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The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron [Hardcover]

Tim Bale
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Jan 2010
The Conservatives are back – but how did they do it and what took them so long? What happened between the party′s decision to dump one of the world′s most iconic leaders, Margaret Thatcher, and the arrival in office of David Cameron at the head of the UK′s new coalition government? Has Britain′s prime minister really changed his party as much as he claims? Are they devotees of the Big Society or just the ′same old Tories′, keen on cuts and obsessively Eurosceptic? The answers, as this accessible and gripping book shows, are as intriguing and provocative as the questions. Based on in–depth research and interviews with the key players, Tim Bale explains why the Tories got themselves into so much trouble in the first place and how they were finally able to get things back on track. In the new paperback version, he also explores their inability to win an outright victory at the 2010 election and looks at their decision to share power with the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron is a must–read for anyone wanting to understand what makes the Tories tick. And it contains valuable lessons about what to do – and what not to do – for their Labour opponents.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (22 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745648576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745648576
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 568,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Tim Bale teaches Political Science at Queen Mary, University of London in the UK. In 2008 he won the Political Studies Association's Bernard Crick Prize for Outstanding Teaching. He was the co-founder of the PSA's specialist group on Conservatives and Conservatism. He also provides an Internet Guide to European Politics to accompany his book, European Politics: a Comparative Introduction. Tim's media work includes writing for the Financial Times and the Guardian, and he has appeared on various BBC radio and television programmes. In 2011 he received the Political Studies Association's W.J.M. Mackenzie prize for his book The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron. His latest book on the Party is The Conservatives since 1945: the Drivers of Party Change. He occasionally tweets @ProfTimBale. His various posts and articles are collected at

Product Description


"Doubtlessly this will be the sourcebook for the era. Specialists in British party politics will turn to and recommend it for many years." British Politics Group Quarterly "A simply brilliant book; his judgments are spot–on." Edwina Currie, The Times "Bale has clearly enjoyed a lot of insider access and his description of the internal battles to reshape conservatism are vital to an understanding of the present Tory leadership." BBC News – Books of 2010 "Full of shrewd and astute judgments, it offers a mine of factual information and will for years be an indispensable source of understanding of the contemporary Conservative party. This book is written in a fluent, highly accessible and often witty style and demonstrates impressive narrative skills." WJM Mackenzie Prize Statement "[An] exhaustive and authoritative account." London Review of Books "This excellent and readable book is a fine account of how defeated parties turn themselves around." LSE Blog "An invaluable addition to the study of the current Conservative government." Political Studies Review "A hugely impressive achievement – and required reading for anyone who wants to understand the party most likely to run Britain in the new decade." Sunday Business Post "For a contemporary history of British politics, deliciously free of the jargon which usually masks the failure of academics to understand their subject, you will read nothing better than this." Tribune "In his new, rather good book, the academic Tim Bale provides a history of the Tories in the 15 years that preceded Mr Cameron′s ascent. Read it and it isn′t hard to work out the party′s problem." Daniel Finkelstein, The Times "A brilliant analysis of why the party found it so hard to accept that election defeats suggested that it was doing something wrong, rather than that the electorate had made a terrible mistake ... It is the Labour Party that needs to read this book and ask itself how it can get ahead." The Independent "Tim Bale′s study of the Conservative Party since 1990 is like a guidebook to a haunted house. Party officials roamed Westminster seeking exorcism from the ghosts of Thatcher ... His narrative is masterly and his judgments sound." Simon Jenkins, The Guardian "Anyone with an interest in the Conservatives will be deeply grateful to Tim Bale for writing such an intelligent and informative account of the party′s decline from 1990 to its recovery from 2005 onwards." Politics and Policy "A mountain of insights about the tiny amount of space in which political leaders make their moves." Independent Arts and Books Supplement "A fascinating account of the recent politics of the Conservative Party based on extensive interviews with the key actors." Parliamentary Affairs "A detailed yet splendidly readable study." British Politics "A wonderful insightful account of the Conservative party from the denouement of Margaret Thatcher′s leadership in 1989/90 through to the ascent of David Cameron." Party Politics "A highly insightful, and often very funny, commentary on the party′s dysfunctionality in the post–Thatcher era. In this election year, if you are going to read one book about the party that may shortly once again govern our nearest neighbour, read this one." Irish Times "Excellent ... a very useful first account of how the oldest and most successful political party in the western world lost its electoral advantage and then, finally, took years to find its way again." Total Politics "A solid, meticulous account." Financial Times "There haven′t been a lot of good books published about the Conservative Party in recent years, but Tim Bale has written one that fills the gap ... he tells the story well, combining breezy prose with academic rigour and anecdotes from the key participants." Andrew Sparrow, "Enough detail to delight the most obsessive politico." Representation "It′s hard to think of anyone with an interest in British politics who will not enjoy, and profit from, Tim Bales outstanding book. His chapters on the Hague and Duncan Smith years in particular – the latter a man for whom the word ′hapless′ could almost have been invented – form a kind of ′how not to do it′ manual for any political party in opposition. I suspect Messrs Miliband and Balls have already ordered theirs." Waterstones Booksellers "Contains the best account so far of the ′decontamination′ strategy pursued by Cameron after his surprise win in the leadership contest of 2005." Progress "Very detailed and convincing." Times of Malta "Bale provides a well–researched and very readable account of [his] thesis." Times Higher Education "Bale′s book is useful reminder of the chronology of the main political events, often stormy, which have taken place over the past 20 years." House Magazine "An incisive book." Orange Standard "Tim Bale′s book firmly avoids ′big picture′ explanantions focused on single issues like ′sleaze′ or Europe, and instead offers a detailed analytical narrative of the party leadership from the fall of Thatcher to the rise of Cameron. Bale in essence updates the old approach of High Politics, epitomised by the late Maurice Cowling, in which political history is the actions of a narrow band of senior politicians, and fuses this with a modern social scientist′s understanding of the interrelationship between ideas, interests and insitutions." Planet Magazine "Tim Bale′s study of the death and re–birth of the post–Thatcher Conservative Party is a delight to read. It is perky, cheeky, irreverent, packed with revealing quotes and in places deliciously funny. But Bale is not just an entertaining guide to the tribulations of the accident–prone Conservative leaders of the recent past. Only half–concealed by his jaunty prose and witty asides is a thorough scholar and insightful analyst. His anatomy of the modern Conservative Party will hold the field for a long time to come." David Marquand "Much the best book that has been written on the contemporary Conservative party." Andrew Gamble "Tim Bale has produced the best guide to the changing nature of the Conservative Party yet published. He appears to have read everything and spoken to everyone that matters to produce an eminently readable and interesting book. It should be required reading for all students of politics, as well as anyone wanting to know more about the contemporary Conservative Party." Philip Cowley "How did David Cameron find the key to success which the Tory Party has lost since 1997? Tim Bale′s book, while thoroughly readable, covers this subject more convincingly and in greater depth than most political journalists. He has done an excellent job." Douglas Hurd "Tim Bale has succeeded in combining an accurate overview of the Conservative Party′s history from Thatcher to Cameron with a wealth of intimate detail. The combination makes the book a riveting read, and a must for all devotees of modern politics." Baroness Shephard "This is the first comprehensive treatment of the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher. The period has seen extraordinary changes in the Party′s fortunes and now we have a well–researched and balanced account of what happened." David Willetts MP "It is a meticulously thorough and also very well written book, nicely leavened by its sardonic tone: I laughed out loud more than once. It will surely be accepted as a definitive account of this period of the Conservative Party′s history–a remorseless examination of why it took the party so very long to change enough to win again." Andrew Cooper, founder of Populus and former Director of Strategy at Conservative Central Office "Tim Bale′s well–researched volume is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the Conservative Party′s recent history. The book is extremely accessible to the lay reader and chronicles not only some of the party′s darkest days, but also its rediscovery of the will to win under David Cameron." Jonathan Isaby, Co–Editor, "Now poised for national success again Conservatives should treat Tim Bale′s timely account of their recent history as essential reading. Detailing the party′s highs and lows this book reminds us of the scale of the challenge that faced David Cameron′s new leadership, and illuminates his strategy for recovery." Jo–Anne Nadler "This is an excellent book immaculately researched. Tim Bale traces the downfall of the Conservative Party leading to the catastrophic defeat of 1997. He sheds new light on the party′s continuing slide which was only conclusively ended when David Cameron became leader and moved back onto the centre ground of politics. He reveals the ′villains′ of the story–not least the ideologically driven commentators–but his central question goes wider. He asks how it was that a party which had consistently sought power through the years lost the will to win? It is a book which Conservative politicians would be well advised to read now that, at long last, they have the opportunity of returning to government." Norman Fowler  

From the Back Cover

The Conservatives are back – but what took them so long? Why did the world′s oldest and most successful political party dump Margaret Thatcher only to commit electoral suicide under John Major? Just as importantly, what stopped the Tories getting their act together until David Cameron came along? And what did Cameron do that William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard couldn′t or wouldn′t? Has the Tory leader changed his party as much as he claims? Or has his leadership involved more compromise – and more Conservatism – than we realise? The answers, as this accessible and gripping book shows, are as intriguing and provocative as the questions. Based on in–depth research and interviews with the key players, Tim Bale explains how and why the Tories got themselves into so much trouble – and how and why they were eventually able to rediscover their winning ways. The answer, he suggests, lies in the people, the power structures, the ideas, and the very different interests of those involved. The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron is a must–read for anyone wanting to understand what makes the Tories tick.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tim Bale - On the Tories self imposed exile 2 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In many ways this book is essential reading for members of the Labour Party not least in understanding the rise of David Cameron and the old adage that its government who lose elections and not opposition's who win them. Similarly it overwhelmingly demonstrates that oppositions who are fatally divided will find that their wilderness years become an interminable experience. Tim Bale's book is a very readable analysis of why a party, which considered itself the "natural party of government", became unelectable over a prolonged period. It is also illustrative to note how the prevailing political climate of the day changes and how politics shape shifts so that factors that can be an overwhelming part of political consensus one day are deeply unfashionable the next. Bale's analysis on how New Labour decimated the Conservatives in 1997 is illustrative. Certainly a "time for change" narrative was running particularly after John Major's years of sleaze (which was actually quite tame bearing in the mind the later MPs allowances scandal). But the larger issue was the Conservatives failure to tap in the electorate views about a lack of investment in services such as education and health. The Tories obsession's centered on the Maastricht revolts, the ERM Debacle, the exhaustion of - and fallout from - the Thatcherite project and a real sense of where to go next. As such as late as the last week of the 1997 election Tory Central Office were predicating a loss of between 40 and 60 seats to New Labour . The reality was that they lost by 170 seats, gained only 31% of the popular vote and not one MP in either Wales or Scotland. Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, broad overview 23 April 2011
By The Penguin VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an interesting book covering a period in British politics that's still being understood and interpreted. I felt there to be a little bit of a bias towards the Conservative party within this book - a sense of the party being "hard done by" by the British public and the New Labour experiment. I felt ocassionally that the book failed to address the roots of the causes of the Tory parties' woes during the Major/Hague/Howard years.
That said, it's an interesting and engaging read - recommended for completists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 29 Dec 2013
By Sherry
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An informative and accessible book. A very comprehensive and enjoyable read rather than the more daunting and laborious one I was perhaps expecting.
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This is an excellent read. I found myself reading on and on, such is the ease of Bale's unfussy style. He also manages to give a sense of being close to the events as they unfold. I could not escape a sense of dread when Europe raised its head over and over again, or the party once again thought the route to electoral success was to run, not to the centre but towards the right. He explains why it took so long for the Tories to free themselves with their group obsession with the policies of Thatcher long after the country as a whole wanted nothing to do with them anymore. He also sheds light on the series of coincidences which allowed the moderate Cameron to leap frog David Davis, the favourite of the right to seize the party leadership and begin the process of change.
For what might otherwise be a dry academic work, Bale manages to convey the sense of event being balanced on a knife edge, always on the brink of falling back into the bad old ways. It is compelling stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lively - will endure 29 July 2011
By artemisrhi VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a very lively read, the language is colourful and contemporary.It is a fascinating, well researched and enlightening commentary on Thatcher to Cameron. It was surprisingly compelling to read given the nature of the subject and that I knew the outcome of the tale being told!

This book should appeal to anyone who has an interest in the development of the current political landscape and how party politics has changed beyond recognition in the last decades; it also is a brilliant exploration of what makes a leader - so all those in business and doing MBAs would find this interesting. I believe that this book could well be found on the reading lists of A level and degree students of history and politics in the decades to come because of its particular insightfullness.

My only complaint is that a timeline would have been useful as my memory of events wasn't always up to the task.

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5.0 out of 5 stars 'Fair and Balanced' or a Labour Handbook? 12 May 2011
By Magic Lemur VINE VOICE
Within a few pages of a book on politics it's usually possible to tell what political persuasion the author is as very few can resist airing their opinions within their writing. Happily this book is different and although you may pick up on the reference on the back and at the ending of the book to it being something of a Labour party reference manual, this account on the whole steers well clear of any bias.

In its pages you will find the story of the Conservatives from just before the departure of Thatcher (1989) up until the forming of the coalition in 2010. In between it covers off all the intervening leaders, from Major through Hague, IDS and Howard and onto Cameron.
Although the history may seem eerily familiar to some (especially the Cameron bits), it still brings plenty of fresh insights into the failings of each leader from Hague's 'Dog & Duck' populist politics (explained in the book) through to Howard's not-much-better efforts (which only brought electoral gains from Lib Dem advances).

It's incredible to read just how clueless the Conservatives became and how stubbornly unwilling to change they were until being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

One criticism I have, though is that, ever so occasionally the author lets slip his contempt for the Conservatives and focuses a little too much on the parties critics. This being said, many authors are far, far worse and the author is near-universally fair in his tone.

In fact, it is hard to see why the author made this book an Amazon Vine product when it can clearly sell on its own merits.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars this is a great history - and thats not a moot point!
Whether or not this is the best history of the Tory party is a moot point. It is certainly detailed, and more importantly it doesn't simply concern itself with the personalities at... Read more
Published on 14 Aug 2012 by CW
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will educate and fascinate
This substantial 460-page work manages to combine the virtues of a serious piece of academic study with being a thoroughly good read. Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2011 by Paulo MS
5.0 out of 5 stars Best analysis of the Tory wilderness period yet
The Conservative Party that Thatcher took to power in 1979, and the one that was left after the end of her leadership in 1990 were fundamentally different beasts. Read more
Published on 25 Mar 2011 by Peter Shield
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential
This book charts the fall and then rise again of the Conservatives over the last 20 years or so. It is packed with detail and insight and even includes a chapter charting recent... Read more
Published on 24 Mar 2011 by mall1990
3.0 out of 5 stars The Nasty Party
The Nasty Party, as they called by many, was for many years hopelessly unelectable : as the short, and charming preface suggests. Read more
Published on 18 Mar 2011 by Mr. M. A. Reed
3.0 out of 5 stars The Old Tory Dog
The cover of Tim Bale's 'The Conservative Party, from Thatcher to Cameron,' shows a rear view of Mrs Thatcher - fading into posterity - with the polished, determined face of Mr... Read more
Published on 16 Mar 2011 by Clifford Thurlow
3.0 out of 5 stars Pay attention at the back there!
Mr Pavelin's review is spot on. I have only a passing interest in the Tory party and its politics, but let the Vine programme tempt me into trying this. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2011 by Dog trainer (failed)
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