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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Conservative Party

In electoral terms by far the most successful British party over the past century and a half (see *parliament). The name Conservative was adopted by the *Tories under the leadership of *Peel in the 1830s, to suggest a party which would conserve the traditional British values in contrast to the more radical *Liberals. The present full name of the party (Conservative and Unionist party) is the result of an alliance in 1886 with the *Unionists; these were Liberals defecting because of *Gladstone's support of *Home Rule for Ireland.

A firm support for Anglicanism as the established religion was also a consistent strand in party policy, leading to the jibe that the *Church of England is the Conservative party at prayer – though this has ceased to be valid in recent years, when Anglican bishops and archbishops have often spoken forcefully against the divisive social effects of Conservative policies.

During the 19C support for Conservatives or Liberals was not class-based. Broadly speaking the Conservatives had more support in country districts and the Liberals were stronger in the industrial towns, but they leap-frogged each other in their attempts to appeal to the lower classes of society. In the late 19C the Conservatives seemed the party of the working man, for it was they who extended the *franchise in 1867. By the early 20C the position was reversed, when the Liberals were laying the foundations of the *welfare state.

By then the Conservative party had become associated with capitalist interests, in addition to its traditional rural support. This helped to ensure the party's survival, for there now emerged the first class-based party in British politics, the *Labour party. The newcomers increasingly seemed the natural opposition to the Conservatives, and the pressures of a *two-party system caused Liberal support to crumble. For most of the 20C the electorate's only realistic choice was between the Conservative and Labour parties, and voting was for the most part in terms of class interest.

But this simple pattern of allegiances has recently changed. Not one of the leaders chosen by the Conservative party since the mid-1960s has come from the upper classes; and the policies of Mrs *Thatcher, such as the sale of council houses to their tenants, appealed strongly to the very section of society, the skilled working class, that was first drawn into the fold when the Conservatives extended the franchise a century earlier. The party headquarters are in *Smith Square.

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