The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron Paperback – 14 Jan 2011
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"A simply brilliant book; his judgments are spot–on."
Edwina Currie, The Times
"[An] exhaustive and authoritative account."
London Review of Books
"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."
"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."
"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
"A mountain of insights about the tiny amount of space in which political leaders make their moves."
Independent Arts and Books Supplement
"A detailed yet splendidly readable study."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"A solid, meticulous account."
"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, Guardian.co.uk
"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."
"Contains the best account so far of the ′decontamination′ strategy pursued by Cameron after his surprise win in the leadership contest of 2005."
"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."
"An incisive book."
"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."
"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."
"Much the best book that has been written on the contemporary Conservative party."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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, ConservativeHome.com
"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."
"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."
From the Back Cover
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Reading this in the tail end of 2016 I can see why many think it a vital work for Labour activists and supporters - I certainly agree.
Very good book.
Although as a left winger I found the chapter on the Duncan-Smith years hilarious, the author himself is admirably non-partisan, and there is much to learn here for Labour and Tory supporters alike - in fact it is an excellent read for anybody who takes an interest in British political history. I just wish he'd stop using the phrase 'moot point' so much!
Bale's book is essentially about the key to politics namely achieving power and keeping it. His central question is a deceptively simple one, namely "why Tory politicians were unwilling or unable to act in a way that might have given them more hope of winning or at east losing less". The leaders chose to run the party throw this into sharp relief. Firstly the inexperienced and right wing William Hague who launched policies woefully entitled "Common Sense" and who was ridiculed by the Tory right as creating the "muddled middle". Amazingly some on the right like his Thatcherite opponent John Redwood had savagely described Hague as a "train spotting vacuity overlaid by the gloss of management theory". They castigated him for not being right wing enough. The response by party strategists was, therefore, to portray him as the "voice of middle England" and appeal to the Conservative base. This is akin to the Republican base in the US in that it does not have near enough votes to ever win a national election. When Hague lost the 2001 election the Tories conspired to make things worse by replacing him with the totally unelectable Iain Duncan Smith who served for only 777 days and in the words of one Tory MP epitomized the 'knuckle-headed, bovine right-wingery' that believed the key electoral issue to be Europe. He was then followed by the holding operation that was Michael Howard who was tasked to decontaminate the Tory brand from the "nasty party" despite having been famously described by Anne Widdicombe of having "something of the night' about him.
The key part of the book concentrates on the rise of Cameron and George Osborne and the fact that some of the key figures of the years of failure were resurrected. There is no doubt that Cameron was much in thrall to the Blair project and, in particular, its use of focus group/pollsters. Cameron's answer was to drive towards the centre where he challenged party members "Do we stick to our core vote comfort zone or do we openly reach out, do we repeat the mistakes of the past or do we change to win for the future"? Whatever one thinks of Cameron his leadership campaign over the vastly more experienced David Davis was a model of its kind. The latter had described Cameron as "policy lite" but seemed tired and old against the polished old Etonian who clocked up a relatively easy victory.
Overall Bale's book does suffer from a decidedly "instant history" analysis of why in spite of Gordon Brown's unpopularity, a record deficit and the MPs scandal that happened on "Browns Watch" couldn't the Tories win an outright majority in 2010. The prime reasons in Bale's view are that the progressive conservatism of Cameron had not modernised enough for some voters and that the mood of the country was largely undecided. The formation of the Con-Lib Dem coalition was not the prize that Cameron was seeking. Despite "toughing it out" with the right of the Tory Party he also had to concede a fair amount of ground to the then-popular but now toxic Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. Bale will need to revisit this analysis that will require the further passage of time to reach more mature conclusions. Similarly, the current huge public expenditure cuts of an admittedly huge deficit could firmly deposit Cameron into "the same old Tories" camp and the fragile coalition could collapse. As a result, future installments and editions of Bale's largely excellent book will be required reading on this unfolding story.