Skip to main content


The Tory division that goes back centuries

Sir Robert Peel, in a portrait by Henry William Pickersgill

There has always been a “fundamental tension” within Toryism, says Robert Tombs in The Daily Telegraph. The Conservative Party broadly consists of two very different groups: the populist “Country Party”, which defends local and private interests against a “high-spending and interfering state”; and the establishment “Court Party”, which effectively governs the state. Being both of these at once has required a “careful balancing act”. Over the decades, Conservative governments have been careful to keep their “financial appetites” in check, and to stick up for the beliefs and liberties of the Country Party.

This has now collapsed. High taxes, mass immigration, expensive projects like HS2 and net zero – all are anathema to Country Party Tories. These tensions were “glaringly exposed” by Brexit, with the Country Party voting to leave and the Court Party wanting to remain. The government’s subsequent failure to keep big-ticket promises has further exacerbated the split – in particular its failure to “take back control” and “level up”. Today’s Tories should remember the “alarming historical precedent” of Robert Peel’s abolition of the Corn Laws in the 1840s. Peel was the epitome of a Court Party Tory – intelligent, high-minded, not terrific with people – and he felt that Britain needed “the cheapest food available”, regardless of its impact on our farmers. As a result, the party split, and many of Peel’s supporters eventually joined the Liberals. “It took the Tories a generation to recover.” 

😡😀 The “central ideological divide” in the modern Tory party is over institutions, says Robert Colvile in The Sunday Times. Traditionally, it has been “the party of the institutions” – as the name suggests, Conservatives are all about “conserving things”. Yet in recent years, Tories have picked fights with many of the pillars of society they once admired: the EU, the judiciary, the police, the civil service, the BBC. Some say this is just scapegoating for failures in government. But there is now a conviction within the party, particularly at the younger end, that the establishment really is out to thwart it – and that unless it tackles the institutions, “Britain will remain a hostile place for conservatism”.