The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party,[11] is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom. It is currently the governing party, having been so since the 2010 general election, where a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats was formed. In 2015, the Conservatives led by David Cameron won a surprise majority and formed the first Conservative majority government since 1992.[12] However, the 2017 snap election on Thursday 8 June resulted in a hung parliament, and the party lost its parliamentary majority.[13] It is reliant on the support of a Northern Irish political party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in order to command a majority in the House of Commons through a confidence-and-supply deal. The party leader, Theresa May,[14] has served as both Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister since 13 July 2016. It is the largest party in local government with 9,237 councillors.[10] The Conservative Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United Kingdom, the other being its modern rival, the Labour Party.

The Conservative Party was founded in 1834 from the Tory Party—giving rise to the Conservatives' colloquial name of Tories—and was one of two dominant political parties in the nineteenth century, along with the Liberal Party. During the 1890s, it formed a coalition government with the Liberal Unionist Party, a break-away faction of the Liberal Party. In 1912, the two parties merged to form the current Conservative and Unionist Party. In the 1920s, the Liberal vote greatly diminished and the Labour Party became the Conservatives' main rivals. Conservative Prime Ministers led governments for 57 years of the twentieth century, including Winston Churchill (1940–45, 1951–55) and Margaret Thatcher (1979–90). Thatcher's tenure led to wide-ranging economic liberalisation. The Conservative Party's domination of British politics throughout the twentieth century has led to them being referred to as one of the most successful political parties in the Western world.[15][16][17]

The Conservatives are the third largest British party in the European Parliament, with eighteen MEPs,[18][19] and sit with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group. The party is a member of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) Europarty and the International Democrat Union (IDU).

The party is the second-largest in the Scottish Parliament and the second-largest in the Welsh Assembly. The Conservatives were formerly allied to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in Northern Ireland but there is now a separate Northern Ireland Conservative party similar to the Welsh and Scottish Conservative parties.[20] The party is also organised in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.



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


The Conservative Party was founded in the 1830s. However some writers trace its origins to King Charles I in the 1620s. Other writers point to a faction, rooted in the 18th century Whig Party, that coalesced around William Pitt the Younger in the 1780s. They were known as "Independent Whigs", "Friends of Mr Pitt", or "Pittites" and never used terms such as "Tory" or "Conservative". Pitt died in 1806. From about 1812 on the name "Tory" was commonly used for a new party that according to historian Robert Blake "are the ancestors of 'Conservatism.'" Blake adds that Pitt's successors after 1812 "Were not in any sense standard-bearer's of 'true Toryism.'"[21]

The term "Conservative" was suggested as a title for the party by a magazine article by J. Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review in 1830.[22] The name immediately caught on and was 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. The term "Conservative Party" rather than Tory was the dominant usage by 1845.[23][24]

Conservatives and Unionists (1867–1965)

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 Liberal Unionists merged with the Conservative Party. In Ireland, the Irish Unionist Alliance had been formed in 1891 which merged Unionists who were opposed to Irish Home Rule into one political movement. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster, and in essence, formed the Irish wing of the party until 1922.

First World War

The Conservatives served with the Liberals in an all-party coalition government during World War I, and the coalition continued under the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George (with half of the divided Liberal Party) until 1922. Keohane finds that the Conservatives were bitterly divided before 1914, especially on the issue of Irish Unionism and the experience of three consecutive election losses. However the war pulled the party together, allowing it to emphasise patriotism as it found new leadership and worked out its positions on the Irish question, socialism, electoral reform, and the issue of intervention in the economy. The fresh emphasis on anti-Socialism was its response to the growing strength of the Labour Party. When electoral reform was an issue, it worked to protect their base in rural England.[25] It aggressively sought female voters in the 1920s, often relying on patriotic themes.[26]

1929 Conservative poster attacking the Labour Party


In 1922, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin led the break-up of the coalition and the Conservatives governed until 1923, when a minority Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald came to power. The Conservatives regained power in 1924 and remained in power for the full five-year term. They were defeated in 1929 as a minority Labour government, again led by MacDonald; took office. In 1931, following the collapse of the Labour minority government, it entered another coalition, which was dominated by the Conservatives with some support from factions of both the Liberal and Labour Parties (National Labour and National Liberals).[27] In May 1940, a more balanced coalition was formed,[27] 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 in a landslide to the resurgent Labour Party, who won their first ever majority government.

The concept of the "property-owning democracy" was coined by Noel Skelton in 1923 and became a core principle of the party.[28]


Popular dissatisfaction

While serving in Opposition during the late-1940s, the Conservative Party exploited and incited growing public anger at food rationing, scarcity, controls, austerity, and omnipresent government bureaucracy. It used the dissatisfaction with the socialist and egalitarian policies of the Labour Party to rally middle-class supporters and build a political comeback that won them the 1951 general election. Their appeal was especially effective to housewives, who faced more difficult shopping conditions after the war than during the war.[29]

Modernising the party

In 1947, the party published its Industrial Charter which marked its acceptance of the "post-war consensus" on the mixed economy and labour rights.[30] David Maxwell Fyfe chaired a committee into Conservative Party organisation that resulted in the Maxwell Fyfe Report (1948–49). The report shifted the balance of electoral funding from the candidate to the party, with the intention of broadening the diversity of MPs. In practice, it may have had the effect of lending more power to constituency parties and making candidates more uniform.[31]

The success of the Conservative Party in reorganising itself was validated by its victory at the 1951 general election. Winston Churchill, the party leader, brought in a Party Chairman to modernise the creaking institution. Lord Woolton was a successful department store owner and wartime Minister of Food. As Party Chairman 1946–55, he rebuilt the local organisations with an emphasis on membership, money, and a unified national propaganda appeal on critical issues. To broaden the base of potential candidates, the national party provided financial aid to candidates, and assisted the local organisations in raising local money. Lord Woolton emphasised a rhetoric that characterised the opponents as "Socialist" rather than "Labour". The libertarian influence of Professor Friedrich Hayek's 1944 best-seller Road to Serfdom was apparent in the younger generation, but that took another quarter century to have a policy impact. By 1951, Labour had worn out its welcome in the middle classes; its factions were bitterly embroiled. Conservatives were ready to govern again.[32]

With a narrow victory at the 1951 general election, despite losing the popular vote, Churchill was back in power. Although he was ageing rapidly, he had national and global prestige. Apart from rationing, which was ended in 1954, most of the welfare state enacted by Labour were accepted by the Conservatives and became part of the "post-war consensus" that would later be satirised as Butskellism, and which lasted until the 1970s.[33][34] The Conservatives were conciliatory towards unions, but they did privatise the steel and road haulage industries in 1953.[35] During the Conservatives’ thirteen-year tenure in office, pensions went up by 49% in real terms, sickness and unemployment benefits by 76% in real terms, and supplementary benefits by 46% in real terms. However, family allowances fell by 15% in real terms during that period.[36]

The Conservatives were re-elected in 1955 and 1959 with larger majorities. Conservative Prime Ministers Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home promoted relatively liberal trade regulations and less state involvement throughout the 1950s and early-1960s. The Suez Crisis of 1956 was a humiliating defeat for Prime Minister Eden, but his successor, Macmillan; minimised the damage and focused attention on domestic issues and prosperity. Macmillan boasted during the 1959 general election that Britain had "never had it so good".

In 1958, Geoffrey Howe co-authored the report A Giant's Strength published by the Inns of Court Conservative Association. The report argued that the unions had become too powerful and that their legal privileges ought to be curtailed. Iain Macleod discouraged the authors from publicising the report. Macmillan believed that trade union votes had contributed towards the 1951 and 1955 victories and thought that it "would be inexpedient to adopt any policy involving legislation which would alienate this support".[37]

Macmillan's bid to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in early-1963 was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. The period saw the decline of the United Kingdom as a prominent world leader, with the loss of practically the entire Empire and a laggard economy.

Following controversy over the selections of Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home via a process of consultation known as the 'Magic Circle',[38][39] a formal election process was created and the first leadership election was held in 1965. Of the three candidates, Edward Heath won with 150 votes to Reginald Maudling's 133 and Enoch Powell's 15 votes.[40]

Edward Heath, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1970–1974)

Edward Heath (1965–1975)

Edward Heath's 1970–74 government was known for taking the UK into the EEC, although the right-wing 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 the last possible date for the next general election was not until mid-1975.[41] However a general election was held in February 1974 in a bid to win public support during a national emergency caused by the miners' strike. However, Heath's attempt to win a second term in power at this "snap" election failed, as a deadlock result left no party with an overall majority. The Conservatives had more votes than Labour; but Labour 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 an overall majority of three seats.[42]

Margaret Thatcher (1975–1990)

Loss of power weakened Heath's control over the party and Margaret Thatcher deposed him in the 1975 leadership election. The UK in the 1970s had seen sustained high inflation rates, which were above 20% at the time of the leadership election, subsequently falling to below 10%; unemployment had risen, and over the winter of 1978–79 there was a series of strikes known as the "Winter of Discontent".[43] Thatcher led her party to victory at the 1979 general election with a manifesto which concentrated on the party's philosophy rather than presenting a "shopping list" of policies.[44]

As Prime Minister, Thatcher focused on rejecting the mild liberalism of the post-war consensus that tolerated or encouraged nationalisation, strong labour unions, heavy regulation, high taxes, and a generous welfare state.[45] She did not challenge the National Health Service, and supported the Cold War policies of the consensus, but otherwise tried to dismantle and delegitimise it. To replace the old post-war consensus, she built a right-wing political ideology that became known as Thatcherism, based on social and economic ideas from British and American intellectuals such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Thatcher believed that too much socially democratic-oriented 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. She held 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.

One of Thatcher's largest and most successful policies assisted council house tenants in public housing to purchase their homes at favourable rates. The "Right to Buy" had emerged in the late-1940s but was too great a challenge to the Post-War Consensus to win Conservative endorsement. Thatcher from her earliest days in politics favoured the idea because it would lead to a "property-owning democracy", an important idea that had emerged in the 1920s.[28] Some local Conservative-run councils enacted profitable local sales schemes during the late-1960s. By the 1970s, many working-class people had ample incomes to afford to buy homes, and eagerly adopted Thatcher's invitation to purchase their homes at a sizable discount. The new owners were more likely to vote Conservative, as Thatcher had hoped.[46][47]

Thatcher led the Conservatives to two further electoral victories with landslide[clarification needed] majorities 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. She was also deeply unpopular in certain sections of society due to high unemployment, which reached its highest level since the 1930s, peaking at over 3,000,000 people following her economic reforms, and her response to the miners' strike. Unemployment had doubled between 1979 and 1982, largely due to Thatcher's monetarist battle against inflation.[48][49] At the time of the 1979 general election, inflation had been at 9% or under for the previous year, having decreased under Callaghan, then increased to over 20% in the first two years of the Thatcher ministry, but it had fallen again to 5.8% by the start of 1983 (it continued to be under 7% until 1990).[50] The British economy benefitted in the first Thatcher ministry by tax income from North Sea oil coming on stream.[51]

The period of unpopularity of the Conservatives in the early-1980s coincided with a crisis in the Labour Party which then formed the main opposition. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was established in 1981 and consisted of more than twenty breakaway Labour MPs, who quickly formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance with the Liberal Party. By the turn of 1982, the SDP-Liberal Alliance was ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls, but victory in the Falklands War in June that year, along with the recovering British economy, saw the Conservatives returning quickly to the top of the opinion polls and winning the 1983 general election with a landslide majority, due to a split opposition vote.[48]

Thatcher now faced, arguably, her most serious rival yet after the 1983 general election, when Michael Foot resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and was succeeded by Neil Kinnock. With a new leader at the helm, Labour were clearly determined to defeat the Conservatives at the next election and for virtually the entirety of Thatcher's second ministry it was looking a very serious possibility, as the lead in the opinion polls constantly saw a change in leadership from the Conservatives to Labour, with the Alliance occasionally scraping into first place.[52]

Conservative logo during the Thatcher, Major, Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard eras (1987–2006)

By the time of the general election in June 1987, the economy was stronger, with lower inflation and falling unemployment and Thatcher secured her third successive electoral victory with a second, albeit reduced, landslide majority.[53]

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 second half of that year, opinion polls were showing that Labour had a lead of up to 16 points over the Conservatives and they faced a tough 18 months ahead of them if they were to prevent Kinnock's ambition to become Prime Minister from becoming a reality. At the same time, the economy was sliding into another recession.[52]

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 resigned on 28 November 1990, making way for a new Conservative leader more likely to win the next general election in the interests of party unity.[54]

John Major (1990–1997)

John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1990–1997)

John Major won the party leadership election on 27 November 1990, and his appointment led to an almost immediate boost in Conservative Party fortunes. A MORI poll six days before Mrs Thatcher's resignation had shown the Conservatives to be 11 points behind Labour, but within two months the Conservatives had returned to the top of the opinion polls with a narrow lead.[52]

A general election had to be held within the next eighteen months and the UK economy was sliding into recession, but 1991 was a year of electoral uncertainty as the Conservatives and Labour regularly swapped places at the top of the opinion polls, and Major resisted Neil Kinnock's numerous calls for an immediate election.[52]

The election was finally held on 9 April 1992 and the Conservatives won a fourth successive electoral victory, even though the economy was still in recession and most of the polls had predicted either a narrow Labour victory 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 first—and as of 2015, only—Prime Minister to attract 14,000,000 votes in a general election), as was a high-profile campaign by The Sun newspaper against Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who resigned in the aftermath of the election to be succeeded by John Smith. The Conservative Party also touched upon the issue of immigration, claiming that under Labour, immigration would rise hugely.[55]

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.

Soon after, approximately one million householders faced repossession of their homes during a recession that saw a sharp rise in unemployment, taking it close to 3,000,000 people. The party subsequently lost much of its reputation for good financial stewardship although the end of the recession was declared in April 1993[56] bringing economic recovery and a fall in unemployment.

Rail modal share (rail's share of total travel) 1952–2015[57]

From 1994–1997, Major privatised British Rail, splitting it up into franchises to be run by the private sector. Its success is hotly debated, with a large increase in passenger numbers and investment in the network balanced by worries about the level of subsidy. Train fares cost more than under British Rail.[58]

The party was plagued by internal division and infighting, mainly over the UK's role in the European Union. The party's Eurosceptic wing, represented by MPs such as John Redwood, opposed further EU integration, whilst the party's pro-European wing, represented by those such as Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, was broadly supportive. The issue of the creation of a single European currency also inflamed tensions, and these would continue to dog the party until the early-2000s (decade). These divisions gave off an impression of a divided party, which had lost touch with the voters.[citation needed]

Major also had to survive a leadership challenge in 1995 by the Secretary of State for Wales, the aforementioned John Redwood. Major survived, but Redwood received 89 votes from MPs, as well as the backing of the Sun newspaper, which described the choice as being between "Redwood or Deadwood". This further undermined Major's influence in the Conservative Party.[59]

The Conservative government was also increasingly accused in the media of "sleaze". Their support reached its lowest ebb in late 1994, after the sudden 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 Conservatives. The Labour lead was gradually narrowed over the next two years, as the Conservatives gained some credit for the strong economic recovery and fall in unemployment. But as the 1997 general election loomed, despite their high-profile New Labour, New Danger campaign, it was still looking certain that Labour would win.[52]

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, and the worst defeat for the Conservatives since the 1906 general election 91 years earlier. The 1997 general election left the Conservative Party as an England-only party, with all Scottish and Welsh seats having been lost, and not a single new seat having been gained anywhere.

Back in opposition (1997–2005)

William Hague

John Major resigned as party leader after the Conservatives were heavily defeated in a landslide and was succeeded by William Hague. Though Hague was a strong orator, a Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph found that two-thirds of voters regarded him as "a bit of a wally",[60] 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.[61] Shortly before the 2001 general 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".[62] The BBC also reported that the Conservative peer Lord Taylor criticised Hague for not removing the whip from John Townend, a Conservative MP, after the latter made a speech in which he said the British were becoming "a mongrel race", although Hague did reject Townend's views.[63]

The 2001 general 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 Conservatives briefly take a narrow lead over Labour in the opinion polls.[52]

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 or simply: "Duncan Smith" 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 into 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 Conservative support equalling that of Labour in the months leading up to his departure from the leadership.[52]

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

Under Howard's leadership in the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party increased their total vote share by around 0.7% (up to 32.4%) and—more significantly—their number of parliamentary seats by 33 (up to 198 seats). This gain accompanied a large decline in the Labour vote, and the election reduced Labour's majority from 167 to 68 and its share of the vote to 35.2%.[64] The campaign, based on the slogan "Are you thinking what we're thinking?", was designed by Australian pollster Lynton Crosby. The day following 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 (2005–2016)

David Cameron won the 2005 leadership election. Cameron defeated 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.[65] Although Cameron's views are probably to the left of the party membership and he sought to make the Conservative brand more attractive to young, socially liberal voters,[66] he has also expressed his admiration for 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.[67]

Polls became more volatile in summer 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.[68] The Conservatives gained control of the London mayoralty for the first time in May 2008 after Boris Johnson defeated the Labour incumbent, Ken Livingstone.[69]

The Conservative lead in the opinion polls had been almost unbroken for nearly three years when Britain finally went to the polls on 6 May 2010, though since the turn of 2010 most polls had shown the Conservative lead as less than 10 points wide. The election resulted in a hung parliament with the Conservatives having the most seats (306) but being twenty seats short of an overall majority. Following the resignation of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party five days afterwards, David Cameron was named as the country's new Prime Minister and the Conservatives entered government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats—the first post-war coalition government.[70]

In May 2014, the Conservatives were defeated in the European parliamentary elections coming in third place behind the UK Independence Party and Labour. UKIP ended with 24 MEPs, Labour 20, and the Conservatives 19. The result was described by UKIP leader Nigel Farage as "disastrous" for Cameron, and the leaders of the other main parties.[71]

In September 2014, the Unionist side, championed by Labour as well as by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, won in the Scottish Independence referendum by 55% No to 45% Yes on the question "Should Scotland be an independent country". This can be seen as a victory for British Unionism, a core part of traditional Conservative ideology, and also for David Cameron as the incumbent Prime Minister.

At the 2015 general election, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the House of Commons and formed a majority government under David Cameron. The party increased its national vote share, becoming the first incumbent party to do so since 1900. The result was unexpected and exceeded even the party leadership's expectations, as most polls had predicted a hung parliament.[72][73] This was also the first general election since 1992 in which the Conservatives had won an overall majority, although the vote share of 36.9% was lower than the previous four Conservative majority governments under Thatcher and Major.[74] In March 2017, the party was fined £70,000, the largest fine of this sort in British political history, after an Electoral Commission investigation found "significant failures" by the party to report its 2015 general election campaign spending.[75]

On the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, Cameron announced his intention to resign as Prime Minister, after he failed to convince the British public to stay in the European Union, and subsequently the Conservative Party leadership election was announced with Theresa May, Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom confirmed as the official contenders to be his successor with Boris Johnson ruling himself out of the process.[76] After Crabb withdrew, Fox and then Gove were eliminated in successive ballots by Conservative MPs, leaving Leadsom and May as the final candidates to be put before the wider Conservative Party membership.[77] Leadsom subsequently withdrew from the contest on 11 July.[78]

Theresa May (2016–present)

On 11 July 2016, Theresa May became the leader of the Conservative Party with immediate effect following the withdrawal from the leadership election of her sole remaining opponent, Andrea Leadsom. She was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 13 July 2016. She has promised social reform and a more centrist political outlook for the Conservative Party and its government.[79] In a speech after her appointment, May emphasised the term Unionist in the name of the party, reminding all of "the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland".[80] May considers herself a one nation conservative.[81]

May's early cabinet appointments were interpreted both as "centrist and conciliatory", an effort to reunite the party in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union, and as "a shift to the right" according to The Guardian.[82]

May appointed former Mayor of London Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis to the newly created office of Brexit Secretary.[83] Liam Fox and Philip Hammond, who had both previously served as Secretary of State for Defence (Fox from 2010 to 2011 and Hammond from 2011 to 2014), were appointed to the newly created office of International Trade Secretary and as Chancellor of the Exchequer respectively.[84][85] Replacing Michael Gove, Elizabeth Truss was made Justice Secretary, the "first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the role".[86] Andrea Leadsom, who was energy minister and May's primary competitor for party leader, was made the new environment secretary.[87] However, former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers resigned from Cabinet after May offered her a post which was "not one which I felt I could take on".[88] Nearly half of the May ministry are women.[89]

The new Prime Minister espoused the left in her first speech, with a promise to combat the "burning injustice" in British society and create a union "between all of our citizens" and promising to be an advocate for the "ordinary working-class family" and not just for "privileged few" in the UK. "The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. ... When we take the big calls, we'll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we'll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we'll prioritise not the wealthy but you."[90]

In April 2017, the Cabinet agreed to hold a general election on Thursday 8 June.[91] During the resulting campaign, Theresa May asked the electorate to "strengthen my hand" in Brexit negotiations, promised "strong and stable leadership in the national interest" and warned of a "coalition of chaos" under Jeremy Corbyn.

Contrary to opinion polling at the time, the election resulted in a hung parliament, with the Conservative Party having 317 seats in the House of Commons, but without an overall majority. The Democratic Unionist Party suggested it would be able to provide a confidence and supply arrangement depending on negotiations.[92]

It is also reported that Philip May first told Theresa May of the exit poll 2017 which prdeicted the Conservatives would lose their majority, at which point she 'wiped a tear from her face' on Philip's shoulder [93] Theresa May as the incumbent prime minister, announced her intention on 9 June 2017 to form a new minority government with support from the DUP.[94] But nonetheless, Theresa May was supported by her husband, Philip May during the whole election election, including the time preceding and succeeding it. It is noted that Philip May is an "experienced activist within the Tory Party" [95], having been a member of the party even before her.

On 8 January 2018, Theresa May announced her first major cabinet reshuffle, keeping in place most ministers, but promoting others. [96]


Economic policy

The Conservative Party believes that free markets and individual achievement are the primary factors behind economic prosperity. A leading economic theory advocated by Conservatives is supply side economics, this theory holds that reduced income tax rates increase GDP growth and thereby generate the same or more revenue for the government from the smaller tax on the extra growth. This belief is reflected, in part, by the party's advocacy of tax cuts. 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 subsequent Conservative leaders, including David Cameron, have positioned the party firmly against the adoption of the euro. This policy is broadly popular with the British electorate.

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.[97] The Conservatives accepted Labour's policy in early 2000.[98]

Since coming to power, the 50% top rate of income tax has been dropped to 45% in 2013.[99] Furthermore, the Conservative Party has reduced government spending; details of the cuts to government spending under the Conservative–Liberal coalition can be found in the following article: United Kingdom government austerity programme.

Social policy

Scarborough Conservative Club

Since the leadership of David Cameron, the Conservative Party has distanced with 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) played a role in the electoral decline of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s (decade). Since 1997, a debate continued within the party between 'modernisers' such as Alan Duncan,[100] who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and 'traditionalists' such as Liam Fox[101][102] and Owen Paterson,[103][104] 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[citation needed] that his Centre for Social Justice forced Cameron to the right on many issues, particularly crime and social welfare.

The party has strongly criticised Labour's "state multiculturalism".[105] Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said in 2008 that multiculturalism had created a "terrible" legacy, a cultural vacuum that has been exploited by "extremists".[106] However conservative critics such as Peter Hitchens assert that Cameron's is an equally multicultural outlook and accuse the Conservative Party of promoting what they see as "Islamic extremists."[107]

However, official statistics showed that EU and non-EU mass immigration, together with asylum seeker applications, all increased substantially during Cameron's term in office.[108][109][110]

Foreign policy

Margaret Thatcher (second left), Ronald Reagan (far left) and their respective spouses in 1988. Thatcher and Reagan developed a close relationship against the Soviet Union.

For much of the 20th 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. The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher built a close relationship with the American President Ronald Reagan in his opposition to the former Soviet Union, but John Major was less successful in his personal contacts with 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, the Republican 2008 presidential candidate, John McCain, spoke at the 2006 Conservative Party Conference.[111]

The Conservatives have proposed a Pan-African Free Trade Area, which it says could help entrepreneurial dynamism of African people.[112] The Conservatives pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.[112] They met this pledge in 2014, when spending on aid reached 0.72% of GDP and the commitment was enshrined in UK law in 2015.[113]

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[114] and met 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.



Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, 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.[115] They have repeatedly criticised the former 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.[116]

Strategic Defence and Security Review

The Conservative Party believes that in the 21st century defence and security are interlinked. It has pledged to break away from holding a traditional Strategic Defence Review and have committed to carrying out a more comprehensive Strategic Defence and Security 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 it 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 improvement, and will ensure that Britain maintains generic and flexible capability 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 domestic national security policy with overseas interests and defence priorities.[117]

As well as an SDSR, the Conservative Party pledged in 2010 to undertake a fundamental and far reaching review of the procurement process and how defence equipment is provided in Britain. It pledged to reform the procurement process, compile 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 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. It has 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.[118]

The Conservatives 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 pledged to re-examine some of Britain's EU Defence commitments to determine their practicality and utility; specifically, 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 the United Kingdom.[119] It believes 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, and pledged in 2010 to make NATO reform a key strategic priority.

It has 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 weapons

The 2010 manifesto said the Conservatives will maintain Britain's continuous at sea, independent, submarine based strategic nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile system.[118]

Health policy

In 1945, the Conservatives first declared support for universal healthcare.[120] Since entering office in 2010, they have introduced the Health and Social Care Act, constituting the biggest reformation that the NHS has ever undertaken. However, there has been much criticism and protest about the 2010 government's actions on the NHS, focussing on budget cuts and privatisation of services. After a 2013 union protest said by police to have been one of the largest protests seen in Manchester, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that austerity was having a devastating effect, with 21,000 NHS jobs lost over the previous three months alone, and that "The NHS is one of Britain's finest achievements and we will not allow ministers to destroy, through cuts and privatisation, what has taken generations to build." The Department of Health responded that there was "absolutely no government policy to privatise NHS services".[121]

Drug policies

Views on drug legality and policing vary greatly within the Conservative Party. Some Conservative politicians such as Alan Duncan take the libertarian approach that individual freedom and economic freedom of industry and trade should be respected. Other Conservative politicians, despite being economically liberal, are in favour of full prohibition of the ownership and trade of many drugs. Other Conservatives are in the middle ground, favouring stances such as looser regulation and decriminalisation of some drugs. Legalisation of cannabis for medical uses is favoured by some Conservative politicians, including Boris Johnson.[122]

Education and research

In education, the Conservatives have pledged to review the National Curriculum, and introduce the English Baccalaureate. The restoration of discipline was also highlighted, as they want it to be easier for pupils to be searched for contraband items, the granting of anonymity to teachers accused by pupils, and the banning of expelled pupils being returned to schools via appeal panels.

In Higher education, the Conservatives have increased tuition fees to £9,000 per year, however have ensured that this will not be paid by anyone until they are earning over £21,000, and that those who fail their studies, will not pay anything at all. The Scottish Conservatives also support the re-introduction of tuition fees in Scotland. In 2016 the Conservative government extended student loan access in England to postgraduate students to help improve access to education.[123]

Within the EU, the UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the European Union, receiving £7 billion between 2007 and 2015, which is invested in universities and research-intensive businesses.[124] Following the vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May guaranteed that the Conservative government would protect funding for existing research and development projects in the UK.[125]

Family policy

As prime minister, David Cameron wanted to put family policy at the heart of the Conservative Party claiming British politics in the past had got it wrong. He stated families should be the most important thing in the country's life, believing social responsibility and a strong family was key to an individuals success, and by extent becoming less reliant on the state. Both Cameron and Theresa May have aimed at helping families achieve a work-home balance and have previously proposed to offer all parents 12 months parental leave, to be shared by mother and father as they choose.[126] Other policies have included doubling the free hours of childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds from 15 hours to 30 hours a week during term-time, and fund 15 hours a week of free[clarification needed] childcare for all disadvantaged two-year-olds, worth £2,500 a year per child.[127] Tax schemes to support families, freezing fuel duty, cutting income tax.[128] David Cameron in a speech mentioned businesses will have to help cut the costs imposed on society and families through the decisions businesses make, by becoming more socially responsible which would in turn reduce the need for state control to solve the problem.

Jobs and welfare policy

One of the Conservatives' key policy areas of 2010 was to reduce the number of people in the UK claiming state benefits, and increase the number of people in the workforce. They have stated that all those in the UK claiming incapacity benefit will face a review of their cases. Until 1999, Conservatives opposed the creation of a national minimum wage, citing that they believed it would cost jobs, and businesses would be reluctant to start business in the UK from fear of high labour costs.[129] However the party have since pledged support and in the July 2015 budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced a national living wage of £9/hour, to be introduced by 2020, for those aged 25 and over.[130] They support, and have implemented, the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings, and seek to raise retirement age from 65 to 66.

Energy and climate change policy

David Cameron brought several 'green' issues to the forefront of his 2010 campaign. These included proposals designed to impose a tax on workplace car parking spaces, a halt to airport growth, a tax on cars with exceptionally poor petrol mileage, and restrictions on car advertising. Many of these policies were implemented in the Coalition—including the 'Green Deal'.[131]

Justice and crime policy

In 2010, the Conservatives campaigned with the conviction to cut the perceived bureaucracy of the modern police force and pledged greater legal protection to people convicted of defending themselves against intruders. They also supported the creation of a UK Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, but this was vetoed by their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats. Some Conservatives, particularly within the socially conservative Cornerstone Group, support the re-introduction of the death penalty.

European Union policy

No subject has proved more divisive in the Conservative Party in recent history than the role of the United Kingdom within the European Union. Though the principal architect of the UK's entry into the European Communities (which became 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 Geoffrey Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, 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[when?] the Conservative Party has shown to have members with a mixed opinion of the EU, with pro-European Conservatives joining the affiliate Conservative Group for Europe, whilst some Eurosceptics have left the party to join the United Kingdom Independence Party. 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.

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".[132] However, on 14 June 2009 the 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,[133] which they did on 2 October 2009.

The Conservative Party pledged an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union after a renegotiation. The referendum took place on 23 June 2016, and resulted in a vote to leave the European Union—a vote commonly referred to as Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May signed the notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which officially begins Britain's withdrawal from the EU, on 28 March 2017, and at 12:20 on 29 March 2017, the UK ambassador Tim Barrow delivered the notice to EU president Donald Tusk, officially triggering the two-year process of leaving the European Union.

Union policy

The Conservatives staunchly support the maintenance of the United Kingdom, and oppose the independence of any of the countries of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland from it. They have had a mixed history on support for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution.

In 1968, Edward Heath issued his 'Perth declaration', in support of a Scottish assembly, in the wake of growing nationalism. However, the cause went unanswered during his turbulent premiership, and under Margaret Thatcher and John Major's leadership, the Conservatives vehemently opposed devolution, and campaigned against it in the 1997 devolution referendum. Following the Scottish Parliament's establishment in 1999, they have vowed to support its continued existence, and along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, they supported the Scotland Bill (2011), granting further devolution of power. They campaigned alongside Labour and the Liberal Democrats against full Scottish Independence in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum.

In Wales, the Conservatives campaigned against devolution in the 1997 referendum, however likewise as with Scotland, they have vowed to maintain the Welsh Assembly's continued existence, and in 2011 supported the further devolution of power.

In Northern Ireland, the Conservatives suspended the parliament in 1973 in the wake of the growing Troubles, and made unsuccessful attempts to re-establish it in the same year, and in 1982. They supported the Belfast Agreement negotiated by the Blair government in 1998, and in 2009, negotiated an electoral pact with the declining Ulster Unionist Party, whom it had previously been allied to before 1973 and informally during the John Major's tenure as Prime Minister. The pact was abandoned for the 2015 general election, where the Northern Ireland Conservatives ran their own candidates.

On 4 October 2016, the Democratic Unionist Party's leader Arlene Foster and MPs held a champagne reception at the Conservative Party conference, marking what some have described as an "informal coalition" or an "understanding" between the two parties to account for the Conservatives' narrow majority in the House of Commons.[134][135] Since then, the DUP has generally supported Conservative legislation.[136]

The party opposed Labour's attempts to devolve power to the northern regions of England in 2004. It declared support for a commission into the West Lothian Question, as to whether or not only English MPs should be able to vote on issues solely affecting English matters following the Scottish Independence Referendum.

British constitution

Traditionally the Conservative Party have been defenders of Britain's unwritten constitution and system of government. The party opposed many of Tony Blair's reforms, such as the removal of the hereditary peers,[137] the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, and the 2009 creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, a function formerly carried out by the House of Lords. Until 2001 most members of the party were against an elected House of Lords; however opinion was later split, shown in the vote on the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012, when 80 backbenchers voted for an 80% elected upper chamber, and 110 did not.[138] There was also a split on whether to introduce a British Bill of Rights which would replace the Human Rights Act 1998; David Cameron expressed support, but Ken Clarke described it as "xenophobic and legal nonsense".[139]


Party structure

The Conservative Party comprises the Voluntary Party, Parliamentary Party (sometimes called the Political Party) and the Professional Party.

Members of the public join the party by becoming part of a local constituency association.[140] The country is also divided into regions, with each region containing a number of areas, both having a similar structure to constituency associations. The National Conservative Convention sets the Voluntary Party's direction and is composed of all association chairs, officers from areas and regions, and 42 representatives and the Conservative Women's Organisation.[141] The Convention meets twice a year—its Annual General Meeting is usually held at Spring Forum, with another meeting usually held at the Conservative Party Conference. In the organisation of the Conservative Party, constituency associations dominate selection of local candidates, and some associations have organised open parliamentary primaries.

The 1922 Committee is effectively head of the Parliamentary Party its leader forms policy in consultation with his cabinet and administration. The Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) is effectively head of the Professional Party and leads financing, organisation of elections and drafting of policy. All Conservative MPs are members of the 1922 Committee by default, but there are 20 elected executive members of the '22.

The Conservative Party Board is the party's ultimate decision making body, responsible for all operational matters (including fundraising, membership and candidates) and is made up of representatives from each (voluntary, political and professional) section of the Party.[141] The Party Board meets about once a month and works closely with CCHQ, elected representatives and the voluntary membership mainly through a number of management sub-committees (such as membership, candidates and conferences).


Share of the vote received by Conservatives (blue), Whigs/Liberals/Liberal Democrats (orange), Labour (red) and others (grey) in general elections since 1832[142][143]

Membership peaked in the mid-1950s at approximately 3 million, before declining steadily through the second half of the 20th century.[144] Despite an initial boost shortly after David Cameron's election as leader in December 2005, membership resumed its decline in 2006 to a lower level than when he was elected. In 2010, the Conservative Party had about 177,000 members according to activist Tim Montgomerie,[145] and in 2013 membership was estimated by the party itself at 134,000.[146] The membership fee for the Conservative Party is £25, or £5 if the member is under the age of 23. From April 2013 people could join Team2015 without being Party members, and take part in political campaigning for the party in the 2015 general election. At the 2018 Conservative Spring Forum, Party Chairman Brandon Lewis announced that the party's membership stood at 124,000.[147]

Prospective parliamentary candidates

Associations select their constituency's candidates.[140][148] Some associations have organised open parliamentary primaries. A constituency Association must choose a candidate using the rules approved by, and (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) from a list established by, the Committee on Candidates of the Board of the Conservative Party.[149] Prospective candidates apply to the Conservative Central Office to be included on the approved list of candidates, some candidates will be given the option of applying for any seat they choose, while others may be restricted to certain constituencies.[150][151] A Conservative MP can only be deselected at a special general meeting of the local Conservative association, which can only be organised if backed by a petition of more than fifty members.[150]

Young Conservatives

From 1998-2015, the Conservative Party maintained a youth wing for members under 30 called Conservative Future, with branches at both universities and at parliamentary constituency level. By 2006, the group had become the largest political organisation on British university campuses.[152] The organisation was closed in 2015 after allegations that bullying by Mark Clarke had caused the suicide of Elliot Johnson, a 21-year-old party activist.

On 16 March 2018, at the Conservative Spring Forum, a new organisation called Young Conservatives[153] was launched for Conservative Party members aged under 25.[154]


The major annual party events are the Spring Forum and the Conservative Party Conference, which takes place in Autumn in alternately Manchester or Birmingham. This is when the National Conservative Convention holds meetings.


In the first decade of the 21st century, half the party's funding came from a cluster of just fifty "donor groups", and a third of it from only fifteen.[155] In the year after the 2010 general election, half the Tories' funding came from the financial sector.[156]

For 2013, the Conservative Party had an income of £25.4 million, of which £749,000 came from membership subscriptions.[157]

In 2015, according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission, the party had an income of about £41.8 million and expenditures of about £41 million.[158]

Construction businesses, including the Wates Group and JCB, have also been significant donors to the party, contributing £430,000 and £8.1m respectively between 2007 and 2017.[159]

International organisations

The Conservative Party is affiliated to—and plays a leading part in—a number of international organisations. As a global level, the Conservatives are a member of the International Democrat Union, which unites right-of-centre parties, including the Conservative Party of Canada, the U.S. Republican Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party and the Liberty Korea Party.

At a European level, the Conservatives are members of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), which unites centre-right parties in opposition to a federal European Union. In the European Parliament, the Conservative Party's MEPs sit in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which is affiliated to the ACRE. Party leader David Cameron pushed the foundation of the ECR, which was launched in 2009, along with the Czech Civic Democratic Party and the Polish Law and Justice, before which the Conservative Party's MEPs sat in the European Democrats, which had become a subgroup of the European People's Party in the 1990s. Since the 2014 European election, the ECR group has been the third-largest group, with the largest members being the Conservatives (nineteen MEPs), Law and Justice (eighteen MEPs), the Liberal Conservative Reformers (five MEPs), and the Danish People's Party and New Flemish Alliance (four MEPs each).

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.[160] In forming the caucus, Cameron is reportedly breaking with two decades of co-operation by the UK's Conservative Party with the mainstream European Christian Democrats and conservatives 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.[160] EPP leader Wilfried Martens, former prime minister of Belgium, 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."[160]

Party factions

The Conservative Party has a variety of internal factions or ideologies, including: One-nation conservatism,[161][162] Liberal conservatism,[163] Social conservatism, Thatcherism, Traditional conservatism, Neoconservatism,[164][165] Euroscepticism,[166] Pro-Europeanism,[166] Christian democracy,[167][168] Localism and Green conservatism.

Traditionalist Conservatives

This socially conservative right-wing grouping is currently associated with the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Family, Flag), and is the oldest tradition within the Conservative Party, closely associated with High Toryism. The name stems from its support for three British social institutions (though the Church is an English institution): the Church of England, the unitary British state and the family. To this end, it emphasises 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 it sees as a broken society in the UK. It is a strong advocate of marriage and believes the Conservative Party should back the institution with tax breaks and have opposed the alleged assaults on both traditional family structures and fatherhood. Most oppose high levels of immigration and support the lowering of the current 24‑week abortion limit. Some members in the past have expressed support for capital punishment. Prominent MPs from this wing of the party include Andrew Rosindell, Nadine Dorries, Sir Edward Leigh and Jacob Rees-Mogg—the latter two being prominent Roman Catholics, notable in a faction marked out by its support for the established Church of England. The conservative English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton is a representative of the intellectual wing of the traditionalist group: his writings rarely touch on economics and instead focus on conservative perspectives concerning political, social, cultural and moral issues.

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.[169] The name itself comes from a famous phrase of 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 types.[170] Ideologically, One Nation Conservatism identifies itself with a broad liberal conservative stance. The Red Tory theory of Phillip Blond is a strand of the One Nation school of thought. Prominent Red Tories include Iain Duncan Smith and Eric Pickles in the Cabinet and Jesse Norman on the backbenches.[171]

Free-market Conservatives

The second main grouping in the Conservative Party is the "free-market 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. Supporters of the "free-market wing" have been labelled as "Thatcherites". The group has disparate views of social policy: Thatcher herself was socially conservative and a practising Anglican but the free-market wing in the Conservative Party harbour a range of social opinions from the civil libertarian views of Michael Portillo, Daniel Hannan,[172] and David Davis to the traditional conservatism of former party leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. The Thatcherite wing is also associated with the concept of a "classless society".[173]

Whilst a number of party members are pro-European, some free-marketeers are Eurosceptic, perceiving most EU regulations as interference in the free market and/or a threat to British sovereignty. EU centralisation also conflicts with the localist ideals that have grown in prominence within the party in recent years. Rare Thatcherite Europhiles included 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". A number of free-market Conservatives have signed the Better Off Out pledge to leave the EU.[174] Thatcherites and economic liberals in the party tend to support Atlanticism, something exhibited between Margaret Thatcher and 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, whilst Enoch Powell and Sir Keith Joseph are usually cited as early influences in the movement.[175] Some free-market supporters and Christian democrats within the party tend to advocate the social market economy, which supports free markets alongside social and environmental responsibility, as well a welfare state. Sir Keith Joseph was the first to introduce the model idea into British politics, writing the publication: Why Britain needs a Social Market Economy.

Relationships between the factions

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 major 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.[176]

Electoral performance and Campaigns

National campaigning within the Conservative Party is fundamentally managed by the CCHQ campaigning team, which is part of its central office [177] However, it also delegates local responsibility to Conservative associations in the area, usually to a team of Conservative activists and volunteers [178] in that area, but campaigns are still deployed from and thus managed by CCHQ National campaigning sometimes occurs in-house by volunteers and staff at CCHQ in Westminster [179] CCHQ maintains responsibility overall for campaigning in the Conservative Party, and targeting voters [180]

The Voter Communications Department is line-managed by the Conservative Director of Communications who upholds overall responsibility, though she has many staff supporting her, and the whole of CCHQ at election time, her department being one of the most predominant at this time, including Project Managers, Executive Assistants, Politicians, and Volunteers [181]. The Conservative Party also has regional call centres and VoteSource do-it-from-home accounts [182]

UK wide elections

UK general elections

This chart shows the electoral performance of the Conservative Party in each general election since 1835.[183][citation needed]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Election Leader Votes Seats Position Government
# % # ± %
1835 Sir Robert Peel 261,269 40.8%
273 / 658
Increase98 Steady 2nd Whig
1837 Sir Robert Peel 379,694 48.3%
314 / 658
Increase41 Steady 2nd Whig
1841 Sir Robert Peel 379,694 56.9%
367 / 658
Increase53 Increase 1st Conservative
1847 The Earl of Derby 205,481 42.7%
325 / 656
Includes Peelites
Decrease42 Steady 1st Whig
1852 The Earl of Derby 311,481 41.9%
330 / 654
Includes Peelites
Increase5 Steady 1st Conservative
1857 The Earl of Derby 239,712 34.0%
264 / 654
Decrease66 Decrease 2nd Whig
1859 The Earl of Derby 193,232 34.3%
298 / 654
Increase34 Steady 2nd Whig
1865 The Earl of Derby 346,035 40.5%
289 / 658
Decrease9 Steady 2nd Liberal
1868[fn 1] Benjamin Disraeli 903,318 38.4%
271 / 658
Decrease18 Steady 2nd Liberal
1874 Benjamin Disraeli 1,091,708 44.3%
350 / 652
Increase79 Increase 1st Conservative
1880 Benjamin Disraeli 1,462,35 42.5%
237 / 652
Decrease113 Decrease 2nd Liberal
1885[fn 2] Lord Salisbury 2,020,927 43.5%
247 / 670
Increase10 Steady 2nd Liberal minority
1886 Lord Salisbury 1,520,886 51.1%
317 / 670
Increase70 Increase 1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1892 Lord Salisbury 2,159,150 47.0%
268 / 670
Decrease49 Decrease 2nd Liberal
1895 Lord Salisbury 1,894,772 49.0%
340 / 670
Increase72 Increase 1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1900 Lord Salisbury 1,767,958 50.3%
335 / 670
Decrease5 Steady 1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1906 Arthur Balfour 2,422,071 43.4%
131 / 670
Decrease204 Decrease 2nd Liberal
January 1910 Arthur Balfour 3,104,407 46.8%
240 / 670
Increase109 Steady 2nd Liberal minority
December 1910 Arthur Balfour 2,420,169 46.6%
235 / 670
Decrease5 Steady 2nd Liberal minority
Merged with Liberal Unionist Party in 1912 to become the Conservative and Unionist Party
1918[fn 3] Bonar Law 3,472,738 33.3%
379 / 707
332 elected with Coupon
Increase108 Increase 1st Coalition Liberal–Conservative
1922 Bonar Law 5,294,465 38.5%
344 / 615
Decrease35 Steady 1st Conservative
1923 Stanley Baldwin 5,286,159 38.0%
258 / 625
Decrease86 Steady 1st Labour minority
1924 Stanley Baldwin 7,418,983 46.8%
412 / 615
Increase124 Steady 1st Conservative
1929[fn 4] Stanley Baldwin 8,252,527 38.1%
260 / 615
Decrease152 Decrease 2nd Labour minority
1931 Stanley Baldwin 11,377,022 55.0%
470 / 615
Increase210 Increase 1st National Labour–Conservative–Liberal
1935 Stanley Baldwin 10,025,083 47.8%
386 / 615
Decrease83 Steady 1st Conservative–National Labour–Liberal National
1945 Winston Churchill 8,716,211 36.2%
197 / 640
Decrease189 Decrease 2nd Labour
1950 Winston Churchill 11,507,061 40.0%
282 / 625
Increase85 Steady 2nd Labour
1951 Winston Churchill 13,724,418 48.0%
302 / 625
Increase20 Increase 1st Conservative–National Liberal
1955 Anthony Eden 13,310,891 49.7%
324 / 630
Increase22 Steady 1st Conservative–National Liberal
1959 Harold Macmillan 13,750,875 49.4%
345 / 630
Increase21 Steady 1st Conservative–National Liberal
1964 Sir Alec Douglas-Home 12,002,642 43.4%
298 / 630
Decrease47 Decrease 2nd Labour
1966 Edward Heath 11,418,455 41.9%
250 / 630
Decrease48 Steady 2nd Labour
1970[fn 5] Edward Heath 13,145,123 46.4%
330 / 630
Increase80 Increase 1st Conservative
February 1974 Edward Heath 11,872,180 37.9%
297 / 635
Decrease33 Decrease 2nd Labour minority
October 1974 Edward Heath 10,462,565 35.8%
277 / 635
Decrease20 Steady 2nd Labour
1979 Margaret Thatcher 13,697,923 43.9%
339 / 635
Increase62 Increase 1st Conservative
1983 Margaret Thatcher 13,012,316 42.4%
397 / 650
Increase38 Steady 1st Conservative
1987 Margaret Thatcher 13,760,935 42.2%
376 / 650
Decrease21 Steady 1st Conservative
1992 John Major 14,093,007 41.9%
336 / 651
Decrease40 Steady 1st Conservative
1997 John Major 9,600,943 30.7%
165 / 659
Decrease171 Decrease 2nd Labour
2001 William Hague 8,357,615 31.7%
166 / 659
Increase1 Steady 2nd Labour
2005 Michael Howard 8,785,941 32.4%
198 / 646
Increase32 Steady 2nd Labour
2010 David Cameron 10,704,647 36.1%
306 / 650
Increase108 Increase 1st Conservative–Liberal Democrats
2015 David Cameron 11,334,920 36.9%
330 / 650
Increase24 Steady 1st Conservative
2017 Theresa May 13,632,914 42.3%
317 / 650
Decrease13 Steady 1st Conservative minority (Conservative–DUP agreement)
  1. ^ The first election held under the Reform Act 1867.
  2. ^ The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1884 and the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.
  3. ^ The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1918 in which all men over 21, and most women over the age of 30 could vote, and therefore a much larger electorate.
  4. ^ The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1928 which gave all women aged over 21 the vote.
  5. ^ Franchise extended to all 18- to 20-year-olds under the Representation of the People Act 1969.

European Parliament elections

Year Leader Share of votes Seats Change Position
1979 Thatcher, MargaretMargaret Thatcher 48.4
60 / 78
1984 Thatcher, MargaretMargaret Thatcher 38.8
45 / 78
Decrease 15 Steady 1st
1989 Thatcher, MargaretMargaret Thatcher 34.7
32 / 78
Decrease 13 Decrease 2nd
1994 Major, JohnJohn Major 26.8
18 / 84
Decrease 13 Steady 2nd
1999[fn 1] Hague, WilliamWilliam Hague 35.8
36 / 84
Increase 18 Increase 1st
2004 Howard, MichaelMichael Howard 26.7
27 / 78
Decrease 8 Steady 1st
2009 Cameron, DavidDavid Cameron 27.7
26 / 72
Increase 1 Steady 1st
2014 Cameron, DavidDavid Cameron 23.1
19 / 73
Decrease 7 Decrease 3rd
  1. ^ Electoral system changed from first past the post to proportional representation.

Devolved assembly elections

Scottish Parliament elections

Year Leader Share of votes
Share of votes
Seats Change Position Resulting government
1999 McLetchie, DavidDavid McLetchie 15.56% 15.35%
18 / 129
3rd LabourLib Dem
2003 McLetchie, DavidDavid McLetchie 16.6% 15.6%
18 / 129
Steady Steady 3rd Labour–Lib Dem
2007 Goldie, AnnabelAnnabel Goldie 16.6% 13.9%
17 / 129
Decrease 1 Steady 3rd SNP minority
2011 Goldie, AnnabelAnnabel Goldie 13.9% 12.4%
15 / 129
Decrease 2 Steady 3rd SNP
2016 Davidson, RuthRuth Davidson 22.0% 22.9%
31 / 129
Increase 16 Increase 2nd SNP minority

Welsh Assembly elections

Year Leader Share of vote
Share of vote
Seats won Change Position Government
1999 Rod Richards 15.8% 16.5%
9 / 60
3rd Labour-Lib Dem
2003 Nick Bourne 19.9% 19.2%
11 / 60
Increase 2 Steady 3rd Labour
2007 Nick Bourne 22.4% 21.4%
12 / 60
Increase 1 Steady 3rd Labour-Plaid Cymru
2011 Nick Bourne 25.0% 22.5%
14 / 60
Increase 2 Increase 2nd Labour
2016 Andrew R. T. Davies 21.1% 18.8%
11 / 60
Decrease 3 Decrease 3rd Labour minority

London Assembly elections

Year Share of votes
Share of votes
Seats Change Position
2000 33.2 29.0
9 / 25
2004 31.2 28.5
9 / 25
Steady Increase 1st
2008 37.4 34.1
11 / 25
Increase 2 Steady 1st
2012 32.7 32.0
9 / 25
Decrease 2 Decrease 2nd
2016 31.1 29.2
8 / 25
Decrease 1 Steady 2nd

Associated groups

Ideological groups

Interest groups

Think tanks


Party structures

See also


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Bale, Tim (2011). The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron. Cambridge, England: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-4858-3. 
Blake, Robert (2011). The Conservative Party from Peel to Major (4th ed.). London: Faber Finds. 
Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor. The Growth of the British Party System Volume I: 1640–1923 (1965); The Growth of the British Party System Volume II: 1924–1964, revised to 1966 Conservative-Labour Confrontation (1967)
Evans, Eric J. (2004). Thatcher and Thatcherism. 
Garnett, Mark, and Philip Lynch. The conservatives in crisis: the Tories after 1997 (1994)
Paterson, David (2001). Liberalism and Conservatism, 1846–1905. 

Further reading

  • Bale, Tim. The Conservatives since 1945: the Drivers of Party Change. (2012, Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-923437-0)
  • Beer, Samuel. "The Conservative Party of Great Britain," Journal of Politics Vol. 14, No. 1 (February 1952), pp. 41–71 in JSTOR
  • Blake, Robert and Louis William Roger, eds. Churchill: A Major New Reassessment of His Life in Peace and War (Oxford UP, 1992), 581 pp; 29 essays by scholars on specialized topics
  • Blake, Robert. The Conservative Party From Peel To Churchill (1970) online
  • Campbell, John. Margaret Thatcher; Volume Two: The Iron Lady (Pimlico (2003). ISBN 0-7126-6781-4
  • Dorey, Peter; Garnett, Mark; Denham, Andrew. From Crisis to Coalition: The Conservative Party, 1997–2010 (2011) Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-54238-9 excerpt and text search
  •  ——— . British conservatism: the politics and philosophy of inequality (IB Tauris, 2010), Covers more than just political party.
  • Green, E. H. H. Ideologies of conservatism: conservative political ideas in the twentieth century (2004)
  •  ——— . The Crisis of conservatism: The politics, economics, and ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880–1914 (1996)
  • Harris, Robert. The Conservatives – A History (2011) Bantam Press ISBN 978-0-593-06511-2
  • King, Anthony, ed. British Political Opinion 1937–2000: The Gallup Polls (2001)
  • Lawrence, Jon. Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair (Oxford University Press, 2009) excerpt and text search
  • McKenzie, R. T. and A. Silver. Angels in Marble: Working-class Conservatives in Urban England (1968)
  • Mowat, Charles Loch. Britain between the Wars, 1918–1940 (1955) 694 pp; Detailed clinical history during
Norton, Bruce F. Politics in Britain (2007) textbook
  • Parry, J. P. "Disraeli and England," Historical Journal Vol. 43, No. 3 (September 2000), pp. 699–728 in JSTOR
  • Powell, David. British Politics, 1910–1935: The Crisis of the Party System (2004)
  • Reitan, Earl Aaron. The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979–2001 (2003) Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-2203-2
  • Searle, G. R. A New England?: Peace and War 1886–1918 (2005) 976pp broad survey
  • Seldon, Anthony and Stuart Ball, eds. Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900 (1994) 896pp; essays by experts Contents
  • Snowdon, Peter. Back from the Brink: The Extraordinary Fall and Rise of the Conservative Party (2010) HarperPress ISBN 978-0-00-730884-2
  • Taylor, A. J. P. English History, 1914–1945 (1965), a standard political history of the era
  • Thackeray, David. "Home and Politics: Women and Conservative Activism in Early Twentieth‐Century Britain," Journal of British Studies (2010) 49#4 pp. 826–48.
  • Windscheffel, Alex. "Men or Measures? Conservative Party Politics, 1815–1951," Historical Journal Vol. 45, No. 4 (December 2002), pp. 937–51 in JSTOR


  • Crowson, N. J., ed. The Longman Companion to the Conservative Party Since 1830 (2001); chronologies; relations with women, minorities, trade unions, EU, Ireland, social reform and empire.
  • Harrison, Brian. "Margaret Thatcher’s Impact on Historical Writing", in William Roger Louis, ed., Irrepressible Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics, and Culture in Britain (London, 2013), 307–21.
  • Kowol, Kit. "Renaissance on the Right? New Directions in the History of the Post-War Conservative Party." Twentieth Century British History 27#2 (2016): 290–304. online
  • Porter, Bernard. "‘Though Not an Historian Myself…’Margaret Thatcher and the Historians." Twentieth Century British History 5#2 (1994): 246–56.
  • Turner, John. "The British Conservative Party in the Twentieth Century: from Beginning to End?." Contemporary European History 8#2 (1999): 275–87.

External links