A Level Politics

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FAQ: What is One Nation conservatism?

Posted by Matt Walker on October 12, 2009

Disraeli Yesterday’s blog put the case that David Cameron is a New Right conservative. However, other commentators suggest that he is a One Nation conservative.

One Nation conservatism has a long history within the British Conservative Party. It originally dates back to Benjamin Disraeli who was prime minister in the 1870s, introducing factory and health Acts, as well as greater protection for workers.  Disraeli was a paternalistic conservative who argued that the rich had an obligation to help the poor.

This was based on the premise that because society is a natural hierarchy, those who enjoy natural privileges have a duty of care towards those who are less well off. Disraeli believed that industrialisation was creating a Britain of two nations, which would undermine social stability and the natural hierarchy which conservatives want to preserve.

In the 20th century, One Nation conservatism influenced the Conservative Party to maintain Labour’s postwar settlement of Keynesian intervention in the economy, and a universal welfare state including the NHS. This agreement between Labour and Conservatives came to be known as the postwar consensus. When the New Right attacked this consensus in the 1980s, One Nation Tories within Margaret Thatcher’s government (the so-called ‘wets’) heavily criticised their own leader for introducing divisive social and economic policies which were again creating a Britain of two nations.

Benjamin Disraeli

What is… ‘One Nation’?


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