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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 euro. With the growing Euroscepticism within his party, John Major negotiated a British opt-out in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which enabled the UK to stay within the European Union without adopting the single currency. However, several members of Major's cabinet, such as Kenneth Clarke, were personally supportive of EMU participation. Following Major's resignation after the 1997 election defeat, all subsequent Conservative leaders have positioned the party firmly against the adoption of the euro.

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.[124] The Conservatives accepted Labour's policy in early 2000.[125]

Since returning to power, the 50% top rate of income tax was reduced to 45% by the Cameron-Clegg coalition.[126] Alongside a reduction in tax and commitments to keep taxation low, the Conservative Party has significantly reduced government spending, through the austerity programme which commenced in 2010. This program became increasing unpopular and as a result, during the 2019 election campaign, now incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled an end to austerity with promises to restore 20,000 police officers from those previously cut and increase public investment in the NHS, amongst other anti-austerity promises.

Since the election of David Cameron as party leader, the Conservative Party has distanced itself from association with social conservatism. Socially conservative policies such as tax incentives for married couples and the belief that benefits for those out of work should be reduced may have played a role in the party's electoral decline in the 1990s and early 2000s, and so the party has attempted to seek a new direction. The introduction of equal marriage rights for LGBT+ individuals in 2010 can be said to have represented a shift away from social conservatism, though the extent to which this policy truly represented a more 'liberal' Conservative party has been challenged.[127]

Since 1997, debate has occurred within the party between 'modernisers' such as Alan Duncan,[128] who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and 'traditionalists' such as Liam Fox[129][130] and Owen Paterson,[131] who believe that the party should remain faithful to its traditional conservative platform. William Hague and Michael Howard campaigned on tradi

Since 1997, debate has occurred within the party between 'modernisers' such as Alan Duncan,[128] who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and 'traditionalists' such as Liam Fox[129][130] and Owen Paterson,[131] who believe that the party should remain faithful to its traditional conservative platform. William Hague and Michael Howard campaigned on traditionalist grounds in the 2001 and 2005 general elections respectively, and 2001 also saw the election of traditionalist Iain Duncan Smith as party leader. In the current parliament, modernising forces are represented by MPs such as Neil O'Brien, who has argued that the party needs to renew its policies and image, and is said to be inspired by Macron's centrist politics.[132] Ruth Davidson is also seen as a reforming figure, as is the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Kemi Badenoch. Many of the original 'traditionalists' remain influential, though Ian Duncan Smith's influence in terms of Commons contributions has waned.[133] Many 'traditionalist' backbenchers such as Christopher Chope, Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg command significant media attention for their use of fillibustering and frequent interjections, and so remain influential forces in the Commons, though they cannot be taken to represent all 'traditionalist' Conservatives.

The party has strongly criticised Labour's "state multiculturalism".[134] Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said in 2008 that state multiculturalism policies had created a "terrible" legacy of "cultural despair" and dislocation, which has encouraged support for "extremists" on both sides of the debate.[135] David Cameron responded to Grieve's comments by agreeing that policies of "state multiculturalism" that treat social groups as distinct, for example policies that "treat British Muslims as Muslims, rather than as British citizens", are wrong. However, he expressed support for the premise of multiculturalism on the whole, arguing that it was "absolutely right" to encourage society to integrate more "to build a strong British identity for the future".[135]

Official statistics showed that EU and non-EU mass immigration, together with asylum seeker applications, all increased substantially during Cameron's term in office.[136][137][138] However, this was not solely as a result of intentional government policy – during this period, there were significant refugee flows into the UK and an increased level of asylum applications due to conflict and persecution in a number of other states.[139] Some political and media discourses at the time suggested that this increase in immigration and reception of refugees and asylum seekers caused significant strain on other areas of social policy through overburdening the NHS and the welfare state – these discourses were influential, but have not been empirically or decisively proven to be true.[140] In 2019, Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the government would enact stricter immigration reforms by cracking down on illegal immigration and scrapping freedom of movement with the European Union following the completion of Brexit. These reforms also included introducing more stringent measures for migrating to the UK such as requiring that immigrants speak English, have skilled job offers, and meet minimum salary requirements, as well as persuading businesses to hire British workers over outsourcing to low-skilled immigrants.[141]

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 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 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 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.[142]

The Conservatives have proposed a Pan-African Free Trade Area, which it says could help entrepreneurial dynamism of African people.[143] The Conservatives pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.[143] 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.[144]

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[145] and met Barack Obama during his 2008 European tour. Despite traditional links between the centre-right UK Conservatives and US Republicans, and between centre-left Labour and the Democrats, London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 election.[146] However, since his ascension to becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has developed a close relationship with Republican President Donald Trump, with both British and American media commentators drawing physical and ideological comparisons between the two leaders.[147][148][149] This has also been described as a reestablishing of the Special Relationship with the United States following Britain's withdraw from the European Union, as well as returning to the links between the Conservatives and Republican Party.[150]

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 the US president and the British prime minister.

Although stances have changed with successive leadership, the modern Conservative Party generally supports cooperation and maintaining friendly relations with the State of Israel. Historic Conservative statesmen such as Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill supported the idea of national home for the Jewish people. Under Margaret Thatcher Conservative support for Israel was seen to crystallize.[151][152] Support for Israel has increased under the leaderships of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, with prominent Conservative figures within the May and Johnson ministries such as Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid strongly endorsing Israel. In 2016, Theresa May publicly rebutted statements made by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the composition of the Israeli government, which some commentators saw as a closer alignment to the stance of the incoming Trump administration.[153][154] In 2018, the party pledged to proscribe all wings of the Lebanese based militant group Hezbollah and this was adopted as a UK-wide policy in 2019.[155][156] In 2019, the Conservative government under Boris Johnson announced plans to stop the influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on local politics which included prohibiting local councils in the United Kingdom from boycotting Israeli products.[157][158][159]

The Conservatives maintain a continuous stance of staying neutral on matters relating to Kashmir.

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.[160] 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.[161]

Strategic Defence and Security Review

The Cons

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.[162]

As well as an SDSR, the Conservative Party pledged in 2010 to undertake a fundamental and far-reaching review of the proc

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.

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.[163]

The Conservatives see it as a priority to encourage all members of the Europe

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.