This chapter examines Conservative policy on Europe under William Hague, arguing that, despite the pragmatism of Hague's position, the Conservatives took significant steps in a Euro-sceptic direction. Europe was again prominent in the leadership election that followed Hague's resignation, especially in the second stage when Kenneth Clarke and Duncan Smith competed for the votes of party members. Duncan Smith denied claims that he backed withdrawal, but confirmed his support for renegotiation and indicated that he would never support Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) entry. Hague focused on the economic case against entry, but he and senior Conservatives regularly alluded to the adverse implications of EMU for democratic self-government. In his first party conference speech, Hague apologised for Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) membership and warned that EMU would bring greater dangers.
This chapter examines the Conservative politics of nationhood under William Hague, focusing on the 'English Question' and the politics of 'race'. Hague emphasised the importance of the nation to British Conservatism and sought to renew the party's position as the champion of the nation in the light of new challenges. Two broad visions of British identity are evident in contemporary British political discourse. The first is a pluralist perspective on Britishness that emphasises the multinational character of the UK state and seeks an updated British identity. The second is an authoritarian individualist perspective, primarily associated with Thatcherite Conservatives, which views enterprise, individual liberty and state authority as the key attributes of British identity. The significance of the nation in Conservative politics was evident in policy on Europe, constitutional reform and race relations.
The Conservative Party's survival as a significant political force was now open to serious question for the first time since the crisis over the Corn Laws. The Labour Party has commanded a fairly consistent level of attention, whether in office or in opposition. But it seems that the Conservatives are fated to be regarded either as unavoidable or irrelevant. This book presents an analysis that suggests that the party leader plays a less important role in Conservative recoveries than a distinctive policy programme and an effective party organization. It examines the Conservative position on a series of key issues, highlighting the difficult dilemmas which confronted the party after 1997, notably on economic policy. New Labour's acceptance of much of the main thrust of Thatcherite economic policy threw the Conservatives off balance. The pragmatism of this new position and the 'In Europe, not run by Europe' platform masked a significant move towards Euro-skepticism. The book also traces how the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Parties adapted to the creation of the Scottish Parliament, exploring the re-organisation of the Scottish party, its electoral fortunes and political prospects in the new Scottish politics. It examines issues of identity and nationhood in Conservative politics in the 1997-2001 period, focusing on the 'English Question' and the politics of 'race'. The predictable results of the Conservatives' failure to develop an attractive, consistent narrative are then analysed. Right-wing populist parties with charismatic leaders enjoyed some electoral success under the proportional representation systems in 2002.
The change in the fortunes of the Conservative Party since 1992 is remarkable. Holding office alone or in coalition for two-thirds of the twentieth century, the Conservatives were considered the 'natural party of government'. The Conservatives appeared to be out of tune with some prevailing cultural attitudes and attributes of contemporary British society. William Hague's warning that Britain would become a 'foreign land' under a Labour second term reinforced the caricature of an intolerant party, ironically the Conservatives already appeared 'strangers in their own land', trapped in the past. Thatcherism extolled the virtues of individual liberty, choice and consumerism in a market economy, but many Conservatives were less inclined to accept an extension of choice and diversity in the social and cultural arenas.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the Conservative Party's response to the crisis it faced after the 1997 defeat. It examines the Conservative Party leadership, parliamentary party and voluntary party in the Hague period. The book focuses on Conservative policy and ideology, and examines the party's electoral performance after 1997. It illustrates the predictable results of the Conservatives' failure to develop an attractive and consistent narrative. The book suggests that the party leader plays a less important role in Conservative recoveries than a distinctive policy programme and an effective party organisation. It highlights the difficult dilemmas, which confronted the party after 1997, notably on economic policy where the urge to promise tax cuts conflicted with voters' demands for public spending on essential services.