The Conservative Party in the UK is generally considered a right-wing or centre-right political party. However, like many long-established political parties, its ideological stance is complex and has shifted over time. This article will examine the key policies, principles and history of the Conservatives to assess whether it is accurate to describe them as a party of the right or left today.
The Conservative Party’s principles and values
The Conservative Party is guided by certain core principles that place it on the centre-right of British politics:
– Tradition and established institutions: The Conservatives believe in preserving traditional British institutions like the monarchy, the Church of England and the unitary state. This contrasts with left-wing parties who often challenge traditional hierarchies and powers.
– Free markets and economic liberalism: The Conservatives are committed to a liberalised, free market economy with low regulation and taxes. Left-wing parties typically want more state intervention in the economy.
– Euroscepticism: The Conservatives are more sceptical about European integration than left-wing parties like Labour. They are cautious about transferring powers to EU institutions.
– Law and order: The Conservatives believe in stiff sentences for criminals, expanding police powers and prison capacities. Left-wing parties often criticise these policies as authoritarian.
– Nationalism: The Conservatives are more openly nationalist than left-wing parties, emphasising British sovereignty and national identity.
– Social conservatism: The Conservatives believe in traditional family structures, are sceptical of radical social reform, and cautious about rights for minority groups like LGBTQ.
Key Conservative Party policies
Looking at the Conservatives’ actual policies while in government also suggests they lean to the right:
– Cutting taxes for corporations and high earners.
– Restricting the power of trade unions.
– Reducing welfare spending and making eligibility tighter.
– Increasing military spending above 2% of GDP.
– Tougher sentencing laws and expanding police powers.
– Stricter immigration rules and caps.
– Supporting grammar schools and faith schools.
– Pushing market-based reforms of the NHS and education.
– Supporting oil/gas drilling and lower green taxes.
These policies align with a right-wing ideology of free markets, social conservatism, law and order, and nationalism. Of course, the Conservatives do not pursue a hard libertarian or hyper-conservative agenda. But their direction of policy travel is broadly towards the right.
Analysis of Conservative voter base
Looking at who actually votes Conservative also suggests it is a party of the right:
|Voter Group||Propensity to vote Conservative|
|Middle class professionals||Moderate|
|Urban working class||Low|
This shows the Conservatives do best among wealthy, older, rural demographics who tend to be politically right-leaning. They struggle with diverse urban voters and the economically left-behind who lean left.
Ideological movements within the Conservatives
The Conservative Party is a broad church containing different ideological wings:
– **Thatcherite right:** This free market, small state wing dominated during the 1980s and has continued influence. It wants lower taxes, privatisation, deregulation and is deeply Eurosceptic.
– **One Nation conservatives:** This socially moderate, economically interventionist wing balances the Thatcherites. They accept the welfare state and greater state role in the economy.
– **Liberal conservatives:** Socially liberal on issues like LGBT+ rights but economically right-wing. This faction has grown recently.
– **Traditional conservatives:** Socially conservative on issues like marriage, crime and immigration but not all economic right-wingers. Shrunk in influence.
– **English nationalists:** A new insurgent wing that is socially conservative and wants an England-first agenda. Brexit strengthened this faction.
The interaction between these wings shows there is diversity within the Conservatives. But the dominant influence remains the Thatcherite right and socially conservative wings, pulling the overall balance of the party away from the centre.
Has the Conservative Party shifted ideologically over time?
The Conservative Party’s ideology and policies have evolved:
– **1830s-1940s:** As the Conservative Party formed, it was largely centrist and open to social reform alongside pro-business policies. The party shifted right under Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th century.
– **1950s-1970s:** The postwar Consensus saw the Conservatives accept the welfare state and mixed economy. They moved towards the centre.
– **1980s-1990s:** Under Margaret Thatcher, the party lurched to the free market right and adopted a combative, populist approach.
– **1997-2010:** Modernisers like David Cameron tried to move the party back to the centre on issues like climate change and poverty. But the right dominated on economics and Europe.
– **2010-2019:** The Conservatives shifted rightwards once more under David Cameron and Theresa May, adopting austerity and a tough immigration stance.
– **2019-present:** Boris Johnson has solidified the right’s dominance with an English nationalist, Eurosceptic agenda. But some One Nation Conservatives remain.
Overall, while the Conservatives have right and left factions, the general trajectory of the party since Thatcher has been rightwards – especially on economic policy. There have been occasional centrist counter-balances but the core ideology remains right-leaning.
Does the Conservative party still have some centre-ground or leftist policies?
Despite the predominance of its right-wing, the Conservative Party retains some centre or centre-left policies and positions:
– Support for universal healthcare through the NHS, though often combined with pro-market reforms.
– Commitment to overseas aid spending, though trimmed back under recent Conservative governments.
– Social liberalism on issues like LGBTQ rights – the Conservatives introduced same-sex marriage under David Cameron.
– Environmental protection is still valued, with commitments to net zero emissions, though critics say their climate policies are inadequate.
– Investment into public services has been protected in some areas like health and education, albeit at below historical trends.
– Theresa May floated policies like an energy price cap and greater worker representation on boards, crossing left-right lines.
– One Nation Conservatives maintain a voice within the party that tempers the right on welfare cuts and social issues.
So while it leans to the right, the Conservatives still have some overlaps with the centre and moderate left. This enables the party to appeal beyond its right-wing base when electorally necessary. But these centrist policies are subordinate to the Conservative right’s agenda.
How does the UK Conservative Party compare internationally?
Internationally, the UK Conservative Party is aligned with mainstream centre-right to right-wing parties:
– Its commitment to private enterprise and low taxes mirrors the Republican Party in the US and Liberals in Australia.
– Its preference for incremental reform and scepticism of radical change echoes Christian Democrats in Germany and People’s Party in Spain.
– Its populist nationalist rhetoric has parallels with right-wing parties like the French Republicans.
– But the Conservatives sit to the left of far right populist parties like Alternative for Germany or Vox in Spain.
Compared to other centre-right parties, the Conservatives lean more towards right-wing populism on issues like immigration and Euroscepticism under leaders like Boris Johnson. But it remains anchored in the European mainstream centre-right family, unlike outliers on the far right.
While complex and broad, the prevailing ideology, policies and voter base of the modern Conservative Party place it firmly on the right of British politics. It oscillates between libertarian Thatcherite and socially conservative wings, with occasional counter-balance from centrist factions. But its core identity remains right of centre – usually significantly so. Despite overlaps with the centre-left in some areas, the Conservatives have moved decisively to the right since the 1980s. It is accurate to describe them as a right-wing or centre-right party. But they maintain just enough centrist DNA to build coalitions beyond their base when electorally necessary.