Majority

We need a Conservative majority for two big reasons.

We need to be able to deliver the bold policies that the country needs, on competitiveness, borders control, law and order, welfare and the European Union.

We also need to show that we are a compassionate party by choice and not because of coalition. We need to show how we would use a majority to share prosperity and security to every corner of the United Kingdom.

Most Conservatives don’t need persuading that a majority Conservative government is preferable to continuing coalition. Some more liberal Tories and many floating voters aren’t so sure however. The liberal Tories worry about being held hostage by certain obsessive Tory backbenchers. Many floating voters believe that the Liberal Democrats are the reason why the Coalition government hasn’t privatised the NHS, has increased the basic pension, has increased some taxes on the wealthy and hasn’t more generally ordered a massacre of the first born. The strongest argument that Liberal Democrats will make at the next election will be that they will humanise and moderate the Conservatives in the event of another hung parliament while, alternatively, they would force Labour to take the deficit and civil liberties more seriously.

In arguing for a majority we need to address this danger. We need to avoid any suggestion that we are returning to a narrow range of obsessions. While large majorities of voters support stronger immigration controls, for example, and tough work requirements for benefit claimants and longer jail sentences for serious offenders, these are far from the only things that those majorities want. The average voter isn’t just interested in the few issues that UKIP, for example, obsess about. Most voters also want protection of what we might call Britain’s social contract. They believe in the NHS. They believe in a safety-net. They don’t want a sink-or-swim libertarian society. And most of all, of course, they want a government focused on the economy, particularly the cost of living and the creation of jobs.

Our best argument for a majority government may not just lie in our specific promises to fix the economy, rebalance our relationship with Europe or finish Michael Gove’s schools reform programme. They might also focus on the inherent weakness of coalition government at a time when the country needs far-reaching and bold reforms. The Liberal Democrats’ constant attacks on their Coalition partners have actually undermined their long-term goal of reducing the British public’s suspicion of indecisive election outcomes. The broken promises and squabbling that voters have witnessed since the formation of the Cameron-Clegg alliance mean that under a quarter of voters now see coalition government as their ideal model. Voters now see one party government as preferable because it’s easier to hold politicians accountable for their manifesto promises and there’s more clarity of mission.

If we are to develop the idea that we are a one nation party of prosperity and solidarity – we must take more pride in our party’s great traditions. Successful movements carefully develop iconographies. We must learn more about Conservative history and learn to tell the stories of that history. Margaret Thatcher was a great leader but Tories are too obsessed with her time in power. She was arguably modern conservatism’s greatest peacetime leader – rescuing Britain from economic and social decline – but conservative history did not begin in 1979.

Moreover there is often an inaccurate remembering of her time in office. She was more pragmatic and conservative than some of today’s more doctrinaire and libertarian disciples would like to admit. On both sides of the Atlantic Anglo-Saxon Conservatism is in danger of becoming distorted by this unbalanced and inaccurate focus on the Thatcher and Reagan legacies. Too much focus on economic liberalism is crowding out the other great conservative traditions. They were right for their time but they were neither the first or last words of conservative thinking.

By studying the richness of conservative history we become a broader party again.

Leading Conservatives in history who have achieved great things

William Wilberforce (1759–1833)

– the abolition of slavery

Although, like his great friend Pitt the Younger, he rejected a party label, Wilberforce was a man of deep conservative principles. An evangelical Christian convert, he waged a long campaign for the abolition of slavery. It led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833; he died just three days after learning that it would become law.

1st Duke of Wellington

(1769–1852) – victory at Waterloo and Catholic Emancipation

After a military career which brought him great fame – particularly following his victory against Napoleon at Waterloo – Wellington went into politics. As Prime Minister, he overcame vehement opposition to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, granting almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom.

Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850)

– father of modern policing

As Home Secretary for most of the 1820s, Peel made a number of significant reforms in law and order. His greatest legacy was the Metropolitan Police Act 1829, which established the first modern police force – its officers known as ‘bobbies’ in his honour. By 1857, all cities in the UK were required to have their own police force.

7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801–85)

– social reformer

From his maiden speech supporting improvements to lunatic asylums, Anthony Ashley-Cooper devoted himself to social reform – earning the sobriquet ‘the poor man’s Earl’. Though he barely held office, he helped to enact a number of reforms – improving factory conditions, limiting the use of child labour, and outlawing the employment of women and children in coal mines.

Benjamin Disraeli

(1804–81) – bridged the gap between the ‘two nations’

Disraeli identified ‘two nations’ – the rich and the poor – in his 1845 novel, Sybil, and committed the Conservative Party to ‘elevat[ing] the condition of the people’. He gave the vote to working men in urban constituencies, and enacted many social reforms – including, in 1875 alone, the Artisans’ Dwellings Act (enabling slum clearance), the Climbing Boys Act (banning juvenile chimney sweeps), a Public Health Act, and measures to allow peaceful picketing.

3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830–1903)

– Villa Toryism

When Clement Attlee was asked to name the greatest Prime Minister of his lifetime, he replied: ‘Salisbury’. Initially wary of mass democracy, Salisbury was in fact the most electorally successful Tory leader of the nineteenth century, winning new support among the suburban middle class and transforming the Conservatives into a popular, national party committed to the maintenance of the United Kingdom.

Emmeline Pankhurst

(1858–1928) – founded the Women's Social and Political Union

As Home Secretary for most of the 1820s, Peel made a number of significant reform.

Neville Chamberlain

(1869–1940) – welfare reform after the Great Depression

Though his premiership was overshadowed by foreign policy, Chamberlain had a remarkable domestic record. His housing subsidies stimulated a building programme which swept away the slums and helped bring Britain out of depression. Rent controls were introduced to protect the less well-off, along with unemployment benefit, health insurance, and paid holidays for most families.

Winston Churchill (1874–1965)

– Second World War leader

From a lone voice in the wilderness to a triumphant wartime premier, Churchill’s blood, toil, tears, sweat – and rhetoric – saw Britain through her darkest hour. His acceptance of the 1945 Labour landslide brought the Conservatives back to power within six years – with a rejuvenated Party organisation and its largest ever membership (nearly 3 million).

R.A. Butler (1902–82)

– 1944 Education Act

The greatest achievement of his long and distinguished political career, Butler’s 1944 Education Act extended free education to all. Grammar schools gave bright children from poor backgrounds the chance to rise up by merit, boosting social mobility and helping a generation to climb to the top of British society. Some of them, sadly, pulled the ladder up behind them.

Harold Macmillan

(1894–1986) – built a property-owning democracy

As Housing Minister, Macmillan rashly pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year – but he delivered, and home ownership rose from under a third to nearly half by the end of his time as premier. The standard of living went up too (by 50 per cent), with earnings rising more than twice as quickly as prices.

Margaret Thatcher

(1925–) – where there was despair, brought hope

Mrs. Thatcher smashed the post-war consensus to heal a country which had become the sick man of Europe. By 1990, Britain had had eight years of economic growth, 27 million people were in work – the highest ever figure – and the number of strikes was the lowest for half a century. Privatisation raised £27.5 billion for the public finances, nearly a quarter of the adult population owned shares, and more than a million council tenants were given the Right to Buy their own homes.

John Major

(1943–) – cut crime; boosted growth; created the National Lottery

As well as initiating the Northern Ireland peace process and laying the foundations for Britain’s longest period of continuous economic growth, Major established the National Lottery. It has already raised more than £21 billion for good causes, supporting nearly 90 per cent of the British athletes at London 2012. With the help of his Home Secretary, Michael Howard, he turned the tide on crime – which fell by 18 per cent 1992–7.

This list of Tory heroes was compiled by Stephen Parkinson of the Conservative History Group