Conservative Right

In Britain the Conservative party was in the 19th century the vehicle of the landowners and big businessmen - though some of the latter supported the Liberals. Its policies tended towards their interests. It also was the vehicle of those who wished to maintain and extend the British Empire. What it existed to conserve was perhaps the traditional constitution of Britain, including the monarchy, the established Church, the status of country landowners and (until 1832) the unreformed House of Commons.

Its best-known 20th century Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was actually a former member of the Liberal Party who had crossed over in the 1920s as the Liberal Party dwindled and made his greatest contribution as the head of a coalition of Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties during the second world war. He then led the Conservative party from 1945 until 1954.

From 1945-1979 the British Conservative (also known as Tory) Party was a centrist party which maintained the Welfare State created mainly by the Labour party but begun by the Liberal party.

Since 1979 after Mrs. Thatcher it has been a party more like the continental Liberal Parties, devoted to the Free Market above all. The landowning interest and big business has perhaps been displaced by financial speculators. The feature it has in common with the earlier conservative party is perhaps its favoring of social inequality and tendency towards authoritarianism.

In the United States those recently described as Conservatives (mostly in the Republican Party) favor such policies as: low taxes for the rich, deficit financing on a large scale, hostility to social welfare provision and Trade Unions, financial deregulation (resulting in collapsed banks). The inspiring principle is "minimum government" such as was the case in the early years of the republic, when the population was in the tens of millions. Some of the adherents seem to be influenced by Ayn Rand (a writer largely unknown outside the US). Do these policies result in an increasing "underclass" - that is, increased inequality? Observation suggests that modern societies need more regulation than the 18th century former colonies. In both the United States and Britain conservatives tend to support the "private" ownership of all economic activities, that is the ownership by autonomous corporations not owned by or answerable to the community.

In eastern Europe the term has had a confusing recent history. While the collapse of Communism was going on those Communists who wished to retain the old system were usually described as "conservatives" . Now that the Communists have gone the governments controlling the new countries, generally in favor of private enterprise and a market economy can be described as conservative, or Center Right ("Far Right" is reserved for Fascists).

Most European governments are controlled by moderate parties, often called Christian Democrat, which support a higher level of state ownership and regulation than Anglo-Saxon conservatives prefer.

Last revised 1/09/09


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