Factors in Opposition Performance: The Conservative Experience since 1867

  • Stuart Ball


The Conservative Party has been in office much more than it has been in opposition, and its public identity and its own self-image are bound up with being a party of government. Between 1867 and the end of 2004, the Conservatives were in office for 86 years and in opposition for 51 years (see Table 1.1 below). Periods of extended dominance led to the Conservatives being seen as the ‘natural’ party of government, which was to their electoral advantage. The consequence was that they found opposition to be stressful, considering it an aberrant state of affairs rather than part of the normal cycle. However, although sometimes difficult and turbulent, the spells in opposition have been of crucial importance in the history and development of the Conservative Party. The most significant changes in its attitudes, policies and organization have followed from the shock of defeat. The Conservatives’ uncomfortable spells in opposition have seen leadership crises, factional strife and intense debate over the Party’s future direction. They have also often been the springboard for recovering power, and the foundation for the next spell of political dominance.


Party Leader Liberal Party Opposition Party Conservative Party Party Organization 
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© Stuart Ball 2005

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  • Stuart Ball

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