A sign of this blog's success is the fact that our readers are offering their own articles for posting, in the hopes that further discussion will be generated. This one is by Tim Roll-Pickering, who has his own blog on matters political.
The Liberal Party was founded in 1859. Labour in 1900. The Liberal Democrats in 1988. Or looking further afield, the US Republicans in 1854, the Irish Fine Gael in 1933 and the Australian Liberal Party in 1945.
But what year was the Conservative Party founded? And is it truly "the oldest political party in the world"?A variety of dates are on offer, but for the purpose of this piece the biggest question is just how far today's Conservatives are the old Tory Party continued?
(One could also ask if there was a single Tory party between the 1670s and the 1830s, encompassing all of Harley and Bolingbroke, Bute, North and Pitt the Younger. Fortunately for our purposes this does not cause a problem when comparing with the dates for the US Democrats.) The Pittite Tories dominated British politics from the 1780s until the 1830s, but from 1827 onwards they fell apart under the leadership of Canning, Goderich and Wellington.
In the 1830s Peel sought to build the new force of Conservatism on a wider basis than in previous years - but was it merely the Tory Party by another name or a new party that took the place of the old?
With no formal constitution there is nothing one can look to for a simple resolution. The continuing use of the term "Tory" as a shorthand or abuse for Conservatives creates the impression of the two being one and the same, even when members in later generations felt very sure of the difference between the two words. Was this a new party? If so then it is to the early 1830s that the Conservatives' foundation can be dated.
However, dating the formation of the Party at any point after the accession of William IV removes the claim that it is the oldest in the world.The US Democrats also have a claim here. Their foundation date is equally confused by their relationship to earlier parties. Today they cite 1792 as their foundation date, claiming to be a direct continuation of the Jeffersonian Republican Party.
Others have argued that they were founded in the 1820s when the original Republican Party fragmented. Since all this falls between the 1783 and 1830s dates for the Pittite Tory Party, this is less of an issue in this dispute. What remains is the question of whether or not Peel's Conservatives were the continuation of the Pittite Tories and what date can be cited for the party's foundation.
And there is one other matter that is sometimes overlooked. The foundation of the Liberal Democrats is invariably dated to 1988 due to the merger of the Liberals and Social Democrats. What about the 1912 merger of the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists to form the "Conservative & Unionist Party"? Can one make a consistent case to accept the former and ignore the latter?
Posted by Helen Monday, June 05, 2006
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