McEnhill, Libby (2015) From Opposition to Coalition: The Conservative Party and the Politics of Welfare Reform, 2005-2015. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis offers an analysis of the ideology of the Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron between 2005 and 2015, considering the extent to which the party still embodies a form of ‘conservatism’ and, further, what sort of conservatism that might be. This is conducted via the application of a theoretical framework combining a strategic-relational understanding of political action, with the conceptual or morphological approach to analysing ideologies. It therefore contributes to understanding both the character of contemporary British conservatism, and the role that ideas and ideologies play in political life at various points in the governing and electoral cycle more broadly.
The research uses the Party’s approach to working-age welfare policy as a case study, being an area of policy that has been of a consistently high-profile over the period in question and which has been utilised for several different purposes. It focuses on three central research areas: firstly, how Conservatives have understood key concepts relating to welfare, considering what this can tell us about wider views on the relationship between society, the state and individuals; secondly, how these understandings relate to wider conservative ideological perspectives, and finally how these perspectives have both shaped and been shaped by political practice and strategy, notably in the arenas of electoral appeal and policy development and implementation.
The thesis concludes that despite indications in the opposition years of Cameron’s leadership that the Conservatives might seek to move away from or at least draw a line under the Thatcher years, this possibility has remained largely unrealised in 2015. The constraining role of ideology has been significant: ‘modernisation’ was conceived within a Thatcherite ideological framework which shaped the strategies perceived to be available to the party in developing its approach to social issues and re-invigorating its electoral appeal. Although there were nascent signs of ideological developments within this framework, changes to the strategic context within which the Party is situated between opposition and government meant that in the latter it reverted to more traditional Thatcherite perspectives. The research therefore suggests that these legacies continue to exert a significant effect on Conservative policy and positioning, and will be important in understanding the actions of the in-coming majority Conservative government.

Final thesis - McEnhill.pdf - Accepted Version
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