Key Facts & Summary
- The Tory Party is one of the main parties in the British government and was created in the 17th century following the end of the Republic of Cromwell during the reign of Charles II.
- Ironically called “Catholic bandits”, the Tories argued that parliamentary power should be less strong than royal power.
- They were also absolutely opposed to religious tolerance, claiming that the only viable religion was Anglicanism.
- After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it suffered a rapid decline and finally dissolved in 1760. However, some political writers continued to use the term, and a few decades later a new party was formed between 1783 and 1830, which then dissolved definitively in 1834.
- That year, the Conservative Party was founded: it was formed through the union of the Tories with the Liberal Unionist Party.
- The term was used by some conservative Whigs led by Edmund Burke who took a stand against the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.
- The term ‘Tory’ is still used to refer to members of the modern Conservative Party.
The origins in the Whig party
The Conservative Party originated from a faction of the Whig party, which, in the 1800s, supported William Pitt. This faction was originally known as Independent Whigs, Friends of Mr. Pitt, or Pittites. It was only after the death of Pitt that the term Tory began to be used, alluding to the Tory Party, a political grouping that had existed between 1678 and 1760, but which had not had any organisational continuity. From around 1812 onwards, the name Tory was commonly used for the new party.
Not all party members were satisfied with this name. George Canning was the first to use the term ‘conservative’ in the 1820s. Later, around 1834, under the direction of Robert Peel (who is also considered the founder of today’s Conservative Party), the name Conservative Party was officially adopted.
In 1886, under the direction of Lord Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, the party formed an alliance with the Liberal Unionist Party led by Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain, and under the leadership of Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour, the party retained power for the next twenty years (except for three years). In 1906, the Conservatives were severely defeated in the elections due to a division on the issue of protectionism. In 1912, the Conservatives merged with the Liberal Unionist Party.
Conservatives remained in power with the Liberals throughout the First World War and the coalition continued under the leadership of liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George until 1922, when leaders Andrew Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin decided to put an end to their union. A new period of Conservative rule followed.
During the Second World War, the Conservative government was led by Winston Churchill. Despite the victory of the war, the party lost the 1945 election to the Labour Party.
From the ’50s to 2000
After the victory of 1951, the Conservatives accepted the welfare policies introduced by the Labour Party and its nationalisation programme. Under the leadership of Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, they maintained the government until 1964.
After 1970, the government of Edward Heath clashed with and lost to the Trade Unions but managed to get Britain into the European Economic Community (Macmillan had already tried it in 1963 but French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed it). Despite this, the party was not united with regards to the EEC and being part of it created heated debate within the party that lasted a decade.
A year after their defeat in the October 1974 general election, Margaret Thatcher gained the position as the party’s leader. After the 1979 victory, the Conservatives adopted a free-market approach focusing on the privatisation of industries, and public services were nationalised by the Labour party in the ’40s and ’60s. Thanks also to the Labour Party crisis, Thatcher led the Conservatives and won twice: first, in the 1983 general elections, and then, in 1987. However, she was also highly unpopular in certain sectors of society, partly because of high unemployment that followed her economic reforms. It was the introduction of a kind of poll tax that contributed largely to the end of her political career. Her growing unpopularity and her unwillingness to compromise led to internal party tensions.
Thatcher was succeeded by John Major, who also won the 1992 general elections. However, from that year onwards, the party became unpopular due to an economic recession that led to high unemployment. The party, therefore, suffered a profound defeat in the general elections of 1997. A strong leadership crisis then followed: the next three party leaders failed to reverse the party’s decline, which was again defeated in the subsequent general elections of 2001.
From 2000 to today
In September 2001, the leader of the Conservatives was Iain Duncan Smith, exponent of the most Eurosceptic wing. He was the party’s leader until October 2003.
After the third consecutive defeat in the 2005 general election, David Cameron became the party leader on December 6, 2005, by beating David Davis. From the end of 2007, the polls have consistently favoured the Conservatives over the Labour Party. In the 2008 local elections, the party achieved some success: Boris Johnson was the first Conservative elected as mayor of Greater London.
In the 2010 general elections, the Conservatives obtained 36.1% of the votes and 306 seats (+109 seats since 2005), becoming the most important British party. However, the party’s success did not secure an absolute majority of seats and, as a consequence, the Conservatives were forced to create a coalition government, led by their leader, David Cameron, with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who returned to government after 90 years.
At the 2011 local elections, the Conservatives essentially maintained their previous positions: England (+85 seats); Scotland (Assembly – 5 seats); Wales (Assembly +2 seats).
In the local elections of 3 May 2012, the Conservative Party lost 4%, having 31% of the votes against 38% of the Labour Party.
The Tories still managed to elect the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. In the local elections of 2013, the party achieved 25% (- 6% of votes), the results of which were influenced by the 22.5% boom of UKIP.
On June 24, 2016, following the referendum decreeing the UK’s exit from the European Union, David Cameron announced his resignation. Consultations were held to elect a new leader of the Conservative Party, destined to replace Cameron as Prime Minister. On 11 July 2016, following numerous renunciations by candidates, Theresa May, Secretary of State for Internal Affairs, became the new leader of the party. May became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 13 July. She was the second woman after Margaret Thatcher to hold the office.
On February 18, 2019, three deputies, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston left the party in protest against May’s policies. The three women joined the new Europeanist party, The Independent Group, founded on the initiative of six other dissident Labour deputies.
The Conservative Party has within it a variety of factions or ideologies: unconditional conservatism, liberal conservatism, social conservatism, Thatcherism, traditionalism, neoconservatism, Euroscepticism, Europeanism, democratic Christianity, and green conservatism.
This group of the socially conservative right is currently associated with the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Family, Flag) and it is one of the oldest traditions present within the Conservative Party. The name derives from its support for three British institutions (if we consider the Church as a British institution): the Anglican Church, the united British state and the family.
It emphasises the Anglican legacy of the country, opposes any passage of power outside the United Kingdom, and highly values the traditional family structure. It also vehemently defends marriage and believes that the Conservative Party should favour families by not imposing excessive taxation on them. Many members of this faction are opposed to an excessive number of immigrants and support the limitation of abortion to 24 weeks. Many members in the past have supported the death penalty. Some members of this branch of the party were Andrew Rosindell, Nadine Dorries, Sir Edward Leigh and Jacob Rees-Mogg. The English conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton represents the intellectual branch of the traditionalist groups through his writings, which rarely deal with economics and are focused on conservative perspectives of politics, society, culture and morals.
One-Nation was the dominant ideology of the party in the 20th century until the rise of Thatcherism in the 1970s and included among its ranks Conservative Prime Ministers like Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath. The name derives from a famous phrase of Disraeli. This faction of conservatism supports social cohesion, and its adherents support social institutions that maintain harmony between different interests, groups, classes, and – more recently – different races and religions. Many support the European Union, considering it as a means to extend the principle of social cohesion to the international level, but others are Eurosceptics (like Sir Peter Tapsell). The party’s One-Nation conservatives include Kenneth Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and Damian Green. They are also associated with the Tory Reform Group and the Bow Group. The One-Nation conservatives attach great importance to Edmund Burke and his emphasis on civil society as the foundation of society and for his opposition to radical politics of all kinds. Ideologically, they identify with liberal conservatism.
This group of liberal conservatives became dominant after the election of Margaret Thatcher as party leader in 1975. Her goal was to reduce the role of government in the economy by introducing cuts in direct taxation, the privatisation of nationalised industries and a reduction in the size and purpose of the welfare state. The group had disparate visions of social policy. Overall, they are associated with the concept of a ‘classless’ society.
Although some members of the party are in favour of the EU, many liberalists are Eurosceptics, since they consider many EU regulations as an interference with the free market or an obstacle to British sovereignty.
[1.] Bulmer-Thomas, I. (1967). The Growth of the British Party System: 1640-1923. Vol. 1. John Baker.
[2.] Colley, L. (1985). In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714-60. Cambridge University Press.
[3.] Evans, E.J. (ed 2004). Thatcher and Thatcherism. Available from: https://www.questia.com/read/107494201/thatcher-and-thatcherism
[4.] Laybourn, K. (2001). British Political Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary.