Richard Hayton
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Constructing a new conservatism?
Ideology and values
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Following three severe election defeats, the Conservatives elected David Cameron as leader on an explicitly modernising platform. His agenda for change encompassed revitalising the party image through a concerted effort to rebrand the party, an extensive review of policy, and ideological repositioning towards the centre-ground. While these three strands are of course intertwined this chapter will focus on the latter, namely the attempt to distance the Conservatives from the legacy of Thatcherism and cultivate a new form of conservatism with wider electoral appeal. This is examined in relation to the period of opposition under Cameron’s leadership (2005-10) and during his tenure as Prime Minister as leader of the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015.

The chapter argues that despite some rhetorical distancing from the Thatcher era, Cameron largely failed to alter the trajectory of contemporary conservatism, which remains essentially neo-Thatcherite. Ultimately this has undermined the modernisation project that he hoped would define his leadership, limiting the effectiveness of his rebranding strategy and shaping the policy agenda that his government has been able to pursue. While forming the Coalition provided the Conservative leader with significant freedom of manoeuvre in statecraft terms (Hayton, 2014) it conversely limited his scope to radically alter his party’s ideological core, as he increasingly needed to balance the demands of his Coalition partners with those of the right of his own party. While significant political capital was expended on the totemic issue of equal marriage for gay couples, few other issues have pushed the boundaries of conservatism beyond its Thatcherite comfort zone. In short, after a decade of Cameronite leadership the construction of a coherent new conservatism remains largely unfulfilled.

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David Cameron and Conservative renewal

The limits of modernisation?


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