The ontological failure of David Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ of the Conservative Party

Jack Newman*, Richard Hayton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservatives took as its starting point the assumption that the party needed to modernise, requiring a move towards the political ‘centre ground’. This shift presented the party leadership with a series of challenges, including brand detoxification, party management, and policy renewal. Modernisation also implied ideological change, to distance the Conservatives from the legacy of Thatcherism and realign conservatism with the values of a wider section of the electorate. In this respect, Cameronite modernisation can be judged a failure. This article suggests that ontological contradictions inherent in central elements of Cameron’s conservatism, specifically the ‘Big Society’ and the ‘social justice agenda’, fatally undermined its ideological coherence. It argues that this is an important and hitherto overlooked part of the explanation for the shortcomings of Conservative Party modernisation as a political project. Although this is only one part in a wider explanation for the failure of Conservative modernisation, this case study demonstrates that ontological assumptions matter in political practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-273
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Politics
Issue number3
Early online date11 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited part of Springer Nature.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research


  • Cameronism
  • Conservatism
  • Conservative Party
  • Modernisation
  • Ontological assumptions
  • Political ontology


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