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Conservative Politics in Western Europe by Zig Layton-Henry

By Zig Layton-Henry

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1 The Character of Modern British Conservatism GILLIAN PEELE I INTRODUCTION The overwhelming Conservative victory at the British general election of May 1979 at first sight appears to confirm the genius for political survival of what J. S. Mill dubbed 'the stupid party'. Despite powerful academic arguments in the 1960s that long-term electoral trends would work in Labour's favour, the British Conservative party has retained its ability to compete successfully for office. 1 In fact the Conservative party's achievement in 1979 makes its record unique among Conservative and right-of-centre parties in Western Europe: for only twenty years in the period between 1918 and 1980 has it been excluded from participation in government.

18 Thus both Conservative rhetoric and Conservative policy have attacked 'abuses' in the welfare state and have reflected public hostility towards certain groups who benefit from the system. As The Right Approach put it prior to the 1979 general election: Fraud and abuse can and should be rooted out, and we think there is a strong argument for increasing the number of 'fraud drives' and of special social security investigators. 19 Moreover the Thatcher administration's second budget gave concrete evidence of its determination to tighten the conditions for welfare benefits when it decided to introduce a restriction on the amount of supplementary benefit which could be paid to strikers' families and to tax short-term unemployment benefits.

The Conservative party, unlike Labour, has no pacifist strand in its tradition and it has typically supported the retention of a high level of expenditure on Britain's armed forces despite a diminished world role and despite the conflicting claims of social expenditure. In the contemporary period this commitment can be seen both in the proposal to raise expenditure on the armed services when many other areas of government expenditure are being cut and in the determination to maintain some kind of independent nuclear force.

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