Conservative Party. The Conservative Party is the oldest political party in the world, being founded in 1834, though it can date its history back even further to the ‘Tories’ who formed one of the factions in parliament prior to the arising of organised political parties.
The party originates in the royalist aristocracy but eventually became the party of the middle classes.
It is a catch-all centre-right party, covering a vast array of the political spectrum. For most of its history the Conservatives have been a rather pragmatic, moderate and centrist party, with a reputation for sound economic management.
The party’s formerly dominant ‘One Nation’ faction sought to avoid societal strife and governed in a consensual, albeit paternalistic style.
Britain’s economic problems led to the emergence of a new type of Conservative, led by Margaret Thatcher, however. The Thatcherites were much more radically economically liberal, pursuing low taxes, free markets and mass privatisations to free the British economy. The Thatcherites have become a dominant faction, but while the party spent eighteen years in power between 1979 and 1997 their ideological zeal has weakened a party once known for its moderation since then.
2005 saw the election of a new leader, David Cameron, who has sought to move the party closer to the centre, embracing socially liberal issues and expanding its support beyond its core groups.
Nonetheless the party has issues with certain key voter groups particularly ethnic minorities, public sector workers, and the Scottish, who have a folk memory of Thatcher as a Prime Minister who devastated Scotland and forced it into the unpopular poll tax. Anti-Conservative discourse is common on the Yes side in the Scottish independence referendum.
The party suffers from an impression that it is out of touch with ordinary people, especially women, ethnic minorities and the working classes.
Nonetheless it has regained its reputation as Britain’s most dependable economic manager, providing it with strength.
Recent years have seen the party increasingly concerned about the apparent rise of UKIP, with many viewing UKIP as splitting the right and pressing for the party to move right to face off the ‘threat’.
While the party was quite Europhile between the 1950s and 1980s, and is responsible for taking Britain into the EU the modern Conservatives are famously Eurosceptic. Euroscepticism has been something of an obsession for the party since 1992 when backbench Conservatives almost brought down their own government over the Maastricht Treaty. The party has often suffered from internal divisions over Europe, which have hurt the party as it is seen over obsessing over an issue of little importance. The mainstream Conservative Party is now broadly to stay in the EU but that the EU should be weakened and integration reversed. A substantial minority would prefer to leave the EU altogether, however, and the party is committed to a referendum on EU membership in 2017 if it wins the next general election (Cameron says he will campaign in favour).
The party is widely expected to come third in this year’s European elections as many Eurosceptic Conservatives ‘strategically defect’ for the day to UKIP to show their irritation at the EU.
The Conservatives were formerly members of the European People’s Party but in 2009 took the lead in the creation of the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping which they maintain the leading role in. The Conservatives viewed the EPP as too pro-European, and moderate. Unsurprisingly the party is the most loyal to the ECR grouping, voting with it 97.5% of the time.