After being in opposition for thirteen years, in 2010, the UK Conservative and Unionist Party once again officially became Her Majesty’s Government. Admittedly, they were helped by the Liberal Democrats, but for the first time in over a decade we had a different party leading the country.
After the controversial tenure of the late, (great), Baroness Margaret Thatcher, lasting eleven years, the Conservative Party started to dwindle in the minds of the public, largely due to the charismatic leadership of Tony Blair and his success in bringing the Labour Party to the centre ground.
Blair won by a landslide in 1997. The shift to the centre became extremely popular. It was no longer a battle of left-wing vs right-wing ideology, but a sensible middle ground. Though Labour's days were finally starting to come to an end after a series of bad decisions and economic disasters, namely the Iraq War and the financial crash of 2008. This gave the Conservative Party an excellent opportunity to re-invent itself.
David Cameron had become the leader of the Conservatives in 2005. His political philosophy is widely considered to be ‘One Nation Conservatism’.
This particular brand of Conservatism was different to the more traditional forms. Traditional Conservatism emphasised the individual; it was about lower taxes, free trade, small state and individual liberty. One Nationism, however, viewed society as organic. It emphasised the role of the state and of the middle and upper classes as having a duty to look after each other and those who are less well off.
Cameron did reduce the level of income tax being paid and also lowered corporation tax, though some traditional conservatives argue not enough. After the economic crash of 2008, people were looking for fiscal responsibility but were still attracted to the type of centrism advocated by Blair, and Cameron delivered that.
As with all parties in government, the Conservatives become comfortable with their perceived popularity and revelled in the downfall of their partners, the Liberal Democrats. That is, of course, until UKIP gained serious attention.
The growing discontent with the EU had been slowly gaining momentum, and this was bolstered by the surge in support for UKIP and their top dog, Nigel Farage.
UKIP, at this point at least, was considered to be a party that was ‘more Tory than the Tories’. It upheld the traditional conservative values of lower tax, free trade and individual freedom with a vehement opposition to the EU and political correctness.
Cameron, smart as he was (or not so smart in hindsight, depending on how you look at it), knew he had to do something about the rise of UKIP and growing discontent of Conservative voters. His solution? To offer a referendum with a straightforward question: 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?'. By all means, it was successful in halting the rise of UKIP. In fact, it ensured a large Tory majority in the election. Cameron was now faced with the task of delivering a referendum, something he didn’t really want to do. Despite the majority of Conservative voters being Eurosceptic, Cameron, along with most Conservative MP’s, backed remaining in the EU.
Theresa May appeared to be a promising successor to Cameron. Her time as Home Secretary showed her to be a formidable character. Yet her premiership has been disappointing. A disastrous election manifesto, a series of U-turns, and a lost majority, have all stained her first year as leader. Whilst the vote share for the Tories did go up, her majority took a deep cut. And let’s get real here, people mainly voted for the Conservatives in this election purely because they were seen as the least bad choice.
It therefore follows that the Conservative Party needs rebranding. It needs to once again be the party of low taxes, small state, individual liberty, and firm on political correctness. It needs more politicians of conviction, not career.
Sadly, it seems there isn't going to be an overhaul anytime soon. Until the Party rids itself of the stuffy old centrist politicians that are desperate to cling on to power, it doesn’t stand a chance at truly helping this country. Perhaps some years in opposition is the kick the Tories need to shake them out of complacency.