The Conservatives in Crisis: The Tories after 1997

The Conservatives in Crisis: The Tories after 1997

The Conservatives in Crisis: The Tories after 1997

The Conservatives in Crisis: The Tories after 1997


Having been the dominant force in British politics in the twentieth century, the Conservative Party in UK suffered its heaviest general election defeats in 1997 and 2001. This book explores the party's current crisis and assesses the Conservatives' failure to mount a political recovery under the leadership of William Hague.


Mark Garnett and Philip Lynch

Academic interest in Britain’s leading political parties has not always run in parallel with their electoral fortunes. The Labour Party has commanded a fairly consistent level of attention, whether in office or in opposition. But it seems that the Conservatives are fated to be regarded either as unavoidable or irrelevant. For understandable reasons, during the eighteen years of Conservative government after 1979, political scientists and historians did much to redress the balance. But there was always a suspicion that the trend would tail off as soon as the party left office.

It can be argued, though, that since their landslide defeat in the May 1997 general election, the Conservatives have been more interesting even than they were in the late 1980s, when it seemed that their hold on power was unshakeable. Suddenly that ruthless, relentless election-winning machine looked terribly vulnerable, and an organisation that thrives on the exercise of power seemed disorientated. The 1997 election produced the Conservatives’ heaviest defeat of the mass democratic era; the party polled almost 6 million votes fewer than at the 1992 general election and at 31.5 per cent its share of the vote was the lowest since 1832. The Conservatives’ reputation for party unity, sound economic management and governing competence had been shattered by the travails of the Major government – notably divisions on Europe, sterling’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and ‘sleaze’. Whereas the Conservatives appeared politically and intellectually exhausted, New Labour was reinvigorated and successfully pitched its appeal at the disillusioned voters of ‘Middle England’.

The Conservative Party’s survival as a significant political force was now open to serious question for the first time since the crisis over the Corn Laws. John Major resigned as Conservative leader immediately after the election and a number of potential successors lost their seats in the landslide. By electing William Hague as leader, Conservative MPs handed the daunting challenge of restoring the fortunes of a shattered party to the youngest and least experienced of the leadership candidates.

This volume examines the Conservative Party’s response to the crisis it . . .

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