Conservative Party (UK)

The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party and also known colloquially as the Tories, is one of the two main political parties in the United Kingdom, along with the Labour Party. It is the current governing party, having won the 2019 general election, and has been the primary governing party in the United Kingdom since 2010. On the political spectrum, the party has been described as right-wing[25] by various sources and as centre-right[9][10] by others. It encompasses various ideological factions including one-nation conservatives, Thatcherites, and traditionalist conservatives. The party currently has 354 members of Parliament, 260 members of the House of Lords, nine members of the London Assembly, 31 members of the Scottish Parliament, 16 members of the Welsh Parliament, four directly elected mayors, 30 police and crime commissioners, and around 5,647 local councillors.[26]

Conservative and Unionist Party
LeaderRishi Sunak
Lords LeaderThe Lord True
Chief Whips
ChairmanGreg Hands
Chief ExecutiveStephen Massey[1]
  • 1834; 189 years ago (1834) (original form)
  • 1912; 111 years ago (1912) (current form)
Merger of
Preceded byTories
HeadquartersConservative Campaign Headquarters
4 Matthew Parker Street, London SW1H 9HQ
Youth wingYoung Conservatives[2]
Women's wingConservative Women's Organisation
Overseas wingConservatives Abroad
LGBT wingLGBT+ Conservatives
Membership (2022)Increase 172,437[3]
Political positionCentre-right[12] to right-wing[13][14]
European affiliationEuropean Conservatives and Reformists Party (2009–2021)[note 1]
International affiliationInternational Democrat Union
Irish affiliation
Colours  Sky blue
Slogan"Long-Term Decisions for a Brighter Future" (since 2023)[17]
Governing bodyConservative Party Board
Devolved or semi-autonomous branches
Parliamentary party1922 Committee
House of Commons
352 / 650
House of Lords
268 / 781
Scottish Parliament
31 / 129
16 / 60
Regional mayors[nb]
2 / 10
London Assembly
9 / 25
PCCs and PFCCs
30 / 39
Directly elected Mayors
2 / 16
5,647 / 18,646
Website Edit this at Wikidata

  • ^ Mayor of London and nine combined authority mayors.
  • ^ Councillors of local authorities in England (including 25 aldermen of the City of London) and Scotland, principal councils in Wales and local councils in Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Party was founded in 1834 from the Tory Party and was one of two dominant political parties in the 19th century, along with the Liberal Party. Under Benjamin Disraeli, it played a preeminent role in politics at the height of the British Empire. In 1912, the Liberal Unionist Party merged with the party to form the Conservative and Unionist Party. Since the 1920s, the Labour Party emerged to be the Conservatives' main rival and the Conservative–Labour political rivalry has shaped modern British politics for the last century.

The party has generally adopted liberal economic policies favouring free markets, including deregulation, privatisation, and marketisation, since the 1980s, although historically it advocated for protectionism. The party is British unionist, opposing a united Ireland as well as Scottish and Welsh independence, and has been critical of devolution. Historically, the party supported the continuance and maintenance of the British Empire. The party has taken various approaches towards the European Union (EU), with eurosceptic and, to an increasingly lesser extent, pro-European factions within it. Historically, the party once took a socially conservative approach.[27][28] Its social policy has since become more liberal.[29][30] In defence policy, it supports an independent nuclear weapons programme and commitment to NATO membership.

For much of modern British political history, the United Kingdom exhibited a wide urban–rural political divide;[31] the Conservative Party's voting and financial support base has historically consisted primarily of homeowners, business owners, farmers, real estate developers and middle class voters, especially in rural and suburban areas of England.[32][33][34][35][36] However, since the EU referendum in 2016, the Conservatives have also targeted working class voters from traditional Labour strongholds.[37][38][39][40] The Conservatives' domination of British politics throughout the 20th century—having governed for 65 nonconsecutive years—and its re-emergence in the 2010s has led to it being referred to as one of the most successful political parties in the Western world.[41][42][43][44]


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


Some writers trace the party's origins to the Tory Party which it soon replaced. Other historians 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". 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-bearers of 'true Toryism'".[45]

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.[46] The name immediately caught on and was formally adopted under the aegis of 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.[47][48]

1867–1914: Conservatives and Unionists

The widening of the electoral franchise in the 19th century forced the Conservative Party to popularise its approach under Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, who carried through their own expansion of the franchise with the Reform Act of 1867. The party was initially opposed to further expansion of the electorate which Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone had wanted but eventually allowed passage of Gladstone's 1884 Reform Act. In 1886, the party formed an alliance with Spencer Compton Cavendish, Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain's new Liberal Unionist Party and, under the statesmen Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 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.

Young Winston Churchill denounced Chamberlain's attack on free trade, and helped organise the opposition inside the Unionist/Conservative Party. Nevertheless, Balfour, as party leader, followed Chamberlain's policy introduced protectionist legislation.[49] Churchill crossed the floor and formally joined the Liberal Party (he rejoined the Conservatives in 1925). In December, Balfour lost control of his party, as the defections multiplied. He was replaced by Liberal Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman who called an election in January 1906, which produced a massive Liberal victory. Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith enacted a great deal of reform legislation, but the Unionists worked hard at grassroots organizing. Two general elections were held in 1910, one in January and one in December. The two main parties were now almost dead equal in seats, but the Liberals kept control with a coalition with the Irish Parliamentary Party.[50][51]

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. In Britain, the Conservative party was known as the Unionist Party because of its opposition to home rule in Ireland.[52][53] Under Bonar Law's leadership in 1911–14, the Party morale improved, the "radical right" wing was contained, and the party machinery strengthened. It made some progress toward developing constructive social policies.[54]

First World War

Winston Churchill, who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

While the Liberals were mostly against the war until the invasion of Belgium, Conservative leaders were strongly in favour of aiding France and stopping Germany. The Liberal party was in full control of the government until its mismanagement of the war effort under the Shell Crisis badly hurt its reputation. An all-party coalition government was formed in May 1915. In late 1916 Liberal David Lloyd George became prime minister but the Liberals soon split and the Conservatives dominated the government, especially after their landslide in the 1918 election. The Liberal party never recovered, but Labour gained strength after 1920.[55]

Nigel 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.[56] It aggressively sought female voters in the 1920s, often relying on patriotic themes.[57]


In 1922, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin led the breakup 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 but were defeated in 1929 as a minority Labour government 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 Party and the Labour Party (National Labour and National Liberals).[58] In May 1940, a more balanced coalition was formed,[58] 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.[59][60]

The concept of the "property-owning democracy" was coined by Noel Skelton in 1923 and became a core principle of the party.[61]

1945–1975: Post-war consensus

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.[62]

Modernising the party

Harold Macmillan is closely associated with the post-war settlement.

In 1947, the party published its Industrial Charter which marked its acceptance of the "post-war consensus" on the mixed economy and labour rights.[63] David Maxwell Fyfe chaired a committee into Conservative Party organisation that resulted in the Maxwell Fyfe Report (1948–49). The report required the party to do more fundraising, by forbidding constituency associations from demanding large donations from candidates, 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.[64] Winston Churchill, the party leader, brought in a Party chairman to modernise the party: Frederick Marquis, 1st Earl of Woolton rebuilt the local organisations with an emphasis on membership, money, and a unified national propaganda appeal on critical issues.[65]

With a narrow victory at the 1951 general election, despite losing the popular vote, Churchill was back in power. 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 was satirised as Butskellism and that lasted until the 1970s.[66][67] The Conservatives were conciliatory towards unions, but they did privatise the steel and road haulage industries in 1953.[68] 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.[69] "Thirteen Wasted Years" was a popular slogan attacking the Conservative record 1951–1964. Criticism came primarily from Labour. In addition, there were attacks by the right wing of the Conservative Party itself for its tolerance of socialist policies and reluctance to curb the legal powers of labour unions. The Conservatives were re-elected in 1955 and 1959 with larger majorities. Conservative Prime Ministers Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and 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. Following controversy over the selections of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home via a process of consultation known as the 'Magic Circle',[70][71] a formal election process was created and the first leadership election was held in 1965, won by Edward Heath.[72]

1965–1975: Edward Heath

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

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 EEC, which developed into 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.[73] 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. Heath's attempt to win a second term at this "snap" election failed, as a deadlock result left no party with an overall majority. Heath resigned within days, after failing to gain Liberal Party support to form a coalition government. Labour won the October 1974 election with an overall majority of three seats.[74]

1975–1990: Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979–1990)

Loss of power weakened Heath's control over the party and Margaret Thatcher deposed him in the 1975 leadership election. 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.[75]

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.[76] 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.

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 favoured the idea because it would lead to a "property-owning democracy", an important idea that had emerged in the 1920s.[61] 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.[77][78]

Thatcher led the Conservatives to two further electoral victories in 1983 and 1987. She was deeply unpopular in certain sections of society due to high unemployment and her response to the miners' strike. Unemployment had doubled between 1979 and 1982, largely due to Thatcher's monetarist battle against inflation.[79][80] 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.[81]

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. 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.[79] 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.[82]

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. Internal party tensions led to a leadership challenge by the Conservative MP Michael Heseltine and she resigned on 28 November 1990, making way for a new Conservative leader more likely to win the next general election.[83]

1990–1997: John Major

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.[84] A MORI poll six days before 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.[85] 1991 was a year of electoral uncertainty as the Conservatives and Labour regularly swapped places at the top of the opinion polls.[85] The election was held on 9 April 1992 and the Conservatives won a fourth successive electoral victory, contrary to pollster predictions.[86][87] The Conservatives became the first party to attract 14 million votes in a general election.[88][89]

On 16 September 1992, the Government suspended Britain's membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), after the pound fell lower than its minimum level in the ERM, a day thereafter referred to as Black Wednesday.[90] 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 million people.[91] The party subsequently lost much of its reputation for good financial stewardship although the end of the recession was declared in April 1993.[92][91] From 1994 to 1997, Major privatised British Rail, splitting it up into franchises to be run by the private sector.

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.[93] Major also had to survive a leadership challenge in 1995 by Redwood, then the Secretary of State for Wales. Major survived, but Redwood received 89 votes as well as the backing of The Sun newspaper. This further undermined Major's influence in the party.[94]

The Conservative government was also increasingly accused in the media of "sleaze". Their support reached its lowest ebb in late 1994. Over the next two years the Conservatives gained some credit for the strong economic recovery and fall in unemployment. But as the 1997 general election loomed, it was still looking certain that Labour would win.[85] An effective opposition campaign by the Labour Party culminated in a landslide defeat for the Conservatives in 1997, the worst defeat for the Conservatives since the 1906 general election. 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.

1997–2010: Political wilderness

John Major resigned as party leader and was succeeded by William Hague.[95] 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".[96] The 2001 general election resulted in a net gain of just one seat for the Conservative Party and a Labour majority.[97] This was just months after the fuel protests of September 2000 had seen the Conservatives briefly take a narrow lead over Labour in the opinion polls.[98]

In 2001, Iain Duncan Smith was elected leader of the party.[95] Although Duncan Smith was a strong Eurosceptic,[99] 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.[citation needed] However, before he could lead the party into a general election, Duncan Smith lost the vote on a motion of no confidence by MPs.[100] This was despite the Conservative support equalling that of Labour in the months leading up to his departure from the leadership.[85]

Michael Howard then stood for the leadership unopposed on 6 November 2003.[101] Under Howard's leadership in the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party increased their total vote share and—more significantly—their number of parliamentary seats, reducing Labour's majority.[102] The day following the election, Howard resigned.

David Cameron won the 2005 leadership election.[103] He then announced his intention to reform and realign the Conservatives.[104][105] For most of 2006 and the first half of 2007, polls showed leads over Labour for the Conservatives.[106]

Polls became more volatile in summer 2007 with the accession of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. The Conservatives gained control of the London mayoralty for the first time in May 2008 after Boris Johnson defeated the Labour incumbent, Ken Livingstone.[107]

2010–present: Return to government

2010–2016: David Cameron

David Cameron, Prime Minister (2010–2016)

The 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament with the Conservatives having the most seats but short of an overall majority.[108] Following the resignation of Gordon Brown, Cameron was named the country's new Prime Minister, and the Conservatives entered government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats—the first postwar coalition government.[109][110]

Cameron's premiership was marked by the ongoing effects of the late-2000s financial crisis; these involved a large deficit in government finances that his government sought to reduce through controversial austerity measures.[111][112] 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".[113][114]

At the 2015 general election, the Conservatives formed a majority government under Cameron.[115] After speculation of a referendum on the UK's EU membership throughout his premiership, a vote was announced for June 2016 in which Cameron campaigned to remain in the EU.[116][117] On the morning of 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.[118]

2016–2019: Theresa May

Theresa May, Prime Minister (2016–2019)

On 11 July 2016, Theresa May became the leader of the Conservative Party.[119] May promised social reform and a more centrist political outlook for the Conservative Party and its government.[120] May's early cabinet appointments were interpreted as an effort to reunite the party in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union.[121]

She began the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union in March 2017.[122] In April 2017, the Cabinet agreed to hold a general election on 8 June.[123] In a shock result, the election resulted in a hung parliament, with the Conservative Party needing a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP to support a minority government.[124][125]

Her Premiership was dominated by Brexit as she carried out negotiations with the European Union, adhering to the Chequers Plan, which resulted in her draft Brexit withdrawal agreement.[126] May survived two votes of no confidence in her Premiership in December 2018 and January 2019, but after versions of her draft withdrawal agreement were rejected by Parliament three times, May announced her resignation on 24 May 2019.[127]

Subsequent to the EU referendum vote, and through the premierships of May, Boris Johnson, and their successors, the party shifted right on the political spectrum.[25]

2019–2022: Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2019–2022)

In July 2019, Boris Johnson became Leader of the party.[128] He became Prime Minister the next day amidst significant political turmoil. Johnson had made withdrawal from the EU by 31 October "with no ifs, buts or maybes" a key pledge during his campaign for party leadership.[129]

Johnson lost his working majority in the House of Commons on 3 September 2019.[130] Later that same day, 21 Conservative MPs had the Conservative whip withdrawn after voting with the Opposition to grant the House of Commons control over its order paper.[131] Johnson would later halt the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, calling for a general election to be held.[132]

The 2019 general election resulted in the Conservatives winning a majority, the Party's largest since 1987.[133] The party won several constituencies, particularly in formerly traditional Labour seats.[37][38] On 20 December 2019, MPs passed an agreement for withdrawing from the EU, the United Kingdom formally left at 11pm on 31 January 2020.[134][135]

Johnson presided over the UK's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[136] From late 2021 onwards, Johnson received huge public backlash for the Partygate scandal, in which various senior members of government, aides, and Cabinet Office staff were pictured holding parties and other gatherings during lockdown contrary to Government guidance.[137] The Metropolitan Police eventually fined Johnson for breaking lockdown rules in April 2022.[138] In July 2022, Johnson admitted to appointing Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip while being aware of allegations of sexual assault against him.[139] This, along with Partygate and increasing criticisms on Johnson's handling of the cost-of-living crisis, provoked a government crisis following a loss in confidence and nearly 60 resignations from government officials; eventually leading to Johnson announcing his resignation as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister on 7 July.[140][141]

2022: Liz Truss

Liz Truss, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2022)

Boris Johnson's successor as leader was confirmed as Liz Truss on 5 September, following a leadership election.[142] The death of Queen Elizabeth II occurred just two days into Truss' premiership, making Truss the last Prime Minister to have been appointed by the Queen. Throughout the mourning period that followed, Truss met King Charles III and accompanied him on visits to various remembrance services across the country.[143]

In a strategy labelled Trussonomics, Truss introduced policies in response to the cost of living crisis,[144] including tax cuts, price caps on energy bills, and government help to pay them.[145][146] However, her tax cuts were met with severe criticism and markets reacted poorly.[147] After the announcement of the 'mini-budget' on 26 September, the pound fell to a record low of 1.03 against the dollar, and UK government gilt yields rose to 4.3%, prompting the Bank of England to trigger an emergency bond-buying programme.[148] After condemnation from the public, the Labour Party, and from within the Conservative Party itself, Truss scrapped some aspects of the budget, including axing the top rate of tax.[149][150] After continuous backlash against her in Tory backbenches, Truss announced her pending resignation as Prime Minister on 20 October 2022,[151] after just 44 days in office, the shortest Premiership in British political history.[151][152]

Truss also oversaw the worst polling the Conservative Party has ever received, with Labour polling as high as 36% above the Conservatives amidst the crisis.[153]

2022–present: Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2022–present)

Another leadership election began after Truss' resignation, with an increased nomination threshold of 100 and promises to conclude before 28 October, with Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt declaring their candidacies.[154][155] Boris Johnson was widely expected to attempt a comeback, but, while claiming he had the sufficient amount of support to enter the race, ruled himself out on 23 October.[156] On 24 October, Mordaunt pulled out of the leadership race, and Sunak was declared Leader – with Sunak being the first British Asian Leader of the Conservatives and the first British Asian Prime Minister.


Economic policy

The Conservative Party believes that a free market 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 growth and enterprise (although a reduction in the budget deficit has sometimes taken priority over cutting taxes).[157] The party has recently focused on the social market economy in Britain, promoting a free market for competition with social balance to create fairness. This has included curbs on the banking sector, enterprise zones to revive regions in Britain and grand and extensive infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail.[158]

One concrete economic policy of recent years has been opposition to the European single currency, the 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. All subsequent Conservative leaders have positioned the party firmly against the adoption of the euro.

The 50% top rate of income tax was reduced to 45% by the Cameron-Clegg coalition.[159] 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 and education, amongst other anti-austerity promises.

Social policy

Conservative Party supporters at Pride London in 2010

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. As part of their coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative government did support the introduction of equal marriage rights for LGBT+ individuals in 2010, though 139 Conservative MPs, a majority, voted against the 2013 same-sex marriage act.[160][161][162]

Since 1997, debate has occurred within the party between 'modernisers' such as Alan Duncan,[163] who believe that the Conservatives should modify their public stances on social issues, and 'traditionalists' such as Liam Fox[164][165] and Owen Paterson,[166] who believe that the party should remain faithful to its traditional conservative platform. 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.[167] Ruth Davidson is also seen as a reforming figure. Many of the original 'traditionalists' remain influential, though Duncan Smith's influence in terms of Commons contributions has waned.[168]

The party has strongly criticised Labour's "state multiculturalism".[169] 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.[170] 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".[170]

Official statistics showed that EU and non-EU mass immigration, together with asylum seeker applications, all increased substantially during Cameron's term in office.[171][172][173] 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.[174] 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.[175] In 2019, former Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the government would enact stricter immigration reforms.[176]

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 Winston Churchill, this has often been observed most clearly where leaders in each country are of a similar political stripe. 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.[177]

The Conservatives have proposed a Pan-African Free Trade Area, which it says could help entrepreneurial dynamism of African people.[178] The Conservatives pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.[178] 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.[179]

David Cameron had sought to distance himself from former US President Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy.[180] Despite traditional links between the 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.[181] However, after becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson developed a close relationship with Republican President Donald Trump.[182][183][184] 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.[185]

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 crystallise.[186][187] Support for Israel has increased under the leaderships of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, with prominent Conservative figures within the May and Johnson ministries 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.[188][189]

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.[190][191] 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.[192][193][194]

Defence policy


After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Conservative Party supported the coalition military action in Afghanistan. The Conservative Party believed that success in Afghanistan would be defined in terms of the Afghans achieving the capability to maintain their own internal and external security.[195] 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.[196]

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.[197]

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. 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.[198]


The Conservative Party upholds the view that NATO remains and should remain the most important security alliance for the United Kingdom.[199]

It has advocated for the creation of a fairer funding mechanism for NATO's expeditionary operations and called for all NATO countries to meet their required defence spending 2% of GDP. As well as this, some Conservatives believe that there is scope for expanding NATO's Article V to include new threats such as cybersecurity.

European defence

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.[200]

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.

Nuclear weapons

The Conservatives support the UK's possession of nuclear weapons through the Trident nuclear missile programme.[200]

Health policy

In 1945, the Conservatives declared support for universal healthcare.[201] Since entering office in 2010, they have introduced the Health and Social Care Act, constituting the biggest reformation that the NHS has ever undertaken.[202]

Drug policy

The Conservative Party supports current drug prohibition policies.[203] However, views on drugs do vary amongst some MPs in the party. Some Conservative politicians such as former MP Alan Duncan and Crispin Blunt 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. Legalisation of cannabis for medical uses is favoured by some Conservative politicians.[204] The party has rejected both decriminalising drugs for personal use and safe consumption rooms.[205]

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 £9,250 per year, however have ensured that this will not be paid by anyone until they are earning over £25,000. 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.[206]

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.[207] 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.[208]

In autumn 2017 the Conservatives decided to introduce the T Level qualification aimed at improving the teaching and administration of technical education.[209]

Family policy

As prime minister, David Cameron wanted to 'support family life in Britain' and put families at the centre of domestic social policymaking.[210] He stated in 2014 that there was 'no better place to start' in the Conservative mission of 'building society from the bottom up' than the family, which was responsible for individual welfare and well-being long before the welfare state came into play.[210] He also argued that 'family and politics are inextricably linked'.[210] 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 parents as they choose.[211] This policy is now in place, offering 50 weeks total parental leave, of which 37 weeks are paid leave, which can be shared between both parents.[212]

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, although parents can reduce the number of hours per week to 22 and spread across 52 weeks of the year. The government also introduced a policy to fund 15 hours a week of free education and childcare for 2-year-olds in England if parents are receiving certain state benefits or the child has a SEN statement or diagnosis, worth £2,500 a year per child.[213][214]

Jobs and welfare policy

One of the Conservatives' key policy goals in 2010 was to reduce the number of people in the UK claiming state benefits, and increase the number of people in the workforce. Between 2010 and 2014, all claimants of Incapacity Benefit were moved onto a new benefit scheme, Employment and Support Allowance, which was then subsumed into the Universal Credit system alongside other welfare benefits in 2018.[215][216][217]

Until 1999, Conservatives opposed the creation of a national minimum wage, as they believed it would cost jobs, and businesses would be reluctant to start business in the UK from fear of high labour costs.[218] 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.[219] The National Minimum Wage in 2012 was £6.19 for those over 21, so the proposed rises in National Living Wage by 2020 will represent a significantly higher pay for many.[220] However, the National Living Wage varies significantly by age, and there is evidence that up to 200,000 eligible individuals are not actually receiving the pay that they should be under the National Living Wage scheme.[221] The party support, and have implemented, the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings, and seek to raise retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2028.[222]

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'.[223] A law was passed in 2019, that UK greenhouse gas emissions will be net zero by 2050.[224] The UK was the first major economy to embrace a legal obligation to achieve net zero carbon emissions.[225]

In 2019, the Conservatives became the first national government in the world to officially declare a climate emergency (second in the UK after the SNP).[224] In November 2020, the Conservatives announced a 10-point plan for a 'green industrial revolution', with green enterprises, an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars, quadruple the amount of offshore wind power capacity within a decade, fund a variety of emissions-cutting proposals, and spurn a proposed green post-COVID-19 recovery.[226] In 2021, the Conservatives announced plans to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.[227]

Justice, crime and security policy

In 2010, the Conservatives campaigned to cut the perceived bureaucracy of the modern police force and pledged greater legal protection to people convicted of defending themselves against intruders.

The party has also campaigned for 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.

The Conservatives' 2017 manifesto pledged to create a national infrastructure police force, subsuming the existing British Transport Police; Civil Nuclear Constabulary; and Ministry of Defence Police "to improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network".[228]

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, most 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: for example, in the 1971 House of Commons vote on whether the UK should join the European Economic Community, only 39 of the then 330 Conservative MPs were opposed to membership.[229][230]

The Conservative Party has members with varying opinions of the EU, with pro-European Conservatives joining the affiliate Conservative Group for Europe, while some Eurosceptics left the party to join the United Kingdom Independence Party. Whilst the vast majority of Conservatives in recent decades have been Eurosceptics, views among this group regarding the UK's relationship with the EU have been polarised between moderate, soft Eurosceptics who support continued British membership but oppose further harmonisation of regulations affecting business and accept participation in a multi-speed Europe, and a more radical, economically libertarian faction who oppose policy initiatives from Brussels, support the rolling back of integration measures from the Maastricht Treaty onwards, and have become increasingly supportive of a complete withdrawal.[229]

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".[231] 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.[232]

Constitutional policy

Traditionally the Conservative Party has supported the uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom and its traditional Westminster system of politics. The party opposed many of Tony Blair's reforms, such as the removal of the hereditary peers,[233] 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.

There was also a split on whether to introduce a British Bill of Rights that would replace the Human Rights Act 1998; David Cameron expressed support, but party grandee Ken Clarke described it as "xenophobic and legal nonsense".[234]

In 2019, the Conservatives' manifesto committed to a broad constitutional review in a line which read "after Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts".[235]


Party structure

The National Conservative Convention is held during the Conservative Party Conference.

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 Conservative Association.[236] 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. It is composed of all association chairs, officers from areas and regions, and 42 representatives and the Conservative Women's Organisation.[237] 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 consists of backbench MPs, meeting weekly while parliament is sitting. Frontbench MPs have an open invitation to attend. The 1922 Committee plays a crucial role in the selection of party leaders. All Conservative MPs are members of the 1922 Committee by default. There are 20 executive members of the committee, agreed by consensus among backbench MPs.

The Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) is effectively head of the Professional Party and leads financing, organisation of elections and drafting of policy.

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.[237] 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[238][239]

Membership peaked in the mid-1950s at approximately 3 million, before declining steadily through the second half of the 20th century.[240] 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,[241] and in 2013 membership was estimated by the party itself at 134,000.[242]

The membership fee for the Conservative Party is £25, or £5 if the member is under the age of 23. From April 2013 until the 2015 general election people could join Team2015 without being Party members, and take part in political campaigning for the party. At the 2018 Conservative Spring Forum, Party chairman Brandon Lewis announced that the party's membership stood at 124,000.[243]

In 2013 the Conservative Party lost an estimated 35–40% of its membership due to the Same Sex Marriage Bill.[244][245]

Prospective parliamentary candidates

Associations select their constituency's candidates.[236][246] 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.[247] 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.[248][249] 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.[248]

Young Conservatives

Young Conservatives is the youth wing of the Conservative Party for members aged 25 and under. The organisation aims to increase youth ownership and engagement in local associations.[250] From 1998 to 2015, the youth wing was called Conservative Future, and had branches at universities and at parliamentary constituency level. It was shut down in 2015 after allegations that bullying by Mark Clarke had caused the suicide of Elliot Johnson, a 21-year-old party activist.[251][252][253] The current incarnation was launched in March 2018.


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.[254] In the year after the 2010 general election, half the Conservatives' funding came from the financial sector.[255] In 2013, the Conservative Party had an income of £25.4 million, of which £749,000 came from membership subscriptions.[256]

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.[257] 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.[258] The Advisory Board of the party represents donors who have given significant sums to the party, typically in excess of £250,000.[259] In December 2022 The Guardian reported 10% of Conservative peers were large party donors and gave nearly £50m in total.[260]

International organisations

The Conservative Party is a member of a number of international organisations, most notably the International Democrat Union which unites right-wing parties including the United States Republican Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party, the Conservative Party of Canada and the South Korean United Future Party.

At a European level, the Conservatives are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR Party), which unites conservative parties in opposition to a federal European Union, through which the Conservatives have ties to the Ulster Unionist Party and the governing parties of Israel and Turkey, Likud and the Justice and Development Party respectively. In the European Parliament, the Conservative Party's MEPs sat in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (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). In June 2009, The Conservatives 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 European parliamentary caucus requires at least 25 MEPs from at least seven of the 27 EU member states.[261] In forming the caucus, the party broke 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). It did so on the grounds that it is dominated by European federalists and supporters of the Lisbon treaty, which the Conservatives were generally highly critical of.[261]

When Sir Christopher Lawson was appointed as a marketing director at Conservative Central Office in 1981, he was surprised to find that, apart from a few diverse symbols, there was no logo to represent the party. He developed a design based on the Olympic flame in the colours of the Union Jack,[262] which was intended to represent leadership, striving to win, dedication, and a sense of community.[263] The emblem was adopted for the 1983 general election.[262] In 1989, the party's director of communications, Brendan Bruce, found through market research that recognition of the symbol was low and that people found it old fashioned and uninspiring. It was decided to redesign the existing logo, rather than adopt an entirely new one which might be interpreted as signalling a change of the party's ethos. Using a design company headed by Michael Peters, an image of a hand carrying a torch was developed, which referenced the Statue of Liberty.[264]

In 2006, there was a rebranding exercise to emphasise the Conservatives' commitment to environmentalism; a project costing £40,000 resulted in a sketched silhouette of an oak tree, a national symbol, which was said to represent "strength, endurance, renewal and growth".[265] A change from green to the traditional Conservative blue colour appeared in 2007,[266] followed by a version with the Union Jack superimposed in 2010.[267] An alternative version featuring the colours of the Rainbow flag was unveiled for an LGBT event at the 2009 conference in Manchester.[268]

Party factions

The Conservative Party has a variety of internal factions or ideologies, including one-nation conservatism,[269][270] Christian democracy,[271] social conservatism, Thatcherism, traditional conservatism, neoconservatism,[272][273] Euroscepticism,[274] and, since the 2016, right-wing populism.[14][275]

One-nation Conservatives

One-nation conservatism was the party's dominant ideology in the 20th century until the rise of Thatcherism in the 1970s. It has included in its ranks Conservative Prime Ministers such as Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath.[276] One-nation Conservatives in the contemporary party include former First Secretary of State Damian Green, the current chair of the One Nation Conservatives caucus.

The name itself comes from a famous phrase of Disraeli. Ideologically, One-nation conservatism identifies itself with a broad paternalistic conservative stance. One-nation Conservatives are often associated with the Tory Reform Group and the Bow Group. Adherents believe in social cohesion and 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.

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. The Red Tory theory of Phillip Blond is a strand of the One-nation school of thought; prominent Red Tories include former Cabinet Ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Eric Pickles and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Jesse Norman.[277] There is a difference of opinion among supporters regarding the European Union. Some support it perhaps stemming from an extension of the cohesion principle to the international level, though others are strongly against the EU (such as Peter Tapsell).

Free-market Conservatives

The "free-market wing" of economic liberals 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, 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".[278]

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.[279] 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 Keith Joseph are usually cited as early influences in the movement.[280] 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. Joseph was the first to introduce the model idea into British politics, writing the publication: Why Britain needs a Social Market Economy.

Traditionalist Conservatives

This socially conservative right-wing grouping is currently associated with the Cornerstone Group (or Faith, Flag and Family), and is the oldest tradition within the Conservative Party, closely associated with High Toryism. The name stems from its support for three social institutions: 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, 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.

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.[281]



Allegations of Islamophobia have been made against the UK Conservative Party, targeting its membership, policies, fringes, and structure. These include allegations against senior politicians, such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May, and Zac Goldsmith.

One of the first major Conservative Party policies considered to be Islamophobic since they came to power in 2010 were the "Go Home" vans, an initiative of then-Home Secretary Theresa May. They were part of a controversial 2013 advertising campaign by the British Home Office, in which advertising vans with slogans recommending that illegal immigrants should "go home or face arrest" were sent to tour areas with high immigrant populations, particularly of British Muslims. The "Go Home" vans were a part of May's larger Home Office hostile environment policy, a controversial program designed to make staying in the United Kingdom as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain. The United Nations Human Rights Council has stated that the policy has fostered xenophobia within the UK, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that the policy broke equalities law.[282][283]

In 2016, the Conservative Party faced criticism for running a supposedly Islamophobic campaign promoting Zac Goldsmith for London mayor by smearing Labour's mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan.[284] Concerns were first raised that Goldsmith's campaign was attempting to divide communities after flyers targeting Hindu voters suggested Khan would implement a tax on jewellery. Another controversy arose when Goldsmith questioned Khan's associations with alleged extremists before he became an MP.

In 2019, the prime minister Boris Johnson ordered a report into how the party dealt with accusations of Islamophobia and racism.[285] The final report, said that anti-Muslim views were seen at local association and individual levels, that comments made by Goldsmith and Johnson "give an impression to some of a party and leadership insensitive to Muslim communities" and that the Conservatives' complaints team was "in need of overhaul", but denied that the party was institutionally racist.[286][287]

Financial ties to Russian oligarchs

The Conservative Party has been criticised by some for its funding ties to Russian oligarchs, which has stretched back to the early 2000s.[288][289] Scrutiny became more prominent after alleged interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum by the Kremlin to support the Vote Leave campaign, and increased after the Intelligence and Security Committee Russia report into Russian interference in British politics was published in July 2020. Concerns over Conservative Party funds have become increasingly controversial due to Vladimir Putin's human rights abuses and the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[290]

One of the first was Lubov Chernukhin, wife of former deputy finance minister and investment company VEB.RF founder Vladmir Chernukhin, who had donated north of £2.2 million as of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[291][292] Donations to British political parties is only legal for citizens; the individuals who donated to the party had dual UK-Russian citizenship, and the donations were legal and properly declared.[293] However, an investigation conducted by The New York Times shortly after the invasion of Ukraine determined that a £399,810 donation made by British-Israeli businessman Ehud Sheleg in 2018 was in fact given directly to him by his father-in-law, Russian oligarch Sergei Kopytov. Kopytov, a former minister in Russian-occupied Crimea, has strong ties to Vladimir Putin's government.[288] Barclays Bank reported that in January 2021, they "[traced] a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source", and reported it accordingly to the National Crime Agency.[288]

An investigation by the Good Law Project found that in spite of Johnson's claims that donations from those with links to the Russian government was to stop,[290] since the start of the war, the Conservatives have accepted at least £243,000 from Russia and Kremlin-associated donors.[294] In February 2022, the Labour Party used Electoral Commission information to calculate that that donors who had made money from Russia or Russians had given £1.93m to either the Conservative party or constituency associations since Boris Johnson's premiership began.[295] Then-party leader Liz Truss said that the donations would not be returned, stating that they had been "properly declared".[296]

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[297] However, it also delegates local responsibility to Conservative associations in the area, usually to a team of Conservative activists and volunteers[297] 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.[298]

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.[299] The Conservative Party also has regional call centres and VoteSource do-it-from-home accounts.

UK general election results

This chart shows the electoral performance of the Conservative Party in each general election since 1835.[300][301]

For all election results, including: devolved elections, London elections, Police and Crime Commissioner elections, combined authority elections and European Parliament elections see: Electoral history of the Conservative Party (UK)

For results of the Tories, the party's predecessor, see here.

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Election Leader Votes Seats Position Government
No. Share No. ± Share
1835 Robert Peel 261,269 40.8%
273 / 658
  98 41.5%   2nd Whig
1837 379,694 48.3%
314 / 658
  41 47.7%   2nd Whig
1841 379,694 56.9%
367 / 658
  53 55.8%   1st Conservative
1847 Earl of Derby 205,481 42.7%
325 / 656
Includes Peelites
  42 49.5%   1st Whig
1852 311,481 41.9%
330 / 654
Includes Peelites
  5 50.5%   1st Conservative
1857 239,712 34.0%
264 / 654
  66 40.4%   2nd Whig
1859 193,232 34.3%
298 / 654
  34 45.6%   2nd Whig
1865 346,035 40.5%
289 / 658
  9 43.9%   2nd Liberal
1868[fn 1] Benjamin Disraeli 903,318 38.4%
271 / 658
  18 41.2%   2nd Liberal
1874 1,091,708 44.3%
350 / 652
  79 53.7%   1st Conservative
1880 1,462,351 42.5%
237 / 652
  113 36.3%   2nd Liberal
1885[fn 2] Marquess of Salisbury 2,020,927 43.5%
247 / 670
  10 36.9%   2nd Liberal minority
1886 1,520,886 51.1%
317 / 670
  70 47.3%   1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1892 2,159,150 47.0%
268 / 670
  49 40.0%   2nd Liberal
1895 1,894,772 49.0%
340 / 670
  72 50.7%   1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1900 1,767,958 50.3%
335 / 670
  5 50.0%   1st Conservative–Liberal Unionist
1906 Arthur Balfour 2,422,071 43.4%
131 / 670
  204 19.6%   2nd Liberal
January 1910 3,104,407 46.8%
240 / 670
  109 35.8%   2nd Liberal minority
December 1910 2,420,169 46.6%
235 / 670
  5 35.1%   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 38.4%
379 / 707
332 elected with Coupon
  108 53.6%   1st Coalition Liberal–Conservative
1922 5,294,465 38.5%
344 / 615
  35 55.9%   1st Conservative
1923 Stanley Baldwin 5,286,159 38.0%
258 / 625
  86 41.3%   1st Labour minority
1924 7,418,983 46.8%
412 / 615
  124 67.0%   1st Conservative
1929[fn 4] 8,252,527 38.1%
260 / 615
  152 42.3%   2nd Labour minority
1931 11,377,022 55.0%
470 / 615
  210 76.4%   1st Conservative–Liberal–National Labour
1935 10,025,083 47.8%
386 / 615
  83 62.8%   1st Conservative–Liberal National–National Labour
1945 Winston Churchill 8,716,211 36.2%
197 / 640
  189 30.8%   2nd Labour
1950 11,507,061 40.0%
282 / 625
  85 45.1%   2nd Labour
1951 13,724,418 48.0%
302 / 625
  20 48.3%   1st Conservative–National Liberal
1955 Anthony Eden 13,310,891 49.7%
324 / 630
  22 51.4%   1st Conservative–National Liberal
1959 Harold Macmillan 13,750,875 49.4%
345 / 630
  21 54.8%   1st Conservative–National Liberal
1964 Alec Douglas-Home 12,002,642 43.4%
298 / 630
  47 47.3%   2nd Labour
1966 Edward Heath 11,418,455 41.9%
250 / 630
  48 39.7%   2nd Labour
1970[fn 5] 13,145,123 46.4%
330 / 630
  80 52.4%   1st Conservative
February 1974 11,872,180 37.9%
297 / 635
  33 46.8%   2nd Labour minority
October 1974 10,462,565 35.8%
277 / 635
  20 43.6%   2nd Labour
1979 Margaret Thatcher 13,697,923 43.9%
339 / 635
  62 53.4%   1st Conservative
1983 13,012,316 42.4%
397 / 650
  38 61.1%   1st Conservative
1987 13,760,935 42.2%
376 / 650
  21 57.8%   1st Conservative
1992 John Major 14,093,007 41.9%
336 / 651
  40 51.6%   1st Conservative
1997 9,600,943 30.7%
165 / 659
  171 25.0%   2nd Labour
2001 William Hague 8,357,615 31.7%
166 / 659
  1 25.2%   2nd Labour
2005 Michael Howard 8,785,941 32.4%
198 / 646
  32 30.7%   2nd Labour
2010 David Cameron 10,704,647 36.1%
306 / 650
  108 47.1%   1st Conservative–Liberal Democrats
2015 11,334,920 36.9%
330 / 650
  24 50.8%   1st Conservative
2017 Theresa May 13,632,914 42.3%
317 / 650
  13 48.8%   1st Conservative minority
with DUP confidence and supply
2019 Boris Johnson 13,966,451 43.6%
365 / 650
  48 56.2%   1st Conservative
  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.

Associated groups

Ideological groups

Interest groups

Think tanks


Party structures

See also


  1. ^ The Conservative Party was a founding member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party, leaving that party in 2021. Its members in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sit with the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.[15][16]
  1. ^ There are several forms of conservatism present in the party, namely neoconservatism, social conservatism and Thatcherism.


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Further reading

  • Bale, Tim. The Conservatives since 1945: the Drivers of Party Change. (2012, Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-923437-0)
  • Bale, Tim (2011). The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron. Cambridge, England: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-4858-3.
  • Ball, Stuart. Portrait of a Party: The Conservative Party in Britain 1918–1945 (Oxford UP, 2013).
  • Beer, Samuel. "The Conservative Party of Great Britain," Journal of Politics 14#1 (February 1952), pp. 41–71 in JSTOR Archived 15 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  • Blake, Robert (2011). The Conservative Party from Peel to Major (4th ed.). London: Faber Finds.
  • 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
  • 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)
  • Campbell, John. Margaret Thatcher; Volume Two: The Iron Lady (Pimlico (2003). ISBN 0-7126-6781-4
  • Charmley, John. "Tories and Conservatives." in David Brown, Robert Crowcroft, and Gordon Pentland eds., The Oxford Handbook of Modern British Political History, 1800–2000 (2018): 306.
  • 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 Archived 16 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  •  ——— . British conservatism: the politics and philosophy of inequality (IB Tauris, 2010), Covers more than just political party.
  • Ensor, R. C. K. England, 1870–1914 online Archived 8 April 2019 at the Wayback Machine, passim.
  • Evans, Eric J. (2004). Thatcher and Thatcherism.
  • Garnett, Mark, and Philip Lynch. The conservatives in crisis: the Tories after 1997 (1994)
  • Green, E. H. H. Ideologies of conservatism: conservative political ideas in the twentieth century (2004)
  • Green, E. H. H. The Crisis of Conservatism: The Politics, Economics and Ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880–1914 (1995).
  •  ——— . 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
  • Hayton, Richard, and Andrew Scott Crines, eds. Conservative orators from Baldwin to Cameron (2015).
  • Hazell, Robert and Ben Yong, eds. The Politics of Coalition: How the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government Works (Hart Publishing, 2012).
  • Heppell, Timothy, and David Seawright, eds. Cameron and the Conservatives: The Transition to Coalition Government (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
  • 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 Archived 3 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  • 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;
  • Norton, Bruce F. Politics in Britain (2007) textbook
  • Parry, J. P. "Disraeli and England," Historical Journal 43#3 (2000), pp. 699–728 in JSTOR Archived 9 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  • Paterson, David (2001). Liberalism and Conservatism, 1846–1905.
  • Powell, David. British Politics, 1910–1935: The Crisis of the Party System (2004)
  • Roberts, Andrew. Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018), a fully detailed biography.
  • 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 Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  • Shannon, Richard. The Age of Disraeli, 1868–1881: The Rise of Tory Democracy (A History of the Conservative Party Series) (1992)
  • Shannon, Richard. The Age of Salisbury, 1881–1902: Unionism and Empire (A History of the Conservative Party) (1996)
  • 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 Archived 15 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine


  • 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 Kowol, Kit (2016). "Renaissance on the Right? New Directions in the History of the Post-War Conservative Party". Twentieth Century British History. 27 (2): 290–304. doi:10.1093/tcbh/hww012. Archived from the original on 21 July 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  • 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