conservative’.) The matrix of 19th-cent. Conservatism lay in the younger Pitt's government, a cause given wider appeal and by its resistance to the Jacobinism of revolutionary France. Constitutional and societal conservatism united the old court party (largely placemen under Treasury patronage) and most of the country gentlemen in the Commons. A long near-monopoly of government ended only in 1830 when issues like catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform broke up old solidarities. The loss of office and Treasury patronage (itself in decline) forced the organization of an independent party from a position of opposition. The Reform Bill struggle of 1831–2, though a defeat, was a crucible of party development and the newly named Conservative Party set itself to limit further damage to established institutions. The Carlton Club, founded in 1832 and moved to Pall Mall in 1835, symbolized this development. Wellington and Peel were the recognized leaders, though the latter's ‘Tamworth manifesto’ of December 1834, a statement of political strategy, was not a party document.

The party operated within the framework of the parliamentary constitution and its organization helped to fill the gap left by the decline of the crown's influence in the ‘making’ of a House of Commons. It was in competition with the rival Whig Party, which, with its radical allies, developed into the Liberal Party. The disintegration of the Liberals in the early 20th cent. meant the Conservatives' main challenge came from the trade union-based Labour Party mobilizing the working-class vote. That change also involved a shift in the dominant issues. The Victorian Conservative Party was identified with the defence of the constitution and the causes and interests associated with it: the monarchy and House of Lords, the established churches, the Union with Ireland, landownership, property rights and inheritance, a limited franchise. Always associated, particularly at the parliamentary level, with wealth and privilege, it also reflected vertical divisions in society: church against chapel, land and agriculture against industry, the countryside against the larger towns. From around the Great War these traditional causes were largely superseded by socio-economic issues, a change assisted by the Irish settlement, the Bolshevik revolution, and economic depression. The main threats identified by the party were now trade unionism, egalitarianism, redistributive welfare, socialism, and Bolshevism. The Conservatives became more a party of business (companies and entrepreneurs took over its main financing) and more clearly the party of middle-class interests. Its leaders now came to be drawn from the business and professional classes rather than the landed and titled. The 1951 general election's overwhelmingly Conservative middle-class vote represented a peak of class-based voting. At the same time nearly a third of the enfranchised working classes has usually supported the Conservatives for reasons of patriotic identity, resentment of immigrant groups, hostility to catholics or dissenters, or just a sense of economic interest.

The party's history has a pronounced periodization. After the long dominance of constitutional loyalism down to 1830, the Conservatives spent most of the period 1830–86 in opposition. Only two general elections, 1841 and 1874, were won. Franchise extensions and advancing urbanization and industrialization handicapped the party and its 1846 split over the Corn Laws left long-term damage. It then benefited from the comparable Liberal split over Irish Home Rule in 1886 and was maintained in office by the Liberal Unionists for most of the next 20 years. (The two parties merged as the Conservative and Unionist Party in 1912.) Though hit by the Parliament Act removing the absolute veto of the Conservative-dominated House of Lords in 1911 and by the progress of Home Rule, the Conservatives gained from the Great War, which brought them back into government and divided the Liberals again. Faced with three-party politics and the first Labour governments in the 1920s, the Conservatives, who gained most of the disintegrating Liberal vote, established themselves as the dominant party, despite the impact of economic depression, and controlled the National Government coalition from 1931. The Second World War undermined this position: it brought Labour into government and to the management of the ‘home front’, and the 1945 general election was lost decisively by the Conservatives. The 1945–51 Labour government established a ‘post-war consensus’ around a mixed economy, the welfare state, and a commitment to full employment. Conservative governments from 1951 to 1964 were founded on acceptance of this legacy as well as upon rising living standards and Cold War diplomacy. What was left of the colonial empire was liquidated, a process now seen even by most Conservatives as a legitimate application of democratic self-government. The party had come to terms with full democracy (except in its own internal structures where hierarchy and the notion of ‘leadership’ continued to appeal). With the breakdown of this domestic consensus by the 1970s under pressure of rising inflation, labour disputes, increasing unemployment, and declining economic competitiveness, the party turned (perhaps returned) sharply towards the free-market economics represented by the Thatcher government of 1979–90. This tenure of office and four successive general election victories were assisted by divisions within the Labour Party and the opposition generally. Though the 20th cent. stood more than the 19th as ‘the Conservative century’, Conservative dominance of government owed much to the fragmentation of the political left.

Conservative victory in 1992 was very much a mixed blessing. The majority was small, the party badly split on Europe, and John Major struggled to impose his authority, at one point standing for re-election as party leader. The party was also increasingly handicapped by its weak appeal in Scotland and Wales, where in 1997 it did not win a single seat, and by its breach with the Ulster Unionists, who at one time had been staunch allies. More and more it resembled an English National Party. After a series of allegations of ‘sleaze’, its defeat in 1997 was not unexpected, but its poor showing in 2001, despite the exertions of William Hague, was a bitter blow. In 2005, under the leadership of Michael Howard, the party recovered some ground, but fell far short of gaining a majority.

The Conservative Party has never had a clear ideological identity. Social paternalism, laissez-faire, state corporatism, religiosity and materialism, free trade and protectionism have all had their influence, though major division and damage have only rarely arisen from the tensions. Loyalties to the constitution and its symbols, social order, and patriotism have substituted for ideological coherence. Conservative political practice has generally been pragmatic, geared to the needs of electoral success and office-holding. The long history of the party adds also to the blurring of ideological identity. The political right has never needed to recreate itself in Britain as in many continental countries. The Conservative Party's continuity reflects that of the state and nation which have not suffered conquest, major defeat, or social revolution. It also reflects the nature of economic and social development in Britain. The extent of social well-being among a large middle class and even sections of the working classes has facilitated the Conservative practice of defending great property through an alliance with small property.

Bruce Coleman

Bibliography

Blake, R. , The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970);
Coleman, B. , Conservatism and the Conservative Party in Nineteenth-Century Britain (1988);
Seldon, A., and Ball, S. (eds.), Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900 (Oxford, 1994).

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"Conservative Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Conservative Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conservative-party

"Conservative Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conservative-party

Conservative Party (Britain)

Conservative Party (Britain)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The British Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful democratic political parties in the world. The party originated in the late seventeenth century as the aristocratic Tory faction in parliament, with the name Conservative achieving currency only in the nineteenth century. In 1894 the partys official name became the Conservative and Unionist Party following a merger of the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionist Party. The merger was a result of a protracted conflict that split the Liberal Party into home rule and unionist groups, with the latter joining the Conservatives to maintain the union of Great Britain and Ireland. In the twentieth-century, the Liberals were replaced by the socialist Labour Party as the Conservatives principal rivals for power following a further Liberal split during the First World War. The Liberals did not disappear, but they remained an ideologically centrist third party whose fortunes mostly waned, and occasionally waxed, over time.

There are three major components in Conservative thought. The firstoften labeled Tory Conservatism has roots in the ideas of the British philosopher-politician Edmund Burke (17291797). Burke argued that societies were organic, but not static, entities. Social change should be gradual and evolutionary, rather than abrupt and revolutionary. A principal task of the Conservative Party and its leaders was to guide change in ways that would preserve the essential elements of Britains social fabric. For Burke, the maintenance of hierarchy, continuity, and an interlocking system of mutual social obligations were the ends of good government.

Burkes ideas were given renewed force in the late nineteenth century by Benjamin Disraeli (18041881). Leading his party and country when the Industrial Revolution was creating a new urban working class, Disraeli propounded the idea that Britain was One Nation. Rather than arraying itself in a coalition with the middle and upper classes that was indifferent to working class concerns, Disraeli proposed that the Conservatives develop policies that would serve the interests of all classes.

Inspired by Disraelis One Nation ideas, many subsequent Conservative politicians and political thinkers endorsed the broad panoply of social programs characteristic of the twentieth-century welfare state. Much of this was prompted by the Labour Partys victory in the general election of 1945 and the popular program of policy changes introduced by their government. By doing this, the Conservative Party was able to recover lost ground and capture power again in 1951. One Nation Conservatives also adopted assumptions of Keynesian economics, particularly the idea that substantial state intervention in the economy could control inflation and unemployment, while also promoting growth and innovation. By the late 1950s, Conservative and Labour policies had become rather similar, leading observers to coin the term Butskellism an amalgam of the names of the leading Conservative politician Rab Butler and the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskellto describe the convergence between the parties platforms.

A third, laissez-faire, component of Conservative thought rejects the interventionist thrust of the Disraeli-Butler tradition. This reflects the free-market ideas associated with Adam Smith that were originally embraced by the Liberal Party. Beginning in the late 1960s, Sir Keith Joseph and other advocates of free-market economics and smaller government became increasingly influential in the party. This neoliberal movement found a champion for its ideas in Margaret Thatcher, who succeeded Edward Heath as the party leader in 1975. In 1979, a combination of accelerating economic decline coupled with mounting social and political turmoil enabled Thatcher to lead her party to power. Thatcherism subsequently came to describe a mix of policies designed to promote free-market economics and lessen public reliance on what Mrs. Thatcher derisively termed the nanny state. In foreign affairs, following Winston Churchill and other earlier Conservative leaders, Thatcher vigorously opposed communism and promoted strong ties with the United States.

Although initially unpopular, Thatchers public standing improved markedly in 1982 as a result of Britains victory over Argentina in the Falklands War. After leading her party in two more successful general elections, her tenure as prime minister abruptly ended in November 1990 when she was ousted in an intra-party revolt. Her replacement was John Major, who achieved a very narrow and widely unexpected victory in the 1992 general election. Conservative support was then driven sharply downward by a relentless combination of recession and economic mismanagement, internecine conflict over relations with the European Union, and persistent allegations of sleaze.

The partys vulnerability was enhanced by the resurgence of the Labour Party. Labour had lurched to the ideological left in the late 1970s, effectively making itself unelectable for nearly two decades. However, under the leadership of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and then Tony Blair, Labour again became a serious contender for power. Chosen party leader in 1994, Blair argued that a Labour government should use the tools of capitalist economics to generate the resources needed to achieve egalitarian policy goals, specifically to fund cherished social programs cut by successive Thatcher-Major governments. In 1997, Blairs New Labour party won a landslide victory, reducing the Conservative vote to 30.7 percent, the lowest figure in over 100 years. In two ensuing general elections, that figure increased only marginallyto 31.7 percent in 2001, and to 32.4 percent in 2005.

In the early twenty-first century, the Conservatives are no longer the dominant force that prompted observers to lionize them as Britains natural governing party. Searching for new ideas with widespread appeal, subject to continuing intraparty conflict, and suffering much reduced local party membership, Conservatives have struggled to find a formula for renewal. Acting on the correct assumption that one part of a winning formula is leadership, the party has fielded four leadersWilliam Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and David Cameronsince their 1997 debacle. Two of these people (Hague and Howard) promptly led the party to electoral defeat, and one (Duncan Smith) was ousted before he had a chance to do so. However, Cameron may fare better. He is attempting to cast off the legacy of Thatcherism by moving his party back to the ideological center ground and casting himself as both competent and compassionate. His efforts to improve Conservative fortunes are being helped by widespread dissatisfaction among Labour supporters with Tony Blair, and by a series of misfortunes similar to those that beset the Conservatives in the 1990s. Whether this combination of strategy and circumstance will prove a winning one for the Conservative Party remains to be seen.

SEE ALSO Labour Party (Britain); Liberal Party (Britain); Parliament, United Kingdom; Thatcher, Margaret

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boothroyd, David. 2001. Politicos Guide to the History of British Political Parties. London: Politicos Publishing.

Clarke, Harold D., David Sanders, Marianne C. Stewart, and Paul Whiteley. 2004. Political Choice in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Norpoth, Helmut. 1992. Confidence Regained: Economics, Mrs. Thatcher, and the British Voter. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Whiteley, Paul, Patrick Seyd, and Jeremy Richardson. 1994. True Blues: The Politics of Conservative Party Membership. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harold D. Clarke
Paul F. Whiteley

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Conservative party (British political party)

Conservative party, British political party, formally the Conservative and Unionist party and a continuation of the historic Tory party.

The Rise of the Conservative Party

The name "conservative" was used by George Canning as early as 1824 and was first popularized by John Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review in 1830. The Reform Bill of 1832 (see Reform Acts), which created some 500,000 middle-class voters, marked the advent of the new party. The 19th-century Conservatives, like their Tory predecessors, were defenders of the established Church of England. They supported aristocratic government and a narrow franchise. They attempted, by passing factory acts and moderating the poor law of 1834, to ease hardships stemming from the Industrial Revolution, but they had no comprehensive plan to cope with its widespread dislocations. They were stronger in rural than in urban areas and were defenders of agricultural interests.

Sir Robert Peel, in his Tamworth Manifesto (1834) and after, attempted to make the party attractive to the new business classes and formed the first Conservative government. But his repeal (1846) of the corn laws brought about an angry reaction from protectionist agricultural interests, led by Lord George Bentinck and Benjamin Disraeli, and resulted in a party split. The "Peelites" eventually merged with the Liberal party, and the Conservatives were hampered by the loss to the Liberals of able young leaders like William Gladstone.

From Disraeli to World War I

In the heyday (1846–73) of free trade and anti-imperial sentiment, the Conservatives were out of office, except for three brief ministries, until the Disraeli government of 1874–80. Disraeli's strong imperialism and his wooing of a broadened electorate with plans for reform, a program known as "Tory democracy," was attractive in a period of depression and increasing imperial competition. After the Reform Bill of 1884 campaign, organizations like the Primrose League and the development of the caucus gave the Conservatives greater solidarity and cohesion. They gained additional strength as a result of the secession (1886) from the Liberal party of the Liberal Unionists, who, like the Conservatives, opposed Home Rule for Ireland. (In 1912 the Liberal Unionists formally merged with the Conservative party.)

The party was in office under the 3d marquess of Salisbury (1885–86; 1886–92; 1895–1902) and Arthur Balfour (1902–5). Efforts by Lord Randolph Churchill to implement further domestic reforms in the tradition of Tory democracy were unsuccessful, but the popular imperialist emphasis remained. In this period the party was gradually drawing closer to middle-class business interests, but the insistence of Joseph Chamberlain on a program of tariff reform, including imperial preference, split the party, which lost (1906) to the Liberals. Conservatives were next in office as part of the coalition government during World War I.

The Dominant Party

In 1922 the Conservatives refused to continue the coalition formed during the war, and under Andrew Bonar Law emerged victorious at the polls. With the Liberals in decline and the Labour party still developing, the Conservatives entered a period of almost continuous hegemony. They held office from 1922 to 1929, interrupted only by a brief Labour ministry in 1924. They were the dominant power in the National governments of Ramsay MacDonald (1931–35), Stanley Baldwin (1935–37), and Neville Chamberlain (1937–40). Under the long leadership of Baldwin (1922–37), the party spoke for the interests of business, the professional and white-collar classes, and farmers. They lost prestige with Chamberlin's appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany, but the country rallied to his successor, Sir Winston Churchill.

Postwar Years

Triumph in war preceded electoral defeat (1945), owing to popular demand for urgently needed social reform, which the Conservatives would not carry through. Returning to office (1951) under Churchill, the Conservatives displayed a sense of pragmatic modernity in accepting many of the social reforms instituted by the Labour government. The party's majority in the House of Commons was increased in 1955, and Sir Anthony Eden became (1955) prime minister upon Churchill's retirement. Popularity diminished temporarily during the Suez Canal crisis, but favorable economic conditions and the political skill of Harold Macmillan, who headed the government after Eden's resignation (1957), resulted in a solid electoral victory in 1959. Under the leadership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who succeeded Macmillan (1963), the party lost narrowly to the Labour party in 1964. After that defeat, Lord Home instituted a formal balloting system for choosing future party leaders.

Heath, Thatcher, and Major

In 1965, Edward Heath became the first leader chosen through election. Heath led a Conservative government from 1970 to 1974 that faced the problems of a stagnant economy and a declining international political position. In response, the party moved to curb the power of trade unions and encouraged more economic self-reliance. In foreign affairs, it continued the policy of restricting Great Britain's Commonwealth and international roles while expanding ties with Western Europe, as demonstrated by Britain's entry (1973) into the European Community (now the European Union [EU]).

In 1974, the Conservatives lost two elections and Heath was replaced as party leader by Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to lead the party. Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, the longest uninterrupted government of the 20th cent. Her government dismantled much of Britain's postwar welfare state, and the party became identified with free-market economic policies. In 1990, Thatcher's leadership was challenged by members of the party; in the ensuing elections, she was succeeded by John Major. Under his leadership, the Conservatives won the 1992 general election. The party received a resounding defeat in the 1997 elections, and Major was replaced as party leader by William Hague. In 2001 the party, which had come to be seen as anti–European Union, was again trounced at the polls by Labour, leading Hague to resign. Iain Duncan Smith was chosen to succeed Hague but served only two years as party leader before he was replaced by Michael Howard. The party made gains in the 2005 elections, but Labour's majority, though reduced, remained secure. Following the elections Howard announced his resignation, and David Cameron was chosen to succeed him. Cameron moved the party more toward the center, and in 2010 the Conservatives won a plurality. They formed a coalition (2010–15) with the Liberal Democrats, and Cameron became prime minister. Cameron remained in office after the party won a slim majority in 2015.

Bibliography

See M. Pugh, The Tories and the People (1985); F. O'Gorman, British Conservatism (1986); R. Shepherd, The Power Brokers (1991).

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Conservative party (Canadian political party)

Conservative party, in Canada. 1 Former Canadian political party that merged with the Progressive party to form the Progressive Conservative party. 2 Officially the Conservative party of Canada, political party formed in 2003 by the merger of the Progressive Conservative party (PC) and the Canadian Alliance (CA). In 1993 the Progressive Conservatives, who had held a parliamentary majority, were savaged at the polls as many voters in W Canada deserted the PC for the young Reform party (the predecessor of the CA). The PC failed to recover from the losses, and in 2003 agreed to unite with the larger CA against the Liberal party, which had secured three successive victories (1993, 1997, 2000) facing a divided conservative opposition. However, a number of prominent PC members, including former party leader Joe Clark, did not support the union. Former CA leader Stephen Harper was elected Conservative party leader. In the 2004 elections the party's social conservatism failed to resonate with enough voters to force the Liberals from power, despite voter unhappiness with the Liberals. By the 2006 polls, however, the Liberals had been further hurt by scandal, and the Conservatives secured a plurality of the seats in parliament. Their plurality increased after the 2008 elections, and they won a majority in 2011.

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Conservative Party

Conservative Party (officially Conservative and Unionist Party) Oldest political party in Britain. Its origins lie in the transformation of the early 19th-century Tory Party into the Conservative Party under Sir Robert Peel in the 1830s. Until the late 19th century, it was mainly a party of landed interests, electorally dependent on the county constituencies. After the Reform Act (1867) and the establishment of a Central Office in 1870, the urban and commercial element in the party increased. In 1886, the split in the Liberal Party over Irish home rule brought Liberal Unionists into the party. It was in power for 31 of the 71 years between 1834 and 1905, and for most of the 1920s and 1930s – either alone or in coalition. It held office in 1951–64 and 1970–74. In 1979, the party swung to the right under the leadership (1975–90) of Margaret Thatcher. With the support of traditional Labour Party voters, it was able (under Thatcher and John Major) to win four consecutive elections. Following electoral defeat in 1997, William Hague became the youngest leader of the party since William Pitt (the Younger). Ian Duncan Smith succeeded Hague after a further electoral defeat in 2001.

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