The Conservative Party’s origins go back ultimately to the royalists of the English Civil War – though the descent is not a linear one. They have also acquired DNA from the Liberals with and without capital Ls and from intellectual influences like Edmund Burke. They have always been about supporting the establishment, but have often done it in some highly creative and unexpected ways. In particular they managed to play a large part in the creation of a mass democracy at the end of the nineteenth century and went on to become a mass party with a huge membership during the twentieth. One might have thought that they were deliberately doing it to prove Marxist notions of class interest wrong. But the strongest vein in the Conservative Party has always been pragmatism, and that is usually the best explanation for whatever it is the Tories happen to be up to.
Pragmatism and ideology don’t mix well as a rule. But the Conservative addiction to being in power could almost be described as one. It is a basic principle of Conservatives that they are supremely well adapted to running things, and that letting anyone else into power is not only suboptimal but somehow some kind of offence against the natural order of things. This notion is certainly helpful and often becomes self fulfilling. Self confidence is a great asset.
This also translates into a somewhat proprietorial attitude to the country. This again is something that works in their favour. When you see a Tory draped in the Union Jack it doesn’t jar in the way it does when some other groups get their hand on it. They do act as if they own the place, so it is sort of logical that they will look after it when they get into power.
There is rather more to the long history of successful political achievement of the Tories than simple bravura though. They have a formidable network of supporters – both card carrying sympathisers – who keep them informed and on the rails. The uncanny ability of the Tories to win tight elections against the odds must, I think, be down to their ability to find voters in places the other parties cannot reach.
I don’t think there is much doubt that they are the most successful political party in Europe in terms of electoral success. I haven’t crunched the numbers but I think they would stack up. In terms of success in achieving their objectives, this has to be acknowledged as well. Their ambitions are modest to be sure – but there is something to be said for realistic goals.
They haven’t had it all their own way of course. They have had periods when they have been out of power, or have manifestly not been running the country well. But they haven’t lost their survival instincts even in those times. If a leader screws up, they are quickly dispatched with. MacMillan suffered from mysteriously non-specific ill health when he looked like he wasn’t going to win the next election. Thatcher’s dismal regime was ended by the Tories before the public got a chance. With typical Tory self confidence they dealt with the problem of having had the worst prime minister in UK history simply by making a hero out of her once she had gone. Most parties would have to choose between renouncing a past error or brazening it out. The Conservatives simply choose to help themselves to the best of both worlds.
So they make a sound choice to give your vote to. They are confident, pragmatic, open to any idea they think will work and they are well grounded. Above all, they really really want the job.