Cameron’s Conservative Party, social liberalism and social justice
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Social liberalism has consistently been highlighted as arguably the defining feature of David Cameron’s project to modernise the Conservative Party. However, this article challenges the perception that modernisation has fundamentally transformed the position of social liberalism in contemporary conservatism, questioning the extent to which the Conservatives under Cameron have deviated from their socially conservative Thatcherite ideological inheritance. Two key aspects of social liberalism are explored: an inclusive approach to ‘equality issues’, and a commitment to the idea of positive freedom or ‘freedom to’. The extent to which positioning under Cameron’s leadership has reflected these themes is then considered in relation to two flagship ‘modernised’ policy areas. The first is the issue of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and the second is the party’s approach to poverty and social justice. We suggest that Cameron’s success in transforming Conservative attitudes and policies in a socially liberal direction has been very limited, challenging the widespread characterisation of the Coalition as a fundamentally ‘liberal’ government.
KeywordsConservative Party modernisation David Cameron social liberalism social justice conservatism
The authors would particularly like to thank Matt Beech, Kate Dommett and Peter Munce for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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