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Abstract only
Philip Begley

This chapter provides context for the policy discussions which follow, situating the Conservative opposition in the economic, social, cultural and political contexts of the 1970s. Key themes that are often seen to have defined the decade are analysed and their impact on the direction of Conservative policy assessed. The chapter highlights the breakdown of the post-war consensus, economic decline, the ungovernability of Britain and a loss of morality in national life as being important. These were the ideas that helped shape the Conservatives’ sense of how the world was changing. It is clear that they did play a role in the development of policy, but this influence was not often direct. They were central to the increasingly well-formed ideas of some Thatcherites and were often there under the surface and in much of the rhetoric of the time, but they were not at the heart of the official policymaking process.

in The making of Thatcherism
Britain’s Conservatives and Labour compared

This book is a seminal study of political leadership selection using two of the main parties in British politics as case studies. They have been selected for their dominance of British politics over the course of recent political history. Indeed, the Conservative Party has held office for much of the twentieth century because it was able to project an image of leadership competence and governing credibility. In contrast, the Labour Party’s record in government is shorter because of issues of economic management, leadership credibility and ideological splits due to various interpretations of socialism. Despite these differing track records, both parties have dominated the British political landscape, with occasional interventions from the Liberal Democrats. As an academically informed study, this book explores the criteria by which political leaders are selected by their parties. To do this the book explores the ongoing relevance of Stark’s criteria of effective leadership by adapting it to identify more skills needed to explain how and why some leaders are able to dominate the political scene. The Conservatives tend to choose unifying figures who can lead them to victory, while the Labour Party opts for leaders more likely to unite the party behind ideological renewal. The book also explores the political choices of contemporary leaders, including Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Johnson was selected in response to the perceived leadership failures of his predecessor, while Corbyn’s selection represents an ideological shift to the hard left as a response to New Labour and the professionalisation of the centre-left.

Abstract only
Andrew Denham, Andrew S. Roe-Crines and Peter Dorey

In this book, we have examined how and why Britain’s two major parties, Conservative and Labour, have chosen their leaders from their origins in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries respectively to the present day. The years that have passed since Stark’s study was published do not invalidate most of its findings for the period in question (1963–94), although its comparison between the two main parties is arguably too simplistic in that the Labour leadership campaign of 1980 may have influenced the votes of a sufficient number of MPs to change the outcome of the contest, whereas the subsequent Conservative campaigns of 1995 and 1997 (arguably) did not. The period since 2001, however, has produced a number of examples, both Conservative and Labour, which call into question the assumptions of Stark’s study, and its applicability to more recent leadership contests.

in Choosing party leaders
Abstract only
Philip Begley

The concluding chapter draws together the different subjects discussed in the course of the book and summarises its main arguments. These include that although the 1970s have often been seen as a time of significant change in Britain, with Conservative Party policy playing a significant part, much of this change appears less dramatic than might be expected if the 1974–79 opposition period is looked at in detail. The breakdown of the post-war consensus, economic decline, the ungovernability of Britain and a loss of morality in national life were important themes which could be seen to define the period. However, although these ideological conditions were important, established practices, traditions, ways of approaching certain problems and the practical short-term political context of the period, which often engendered pragmatism, were also crucial. By comparing the policies outlined by the Conservative Party in 1974 and in 1979 we can see that in simple terms there were real developments during this period but few dramatic changes. In turn, this can tell us a great deal about the development of Thatcherism and Britain during the 1970s.

in The making of Thatcherism
Andrew Denham, Andrew S. Roe-Crines and Peter Dorey

Having adopted a system whereby Conservative leaders would be elected by a secret ballot of the party’s MPs, pressure for an immediate leadership election almost inevitably increased, particularly in view of the controversy which had surrounded Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s appointment in 1963 and the doubts raised by some former ministers about the accuracy or reliability of the figures cited as evidence of his support. The subsequent election of Edward Heath heralded a new era for the Conservatives, not solely in terms of intra-party democracy but also because the next three leaders came from relatively humble social backgrounds. The adoption of secret ballots for the election of Conservative leaders both reflected and reinforced the decline in numbers and influence of Old Etonians and patrician aristocrats, as the parliamentary party steadily became more meritocratic in terms of the socio-educational and occupational backgrounds of its MPs.

in Choosing party leaders
Abstract only
Philip Begley

The economic crises of the 1970s were understood to require action on a broad scale. The Conservatives focussed on three areas: public spending, taxation and the role of private enterprise. In simple terms, the party would argue that government expenditure needed to be cut, that the burden of taxation needed to be reduced, and that the profitmaking power of the private sector needed to be restored. However, this chapter argues that although there were important developments, the Conservatives’ wider economic policies did not change dramatically. By the end of the period there was a little more acceptance that the electorate were aware of the need for tough spending cuts, but the Conservatives had always called for retrenchment and, despite some tough rhetoric, the party did not appear ready to slash public spending at all costs. There were also some more philosophical arguments about the need to reduce taxation and support the free market system, and there were hints at some of the more controversial and lasting changes that would be brought about by the Thatcher governments. However, the fine detail of Conservative policy did not develop as much as might be expected.

in The making of Thatcherism
Abstract only
Philip Begley

Education was another contentious policy area during the 1970s. The Conservative Party essentially moved from a position in which standards and choice were at the centre of its approach to education – but it had gone with the grain by expanding the number of comprehensive schools in Britain – to one in which it felt even more strongly about standards and choice, and was more sceptical about the need to impose comprehensives on unwilling parents and pupils, but still did not, or could not, commit to seriously undoing many of the most important changes. The party therefore looked for alternative ways in which standards and choice could be improved, once the types of school from which parents would have to choose was less of a factor. This chapter examines those alternative policies, including an assisted places scheme, educational vouchers and a Parents’ Charter. It shows again that short-term political factors often had the greatest immediate impact on Conservative policy.

in The making of Thatcherism
Andrew Denham, Andrew S. Roe-Crines and Peter Dorey

When the Conservative leadership rules were devised in 1965 and then revised in 1975, they had deliberately denied the extra-parliamentary party a formal input, reflecting the firm belief that MPs were best-placed to make judgements about who should lead them. Provision was made for the Conservative Party beyond Parliament to express its preferences, but on a purely consultative basis; the party’s MPs were under no obligation to vote in accordance with the views expressed by members of the extra-parliamentary party. Moreover, as Conservative MPs voted by secret ballot, there would have been no means of knowing if an individual’s choice of candidate corresponded with the preferences of the grassroots membership. Conservative MPs remained representatives exercising their judgement rather than delegates mandated to vote as instructed.

in Choosing party leaders
The selection of Labour leaders by the Parliamentary Labour Party, 1906–80
Andrew Denham, Andrew S. Roe-Crines and Peter Dorey

Until 1981, Labour MPs had exclusive control of the process of choosing their party’s leader. As well as constituting the electorate, they alone would decide if and when a leadership contest should be held and, if so, which of their number would be candidates for the succession. As Punnett explains, this situation first arose and persisted until the 1970s in part because Labour was not entirely sure whether it had a party leader, as opposed to a chairman or a leader of its MPs.

in Choosing party leaders
The election of Labour leaders and deputy leaders by the Electoral College
Andrew Denham, Andrew S. Roe-Crines and Peter Dorey

The period of Michael Foot’s leadership that began in November 1980 was one of ‘unremitting gloom’ for the Labour Party and ended in June 1983, when it received its lowest share of the vote in any general election since 1918 (Heppell, 2010a: 89–90). In this chapter, we examine the election of Labour leaders and deputy leaders by the Electoral College from its creation in 1981 until 2010, when it was used for the last time. Before doing so, we first explain why Labour’s previous system of leadership selection by the PLP alone came under increasing attack in the 1970s and how its replacement emerged thereafter. We then explain the rules governing the Electoral College in its initial configuration and how the system worked in practice.

in Choosing party leaders