The oldest party

The BBC has a page listing the dates at which the political parties contesting the general election – or at least those with ten or more candidates – came into existence.  It is an interesting list.  It correctly identifies the Conservative Party as the oldest of the parties, but says it was ‘set up in 1832’.  The Conservative Party was not ‘set up’ in 1832.  Indeed, there was no particular date on which it was created.  Rather, the party emerged from the old Tory Party in the 1830s.

The term ‘Conservative’ was used by George Canning in 1824 and employed in the Quarterly Review in 1830.  The name began to enter popular use following this latter reference and in the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 Sir Robert Peel wrote that he led ‘the great Conservative Party’.  Various bodies using the name Conservative were established in 1832: a Durham Conservative Association was set up in that year, for example.  Robert Blake notes the existence of an election fund in 1835.  In effect, the Conservative Party emerged as the successor to the Tory Party in the period between 1831 and 1835, though it only acquired a institutionalised national structure in 1867 with the formation of the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Working Men’s Associations (later the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations).  It was followed in 1867 by the creation of Central Office.

I don’t suppose the BBC had space for all that.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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8 Responses to The oldest party

  1. nor any time for the whigs either it seems

  2. Croft says:

    I’m reminded of a foreign government information source that gave the UK an ‘independence day’ (the Act of Union if I remember) which seemed nice of them in case we felt left out!

    I can think of at least 3 other dates you could pick 1678, 1783 or 1912. I’m not sure any of them are much more truly accurate than any other it really depends on the extent to which parties are regarded as traditions of thought or physical/legal organisations.

  3. Chris K says:

    I’m quite interested in this because I know that the Conservative and Unionist Party formed from a merger of Tories and splinter Liberals (who knew the game was up). I presume 1922 was a significant year because they have a committee named after it.

    Parties haven’t always appeared on ballot papers have they? I sometimes wish they didn’t, then perhaps people would be more interested in choosing a good MP, rather than the idea that they’re electing a Prime Minister.

    I suspect many LibDem voters will be disappointed when they see that “Nick Clegg” appears nowhere on the ballot paper. So I still reckon they’ll come third in number of vote terms… just.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Chris K: 1922 was a significant year for the Conservative Party, but that was because of the decision to bring the Coalition to an end. The naming of the 1922 Committee, however, is unrelated to that event. The 1922 Committee is so-named because it was formed in 1923 by some Conservative MPs who were first elected in 1922.

      The inclusion of party names on ballot papers is indeed a recent event, made permissible under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1969. Prior to that, only the names of candidates could appear.

      • ladytizzy says:

        Was the Ealing Southall by-election , 2007, the first to include a party leader’s name ie “David Cameron’s Conservative Party”?

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