Conservative Party


The Conservative and Unionist Party, most commonly known as the Conservative Party or Tory Party, is the current governing party in the British House of Commons. After the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives held 364 out of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. The Party’s Peers also accounted for 243 out of the 778 seats in the House of Lords.

The oldest party still represented in Parliament, the Conservative Party sits on the centre right of the political spectrum.

By the mid 2020s, the Conservative Party had been in government for approaching fifty of the last seventy five years. Currently led by Prime Minister Liz Truss, the Tories are the party of several well-known 20th century leaders such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.


Core Conservative Party Beliefs

In terms of economic policy, the Conservative Party is economically liberal, generally favouring the free market and opposing government controls.

Positioning itself as the party of small business, the Conservative Party advocates for low taxes, arguing that lower taxation will ultimately stimulate the wider economy, generating both a higher overall tax take and greater overall economic prosperity in its wake. The Conservative Party opposes the state ownership of industries and companies, albeit in recent years it has started to pursue a more actively interventionist regional policy.

In the Twentieth Century, the Conservative Party was typically associated with conservative social attitudes. However in the Twenty First Century there has been a significant change in the party’s approach.  The party has adopted a more socially liberal outlook. The most significant evidence of this change in approach is the introduction by the Cameron government of equal marriage rights for LGBTQ+ couples in 2010.  At Westminster, there are now 20 Conservative MPs who openly identify as LGBTQ, more than any other party.

The Conservative Party is typically seen as being more in favour of greater immigration controls than both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party.

Since 1945, Conservative Prime Ministers have consistently cultivated close ties to American Presidents in pursuit of a ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US. Historically, there were both Eurosceptic and pro-European wings in the Tory Party, but in the Twenty First Century the party became more staunchly Eurosceptic. This culminated in the Party‘s 2019 Election manifesto promising to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

The Conservatives remain a staunchly Unionist party and oppose the break- up of the United Kingdom. The party is generally opposed to constitutional reform.

Conservative Party Voters

The 2019 election once again revealed a decisive preference for the Conservative Party amongst older voters in Britain. According to the polling organisation YouGov, with every decade older that a voter becomes, their chance of voting Conservative increases by around nine percentage points. The age at which the average voter stops voting Labour and starts to vote Conservative is currently said to be 39.

Men are slightly more likely to vote Conservative than women: this difference is much greater among younger voters and again decreases with age.

Despite the Labour Party’s historical claim through much of the Twentieth Century that it was the party of the working class, that is no longer sustained by the electoral evidence.

The 2019 General Election showed a preference for the Conservative Party across all social classes, with more working class voters supporting the Conservative Party than the Labour Party.

With regards to education, the Conservatives have a clear advantage among non-graduates. By contrast the Labour Party is more favoured by those with a university degree.

According to a YouGov 2017 study, there is strong Conservative support among Anglican voters (58% for the Conservatives, compared to 28% for Labour). The same is true amongst Jewish voters (63%  for the Conservatives, compared to 26% for Labour). Those of Catholic faith and other Christian denominations were more evenly split in their voting behaviour, with the Labour Party polling slightly better amongst those with no religious affiliation.

The Conservative Party is said to attract only minimal support from the Muslim Community (11% for the Conservatives, compared to 85% for the Labour Party). In 2019, the Singh Investigation was set up following certain high-profile allegations of alleged “Islamophobia” within the party.

YouGov polls from 2019 also found that Black and Minority Ethnic voters are more likely to vote Labour than Conservative (64% to 20%), whereas the opposite is true of White voters (29% for Labour and 48% Conservative).

Membership of the Conservative Party

As of July 2019, the Conservative Party had around 180,000 members. This represents a marked decline from the 1953 peak when the Conservative Party’s membership reportedly surpassed the 2.8 million mark.

Even though the Conservative Party won the 2019 General Election, Conservative Party membership levels in that year considerably trailed that of the Labour Party (485,000 members). Indeed in terms of membership levels, the Conservatives were only a little bit ahead of the Scottish National Party (125,500 members) and the Liberal Democrats (115,5000).

Conservative Party Funding

All political parties in the UK fund their activities and campaigns in a variety of regulated ways: public funding, donations, loans, and membership fees.

Being a party represented in the House of Commons by more than two MPs, the Conservative Party is eligible for policy development grants. Of a total of £2 million to be shared among all eligible parties each year, the Conservatives reportedly received £359,478 in 2015/2016.

A significant source of Conservative Party income is received through donations. These are defined as ‘money, goods or services provided without charge or on non-commercial terms’. Each political party has a responsibility to check a donation’s permissibility before accepting it. Donations exceeding £7,500 must be reported to the Electoral Commission and are known as registered donations. During the 2019 general election period, 63% of all registered donations were made to the Conservative Party, amounting to a total of £19.4 million.

Parties may also charge membership fees, which are not subject to regulation. The Conservative Party currently charges £25 for a standard yearly membership, with discounts for those aged under 26 and members of the armed forces (both current and former), who pay £5 and £15 a year, respectively.

Origins of the Conservative Party

The Tories were a Parliamentary faction that first emerged during Queen Anne’s reign, opposed by the then Whigs. During the 19th Century, the Tories transitioned to the term ‘Conservative‘ as the official party name, although ‘Tory‘ continued to be used informally.

The Conservative Party‘s infrastructure dates back to the efforts by Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, to court new city-based voters in the latter half of the 19th Century. This led to the creation of the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations and Conservative Central Office. The former’s role was to represent the party’s membership and to hold a yearly Conservative Party Conference. The latter, since renamed as the Conservative Campaign Headquarters, is the party‘s organisational organ.


Benjamin Disraeli developed the Conservative Party’s organisation in the late 19th Century.

Disraeli‘s government also redefined the role of the Conservative Party in British politics,  increasing the Tories’ popularity and associating them for the first time with patriotism.

When the question of devolving power to Ireland came to the forefront of mainstream political debate in the early part of the Twentieth Century, the Conservative Party aligned with Liberal Unionists against so-called Home Rule. This led to the two parties merging in 1912 to form the modern Conservative and Unionist Party.

Conservative Party Organisation

The lowest level of the Conservative Party organisation is the Conservative Association. This is a local group that typically corresponds to a Parliamentary constituency, with a President and various officials elected by local members.  These local associations often employ a local agent.

The Conservative Party‘s organisation in the country is also divided into Regions. The party has a small number of Regional Chairmen or Chairwomen who carry out organisational and administrative roles in each region.

Local association Chairmen, officers from the Regions and representatives from the Conservative Women’s Association meet twice a year as the National Convention. The officers of the National Convention represent the Voluntary Party to the Tory leadership.

Officers from the National Convention, along with representatives from the political and professional wings of the party, sit on the Board of the Conservative Party. This Board makes the final decisions concerning all party operations.

The Conservative Women’s Association, the Young Conservatives and Conservatives Abroad are also recognised party organisations, each responsible for representing a specific group within the party.

There are also dedicated branches of the Conservative Party in Scotland and Wales.

The Conservative Party‘s Campaign Headquarters can be found at 4 Matthew Parker Street in London.

Conservative Party Leadership

The process for electing the Conservative Party Leader is split into two main stages.

During a Parliamentary stage, aspirant candidates need to be nominated by 8 fellow Conservative MPs. Those that reach this benchmark are then put through a series of votes by the Parliamentary Conservative Party. During this process,  the candidates with the lowest number of votes are eliminated, before a subsequent round is held. The process continues until two candidates remain.

In the second stage of the leadership contest, the two top candidates face each other in a vote by the Party‘s membership. The winner becomes the Conservative Party Leader.

If Tory MPs are dissatisfied with the Party Leader, they can initiate a leadership challenge. This happens when 15% of Conservative MPs write of their intention to hold a vote of no confidence in the Party Leader to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee (the body that represents all Conservative MPs). A vote is then scheduled.

The last time this process took place was in June 2022. Boris Johnson survived a no confidence vote from his MPs, before announcing his decision to step down following mass ministerial resignations in July 2022.  Theresa May had previously withstood a similar challenge from MPs in December 2018.  She resigned as party leader in the summer the following year. 

After a failed vote of no confidence, a new vote cannot be called for at least a year. Should the party leader lose a vote of confidence, they must step down and are not allowed to run for the party leadership again.

Conservative Parliamentary Candidates

The current standard selection process for candidates to stand in Parliamentary elections for the Conservative Party involves several stages.

Potential candidates typically have to pass the Party’s Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB). This stage aims to assess the applicants in several skills and areas considered important in the job, such as communications and political convictions. Assessors on the Parliamentary Assessment Board do not have access to applicants’ CVs in order to minimise possible bias. Applicants who are successful at the Assessment Board are accepted onto the Approved List.

When there is a vacancy for a candidate in a particular constituency (normally because the incumbent candidate has stepped down, or occasionally been de-selected by a vote of the local Association), applicants from the approved list typically apply for the vacancy.

The local party then goes through its own process of interviewing and filtering these applicants, with an eventual short list normally being put to a vote of the Conservative Party membership in that constituency. Once this process is completed, the chosen individual can stand to be elected as a Conservative MP.

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Twitter: @Conservatives