Election 2015

Election profile: The Conservative Party

The Conservatives are on a quest for an overall majority in 2015, and they are hoping that their record on the economy can help get them there.

The Conservative Party can claim to be the oldest political party in Europe.

Its original members were England's landed gentry, but it underwent radical transformation throughout the 19th Century.

Robert Peel oversaw a programme of economic liberalisation and rebranded the Tory party the "Conservatives", before Benjamin Disraeli embraced wider suffrage at home and jingoism abroad.

Image copyright Warburton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Im
Image caption Harold Macmillan coined the phrase "you've never had it so good"

Product of opportunity

It was a Conservative prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who gained notoriety for trying to appease Adolf Hitler.

But with the outbreak of World War Two Winston Churchill emerged as the man to lead the country and became revered as one of the Conservatives' greatest ever leaders.

Voters chose Labour to help them out of hardship in 1945 - but by 1951 the Tories were back in power and a period of prosperity helped keep them there for 13 years.

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who took over in 1957, famously told voters: "You've never had it so good."

Edward Heath restored Conservative fortunes in 1970 and led the country into the Common Market.

Even though it marked the beginning of several conflicts within the party over Europe, he considered it its proudest achievement.

Image copyright Hutton Archive/Getty

Conviction politics

Amidst economic turmoil and widespread industrial action, Margaret Thatcher emerged as a leader who would redefine the party and guide it to enormous electoral success.

At home she took on the trade unions and began privatising many nationalised industries. Abroad, she took the country into a successful campaign to expel Argentine forces from the Falklands, and her "handbagging" of various European leaders helped forge her image as "the iron lady".

In the end enemies within the party removed her from office and John Major was elected in her place.

He narrowly won the Tories their fourth election victory in a row in 1992, but he found himself leading a party increasingly divided over Britain's place in Europe.

After some damaging "sleaze" scandals, a relaunched Labour Party comfortably won the 1997 election.

A succession of leaders - William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard - were unable to reverse the party's fortunes.

A sea change came in 2005 when Labour's vote share dropped and the party elected David Cameron as leader.

Image copyright Getty Images

Compassionate Conservatism

He presented the party as greener, friendlier, and more in touch with the average Briton than predecessors.

In David Cameron the Conservatives also found an assured performer who frequently wiped the floor with Gordon Brown at the despatch box.

The economic crisis and recession led to a change of tone from Mr Cameron as he sought to persuade voters his was the party best placed to lead Britain through the recovery.

The Conservatives went on to gain 97 seats at the 2010 election. It was not enough to secure an overall majority, but it enabled them to return to government in coalition with the Lib Dems.

It was not something all party members approved of but it was, in David Cameron's words, designed to provide the "strong and stable and determined leadership that we need for the long-term".

Since then, the Tories have maintained a socially liberal agenda. David Cameron cites the legalisation of gay marriage as one of his proudest achievements.

His time as prime minister has also been marked out by a tough austerity programme. The party points to the UK's recovery from recession, economic growth, falling unemployment and record low inflation as evidence that the plan is working.

The Conservatives are also committed to a referendum on Britain's EU membership if they get re-elected.

On the EU and the economy, the Conservatives argue they are the only ones who can steer Britain in the right direction.