The Conservative Party has been the most successful political party in the UK over the past century. Post-war, it had two long spells in office from 1951–64, and 1979–97. In opposition between 1997 and 2010, the Conservative Party struggled to compete with the Labour Party, particularly under Tony Blair. It had four different leaders during this period — William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and David Cameron. This lack of success had consequences for policy and party positioning, with the Conservatives alternating between periods of seemingly ‘one nation’ paternalistic Conservatism, followed by periods where the party has emphasized more ‘Thatcherite’ and nationalist polices. Acting as the lead partner in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives returned to power in May 2010. This chapter therefore assesses developments in the Conservative Party. Discussion progresses in four sections. The first sets out the key elements of Conservative ideology and policy and assesses how this may have changed in recent decades. The second part discusses the question of party leadership. In addition to evaluating perceptions of the party’s recent leaders from Edward Heath onwards, it also analyses the party’s procedures for selecting a party leader. Under David Cameron, the issue of the party’s representativeness has been a high-profile topic.
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