Cours de civilisation britannique

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Political Parties in Britain
I. The Conservative Party

It is the oldest and most successful party. It was created at the end of the 17th century and they have governed England for most of the last 300 years. At the beginning, it was called the “Tory Party”. It represented the interests of the royal family, the Anglican Church, and also the aristocracy (the land owners). They changedtheir names in 1830 under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Peel => it became the “Conservative Party”. He wanted to change the name because “Tory” was a pejorative name, it meant “an Irish Catholic rebel” in Gaelic. The word “Conservative” meant that they wanted to protect the status quo, no change. That’s what they represented in the 19th century : traditionalism. At that time there was agrowing movement for reform and democracy. For that reason, they began to lose popularity : more and more people demanded reform. At the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, they were joined by the Irish Unionists (Protestants).

For most of the 20th century the Conservative Party was in power, with some very famous Prime Ministers : Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher (for11 years : 3 election victories). Churchill dominated British politics for 65 years. He was a typical Conservative : land owner, member of the Church, aristocrat. He was very popular.

The Conservative Party appealed and still appeals to the nationalism of British people. The working class voted Conservative because of that. It represents Britain : monarchy, Church.

After the war(1945), gradual breakdown in class barriers, and the Conservative Party came to represent the majority of the people in Britain. New social security system supported by the Conservative Party => ordinary people voted Conservative because it was safe, it was not a threat.

Things changed in the 80’s : first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was not a typical Conservative : not a memberof aristocracy, not a land owner, not related to the royal family. Her father was a shop owner. She did not go to expensive schools, she went to an ordinary state school, then to university (Oxford). She studied chemistry, and then did research. Then she studied law and became a lawyer. The she studied politics and joined the Conservative Party because she believed in capitalism and free market.She was leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. In 1979 the Conservative Party won the election => Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister in Britain. Kind of contradiction between the idea of tradition of the Conservative Party and the fact that a woman was Prime Minister. She also said that she was a radical Conservative (other contradiction). She was Prime Minister from 1979to 1990. During the 80’s, Britain changed dramatically. It became a divided society. Thatcher was for business, not for the Church, the aristocracy, nor a great supporter of the monarchy (personal and political problems with the Queen). But the Conservatives loved her because she enjoyed a lot of success and popularity. She broke Union power in Britain. She changed British society. However, theConservative Party began to have problems, which continue to these days, around the question of European Union. Britain joined the EU in 1973. But British people have never been very enthusiastic about EU. Thatcher was not a great supporter of EU, she preferred USA. The President was Ronald Reagan. They created a very close relationship. The Conservative Party began to split on the question of EU :some members wanted to leave EU and others to have closer relationships with EU.

It was a big advantage for the Labour Party. In 1997, the Labour Party led by Tony Blair won the election. The Conservative Party was crushed, partly because of this question of EU. The Conservative Party has lost each election since then (2001 and 2005). This is the worst period in the history of the...