The Conservative Party is descended from the Tory Party of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth Centuries. Its members are still commonly referred to as Tories and the party is still often referred to as the Tory Party. Its current leader is Edward Heath and the party is in Opposition.
The Conservatives, commonly known as the Tories, are the oldest political party in the United Kingdom. Established in the 1830s by Sir Robert Peel, the party has occupied the centre-right of the political, social and economic spectrums since its earliest days. Traditionally the party was best known for its imperialistic foreign policy, but in the mid and late twentieth century, with the gradual dissolution of the British Empire, its attention has focussed on other issues. The Conservatives have been the 'natural party of government' in the United Kingdom since the beginning of the twentieth century, having governed the country either alone or in coalition for forty eight out of eighty one years since 1900.
After the massive defeat the party suffered in the 1945 general election to the Labour Party under Clement Attlee, the Conservatives were forced to look at themselves anew. The leadership decided to accept the basic policies of the Attlee Government - the establishment of a full welfare state, state control of certain industries, a high level of personal taxation - tying in with the party's traditional commitment to the Empire and Commonwealth, the maintainence of the Union in its current form, the established institutions of the British Constitution and a degree of free enterprise. This position, known as 'Butskellism' after the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, R. A. Butler, and his Labour counterpart Hugh Gaitskell, was generally adhered to by the party through the 50s and 60s.
A reaction to the Keynesian economics of the 1950s and 60s began to grow in the Conservative Party in the late 60s, however, with Enoch Powell amongst its most prominent supporters. He and like-minded others proposed that the state should sell off state-owned corporations to the private sector, and generally reduce its scope for interference in the economy. This set of policies proved to be somewhat popular amongst many Conservative MPs, and Margaret Thatcher was elected Conservative Leader in 1975 on a platform of promising to fix the economy through these methods. It is, however, a contentious policy platform in the party, and one of the major dividing lines amongst Conservatives is between 'One Nation Conservatives' who support the old Butskellite ways, and supporters of Mrs Thatcher who are beginning to be termed 'Thatcherites'.
After a degree of scepticism in the 1950s and early 60s about the European Community, the Conservatives have generally proved to be the more favourable of the two main parties towards Europe. Under Edward Heath the Conservative Government of 1970 - 74 brought the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community for the first time, and through the 70s have generally appeared to be the more enthusiastic proponents of European economic integration. However, there are a sizeable number of Conservatives who are wary of both the nature of the EEC and how far it intends to intrude in the political life of Britain. The Conservatives are generally supportive of close trans-Atlantic ties with the United States, and of NATO. The party is committed to Britain's nuclear deterrent and is traditionally perceived as strong on defence matters.
On social issues, the Conservatives traditionally have been seen as strong on law and order, and in favour of restrictions on immigration, especially 'coloured' immigration. This forms a major part of their appeal to certain groups of working class voters. While there is no party line on matters of morality such as abortion and homosexuality, most Conservatives tend to be socially conservative although there are a large number of moderates and social liberals contained within the party.
The Party's main heartlands are the suburbs of towns and cities, where most middle class voters reside, and agricultural and rural areas. The South East and South West of England in particular are very strongly Conservative, but the party has seats all over the country including Scotland, Wales, the North of England and the Midlands. The party's base is generally drawn from businessmen and their families, housewives, home-owners, farmers and landowners and the middle and upper classes. The Conservative and Unionist Party as of 1981 has approximately 1 million members nation-wide.
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