Conservatismequalitylatest – Part 2 – One Nation Conservatism

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Conservatism, Ideology, Economic Inequality and Poverty

Part One: - Click Here


Conservatives, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty: General Arguments

Part Two:

One Nation Conservatism:

One Nation Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty

Part Three - Click Here

Thatcherite Conservatism:

Thatcherite Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty

Part Four: - Click Here


Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty in the Post Thatcherite Era. Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017

Part Five: - Click Here

David Cameron

David Cameron and Ideology: General

Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty and The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition

David Cameron and the Conservative Government 2015-16

Part Six: - Click Here

Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May

Part Seven: - Click Here


Appendix Phillip Blond

Appendix: Iain Duncan Smith and Welfare



Part Two:

One Nation Conservatism:

One Nation Conservatism, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty.


Click here for an article on One Nation Conservatism by Professor Tim Bale. ** He describes One Nation as" one of the most used and abused terms in the Tory lexicon."

Click here for the Economist on One Nation Conservatism**

Click here for Tim Bale article on Theresa May July 2016


Was David Cameron a One Nation Conservative? Answer: It depends upon what you mean by One Nation Conservative..

It  might be suggested that in broad terms  the C19th history of the Conservative Party encapsulated an ongoing tension between support for classic  free market liberalism and paternalistic reformist Conservatism. More recently in the post-2nd World War period it has often been claimed that Thatcherism was to be associated primarily with economic liberalism [and social conservatism]  whereas One Nation Conservatism was the latest incarnation of paternalistic reformist Conservatism. However  in the last 10-15 years or so it has also been re- emphasised that Disraelian One Nation Conservatism sought a balance between government intervention to secure social and economic reform and private enterprise to provide improved living standards for all , including the poorest. Also , increasingly , there have been disputes within the Conservative Party as to where this balance should be located leading to competing interpretations as to the exact scope and nature of One Nation Conservatism . Thus whether expert political analysts choose to describe John Major or David Cameron or Theresa May or Kenneth Clarke or Iain Duncan Smith as One Nation Conservatives depends to a considerable extent upon the definitions of One Nation Conservatism which they choose to adopt.  I hope that this point will become clearer  as we consider some aspects of recent Conservative  policy

It may be that some  early evidence of One Nation Conservative themes can be found in Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1835, in the romantic, quasi-feudal and anti-industrial Conservatism of the poets Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge [who in their youth had supported the French Revolution] , and in the writings of Burke and Bolingbroke. However the origins of One Nation Conservatism  are most often associated with Benjamin Disraeli who had actually pointed  to the existence of two nations [the rich and the poor] in his novels written in the 1830s and 1840s and in speeches in the early 1870s and introduced  a series of  social reforms during his Conservative administrations of 1874-1880 which embodied the principles of One Nation [although apparently Disraeli never in fact used that term.]

The differences between Disraelian Conservatism and its traditional precursors should not be overstated. Traditional conservatives defended the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power as essentially desirable and inevitable but claimed also that those in authority should always be conscious that  with their obvious privileges  came obligations to  safeguard  the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. Consequently so long as these obligations were accepted  societies could nevertheless be seen as organic  communities in which the interests of all citizens were being protected despite the existence of manifest political , economic and social inequalities.  Disraeli  agreed essentially with these traditional conservative ideas  but believed also  that  the social harmony of British society was under threat  and that government action was necessary  if these growing threats to social harmony were to be defused.

In particular Disraeli  argued  that the acceptance by the growing class of industrialists [and by the Liberal Party]  of the doctrines of unregulated laissez  faire had caused them to lose sight of their obligation  to protect the interests of their workers leading to excessive exploitation and inequality .This same growth of inequality  was likely  to increase the popularity of dangerous  socialist ideas suggesting that late c19th England was characterised  not by cross class social harmony but  by gross class exploitation which  might well contain the seeds of social revolution. Disraeli's essential aim therefore was to reassert the politics of national social harmony  via a series of social reforms  which world improve the lot of the working classes  and undermine the arguments of both liberals and socialists while simultaneously safeguarding the interests of traditional political and economic elites .In this respect much has been made of his statement that "The Palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy which may in turn may be linked with the important statement of Conservative principle by Edmund Burke that "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation."

Social Harmony  among all social classes could best be sustained via the protections of important traditional institutions  such as the Monarchy , the landed aristocracy  and the Church of England each of which had  contributed to the harmonies of feudal society [as Disraeli saw it and could continue to do so  in the newly industrialising society. "Noblesse oblige" had been an important principle in feudal society and should remain  Also although Disraeli had not always been a great supporter of British Imperialism he came by the 1870s  to argue that the growth of the British Empire  could solidify Britain's sense of itself as a great nation  and also bring significant improvements to working class living standards.

In order to promote the emphasis on organic national unity Disraeli  emphasised that the Conservative Party aspire above all to be a national party governing  not in the interest of any one particular class but in the interests of the nation as a whole. Consequently it would be necessary  to introduce a range  of social reforms  in the areas of public health, housing and working conditions which would safeguard the interests of the working classes which meant that the Conservative Party would become at least to some extent the party of government intervention rather than the party of unregulated laissez faire which is how Disraeli characterised the Liberal party.

Disraeli's policies were guided partly by a principled wish to improve the circumstances of working class voters but also by a clear recognition that, as a result of the extension of the franchise, the Conservatives would need to attract increasing support from working class voters if they were to win subsequent General Elections. Thus  critics have emphasised that the Disraelian emphasis on social reform and British greatness was designed primarily  to foster increased working class Conservatism which would support the more or less continued economic and political dominance of existing elites. It was further argued that the actual scope of Disraelian social reforms was limited for the following reasons.

  1. Disraeli did not  envisage significant increases in taxation to finance new social reforms which necessarily meant that the scope of such reforms would be limited.
  2. He believed that Local Authorities rather than Central Government were best placed to introduce such reforms and his legislative initiatives were permissive rather than mandatory. That is:  he gave Local Authorities permission to introduce  reforms but did not force them to do so and in many cases local authorities did not choose  to introduce significant reforms.
  3. With regard to Disraeli's personal role in the development of social reform policies it has been claimed that  although he may have been crucial in setting the overall direction of his administration  he tended to speak in generalities and to leave the development of policy details to others; that as a he grew older  he no longer had the energy  to play an active role in the development of domestic social policies even if he actually wanted to do so because he had a far greater interest in foreign policy.
  4.  In any case  although  future Conservative politicians sympathetic to social reform  have made much of Disraeli's contribution  it has been suggested that they have tended to overstate their case in the belief that that presentation of the Conservative Party as a party of long term social reform  would strengthen their electoral prospects in the 20th and 21st Centuries..

Very importantly  although Disraeli hoped to improve the lot of  the working class by means of some government social and economic reform he also believed that traditional structures of economic and political power should remain intact and that the private sector of the economy had a vital role to play in improving workers' living standards  The political theorist David Seawright illustrates Disraeli's position via the following two  quotations. To improve and elevate  the "condition of the multitude"..."no important step can be taken unless you can effect some reduction in their hours of labour and humanise their toil"  However then Disraeli immediately adds "the great problem is to be able to achieve such results  without the violation of those principles of economic truth upon which the prosperity of states depends "

In summary , therefore Disraelian One Nation  Conservatism involved three basic elements: the defence of traditional institutions such as the Monarchy, the aristocracy , the Church of England and the British Empire ; the focus of the unity of the nation rather than social class division and the need for  a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective  operation of capitalist private enterprise. It is necessary to use government intervention to improve the living standards of the people but this must be done in a way which safeguards the continuation of a private enterprise system which is the ultimate necessary guarantor of rising living standards. An important implication is that Disraeli's harmonious One Nation Society would remain unequal and hierarchical but that hierarchy and inequality are conducive to good government and economic efficiency.

Insofar as  One Nation Conservatism in general requires a balance between government economic and social intervention and the continuation of private enterprise it is clear that there could be disputes within the Conservative Party as to the actual degree of government intervention which was desirable and there were considerable differences in the variants of One Nation Conservatism which reappeared subsequently  in the Tory Democracy of Randolph Churchill , in the reforming ideas of F. E. Smith [subsequently Lord Birkenhead] and  in the policies Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments   and the rather more radical ideas of the young Harold Macmillan and his supporters in the 1920s and 1930s

However the emphasis on government -sponsored social and economic reform  within the One Nation Conservative tradition reached its zenith in the policies of the so-called Right Progressive Conservative Governments of 1951-64.  for it was then that the Conservatives accepted that although private enterprise was to remain preeminent  significant economic and social reform would also be necessary in order to advance the living standards and future prospects of working class people.

For much of the post 2nd World War period the Conservative Party was led and dominated by so-called Right Progressives [or One Nation Conservatives]  such as R. Butler, I. Macleod, H. Macmillan and Q. Hogg who harked back to the Disraeli tradition of One Nation Conservatism . They were prepared to accept that unrestricted laissez- faire would generate excessive inequality of outcome and undermine equality of opportunity and so were pragmatically prepared to accept also  the expansion of state activity ushered in via by the 1945-51 Labour government programmes involving selective nationalisation, expansion of the welfare state, Keynesian economic policies and tripartite decision making all of which were designed in various ways to improve the living standards of working class people. [ This was the era of the so-called Post-War Butskellite Consensus  although you may also click here for some discussion of whether or not the Post War Consensus was actually a myth.]

Once in Government the One Nation Conservatives broadly retained these Labour programmes initiatives while emphasising that the most profitable sectors of the economy would remain in private control and  supporting the continuation of economic inequality because of their belief that private property was a pre-requisite for liberty and that capitalist economic inequality could best promote economic growth and rising living standards. However they also recognised that full employment , the involvement of the trade unions and business interests in tripartite economic decision making and the expansion of the welfare state were necessary to improve health, housing, education and to reduce poverty if the UK was to be a cohesive One Nation community.

Also by the 1960s Harold Macmillan's administration had begun to experiment with increased government intervention in the form of economic planning and incomes policies [via the setting up of the National Economic Development Council and the National Incomes Commission  [Neddy and Nicky as they were called] and believed also that the UK's entry into the EEC could improve the competitiveness of the UK economy However, it could be noted that the Conservatives of this greater role for the state was partly an electoral necessity and that it in no way challenged the existence of the capitalist system based on private property ownership .Conservative Governments at this time accepted most of Labour's nationalisation programme but as expected, given their generalised support for capitalist private enterprise had no inclination to expand the scope of nationalisation.  Furthermore while they were prepared to expand welfare spending there were already disputes within government as to the levels of welfare spending which were actually acceptable. These disputes were set to intensify

Ted Heath became leader of the Conservative Party in 1965 and immediately embarked upon a comprehensive review of Conservative policy. However by the tim eof the 166 General Election  the reviews was as yet incomplete  and for a variety of reasons it came as no surprise  when the Conservatives were defeated quite heavily by Labour in the 1966 General Election and few Conservatives seemed to blame Heath for the scale of the defeat. In 1970 the Conservatives met  at the Selsdon Park Hotel  to draw together the results of their policy review in readiness for the next General Election and the presentation of the outcome of this meeting in the mass media suggested that the Conservatives were now engaged in a significant  shift to the Right in terms of their policies on the economy, the welfare state and law and order. However it has also been suggested  that this alleged shift to the Right has been much overstated  partly  as a result of Harold Wilson's characterisation of the emergence of an economically liberal , socially Conservative "Selsdon Man."  [It is also suggested that Wilson's characterisation gave Conservative policy an apparent  coherence that it did have in reality and thereby helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 General Election

It was widely expected  that Labour would win in 1970 but in the event the Conservatives were returned to power  with a 31 seat overall majority. Heath's key policy initiatives included early UK entry into the EEC [as it then was] , the reform of industrial relations and a  refusal to provide government assistance to unprofitable failing companies [or lame ducks as they were called.] He also stated initially that prices and incomes policies would not be used to control the rate of inflation.

However Heath's attempt to reform industrial relations failed as the trade unions refused to comply with the Industrial Relations Act and as unemployment rose above 1million in 1972 he felt it necessary to reflate the economy via Keynesian methods, to introduce a highly interventionist Industry Act and to nationalise Rolls Royce and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders  to maintain their viability. Also as the rate of inflation increased Heath decided that a prices and incomes policy would after all be necessary.Thus it came to be argued that Heath had initially distanced himself from the politics of the post war consensus  and introduced policies which were subsequently described by some as "proto-Thatcherite" but as a response to rising had returned to the politics of the post- war consensus in what was later described  as a dramatic "U turn".

The UK entered the EEC in 1973 but by this time Heath's government was beginning to face increasing difficulties as the rate of inflation began to accelerate partly due to massive increases in the price of oil and other imports in 1973. Then The NUM refused to comply with Heath's Prices and Income policy which led to a major strike  which prompted Heath to call a General Election in February 1974 which he narrowly lost. Although  The Conservatives had won narrowly more votes than Labour , Labour had won more seats albeit not enough seats for an overall majority and after a failed attempt by Ted Heath to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberal , Labour were returned to power as a minority government. Wilson called another  General Election in October 1974 in the hope of gaining a substantial majority but succeeded  only in gaining  a small overall majority of 3 seats . Nevertheless having lost 2 successive General Elections  Heath was replaced as Conservative Party leader in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.

It is argued that in government Heath endorsed proto-Thatcherite policies in 1970-72 but reverted to  One Nation consensus politics in 1972-4. Some have argued that this was a very substantial U turn whereas others argued that Heath's initial support for proto-Thatcherism was limited and that the extent of his U turn was therefore overstated. This is a matter of controversy but what is certain is that once Ted Heath returned to the backbenches he  was a vociferous critic of Thatcherism  and a great supporter of the politics of One Nation Conservatism.

Click here for a review by David Marquand of the biography of Ted Heath by Philip Ziegler

Click here for BBC documentary: Heath versus Wilson ; The 10 Year Duel

We may conclude that Conservative Party leaders from 1945 to perhaps 1975  adhered broadly to the balance of policies which David Seawright [and others]  have said are at the heart of One Nation Conservatism: that is they accepted that  One Nation Conservatism involves achieving a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective  operation of capitalist private enterprise. In terms of outcomes under Conservative Governments 1951-64  near full employment was maintained , there was a steady if unspectacular increase in average living standards , income and wealth equality increased and higher  expenditure on health, education, housing and social security did serve to improve the incomes and life chances of average working class  living standards. Nevertheless significant inequalities in income ,wealth and power remained ; there was still extensive relative poverty and some absolute poverty  and continuing  social class inequalities in educational attainment and life expectancy.  In my view these were recognisably One Nation Conservative governments but although their management of the welfare state did to some extent alleviate extreme inequality and poverty the scope of these reforms should not be overstated.

Even in the era of the post-war consensus many Conservatives continued to hold classical liberal pro-market or traditional Tory views and especially from the 1970s onwards the views of the Right Progressives were challenged  by the  neo-liberal strand of New Right thought   associated especially with the theoretical ideas of academics such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman  and with their development in the UK in pro-Conservative think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs , the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. Among the first modern UK Conservative politicians to espouse elements of New Right thinking were Enoch Powell and Keith Joseph although it was only when Mrs Thatcher,[ having become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 ]consolidated her hold on power in the early 1980s that New Right ideas became more influential in government.

In the post- Thatcherite era there have been disagreements  as to the extent to which Prime Ministers Major and Cameron continued with essentially  Thatcherite policies or reverted , at least to some extent , to One Nation Conservatism and similar controversies also surround the ideological position of Prime Minister Theresa May. These disagreements arise partly as a result of competing interpretations of the nature of One Nation Conservatism itself . I shall return to these issues after consideration of the Thatcherite era. However you may click here for the document section dealing with Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017

 For Part Three - Thatcherite Conservatism: Click Here