Tories' first year back in power: How it will be remembered?

From voting to bomb Syria to fighting over the EU referendum, the Conservatives have had a busy year

David Cameron
The Prime Minister poses for a photo with his new MPs
(Image credit: WPA Pool/Getty)

Just one year ago the Conservative Party defied the opinion polls and stormed to a surprise victory in the general election, becoming the first all-Tory government in nearly two decades.

"While many Tories may have looked forward to a bright future freed of the shackles of coalition, it has been anything but plain sailing for the party's leadership," says The Independent.

What will David Cameron and his party be remembered for on their first anniversary?

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Syria air strikes

Britain joined the coalition of nations conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Syria after MPs overwhelmingly backed a government motion in December. Cameron won a higher than expected majority and said MPs had "taken the right decision to keep the UK safe".

The PM "will derive satisfaction from tightening his grip on his party while reinvigorating the authority of his office," Ian Birrell, Cameron's former speech writer, wrote in the Financial Times.

But others reacted with dismay: the SNP's Mhairi Black described the vote as "very dark night" and said she will "never forget" the noise of MPs "cheering together at the idea of bombs falling".


The claim that the prime minister put "a private part of his anatomy into a dead pig's mouth" during an initiation ceremony at Oxford University sent social media into a frenzy last year. The British press "reacted with unrestrained glee – hot takes, half-baked legal analysis and silly speculation about the impact on the national economy", says Time Magazine.

The bizarre allegation was made by Lord Ashcroft in his unauthorised biography of Cameron last December. Number 10 initially said it would not dignify the claim with a response, but it was later laughed off by the PM with a joke about a "little prick".

Junior doctors' strikes

Jeremy Hunt's decision to impose a controversial new contract on junior doctors triggered the first full-scale walkout in NHS history. The Health Secretary insists he is simply fulfilling a manifesto commitment to provide patients with a seven-day service, accusing some within the British Medical Association of using the strikes as an "opportunity to bash a Tory government that they hate".

But unions and doctors insist the long-running dispute is not about pay or politics. They warn that longer working hours will compromise the safety of both doctors and their patients and disproportionately affect women doctors. The majority of the public also say they support the action.

Bungled Budget

Planned cuts to disability benefits, announced in this year's Budget, triggered the shock departure of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in March. His resignation inflicted significant damage on the party as a whole and the Chancellor in particular, with Duncan Smith accusing Osborne of driving through unfair spending cuts and protecting wealthy Tory voting pensioners at the expense of the working poor. Another humiliating climbdown followed. "The clash is a reminder of how vulnerable the government is, with a majority of just 12," said the Financial Times.

Refugee crisis

The government's response to the humanitarian disaster engulfing Europe has been widely criticised by charities, political opponents and even Tory backbenchers. Britain has agreed to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, as well as 3,000 unaccompanied children directly from camps in the Middle East and North Africa. Earlier this week, the government was forced into a U-turn on accepting children already in Europe after facing a backbench rebellion.

Conservative MP Stephen Phillips, who defied his party on a previous vote on the matter, said going against the whip "is never an easy thing" to do. "But it's made less lonely by the fact that my conscience tells me I am right, and dictates that I should make clear to the government not only that it has got this issue wrong, but that the majority of British people think so too," he wrote for The Guardian.

The national living wage

The new national living wage, which was announced in last year's Budget, came into effect in April. It is set at £7.20 per hour for workers aged 25 and over – 50p more than the current minimum wage. Campaigners welcomed the move, but critics warned of the wider economic implications. "Big firms are slashing overtime, cutting recruitment and axing staff perks to pay for the new national living wage," Rupert Steiner wrote in the Daily Mail.

EU referendum campaign

The debate over whether to leave the European Union or not has exposed long-running divisions at the highest levels of the party, pitting old allies against one another. Cameron has admitted that his relationship with former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is backing Brexit, has suffered as a result of the row. "I'm still friends with Boris," he said recently, "just perhaps not such good friends."

But the consequences go far beyond political friendships. "We've become used to senior Tories being horrible to each other over Europe: Cabinet ministers insulting each other is almost routine these days," says the Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup. "The rage and vitriol of the campaign is boiling over, drawing Tories into new fights that have little or even nothing to do with the EU."

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