Conservative Party

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    They are very similar, but a conserve can have more than one fruit, as well as raisins and nuts.

    It's called a conserve because it's a way of conserving the goodness of fresh fruit for longer. Similarly, Conservatism is an ideology that tries to conserve traditions and the way things were.

    So, what is the Conservative Party? Let's explore it in this article, along with its history, policies, and principles.

    Conservative Party Meaning

    The Conservative Party (sometimes referred to as the Tory Party) is, along with the Labour Party, one of the two main political parties in the United Kingdom. Historically, conservatism, is the ideology that supports private property, religious institutions and social hierarchy, for the UK this meant the monarchy and the aristocracy.

    However, while Conservative parties tend to be right-wing, in the UK the Conservative party is centre-right due to its support of liberal social and economic policies such as the free-market economy, deregulation, and lower taxes.


    It's the ideology that promotes things remaining as they traditionally were, and therefore opposing change.

    The Conservative party

    It is one of the two main political parties in the UK. It's a centre-right party and supports pro-business liberal economic policies.

    DeregulationAn economic principle that favours government removing rules and restrictions placed on businesses.

    The core principles of the UK Conservative party include:

    • Upholding individual freedoms and rights;
    • Protecting industries and private enterprises;
    • Safeguarding institutions and traditions.

    History of the Conservative Party

    The Conservative Party of Great Britain has undergone several changes over the decades. In this section, we will briefly cover the early period of the Conservative Party and then move on to detail the era of modern conservatism.

    Early Period of the Conservative Party

    Britain's Conservative Party was the successor of the Tory Party, whose members began forming conservative associations in 1832. These associations coincided with Britain's 1832 Reform Bill, which extended voting privileges to the middle class. The first conservative government was established in 1834. Sir Robert Peel served two terms as prime minister and penned the ‘Tamworth Manifesto’. This contained the new Conservative Party's reform principles related to law and order and argued for a more structured tax system.

    The first divisions within the party surfaced as a result of the Corn Laws in 1846. The Corn Laws were a series of laws established between 1815 and 1846 that were part of a protectionist policy that kept corn prices artificially high. The purpose of such laws was to safeguard British farmers from less expensive grain imports from abroad. This led to a split within the party over whether the law should be repealed or not.


    It's a policy that aims to protect national industries from foreign competitors by placing tariffs and import restrictions on foreign goods and services.

    Modern Era of the Conservative Party

    Benjamin Disraeli, who defined the party's main values and principles in 1870, is widely viewed as the founder of the modern British Conservative Party. He is also credited with introducing the concept of one-nation conservatism in Great Britain. Disraeli defended on-nation conservatism as both morally right, and in the interest of the ruling upper class.

    One-Nation Conservatism

    A government policy that promotes social and political programmes that benefit vulnerable members of society whilst upholding and maintaining established conservative principles and institutions.

    Conservative Party Benjamin Disraeli StudySmarterFig. 1 Benjamin Disraeli

    One-nation conservatism helped the Conservative Party maintain power for almost two decades. However, a series of controversial decisions over tariffs resulted in a significant loss of support until after the First World War. As a result, they were forced to form a coalition with the Liberals to maintain a unified front for the war and to bolster their support. This proved to be a useful decision because, by 1918, the party enjoyed much greater support. By 1922 the coalition had ended.

    The Conservative Party continued to hold power for the majority of the 20th century, with Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill helping to lead the country to victory during the war. However, the party lost to the Labour Party in the 1945 election due to Labour's social reform policies. By 1955 the Conservative Party was back in power and enjoyed 13 years of dominance.

    Post-war British politics was characterised by post-war consensus. However, the post-war consensus came to an end in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister. She led the country in a new direction (see Thatcherism below).

    Post-war consensus

    The period following the end of World War II, when the Conservative Party and the Labour Party agreed to pursue several economic and political policies. It led to the establishment of Britain's welfare system, including the National Health System (NHS).

    Thatcher resigned in 1990 as her leadership had been challenged when she refused to integrate Britain further with the European Union.

    She was followed by John Major, who was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997. Despite achieving a temporary ceasefire in the long-term conflict with Ireland, Major's premiership was the last step in the decline of popular support for the Conservative Party. This was compounded by an economic recession, a rise in taxation and further division over the UK's relationship with the EU.

    After John Major, the Labour Party governed up to 2010. In 2010, Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron began to liberalise some of its social policies. His approach to same-sex marriage and social divisions suggested that the party would be heading in a new direction.

    Whilst the Conservative Party's majority in the House of Commons fluctuated over the years, the party won an 80-seat majority in the British Parliament at the 2019 general election. This victory gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party a mandate to move forward with the process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (Brexit).

    As we have seen in this section, some core values such as one-nation conservatism have remained throughout the history of the Conservative party. However, over time, new ideologies, such as Thatcherism, have introduced a new political direction for the Conservative Party to follow.

    Policies of the Conservative Party

    The UK Conservative party describes what it stands for as “personal liberty, democracy, and the rule of law1”.

    Although policies of the UK Conservative Party have evolved over the years, these principles, as well as conservative views on Europe and immigration, have remained a constant. Let's have a closer look.

    One of the most memorable yet divisive eras of conservative leadership was the Thatcher years.

    'Thatcherism' (1975-1990)

    Thatcherism refers to the policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. During her time, the Conservative Party underwent major changes in its policies.

    While maintaining the welfare state, the NHS, and the benefits system, Thatcher controversially made the system much more difficult for citizens to access by introducing means-based testing. Thatcher also privatised many of the country's industries and took a strong stance on reducing the strength of trade unions.

    Lastly, Thatcher enacted the right-to-buy policy, which offered significant discounts that allowed people to get on the property ladder.

    Under David Cameron (2010-2016), the ‘New Tories’ movement was born. This was essentially a rebranding in which the party took on an increasingly liberal position on both social and economic issues. David Cameron oversaw the push to legalise same-sex marriage in 2011. Despite strong internal opposition, the bill was passed in 2013.

    However, being a Conservative leader, he also:

    • Initiated austerity measures, which included cuts in public spending to reduce the nation's budget deficit and decrease the size of Britain's welfare state.

    • Imposed limits on immigration from outside the European Union

    One of the most controversial aspects of Cameron's premiership was his willingness to hold a national referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union. The referendum, held in 2016 resulted in a narrow victory for those supporting Britain's departure from the EU. Soon after the results were announced, David Cameron resigned.

    Conservative Party Brexit, The UK leaving the EU illustrated with both flags seperating from each other StudySmarterFig. 2 Brexit, The UK leaving the EU

    Like Thatcher, Boris Johnson (2019-present) is another polarising British leader. Johnson's government would preside over the official departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union in January 2020.

    Johnson also:

    • Reduced austerity measures by increasing spending on police/law enforcement;

    • Enacted stricter immigration laws via the introduction of a points-based immigration system;

    • Increased national health tax to help fund the NHS;

    • Introduced harsher laws and prison sentences for criminals;

    • Continues to reject the decriminalising drugs;

    • Provided economic/military aid to Ukraine to help in the war with Russia.

    Conservative Party UK

    Unlike other conservative parties in the world, the UK conservative party includes several principles from modern liberal thinking, rather than strictly conservative policies.

    One-nation conservatism, with its interest in welfare policies and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

    Modern Liberalism: supports personal freedom while calling for government regulation of the economy with regard to welfare policies.

    Another element that is specific to UK politics, is the history of conflict between England and Northern Ireland. As far as this is concerned, the UK Conservative party is generally unionist and resists granting further devolved powers.


    In the United Kingdom, unionists believe that the UK and its constituent parts (England, Wales, Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland) should remain united as a single sovereign state.


    When a central government cedes power or legislative autonomy to a regional, local or municipal level of government. In the case of the UK, devolution refers to Westminster granting devolved powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    Conservative Party Map with the Countries of the United Kingdom StudySmarter

    Fig. 3 Map of the countries of the United Kingdom

    Importance of the Conservative Party

    The importance of the conservative party in the United Kingdom lies in the fact that it is one of the two main parties in a two-party system.

    Two-party system

    It's a political system characterised by two main political parties.

    Two-party systemMulti-party system
    • Such a system creates governments with majority support from the electorate
    • Two Party systems often represent only a small proportion of the wider ideological spectrum within elected governments
    • Often this system prevents extremism within elected office, as typically parties converge around the ideological centre-ground.
    • Provides a greater choice for votes at the polling station. This increases the likelihood of creating diverse governments.
    • More choice can result in less voter apathy.
    • More parties can split the vote and led to coalition or minority governments.

    Conservative Party - Key takeaways

    • The Conservative party was set up in 1834.
    • It is one of the two main political parties in the UK. It's a centre-right party and supports pro-business liberal economic policies.
    • The values it stands for are ‘personal liberty, democracy, and the rule of law’.
    • In the last century, the main patterns of the Conservative party can be categorised as 'one nation conservatism', Thatcherism, and 'New Tories'.
    • What separates the UK Conservative party from other Conservative parties are its liberal policies and its relation with Northern Ireland and Europe.
    • The importance of the UK Conservative Party lies in the fact that it is one of the two parties in a two-party system.


    1. The Conservative Foundation website
    2. Fig. 2 Brexit, The UK leaving the EU ( by Christoph Scholz ( licenced by CC-BY-SA-2.0 ( on Wikimedia Commons
    3. Fig. 3 Map of the countries of the United Kingdom ( by Offnfopt( licenced by CC-BY-SA-4.0 ( on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Conservative Party

    What is the conservative party?

    It is a centre-right party and one of the two main political parties in the UK. 

    What does the conservative party stand for?

    It supports pro-business liberal economic policies, traditional institutions, the rule of law, and individual freedoms

    What does the Conservative Party of UK believe in?

    • Upholding individual freedoms and rights;
    • Protecting industries and private enterprises;
    • Safeguarding institutions and traditions.

    What are the policies of the conservative party

    The Conservative Party usually implements policies that support business, and the military, while restricting immigration and access to the welfare system.

    What are the importance of conservative party?

    The importance of the conservative party in the United Kingdom lies in the fact that it is one of the two parties in a two-party system.

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