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‘The weaker-willed, the craven-hearted’: the decline of One Nation Conservatism

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For most of the period from 1945 until the 1970s, the official policy of the Conservative Party reflected a ‘One Nation’ approach to politics. Dominating the higher echelons of the party, representatives of this tradition prided themselves on a pragmatic outlook which enabled them to accept much of the policy framework bequeathed by the 1945–1951 Labour Governments led by Clement Attlee: the public ownership of several major industries (such as coal and the railways), the pursuit of full employment, a universal welfare state ‘from cradle to grave’ and partnership with the trade unions. After the election of Margaret Thatcher as party leader in 1975, however, this approach fell rapidly from favour, and almost four decades later the chances of a revival still look remote. A full explanatory account of the demise of the One Nation Tradition in Britain’s Conservative Party, and its supplanting by Thatcherism, lies beyond the scope of a single article. Here we examine the main factors – relating to changes within the party and the British electorate as a whole, as well as individual failings and ‘events’ both at home and abroad – behind a development which has played a central role in British politics over recent decades.
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Keywords: Conservative Party; One Nation; Thatcherism; ideology

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 2, 2015

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