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The Tories: From Winston Churchill to David Cameron

Heppell, Timothy

Bloomsbury, (2014)
ISBN: 9781780930404 (pb)

Reviewed by Antje Bednarek-Gilland, Social Sciences Institute of the Evangelical Church in Germany

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Cover of The Tories: From Winston Churchill to David Cameron In The Tories, Heppell adopts the ‘statecraft approach’ which is currently undergoing a renaissance in political science. This means that he considers the mechanics of how political parties win elections and stay in power along the four factors: party management, electoral strategy, political argument hegemony and governing competence (p.4). Organising a wealth of material by focusing on these four aspects, Heppell challenges some stereotypical beliefs about the Conservative Party, such as that the Conservative Party is the ‘natural party of government’ and that its party members are excessively loyal to their leader.

An especial strength of the book is its working out of the pervasive political narratives which carried the Party for longer periods of time. There are two main narratives: one-nation Conservatism and Thatcherism. As a statecraft strategy, one-nation Conservatism in the 1950s was characterised by a great continuity of Labour policies in regards to denationalisation, full employment and the role of the trade unions (p. 21). Pragmatically as well as morally, the Conservatives at this time had strong objections to higher unemployment, the eminent Conservative politician Rab Butler memorably suggesting that ‘those who talked about creating pools of unemployment should be thrown into them and made to swim’ (p. 22). Well into the 1970s, Party leaders and their respective cabinets and other close advisers (the ‘court’, as, interestingly, statecraft theorists would call this grouping) managed to continue Keynesian economics whilst pursuing a politics of prosperity. This consensus came under attack between 1964 and 1975 which was a decade of ‘ideological turbulence’ (p. 39) between ‘progressives in the one-nation mould who believed that the Conservatives should remain at the centre ground and those on the right who wanted to pursue a more free market strategy’ (ibid.). From our present-day perspective, this is an interesting chapter both in the book and in the Party’s history as, at that time, free market supporters such as Enoch Powell (p. 42) and Keith Joseph appeared as ‘strange figures’ or, in Joseph’s case, as a ‘mad eugenicist’ (p. 66). Just a few years later and following a massive modernisation of the Party, both became advisors to the Thatcher governments.

In the discussion of Thatcherism as a statecraft strategy (chapter 3), Heppell works out the subtle depoliticisation and concomitant moralisation of politics under Thatcher and argues that, albeit Thatcherism brought electoral and ideological victory to the Tories for 11 years, ‘Thatcherism did not create a Thatcherite nation’ (p. 91). It is easy to disagree with this as neoliberalism has crept into the very foundations of political as well as everyday thought. But Heppell is right in arguing that Thatcherism did not create a Thatcherite Conservative Party. It is a divided party, and one of the hardest tasks for David Cameron has been to achieve Party management and to thereby convince the electorate that the Tories are not exclusively engaged in vicious infighting. ‘Cameronism as statecraft’ (pp. 157-161) entails on-going depoliticisation through the Big Society narrative and moving the Party towards the middle ground especially on Europe, albeit at the cost of thereby opening up a space for Eurosceptic alliances such as UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party).

Heppell works out all of this well and lucidly. He does not move an argument forward as his intention is to apply a specific theoretical framing (the statecraft approach) to an already established account of events. The main audience for this book is in political science, which is probably why Heppell provides no introduction to prominent Party figures. As concerns the statecraft approach, I doubt whether it may not exhaust itself in the helpful organising of party politics along the four factors mentioned above. For what is ‘statecraft’? Is every successful strategy a statecraft strategy? Another point of criticism is that the agency of political elites is overemphasised whilst cultural context and structural constraints remain underappreciated. A theoretical framework which places ‘narratives’ which ‘convince’, ‘persuade’ or ‘fail’ and the factors which influence that at the centre would also have made sense for this book. These matters notwithstanding, this is a brief and manageable account of Tory history since 1945 which would serve any sociologist as an introduction or general resource.

Antje Bednarek-Gilland Social Sciences Institute of the Evangelical Church in Germany