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'It's Over': The Demise of Conservatism

In an inimitable review of the last 160 years of party politics, Richard Kelley argues that the Conservative party is like a marriage that has gone wrong.

This is the story of a marriage, one which has lasted for over a century and a half. It is a marriage which, despite some rocky patches, has been remarkably flexible, fertile and successful. It is a marriage which, only ten years ago, attracted the envy of other partnerships. Yet that marriage has now broken down, and it's probably irretrievable. It is a marriage known as the Conservative Party.

Some have said that the marriage always had shaky foundations, involving partners who were different in so many ways. The two partners, known locally as Whig and Tory, were brought together in the 1830s by that wily matchmaker Robert Peel. Peel was aware, though, that the two partners came from very dissimilar homes - the Whigs being 'new money' and 'trade', while the Tories were more 'landed' and aristocratic.

Peel was also aware that their instincts and general outlook differed sharply. Tory was rather gloomy, cynical and cautious, and somewhat sceptical of fancy notions like 'freedom' and 'progress'. Whig, meanwhile, was altogether more optimistic and occasionally quite radical, placing little value on stuffy old customs.

Furthermore, Peel acknowledged that the two had contrasting views on the sensitive issue of economics, Whig favouring an open, 'free trade' relationship rather than the old-fashioned 'protectionist' ideas of its new partner.

Peel sensed, however, that the two had a major common interest which would always surmount such domestic quarrels. This interest was a shared fear of democracy and class war, a fear sharpened by the Great Reform Act of 1832. Tory and Whig might have come across their wealth at different times and in different ways, but at least they both had wealth - and both had a determination to keep it.

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