Conservative Party

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Conservative party

, British political party
Conservative party, British political party, formally the Conservative and Unionist party and a continuation of the historic Tory party.

The Rise of the Conservative Party

The name “conservative” was used by George Canning as early as 1824 and was first popularized by John Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review in 1830. The Reform Bill of 1832 (see Reform Acts), which created some 500,000 middle-class voters, marked the advent of the new party. The 19th-century Conservatives, like their Tory predecessors, were defenders of the established Church of England. They supported aristocratic government and a narrow franchise. They attempted, by passing factory acts and moderating the poor law of 1834, to ease hardships stemming from the Industrial Revolution, but they had no comprehensive plan to cope with its widespread dislocations. They were stronger in rural than in urban areas and were defenders of agricultural interests.

Sir Robert Peel, in his Tamworth Manifesto (1834) and after, attempted to make the party attractive to the new business classes and formed the first Conservative government. But his repeal (1846) of the corn laws brought about an angry reaction from protectionist agricultural interests, led by Lord George Bentinck and Benjamin Disraeli, and resulted in a party split. The “Peelites” eventually merged with the Liberal party, and the Conservatives were hampered by the loss to the Liberals of able young leaders like William Gladstone.

From Disraeli to World War I

In the heyday (1846–73) of free trade and anti-imperial sentiment, the Conservatives were out of office, except for three brief ministries, until the Disraeli government of 1874–80. Disraeli's strong imperialism and his wooing of a broadened electorate with plans for reform, a program known as “Tory democracy,” was attractive in a period of depression and increasing imperial competition. After the Reform Bill of 1884 campaign, organizations like the Primrose League and the development of the caucus gave the Conservatives greater solidarity and cohesion. They gained additional strength as a result of the secession (1886) from the Liberal party of the Liberal Unionists, who, like the Conservatives, opposed Home Rule for Ireland. (In 1912 the Liberal Unionists formally merged with the Conservative party.)

The party was in office under the 3d marquess of Salisbury (1885–86; 1886–92; 1895–1902) and Arthur Balfour (1902–5). Efforts by Lord Randolph Churchill to implement further domestic reforms in the tradition of Tory democracy were unsuccessful, but the popular imperialist emphasis remained. In this period the party was gradually drawing closer to middle-class business interests, but the insistence of Joseph Chamberlain on a program of tariff reform, including imperial preference, split the party, which lost (1906) to the Liberals. Conservatives were next in office as part of the coalition government during World War I.

The Dominant Party

In 1922 the Conservatives refused to continue the coalition formed during the war, and under Andrew Bonar Law emerged victorious at the polls. With the Liberals in decline and the Labour party still developing, the Conservatives entered a period of almost continuous hegemony. They held office from 1922 to 1929, interrupted only by a brief Labour ministry in 1924. They were the dominant power in the National governments of Ramsay MacDonald (1931–35), Stanley Baldwin (1935–37), and Neville Chamberlain (1937–40). Under the long leadership of Baldwin (1922–37), the party spoke for the interests of business, the professional and white-collar classes, and farmers. They lost prestige with Chamberlin's appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany, but the country rallied to his successor, Sir Winston Churchill.

Postwar Years

Triumph in war preceded electoral defeat (1945), owing to popular demand for urgently needed social reform, which the Conservatives would not carry through. Returning to office (1951) under Churchill, the Conservatives displayed a sense of pragmatic modernity in accepting many of the social reforms instituted by the Labour government. The party's majority in the House of Commons was increased in 1955, and Sir Anthony Eden became (1955) prime minister upon Churchill's retirement. Popularity diminished temporarily during the Suez Canal crisis, but favorable economic conditions and the political skill of Harold Macmillan, who headed the government after Eden's resignation (1957), resulted in a solid electoral victory in 1959. Under the leadership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who succeeded Macmillan (1963), the party lost narrowly to the Labour party in 1964. After that defeat, Lord Home instituted a formal balloting system for choosing future party leaders.

Heath, Thatcher, and Major

In 1965, Edward Heath became the first leader chosen through election. Heath led a Conservative government from 1970 to 1974 that faced the problems of a stagnant economy and a declining international political position. In response, the party moved to curb the power of trade unions and encouraged more economic self-reliance. In foreign affairs, it continued the policy of restricting Great Britain's Commonwealth and international roles while expanding ties with Western Europe, as demonstrated by Britain's entry (1973) into the European Community (now the European Union [EU]). In subsequent years, however, divisions within the party over Britain's relationship with Europe remained unresolved and at time undermined Conservative governments.

In 1974, the Conservatives lost two elections and Heath was replaced as party leader by Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to lead the party. Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, the longest uninterrupted government of the 20th cent. Her government dismantled much of Britain's postwar welfare state, and the party became identified with free-market economic policies. In 1990, Thatcher's leadership was challenged by members of the party; in the ensuing elections, she was succeeded by John Major. Under his leadership, the Conservatives won the 1992 general election. The party received a resounding defeat in the 1997 elections, and Major was replaced as party leader by William Hague.

In 2001 the party, which had come to be seen as anti–European Union, was again trounced at the polls by Labour, leading Hague to resign. Iain Duncan Smith was chosen to succeed Hague but served only two years as party leader before he was replaced by Michael Howard. The party made gains in the 2005 elections, but Labour's majority, though reduced, remained secure. Following the elections Howard announced his resignation, and David Cameron was chosen to succeed him. Cameron moved the party more toward the center, and in 2010 the Conservatives won a plurality. They formed a coalition (2010–15) with the Liberal Democrats, and Cameron became prime minister.

Cameron remained in office after the party won a slim majority in 2015, but his promises to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and to hold a referendum on EU membership exacerbated the party divisions that had led to those commitments. Cameron, who supported remaining in the EU, subsequently (2016) failed to secure a pro-EU result in the referendum, and resigned as prime minister and party leader; Theresa May succeeded him. Early elections in 2017 resulted in a Conservative plurality; the party formed a minority government with the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists. May subsequently was unable to craft a negotiated British withdrawal from and future relationship with the EU around which the divided party could unite. She survived a leadership challenge and no-confidence vote early in 2019, but resigned as party leader that June. Boris Johnson subsequently became party leader and prime minister and, campaigning on the promise to exit from the EU, led the party to a sizable majority late in the year.


See M. Pugh, The Tories and the People (1985); F. O'Gorman, British Conservatism (1986); R. Shepherd, The Power Brokers (1991).

Conservative party

, Canadian political party

Conservative party, in Canada. 1 Former Canadian political party that merged with the Progressive party to form the Progressive Conservative party.

2 Officially the Conservative party of Canada, political party formed in 2003 by the merger of the Progressive Conservative party (PC) and the Canadian Alliance (CA). In 1993 the Progressive Conservatives, who had held a parliamentary majority, were savaged at the polls as many voters in W Canada deserted the PC for the young Reform party (the predecessor of the CA). The PC failed to recover from the losses, and in 2003 agreed to unite with the larger CA against the Liberal party, which had secured three successive victories (1993, 1997, 2000) facing a divided conservative opposition. However, a number of prominent PC members, including former party leader Joe Clark, did not support the union. Former CA leader Stephen Harper was elected Conservative party leader.

In the 2004 elections the party's social conservatism failed to resonate with enough voters to force the Liberals from power, despite voter unhappiness with the Liberals. By the 2006 polls, however, the Liberals had been further hurt by scandal, and the Conservatives secured a plurality of the seats in parliament. Their plurality increased after the 2008 elections, and they won a majority in 2011. In 2015 voters gave the Liberals a parliamentary majority, and Harper stepped down as party leader. Andrew Scheer, a former House of Commons speaker, was elected party leader in 2017. The Conservatives won the largest share of the vote in 2019, but the Liberals secured a plurality of the seats. Scheer subsequently resigned as party leader, and was succeeded in 2020 by Erin O'Toole, a former cabinet minister.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Conservative Party


(Great Britain), the chief party of the British monopolistic bourgeoisie.

Organized in the mid-19th century, the Conservative Party evolved out of the Tory Party. The name “Conservatives” came into use as early as the 1830’s, but the party is still widely known as the Tories. After the Parliamentary Reform of 1832 local organizations of Conservatives were formed. In 1867 they united to form the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations.

B. Disraeli, the leader of the Tories and later of the Conservatives (1846–81) and prime minister in 1868 and again from 1874 to 1880, played a major role in the formation of the Conservative Party. The party represented the interests of the aristocratic landlords until the 1870’s and 1880’s, when it attracted the support of colonial bankers and the big industrial bourgeosie, who were leaving the Liberal Party. As Great Britain made the transition to imperialism, the Conservative Party continued to defend the interests of the landed aristocracy. However, at this time it was becoming the chief party of British monopoly capital.

A significant role in the development of Conservative doctrine was played by J. Chamberlain, who advocated the formation of an imperial tariff union and the introduction of a protectionist policy. These proposals were engendered by Great Britain’s loss of its industrial monopoly and by increasing competition from other states, particularly Germany.

The Conservatives held power alone between 1885 and 1886, 1886 and 1892, 1895 and 1902, and 1902 and 1905. The leader of the party from 1881 to 1902 was Lord Salisbury, and from 1902 to 1911, A. Balfour. From 1916 to 1919 and from 1919 to 1922 the Conservatives governed in a coalition with the Liberal and Labour parties. (Bonar Law was the leader of the party between 1911 and 1923.) After the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia the Conservatives were among the main organizers of the anti-Soviet intervention. Between the two world wars (1918–39) the Conservatives held power almost without interruption. S. Baldwin was the party leader from 1923 to 1937, and N. Chamberlain, from 1937 to 1940.

In 1940, after the complete failure of the policy of appeasing fascist aggression, which had been pursued by the Conservative government of N. Chamberlain, a coalition government (1940–45) was formed under W. Churchill, the leader of the Conservatives from 1940 to 1955. In March 1946, soon after the end of World War II, Churchill delivered a speech in Fulton, Mo. (USA), in which he formulated a program to unite the forces of the capitalist world for a struggle against the USSR. He called for the creation of anti-Soviet military and political blocs. After their defeat in the parliamentary elections of 1945, the Conservatives reorganized the machinery and structure of the party, hoping to broaden its popular base. In addition, they worked out a somewhat more flexible social policy.

The Conservatives held power continuously between 1951 and 1964. From 1955 to 1957 the party leader was A. Eden, who was forced to retire in January 1957 after the failure of the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt in 1956. H. Macmillan was the party leader from 1957 to 1963, and A. Douglas-Home, from 1963 to 1965. From 1970 to 1974 the Conservatives were again in power under E. Heath, who was party leader from 1965 to 1975. During this period the Conservative government encouraged a stronger assault by the monopolies on the vital interests of the working people, adopted a policy unfavorable to the trade unions, and took repressive measures against the advocates of civil rights in Northern Ireland. In foreign policy the Heath government achieved the entry of Great Britain into the Common Market in 1972. It also took a number of steps to maintain the military, economic, and political presence of Great Britain in the region “east of Suez.” The Conservative Party was defeated in the parliamentary elections in 1974.

The upper officer corps, the upper clergy, the bureaucracy, and the diplomatic corps are, for the most part, members of the Conservative Party. In 1975 the party had about 3 million members. Members do not have to pay dues. The leader of the party enjoys enormous power. Should the party win the parliamentary elections, he becomes the prime minister. He is not obliged to obey the decisions of the annual party conferences. With the party’s exclusive leadership group, who represent the big bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, the party leader decides all the most important questions. The party faction in the House of Commons—the 1922 Committee—has considerable influence on the party’s policy. The Association of Electoral Districts is the basic unit of the party organization at the local level. The party has a young people’s organization, the Young Conservatives. M. Thatcher has been the party leader since 1975.


Lenin, V. I. “Konstitutsionnyi krizis v Anglii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 25.
Gollan, J. Politicheskaia sistema Velikobritanii Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Nekrich, A. M., and L. V. Pozdeeva. Gosudarstvennyistroi ipoliticheskie partii Velikobritanii Moscow, 1958.
Gorodetskaia, I. E. “Izbirateli glavnykh politicheskikh partii Velikobritanii.” In Sotsial’ no-politicheskie sdvigi v stranakh razvitogo kapitalizma. Moscow, 1971.
Mackenzie, R. T. British Political Parties, 2nd ed. London, 1963.
Dietz, H. Geschichte der Konservativen Partei Englands. London, 1955.
Blanke, R. The Conservative Party From Peel to Churchill. London, 1970. (Bibliography.)

L. A. ZAK [13–100–4; updated]

Conservative Party


(Prussia, later Germany), a party formed in 1848 to struggle against the bourgeois-democratic Revolution of 1848–49.

Initially known as the Kreuzzeitung Party, the Conservative Party represented the interests of the Junkers, the aristocracy, the military elite, the higher clergy, and the bureaucracy. In the first few years after the unification of Germany under the aegis of militaristic Prussia, the party was in opposition to the government of O. von Bismarck. It resisted the introduction of bourgeois reforms and, considering Prussia’s hegemony in the empire not sufficiently secure, opposed the expansion of imperial powers. It was reorganized in 1876 as the German Conservative Party, functioning throughout the empire.


Bergstrasser, L. Die Geschichte der politischen Parteien in Deutschland. Berlin, 1928.

Conservative Party


(Rumania, Partidul Conservator), a party founded in 1880, representing the interests of the large landowners.

The Conservative Party was the bulwark of domestic reaction. Led successively by L. Catargiu, G. Cantacuzino, and P. P. Carp, it was the ruling party in 1889–95, 1899–1901, 1904–07, 1910–14, and 1918. In 1908 a splinter group left the party and founded the Conservative Democratic Party, which lasted until 1915. After the agrarian reform of 1918–21 the party’s influence diminished. In February 1938, with the establishment of the royal dictatorship in Rumania, the party was dissolved.


Politics and Political Parties in Roumania. London, 1936.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Conservative party

British political party, once called the Tory party. [Br. Hist.: NCE, 632]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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