The Conservative and Unionist Party is today a liberal political party and the largest in terms of sitting Members of Parliament (MPs). In 2019 it had 180,000 members, and is the oldest political party in the United Kingdom. It is arguably the oldest organised political party in the world in that it can trace its evolution from early Tory parliamentary groupings of the eighteenth century, and possibly before that to the King's party, the informal group of parliamentarians who sided with the Government in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For that reason, it is also the most successful political party in British history in terms of election victories.
Today, for at least five decades, the Party has moved decisively to the Left. Most of its supporters are middle-class people across England who, because the party has continued using the title "conservative", imagine that it still stands for Toryism and traditional conservative values. As far back as 1994 the question was being asked: "what is the future for the Conservative Party - a nationalist Party for the 21st century, or a watered-down version of the Liberal-Democrats?"
The Party's current leader, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is Boris Johnson.
- 1 Name
- 2 Organisation and membership
- 3 History
- 4 Jewish influence
- 5 Margaret Thatcher
- 6 Party after Thatcher
- 7 Policies
- 8 Economic policy
- 9 Social policy
- 10 Foreign policy & USA
- 11 European Union
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The Conservative Party has evolved from the Tory Party of the eighteenth century. Its members are still commonly, but wrongly, referred to as Tories and the party is still often referred to as, again wrongly, the Tory Party, in both cases usually by left-wing media or the socialists.
The Party's rarely used, but official name, is The Conservative and Unionist Party. The name has its origins in the 1912 merger with the handful of members in the Liberal Unionist Party and is an echo of the party's 1886-1921 policy of maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in opposition to Irish nationalist movements. Scotland's allied Unionist Party was independent of the Conservatives until 1965. Similarly the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) supported the Conservatives for many decades in the House of Commons and traditionally took the Conservative Whip. In contrast to Scotland this arrangement broke down in the aftermath of the Ulster Unionists' opposition to the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement. The Conservative Party has since tried to organise in Northern Ireland separately but without much success. Following the 2019 General Election the UUP lost all its seats at Westminster.
Organisation and membership
The internal organisation of the Conservative Party is today firmly centralised at Conservative Central Office, a far cry from the days when Stanley Baldwin wrote that the Party's greatest strength was its autonomous local associations. This transformation largely took place under Margaret Thatcher's government and has progressed steadily ever since. Where once a prospective parliamentary candidate could introduce himself to a local association, who may then adopt him on his merits, as they see them, this ended with Thatcher's "Approved Candidates' List". This took ultimate selection out of the hands of constituencies. Instead, prospective candidates must now apply to their local agents for a consideration and then go on a weekend evaluation course by Central Office. Once it is established that you are a traditional Tory who would oppose liberalism, your application is firmly declined. This means the List is literally approved people only, an almost Stalinist concept. Constituencies may, of course, choose a prospective candidate from this List for the final seal of approval.
The constituency associations are involved at grassroots level in the elections of party leaders, and the members of the Conservative Campaign Headquarters lead in financing, the organizing of elections, and, notably, the drafting of policy. In the Conservative Party Conference Handbook for October 1991 there are 14 Notices of Motions from constituencies on immigration issues. Party officials would not permit any to be debated. The Chislehurst Constituency Association tabled the following motion at the same Conference: "We deplore the lack of direct consultation and communication by the Party with Constituency Associations. We believe that future issues concerning matters of major policy revision should be referred to the Associations for their prior consideration and advice." Of course it was deliberately not debated. Instead, Central Office and the leader of the Parliamentary party provide the core of daily political activity and form policy.
As with the Labour Party, membership has long been declining and despite an initial boost shortly after Cameron's election as leader, membership resumed its fall in 2006 (with some defections to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)). However, the Conservative Party still has about 180,000 - the highest number since 2013. Compare this to the Labour Party with 518,659 members, and the Liberal Democrats have 95,000 members, a fall of almost 2000 in two years. It is worth noting that the membership of the Scottish National Party is 125,534, only 54,466 less than the Conservative Party for all of the United Kingdom. just
The membership fee for the Conservative party is £25, or £5 if the member is under the age of 22.
The electoral symbol of the Conservative party is a stylised oak tree, replacing the freedom torch. The present motto, adopted by the Party on 6 December 2005, is "Change to Win – Win for Britain". The official party colours are red, white and blue, though blue is most generally associated with the party, in contrast to the red of the Labour Party. (In the Cumbrian constituencies of Penrith and the Border and Westmorland and Lonsdale the party adopts yellow as its colour after the coat of arms of the Earls of Lonsdale).
The Conservative Party traces its origins back to the "Tories", who supported the Duke of York (later King James VII & II) during the exclusion crises of 1671-1681. After many years in opposition to the Whigs, the Tories more often than not formed the government from the accession of King George III in 1760 until the Great Reform Act of 1832. 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, and was later officially adopted under the aegis of Sir Robert Peel.
The widening of the 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 Joseph Chamberlain's new Liberal Unionists, and under the statesmen Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour the party held power for all but three of the following twenty years. However, the party suffered a landslide election defeat in 1906 when it split over the issue of free trade.
The Conservatives served with the Liberals in the 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. Eventually, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin led the breakup of the Coalition and the Conservatives came again to dominate the political scene in the inter-war period, albeit from 1931 in another coalition, the National Government. It was this wartime coalition government firstly under the leadership Neville Chamberlain and then Winston Churchill that continued to govern the United Kingdom through World War II. However, the party lost the 1945 general election in a landslide to the resurgent Labour Party.
Upon their election victory in the 1951 general election, the Conservatives accepted the reality of Labour's 'welfare state' and its industry nationalisation programme, though 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.
Edward Heath's 1970-1974 government was most noted for its attempt and failure in battling the increasingly militant trade unions, and for taking Britain into the European Economic Community without a referendum; Macmillan's earlier bid to join the EC in early 1963 had been blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. As an example of the Conservatives' divided stance on the issue, Churchill at one point had argued strongly for a 'United States of Europe', although he was against British membership of any federal European state and specifically the EEC. Since accession, British membership in the EU has been a source of significant and heated debate over the decades within the Conservative party.
The Conservative Party were largely anti-semitic before World War Two. In 1829 the Roman Catholics of the United Kingdom were freed from all their civil disabilities, and serious agitation commenced for emancipation for Jews. It is stated on Wikipedia that "The whole force of the Tory Party and the personal antagonism of King William IV was against the Jewish emancipation bill." The Whigs (Liberals) continued the pressure and in 1845 Jews were emancipated. The Conservative Party, however, were responsible for the passing of the Aliens Act in 1905, drawn up specifically to halt Jewish immigration. Although the word alien means 'someone who does not belong' it was a code-word for Jews in the UK until after WWII and probably into the 1960s when aliens became identified (largely by Enoch Powell) with non-European immigration. In addition, the 1920s Tory Minister, including a long period as Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, Bt., was firmly opposed to Jewish immigration stating that he wanted to stem "the flood of filth coming across the Channel".
Today, however, Jews have more than significant influence in the Conservative Party, as in the UK's Labour Party. Three former chairmen, Andrew Feldman and Grant Shapps (former youth leader of B'nai B'rith), and Norman Fowler are Jewish, as is former Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and Oliver Letwin, M.P., both the latter being employed by Rothchilds Bank in the City of London. Margaret Thatcher was surrounded by Jewish MPs and advisors including Sir Keith Joseph, David Young and Alfred Sherman, all of whom received honours from her. (Young later became the first President of 'Jewish Care', from 1990 to 1997) David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is part Jewish as is, it is said, the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Many Members of Parliament, not necessarily Jewish, belong to the "Conservative Friends of Israel", a subversive lobby which works for the interests of a foreign state whose leaders and their friends had been terrorists who murdered in cold blood British men women and children during the Mandate. Membership of such a group is little better than KGB agents during the Cold War.
Margaret Thatcher won her party's leadership election in 1975. Following victory in the 1979 general election, the Conservatives pursued a monetarist economic programme. More generally, the party adopted a free-market approach to government services and focused on the privatisation of industries and utilities nationalised under Labour in the 1940s and 1960s. Thatcher after her initial election led the Conservatives to two landslide election victories in 1983 and 1987. However, she was also deeply unpopular in certain sections of society, in part due to the high unemployment following her economic reforms and also for what was seen as a heavy-handed response to issues such as the miners' strike. Yet it was Thatcher's introduction of the Community Charge (known by its opponents as the poll tax) which most contributed to her political downfall. Her increasing unpopularity and unwillingness to compromise on policies perceived as vote losers saw internal party tensions lead to a leadership challenge by the Conservative MP Michael Heseltine, after which she was forced to stand down from the premiership in 1990.
Party after Thatcher
John Major won the ensuing party leadership contest in 1990, and also won an unexpected general election victory in his own right in 1992. Major's government experienced only a brief honeymoon as 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 repossession of their homes during a recession that saw a sharp rise in unemployment. The party subsequently lost much of its reputation for good financial stewardship despite the ensuing economic recovery, and was also increasingly accused in the media of sleaze. An effective opposition campaign by the Labour Party culminated in a landslide defeat for the Conservatives in 1997. It was Labour's largest ever parliamentary victory.
William Hague assumed the leadership after the party's electoral collapse in 1997. Though a strong debater in the House of Commons, a Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph found that two-thirds of voters regarded him as "a bit of a wally", mocked as he was for headlines such as his claim that he drank 14 pints of beer in a 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 ethnic minority voters. Shortly before the 2001 election, Hague was much maligned by some Labour and Tory supporters for a speech in which he predicted that a re-elected Labour government would turn Britain into a "foreign land". The BBC also reported that the now disgraced and jailed Conservative life peer Lord Taylor, a Black, criticised Hague for not removing the whip from Conservative MP John Townend, after the latter made a speech in which he said the British risked 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 and William Hague resigned soon after, having privately set himself a target of 209 seats – Labour's performance in 1983 – a target which he missed by 43.
Iain Duncan Smith (2001-2003) (often known as IDS) was a strong Eurosceptic. But Euroscepticism did not define Duncan Smith's leadership—indeed it was during his tenure that 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 ever facing the public at a general election, Duncan Smith lost a vote of no confidence to MPs who felt he was unelectable. 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. 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 day after the election, on May 6, 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, while first allowing time for the party to amend its leadership election rules.
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 announced his intention to reform and realign the Conservatives saying they needed to change the way they looked, felt, thought and behaved. For most of 2006 and much of 2007, polls showed leads over Labour for the Conservative Party.
In May and June 2007, Cameron faced his first major policy challenge within his own Party, in a high-profile public debate on the future of Grammar Schools. After Gordon Brown became Labour leader, the party began to fell behind in polls, with speculation (especially in the Daily Mail) that Cameron may resign becoming rife.
In July 2016 after Great Britain voted to leave EU Cameron resigned and Theresa May was appointed Leader and Prime Minister. Becoming increasingly unpopular, on 24 May 2019, she announced her resignation as party leader which took effect on 7 June. She stated that she would remain in office as Prime Minister until a successor is appointed.
The next Prime Minister was old Etonian Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, commonly known as Boris Johnson. He was born into a family of English Liberals on 19 June 1964 in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. His father, Stanley, secured employment at the European Commission and moved his family in April 1973 to Uccle, Brussels, where Johnson attended the European School, Brussels and learnt to speak French. Boris became a journalist. Following Michael Heseltine's retirement, Johnson decided to stand as Conservative candidate for Henley, a Conservative safe seat in Oxfordshire, winning it comfortably in 2001. He was re-elected in 2005 with an increased majority. In 2008 he was elected Mayor of London (not the City of London, but the metropolitan parts), and resigned as a member of parliament. He was re-elected as Mayor in 2012 not stepping down until May 2016. In August 2014 he had sought selection as the Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the 2015 general election, which he won, returning him to Parliament. In February 2016, Johnson endorsed Vote Leave in the "Out" campaign for the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. After Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, she appointed Johnson Foreign Secretary in July 2016. During trips to the United States as Foreign Secretary, Johnson had repeated meetings with Donald Trump's adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, which were held off White House grounds and kept quiet from May. During the meetings, Miller and Johnson "swapped speech-writing ideas and tips". In July 2018, three days after the cabinet had its meeting at Chequers to agree their Brexit strategy, Johnson, along with Brexit Secretary David Davis, resigned his post in disagreement. On 23 July 2019 the Conservative Party membership voted in Johnson as their new leader with 66% of the vote.
Before World War II the Conservative Party were firmly protectionist and opposed to the liberal idea of free trade. A memorandum of the Foreign Office dated January 27, 1932, points out that "the principal object of every country at the present time is, in the economic sphere, to shut out the products and the persons of all other countries."  With the post-1945 Party adopting liberal economic theories this would change.
The Conservative Party's policies have since at least Harold Macmillan's government, sought to move the Party to The Left. Tensions have more recently arisen between opposing factions within the party: the fast declining real Tories and the liberals with their differing values of individual liberty and cultural conformity, examples being via economic liberalism for the former group and post-2005 attitudes towards gay couples and tax incentives for co-habiting couples to marry and policies towards immigrant communities. Whichever way one approaches the Party's policies in 2014 there is nothing actually conservative about them at all.
Many Members of Parliament are against 'further' EU integration although like all Clubs, once you're in, you're in and you cannot dictate your own terms of membership. They are the same for all. Many commentators believe that the Party's failures in UK politics from 1997 were partly as a result of continued internal tension between Europhiles (such as Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine) and Eurosceptics (such as John Redwood and William Hague), although there is no clear evidence to support this. However, the Conservative party has in recent years at least ceased to argue quite as publicly over what remains a contentious internal issue.
Since the election of David Cameron as leader, party policy has increasingly focused on such "quality of life" issues as the environment, the improvement of government services (most prominently the National Health Service and the Home Office), and schools. However, their announcement in 2014 to build half a million houses on the Green Belt has been met with serious opposition.
Conservatives hold a varying record of opposition and support on parliamentary devolution to the national and English regions of the UK. Whilst they opposed devolution to Wales and Scotland in 1997, John Major had previously encouraged Scottish nationalists by permitting parts of what were British Rail to be renamed ScotRail, and by sending to Scotland Jacob's Stone (which the Scots call the Stone of Scone) which had been encased under the throne in Westminster Abbey, for far more centuries than it had ever been in Scotland (after coming there from Ireland). They also opposed the government's unsuccessful attempt at devolution of power to North East England in 2004. However, since the 'New Labour' government introduced devolution in Wales and Scotland, the Conservatives have pledged not to reverse this legislation, just as they failed to repeal other crucial socialist legislation. Recently the Conservatives have begun to take a stance on the West Lothian Question, and support the idea that only English MPs should vote on policies which affect only England. The current devolution status quo allows House of Commons MPs from Scottish constituencies to vote on matters which only affect England, but does not allow English MPs to vote on matters affecting Scotland, since the new Scottish Parliament controls almost all legislation affecting Scotland alone.
Opposition to liberals within the party
Since the 1960s traditional conservatives, notably the Conservative Monday Club, have fought the 'progressives' in the party with some degree of vigour. The Club's then Chairman, former MP Paul Williams, writing to the Daily Telegraph in July 1968 stated that "the Conservative Shadow Cabinet is unrepresentative of rank-and-file Tory thought." The Club's Gregory Lauder-Frost wrote in the Daily Telegraph in 1982 that "There is a great deal of reform needed to make certain that MPs represent their constituents’ views and not simply their own." The editorial of Monday Club News in January 1991 said: "We seek nothing less than the total defeat of the vacillating liberal compromise that is making the Tory Party politically indistinguishable from its natural enemies", and on July 20 that year its chairman, Dr. Mark Mayall, Conservative Party Parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, in addressing a Club seminar at Westminster Central Hall, said: "We must work tirelessly for a change in the Conservative Party’s increasingly liberal ethos." In 1980 philosopher Roger Scruton produced his book The Meaning of Conservatism, and in 1985 he, Angela Ellis-Jones and Dennis O'Keefe produced Education and Indoctrination; in 2010 he renewed his appeal with Arguments for Conservatism.
Changes in official Conservative Party policy on very many issues have not been universally welcomed. In recent years the Traditional Britain Group has become a 'home' for what they describe as 'real Tories' and "radical conservatives" and they rail against the Conservative Party's liberal agenda on their Facebook page relentlessly. The prominent small-c conservative journalist Peter Hitchens has described the party as "useless", for what he sees as their persistent acquiescence to prevailing left-wing orthodoxy. He has also been critical of David Cameron. Hitchen's book The Abolition of Britain (2008) caused a stir. Theodore Dalrymple too has been a severe critic of the Party's drift into liberalism.
Though Margaret Thatcher's post-1979 reforms are often credited with breaking Britain's cycle of long-term industrial decline, even while substantially increasing unemployment, 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 Gordon Brown to attack the Conservatives mantle of economic competence. Many on both the left and right have since argued that New Labour's embracing of market forces and public sector modernisation amounted to little more than stealing the Conservative Party's economic clothes.
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, a very liberal concept. Economists had long advocated independent central banks as a means of depoliticising monetary policy and overcoming the problem of time inconsistency (a situation in game theory which shows how a policymaker who cares about both low unemployment and low inflation will achieve neither). Moreover, in the 1990s a number of countries (e.g. New Zealand) pursued such reforms. However, the Conservatives initially opposed this banking independence on the grounds that it would be a prelude to the abolition of the pound sterling and acceptance of the European single currency, and they also expressed concern over the removal of monetary policy from democratic control. However, bank independence was popular amongst the financial community who argued it would help to keep inflation low. The Conservatives accepted Labour's policy in early 2000.
The Conservative Party under David Cameron has redirected its position 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". They have nevertheless failed to abolish Inheritance Taxation.
Perhaps the most notable Conservative 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 (Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Stephen Dorrell) were personally supportive of EMU participation. Following Major's resignation after the 1997 defeat, each of the four successive Conservative leaders (William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and David Cameron) have positioned the party firmly against the abolition of the pound and adoption of the EURO. This policy is broadly popular with the British electorate.
Over the past 20 years, and more, liberal 'modernisers' in the party have claimed that the perceived historical 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. For example, David Willetts has criticised what he termed "the war on single parents", whilst former Conservative Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney observed that the party had "created the impression that if you weren't in a traditional nuclear family, then we weren't interested in you". 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 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 towards the Right in 2001 and 2005, as well as the election of the stop-Kenneth Clarke candidate Iain Duncan Smith in 2001. Theresa May famously remarked that the result of all this was that the Conservatives were perceived as "the nasty party". Since the election of Cameron the 'modernisers' appear to have been given a full voice on social policy.
The Party is no longer socially conservative, and nowhere is this more obvious than their open support for homosexuals, until 47 years ago an imprisonable offence. The party's championing of homosexual marriage has been the last straw for small armies of grass-roots members who have left the party in droves.
Foreign policy & USA
For much of the twentieth century the Conservative Party took a broadly Atlanticist stance in relations with the United States, favouring close ties with them and similarly aligned nations such as Canada, Australia and, before the 1930s, Japan. The Party have generally favoured a diverse range of international alliances, ranging from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the Commonwealth of Nations, and were, before the Second World War reluctant adherents of 'International Law', a socialist term which first gained common usage with the League of Nations and after the war by the United Nations which was moved to New York.
Closer US-British relations have been an element of Conservative foreign policy since The Great War, despite the clear reluctance of the Americans to enter either of the World Wars in support of the UK, and despite Suez. Winston Churchill, during his wartime and 1951-1955 premierships, built up a strong relationship with the Roosevelt and then the Eisenhower Administrations in the United States. However, the USA was opposed to European Empires, notably the British Empire, setting up the United Nations Decolonisation Committee to this end, and they betrayed Britain during the Suez intervention when, by threats, they were instrumental in forcing a humiliating withdrawal upon both Britain and France. Harold Macmillan then carefully rebuilt the relationship with the USA, notably with the Democratic administration of J.F. Kennedy.
Though subsequently the US-British relationship in foreign affairs has often been termed a 'Special Relationship' by the media, a term originally coined by Churchill, this has often been observed most clearly where leaders in each country are of a similar political persuasion. Margaret Thatcher built a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan in his opposition to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, but John Major was less successful in his personal contacts with former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. While out of power during Tony Blair's terms of government, and perceived as largely irrelevant by American politicians, Conservative leaders Hague, Duncan-Smith, and Howard all struggled to forge personal relationships with presidents Bill Clinton (Democrat) and George W Bush. That said, potential Republican 2008 presidential candidate John McCain spoke at the 2006 Conservative Party Conference.
In 2007 David Cameron had sought to distance himself from President Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy, and called for a "rebalancing" of US-UK ties. The degree to which Conservative Governments have supported interventionist Presidents in the US has often varied with the personal relations between a US President and the British Prime Minister. Beyond relations with the United States, the Commonwealth and the EU, the post-1945 Conservative Party has generally supported a pro free-trade foreign policy in international affairs.
No subject has more divided the Conservative Party in recent history than the UK's relations with the European Union (EU). The principal architect of Britain's entry into the Common Market (later European Community and European Union) was Edward Heath under Harold MacMillan as Conservative Prime Minister, in 1970 Heath became leader and Prime Minister and subsequently took the UK into the EEC without a referendum. The bulk of contemporary Conservative opinion became opposed to closer economic and particularly political union with the EU, even though in the 1960s and 1970s the Conservatives were more pro-EEC than the Labour Party. But the party was largely evenly divided and divisions on Europe came to the fore in the later years of the premiership of Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990). Thatcher, who had campaigned in favour of the EEC/EU had now become disillusioned. Several Ministers resigned, including Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe, whose resignation triggered the Party's leadership election in 1990 which ended Thatcher's leadership, although other factors such as the Community Charge also played a role. Under Thatcher's successor (1990-97), the ore-EU John Major, the quickening 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 and the Conservative Monday Club published and widely distributed a well-researched booklet arguing against Maastricht, although the treaty itself was ultimately signed, by Douglas Hurd.
In recent years the Party became more and more Eurosceptic, as the Blair/Brown Labour Governments found itself unable to make a positive case for further integration, and Eurosceptic or pro-withdrawal parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party made signioficant showings in UK elections which could no longer be ignored by the conservatives. Both William Hague and David Cameron stated their intention to renegotiate portions of key EU treaties and return a number of powers back to the UK, although it is difficult to see how this would have been possible. Opinion polls regularly identified Conservative policies on the EU as more popular with the public than either the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties. Under 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. This was extremely unlikely. Forced to act, in 2013 David Cameron promised a referendum on the EU if his party were to gain a clear majority in the 2015 General Election.
On Thursday 23 June 2016 the EU referendum took place and 51.9% (in England 53.4%) of the turnout voted for the UK to leave the European Union. (Turnouts of the respective electorates were: England, 73%; Scotland, 67.2%; Northern Ireland, 62.7%; Wales, 71.7%.)
There are three main political groupings within the modern (post-1970) Conservative Party:
One Nation Conservatives
One Nation Conservatism was the party's dominant tradition until Ted Heath's government of the 1970s, and included in its ranks Conservative Prime Ministers such as Stanley Baldwin. 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 norms which maintain harmony between different interest groups and classes. More recently the liberals within the Party have extended this to include different races and alien religions. Some were also supporters of the European Union, and, in keeping with the party's current ethos, internationalists and globalists, stemming from the gradual takeover of the party by free-trading liberals. Prominent One-Nation Conservatives in the contemporary party include Kenneth Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and Damian Green: they are often associated with the left-wing Tory Reform Group and the "pink miasma" of the Bow Group. The intellectual basis of One Nation Conservatism can be found in the work of the Whig, Edmund Burke, and his emphasis on social institutions ("little platoons") as the foundations of society. Obviously the inclusion of immigrants to the UK since 1948 is a corruption of the original meaning of "One Nation" which referred to the indigenous British peoples.
Economic liberals achieved serious dominance in the Conservative Party after the election of Margaret Thatcher as party leader in 1975. They are commonly known as Thatcherites. Their political goal was to reduce the role of the government in the economy (and completely forgetting its social role), and to this end they supported cuts in direct taxation, the privatisation of public services, the ending of nationalised industries, all of which could only be described as classic liberalism. They also sought a reduction in the size and scope of the welfare state. Although Thatcher herself was arguably socially conservative and a practising Methodist Christian, her supporters held a range of social opinions from the libertarian views of Michael Portillo to the 'soft' conservatism of David Davis. Some were also Eurosceptic, since they viewed most EU regulations as an impingement on individual liberty, an unwelcome interference in their free markets, and, less so, a threat to British sovereignty. Many took inspiration from Thatcher's famous anti-EU 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 tended 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 Edmund Burke and Friedrich Hayek for their defence of liberal economics. Groups associated with this tradition included the No Turning Back Group and Conservative Way Forward. Thatcherite Europhiles included Leon Brittan whom she had appointed to the European Commission.
Today the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Flag and Family), is a very small group active within the Conservative Party. The name stems from its support for three British 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 to the European Union and seek to place greater emphasis on "traditional" family structures to repair what they see as a broken society in Britain. Most oppose high levels of immigration into the UK, (although not immigration per se), and some members have in the past professed controversial opinions on issues of race and ethnicity in modern Britain. Some members also support capital punishment. MPs from this wing of the party include Nadine Dorries, Andrew Rosindell and Edward Leigh, notable in a faction marked out by its support for the Established Church of England. The homosexual MP Alan Duncan once referred to the group as a "Taliban tendency" within the party. The conservative English philosopher, the late Sir Roger Scruton, played a small role in 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. Thatcherite and Cornerstone MPs rebelled over Europe (and in particular the Maastrict Treaty) during John Major's premiership; and Cornerstone and One Nation MPs united to inflict Margaret Thatcher's only defeat in parliament, over Sunday trading.
There remains The Bow Group, which has some MPs as members and supporters, and the small Cornerstone Group, which are seen as 'safety valves' within the Party to enable the liberal hierarchy to be able to still say it is a 'broad church'. If they made any seriously profound traditional Tory statements they would undoubtedly be closed down by the Party.
The most important traditional Tory pressure group closely associated with the Party was the Conservative Monday Club, which at its height in 1972 had some 10,000 members including 35 Conservative Members of Parliament (including six in the government), and an equal number in the House of Lords. Harold Wilson referred to the Club as "the Guardian of the Tory Conscience". Three major internal crises (1972/3; 1985; 1992/3), plus Margaret Thatcher's General Election victories (she was seen generally, but wrongly, as "Right-wing") resulted in a steady drain of members, and after 1993 it became largely irrelevant. The Conservative Party machinery began expelling and exiling traditional conservatives with actual Tory ideals from the mid-1980s, and in 2000 cut their links to the old and now dormant Monday Club. There remains the radical Tory Traditional Britain Group, whom the Party obviously wants nothing to do with.
- Revolutionary Conservative Caucus journal, issue no.5, Winter 1994-5, cover.
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