A Party of Change
The Conservative Party is the oldest political party in the world. A remarkable capacity for change has been, and remains, the secret of our success.
Political parties began to form during the civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s. First, there were Royalists and Parliamentarians; then Tories and Whigs.
Whereas the Whigs wanted to curtail the power of the monarch, the Tories were above all seen as the patriotic party.
Pitt the Younger
The Tories were in eclipse for much of the eighteenth century, but came to the fore again thanks to William Pitt the Younger.
He held power for over 18 years from 1783, making him the longest-serving of all Prime Ministers connected with the Party.
Pitt helped to lay the basis of modern prosperity by opening up free trade and reforming the public finances.
He also taught the Tories to be the pragmatic party - there was, he said, "no wisdom in establishing general rules or principles in government policy."
Peel and the Foundation of the Conservative Party
Sir Robert Peel became one of the Party's most decisive agents for change after taking over the leadership in 1834.
He reinterpreted key elements of the Tory tradition to create the modern Conservative Party, and led a reforming government whose commitment to free trade resulted in import duties being swept away, including those on foodstuffs (the Corn Laws).
Peel also brought in important social reforms, with measures to improve public health and regulate factory hours.
Disraeli: The Creation of a National Party
Like many great reformers, Peel aroused strong opposition - and a bitter internal split over the repeal of the Corn Laws put the Party into the political wilderness for nearly 30 years.
Momentum was eventually regained in the 1860s when Benjamin Disraeli took up the baton of change and added national and social unity to the Party's fundamental purposes.
His 'one nation' vision and desire to close the gulf between rich and poor led to important social legislation, such as major steps towards slum clearance and town planning.
Salisbury and Balfour
After Disraeli died, the Party leadership fell to Lord Salisbury and then to Arthur Balfour. Both believed in empowering individuals and communities - and under them, elected county councils were introduced.
Their hostility to the onward march of the state and preference for localism were to resurface in later phases of Conservative change.