The wilderness years
Leadership strategy in opposition, 1997–2005
in Reconstructing conservatism?
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Chapter 3 provides an overview of the leadership strategies pursued by the Conservatives in two full terms of opposition, between 1997 and 2005. It analyses the Conservative reaction to landslide defeat in 1997, and considers how the competing interpretations of defeat influenced the strategies pursued by the party leadership. The chapter contends that these were sub-optimal in electoral terms, characterised by uncertainty and inconsistency. This assessment includes an examination of electoral strategy across the period, particularly the two general election campaigns of 2001 and 2005. It also involves tracing the key phases of leadership strategy, notably Hague’s initial efforts to ‘reach out’ and subsequent change of direction; Duncan Smith’s efforts to forge a new narrative of Conservatism based around public services and ‘championing the vulnerable’; and Howard’s pursuit of narrowly-focused managerial appeal, centred around his personal accountability. The chapter concludes that the strategies pursued by Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard were sub-optimal: they underachieved even within the inauspicious context that they faced.

Reconstructing conservatism?

The Conservative Party in opposition, 1997–2010

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