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One-nation conservatism


One-nation conservatism

One-nation conservatism (also known as one-nationism, or Tory democracy) is a form of British paternalism and pragmatism. The phrase "One-nation Tory" originated with Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), who served as the chief Conservative spokesman and became Conservative Prime Minister in February 1868.[1] He devised it to appeal to working class men as a solution to worsening divisions in society.

As a political philosophy, one-nation conservatism reflects the belief that societies exist and develop organically, and that members within them have obligations towards each other. There is particular emphasis on the paternalistic obligation of the upper classes to those classes below them.

The ideology featured heavily during Disraeli's terms in government, during which considerable social reforms were passed. Towards the end of the 19th century, the party moved away from paternalism in favour of free market capitalism, but fears of extremism during the interwar period caused the revival of one-nation conservatism. The philosophy continued to be held by the party throughout the post-war consensus until the rise of the New Right, which attributed the country's social and economic troubles to one-nation conservatism. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, named Disraeli as his favourite Conservative and some commentators and MPs have suggested that Cameron's ideology contains an element of one-nationism. Other commentators have questioned the degree to which Cameron and his coalition have embodied One-Nation Conservatism, instead locating them in the intellectual tradition of Thatcherism.[2][3]


  • Political philosophy 1
  • History 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5

Political philosophy

Benjamin Disraeli, widely considered the architect of one-nation conservatism.

One-nation conservatism was first conceived by the Conservative British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli,[4] who presented his political philosophy in two novels – Sybil, Or The Two Nations and Coningsby – published in 1845 and 1844 respectively.[5][6] Disraeli's conservatism proposed a paternalistic society with the social classes intact but with the working class receiving support from the establishment. He emphasised the importance of social obligation rather than the individualism that pervaded his society.[4] Disraeli warned that Britain would become divided into two "nations", of the rich and poor, as a result of increased industrialisation and inequality.[5] Concerned at this division, he supported measures to improve the lives of the people to provide social support and protect the working classes.[4]

Disraeli justified his ideas by his belief in an

  • Adams, Ian (1998). Ideology and Politics in Britain Today. Manchester University Press.  
  • Axford, Barrie; Browning, Gary; Huggins, Richard (2002). Politics: An Introduction. Routledge.  
  • Bloor, Kevin (2012). The Definitive Guide to Political Ideologies. AuthorHouse.  
  • Dorey, Peter (1995). The Conservative Party and the Trade Unions. Psychology Press.  
  • Dorey, Peter (2009). British Conservatism and Trade Unionism, 1945–1964. Ashgate Publishing.  
  • Evans, Eric (2004). Thatcher and Thatcherism. Routledge.  
  • Heppell, Timothy; Seawright, David (2012). Cameron and the Conservatives: The Transition to Coalition Government. Palgrave Macmillan.  
  • Heywood, Andrew (2007). Political Ideologies. Palgrave Macmillan.  


  1. ^ Blake 1966, pp. 487–489
  2. ^ McEnhill, Libby. "David Cameron and welfare: a change of rhetoric should not be mistaken for a change of ideology" (PDF). LSE Blogs. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Griffiths, Simon. "Cameron's "Progressive Conservatism" is largely cosmetic and without substance". LSE Blogs. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Dorey 1995, pp. 16–17
  5. ^ a b c Heywood 2007, pp. 82–83
  6. ^ Dana Arnold (2004). Cultural Identities and the Aesthetics of Britishness. Manchester University Press. p. 96. 
  7. ^ Bloor 2010, pp. 41–42
  8. ^ Dorey 1995, p. 17
  9. ^ a b Dorey 1995, p. 18
  10. ^ a b Axford, Browning & Huggins 2002, p. 265
  11. ^ Dorey 1995, pp.18–19
  12. ^ Adams 1998, p. 75
  13. ^ a b Adams 1998, p. 77
  14. ^ Dorey 2009, p. 169
  15. ^ Adams 1998, p. 78
  16. ^ Evans 2004, p. 43
  17. ^ Heppell & Seawright 2012, p. 138
  18. ^ "Invitation to Join the Government of Great Britain" (PDF). The Conservative Party. 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Blond, Phillip (28 February 2009). "Rise of the red Tories". Prospect. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  20. ^ Wilson, Graeme (28 December 2006). "'"Cameron 'heir to Disraeli as a One Nation Tory. The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  21. ^ Harris, John (8 August 2009). "Phillip Blond: The man who wrote Cameron's mood music". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  22. ^ Benedict Brogan, "Boris Johnson interview," 29 April 2010The Telegraph


See also

"I'm a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country. I want London to be a competitive, dynamic place to come to work."[22]

London Mayor Boris Johnson explained his political philosophy in 2010:

The Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto contained a section on "One World Conservatism"—a commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on well-targeted aid[18]—and David Cameron, the current leader of the party and British Prime Minister, named Disraeli as his favourite Conservative.[19] In 2006, Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Tyrie published a pamphlet which claimed that Cameron was following the one-nationist path of Disraeli.[20] Phillip Blond, a British political theorist who has had past connections with the Conservative Party,[21] has proposed a renewed version of one-nation conservatism.[19]

Until the mid-1970s, the Conservative Party was mostly controlled by one-nation conservatives.[16] The rise of the New Right in conservative politics led to a critique of one-nation conservatism which contended that Keynesian economics and welfarism had damaged the economy and society. The Winter of Discontent of 1978–79 was portrayed by the New Right as illustrative of the overextension of the state. Figures such as Margaret Thatcher believed that to reverse the national decline, it was necessary to revive old values of individualism and challenge the dependency culture created by the welfare state.[17]

By the end of the 19th century, the Conservatives had moved away from their one-nation ideology and were increasingly supportive of capitalism and free enterprise.[12] During the interwar period, public fear of communism restored the Conservative Party to one-nationism as it defined itself as the party of national unity and began to support moderate reform. As the effects of the Great Depression were felt in Britain, the party was drawn to even greater levels of state intervention.[13] The Conservative Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin pursued an interventionist style of conservatism which won them democratic support because of its wide electoral appeal.[10] Throughout the post-war consensus of the 1950s and '60s, the Conservative Party was dominated by one-nation conservatives whose ideas were inspired by Disraeli.[14] The social and economic policies of the consensus appealed to the paternalism of one-nation conservatism because they appeared to provide prosperity and alleviate social problems such as poverty and disease; this was intellectually developed by the 'new conservatism' movement, led by Rab Butler.[13] New conservatism attempted to distinguish itself from the socialism of Anthony Crosland by concentrating welfare on those in need and encouraging people to help themselves, rather than foster dependency on the state.[15]

While in government, Disraeli presided over a series of social reforms which supported his one-nation politics and aimed to create a benevolent hierarchy.[10] He appointed a Royal Commission to assess the state of law between employers and employees, the result of which prompted Richard Cross to pass the Employers and Workmen Act of 1875. This act made both sides of industry equal before the law and the breach of contract a civil offence, rather than criminal.[9] Cross also passed the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act in the same year which enshrined the right to strike of workers by ensuring that acts carried out by a workers' group could not be indicted as conspiracy.[11]

Benjamin Disraeli adopted one-nation conservatism for both ethical and electoral reasons. Before he became leader of the Conservative Party, Disraeli had announced that, as a result of the Reform Act 1867 which had enfranchised the male working class, the party needed to pursue social reforms if it were to have electoral success. One-nationism would both improve the conditions of the poor and portray the Liberal Party as selfish individualists.[8] Because the party portrayed itself as a national (and not class based) party, its members were unsure whether to make specific appeals to the working classes. A more positive approach to the working class by the party developed later out of the electoral necessity to secure working class votes.[9]


[4] Disraeli justified his views pragmatically by arguing that, should the ruling class become indifferent to the suffering of the people, society would become unstable and social revolution would become a possibility.[7], one-nation conservatism takes a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to politics and accepts the need for flexible policies; one-nation conservatives have often sought compromise with their ideological opponents for the sake of social stability.New Right Unlike the [5], which asserted that the aristocracy had an obligation to be generous and honourable; to Disraeli, this implied that government should be paternalistic.noblesse oblige He saw society as naturally hierarchical and emphasised the obligation of those at the top to those below. This was based in the feudal concept of [4]

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