The Conservatives in crisis

The Conservatives in crisis

Mark Garnett
Philip Lynch
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Conservatives in crisis
    Book Description:

    Having been the dominant force in British politics in the twentieth century, the Conservative Party in UK suffered its heaviest general election defeats in 1997 and 2001. This book explores the party's current crisis and assesses the Conservatives' failure to mount a political recovery under the leadership of William Hague.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-071-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of figures and tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. List of abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Mark Garnett and Philip Lynch

    Academic interest in Britain’s leading political parties has not always run in parallel with their electoral fortunes. The Labour Party has commanded a fairly consistent level of attention, whether in office or in opposition. But it seems that the Conservatives are fated to be regarded either as unavoidable or irrelevant. For understandable reasons, during the eighteen years of Conservative government after 1979, political scientists and historians did much to redress the balance. But there was always a suspicion that the trend would tail off as soon as the party left office.

    It can be argued, though, that since their landslide...

  8. 1 The Conservatives in opposition, 1906–79: a comparative analysis
    (pp. 7-28)
    Stuart Ball

    The experience of being in opposition for a lengthy period is not one which the modern Conservative Party is used to, and it has tended to find it difficult. Since the 1880s, the Conservatives have grown accustomed to being seen – and to see themselves – as the party of government. They have been in office for so much of the period that exercising power has seemed to be the natural state of affairs, and this adds to Conservative frustration during spells in opposition. The party can feel – even if it does not always articulate this – that their...

  9. 2 The US Republicans: lessons for the Conservatives?
    (pp. 29-48)
    Edward Ashbee

    Both Labour’s victory in the 1997 general election and the US Republicans’ loss of the White House in 1992 led to crises of confidence among conservatives. Although there were those in both countries who attributed these defeats to presentational errors or the campaigning skills of their Labour and Democrat opponents, others saw a need for far-reaching policy shifts and a restructuring of conservative politics. This chapter considers the character of US conservatism during the 1990s, the different strands of opinion that emerged in the wake of the 1992 defeat, the factors that shaped the victorious Bush campaign in 2000, and...

  10. 3 Win or bust: the leadership gamble of William Hague
    (pp. 49-65)
    Mark Garnett

    Writing in 1977, Conservative MP Nigel Fisher identified ‘two qualifying conditions’ for Tory leaders: ‘a lengthy spell in Parliament and considerable Cabinet experience’. In combination, he thought these factors ‘make it unlikely that in future anyone will become leader of the party at an early age. There will be no more William Pitts’. Fisher’s timing could hardly have been more ironic. The 1977 Conservative Party conference saw the emergence of a new oratorical prodigy. As the delegates stood to applaud the sixteen-year-old William Hague, Lord Carrington whispered to his neighbour, ‘If he’s like that now, what on earth will he...

  11. 4 The Conservative parliamentary party
    (pp. 66-81)
    Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

    When the Conservative Party gathered for its first party conference since the 1997 general election, they came to bury the parliamentary party, not to praise it. The preceding five years had seen the party lose its (long-enjoyed) reputation for unity, and the blame for this was laid largely at the feet of the party’s parliamentarians.² As Peter Riddell noted inThe Times, ‘speaker after speaker was loudly cheered whenever they criticised the parliamentary party and its divisions’.³ It was an argument with which both the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers were in agreement. Just before the 1997 general election, John...

  12. 5 Organisational reform and the extra-parliamentary party
    (pp. 82-106)
    Richard Kelly

    As shown by the history of the Labour Party after 1979, electorally defeated parties have a tendency to re-examine their organisation. After all, the main function of political parties is to seek power and the main function of party organisation is to help them achieve it. As such, electoral failure nearly always brings into question a party’s internal arrangements – and this was certainly true of the Conservatives after the 1997 general election. As Alan Clark MP noted, ‘the Conservative Party is now like a defeated and invaded country, where the old power structures are shattered and the old currency...

  13. 6 A question of definition? Ideology and the Conservative Party, 1997–2001
    (pp. 107-124)
    Mark Garnett

    In the wake of election defeats in 1970, 1974 and 1979 both the Labour Party and the Conservatives held prolonged inquests into the reasons for their apparent failures in office. These debates – which were often extremely bitter – focused on the underlying principles which had informed the performance of each party. In each case critics claimed that governments had been guilty of ideological betrayal. In 1970 and 1979 Labour’s leaders were accused of not being socialist enough; after the fall of the Heath government in 1974 the ex-Prime Minister was attacked for the opposite reason. The 1975 Conservative leadership...

  14. 7 Conservative policy under Hague
    (pp. 125-145)
    Peter Dorey

    The Conservative Party encountered considerable difficulty in crafting a coherent package of policies once in opposition after the 1997 election defeat. Much of this difficulty derived from the ideological uncertainty which afflicted the Conservative Party during this period, as discussed in the previous chapter. Conservatives were uncertain as to whether their response ought to be a more vigorous advocacy of Thatcherism, thereby placing ‘clear blue water’ between them and New Labour, or whether they should embrace a more ‘compassionate conservatism’, in order to recapture the One Nation terrain that the party occupied so successfully until the 1970s. In the context...

  15. 8 The Conservatives and Europe, 1997–2001
    (pp. 146-163)
    Philip Lynch

    As Conservatives reflected on the 1997 general election, they could agree that the issue of Britain’s relationship with the European Union (EU) was a significant factor in their defeat. But they disagreed over how and why ‘Europe’ had contributed to the party’s demise. Euro-sceptics blamed John Major’s European policy. For Euro-sceptics, Major had accepted developments in the European Union that ran counter to the Thatcherite defence of the nation state and promotion of the free market by signing the Maastricht Treaty. This opened a schism in the Conservative Party that Major exacerbated by paying insufficient attention to the growth of...

  16. 9 The Scottish Conservatives, 1997–2001: from disaster to devolution and beyond
    (pp. 164-181)
    Peter Lynch

    William Hague’s four years of leadership of the Conservative Party coincided with a revolution in the political opportunity structure of Scottish Conservatism. First, the Scotish Tories were wiped out at the 1997 general election, their worst electoral performance of all time and their lowest share of the vote since 1865. Second, the party’s constitutional position was heavily defeated at the devolution referendum of September 1997, so that Conservative opposition to a Scottish Parliament became an anachronism and devolution was set to become a reality. The party’s prospects took an upward turn when it gained seats in the new Scottish Parliament...

  17. 10 Nationhood and identity in Conservative politics
    (pp. 182-197)
    Philip Lynch

    Identification with the nation and nation state has been a central theme in Conservative politics for over a century. The party’s status as a patriotic party safeguarding the constitution, Union and, for much of its history, the Empire was an important factor in its political success. The appeal of the Conservative politics of nationhood rested upon three main pillars: (i) a coherent vision of nationhood and conservative state patriotism; (ii) effective use of a patriotic discourse, which portrayed the Conservatives as a national rather than sectional party, popularised its vision of nationhood and questioned the patriotic credentials of its rivals;...

  18. 11 The 2001 general election: so, no change there then?
    (pp. 198-216)
    David Broughton

    A week is a long time in politics, as former Prime Minister Harold Wilson once noted. A year can seem like an eternity, especially when a party makes negligible progress in advance of a second successive general election drubbing. To follow such a humiliation with an occasionally bitter and long drawn out leadership contest – in which one candidate calls the other an ‘extremist’,¹ and the other retorts by dubbing his opponent ‘a right wing hanger and flogger’ ² – provides incontrovertible evidence of a party in turmoil.

    For these reasons, amongst others considered elsewhere in this volume, the current...

  19. Commentary 1 The reform of the Conservative Party
    (pp. 217-220)
    Lord Parkinson

    When William Hague appeared on the platform at the 2001 Conservative Party conference, he was greeted by a wave of sympathy which extended far beyond the audience at Blackpool. This was more than the usual reaction to a plucky underdog: it was a well-deserved testimony to the dignity which had marked William’s conduct since the 2001 general election. Perhaps the public had begun to appreciate some of William’s qualities. The pity is that the truth dawned on most of them far too late.

    As someone who witnessed at close hand William’s courage and good humour during some of the darkest...

  20. Commentary 2 From values to policy: the Conservative challenge
    (pp. 221-228)
    Andrew Lansley

    In the wake of the 1997 election defeat, very few Conservatives spoke of the fear which gripped them: of a party which splits apart and consequently hands power to Labour for a generation. William Hague was elected leader for his youth and for a fresh start, undoubtedly because he had abundant talent, but not least because he was the candidate with the least number of enemies. This, as we have seen regularly, is the best predictive factor in recent Conservative leadership elections.

    Two years later, in the local and European Parliament elections of 1999, the leap into the unknown which...

  21. Commentary 3 The Conservatives, 1997–2001: a party in crisis?
    (pp. 229-247)
    Ian Taylor

    Coming out of the worst election defeat since the Liberal landslide of 1906, there was a remarkable sense of optimism amongst Conservatives in the summer of 1997. People felt that the party could not go any lower; that the nadir of our misfortunes had been reached. The difficulties of the Blair government in its first few months created a feeling that it might not be long before we would return to government. John Major made this point in his conference speech that October: ‘The tide will turn, perhaps more speedily than anyone imagines.’ ²

    The election of William Hague as...

  22. Conclusions: the Conservatives in crisis
    (pp. 248-268)
    Philip Lynch and Mark Garnett

    Recent British political history has been, to borrow Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown’s beloved phrase, one of ‘Tory boom and bust’. The change in the fortunes of the Conservative Party since 1992 is remarkable. Holding office alone or in coalition for two-thirds of the twentieth century, the Conservatives were considered the ‘natural party of government’. Even when they met serious setbacks in 1945, 1964 and 1974 (twice), they managed a rapid return to power. Defeat was predicted in 1992, but instead the party won a record 14 million votes.

    In the post-war period, the Conservatives regularly won elections because of their...

  23. INDEX
    (pp. 269-272)