Calling all cliches: One nation

Last week, in her first speech as prime minister, Theresa May paid tribute to her predecessor and promised to continue in the direction he had forged: ‘From the introduction of same-sex marriage to taking people on low wages out of income tax altogether, David Cameron has led a One Nation government and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead.’ [1]

She’s not, of course, the first to claim the One Nation mantle. Here’s a random selection of quotes from the last twenty-one years, from which you may or may not be able to discern what the phrase really means.

Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1995: ‘Now the mantle of one-nation politics no longer fits the Tories. It is draped rightly and properly round our shoulders.’ [2]

John Prescott, Labour’s deputy leader, in his 1995 conference speech: ‘One-nation Labour. The party that speaks for the whole country. That will govern for the whole country. If you think this Government has betrayed our country, come and join us: One-nation Labour.’ [3]

Margaret Thatcher in 1998: ‘I am not sure what is meant by those who say that the Party should return to something called “One Nation Conservatism”. As far as I can tell by their views on European federalism, such people’s creed would be better described as “No Nation Conservatism”.’ [4]

William Hague as Tory leader in 1998: ‘If we are to win, we will have to make it clear that our One Nation Conservatism is not just an economic doctrine.’ [5]

Peter Mandelson, reported in 2000: ‘Describing the approach as “One Nation socialism”, he said that the Government was getting the fundamentals right, and “as a result, the old negative memories of Labour are passing”.’ [6]

Michael Ancram’s slogan when contesting the Tory leadership in 2001: ‘One Party, One Nation.’ [7]

Iain Duncan Smith campaigning for the Tory leadership in 2001: ‘The Conservative party I want to lead is for all. It will be for everyone, regardless of race, sex, creed, or colour. It will be a broad church, not a narrow sect. One nation conservatism means being in tune with the vast majority of the British people.’ [8]

Michael Howard, as Tory leader, in 2005: ‘We are all British. We are one nation. And we should all have to play by the same rules – whatever the colour of your skin, whatever your sex, whatever your religion.’ [9]

David Davis, making a bid for the Tory leadership in 2005: ‘At its greatest the Conservative Party has spoken for one nation, for the many not the few. I want us to be the champion for the victims of state failure, those without hope.’ [10]

The Conservative Party’s statement of aims and values, launched by David Cameron in 2006: ‘We are a modern, compassionate Conservative party. Our enduring values mean we believe in trusting people, sharing responsibility, championing freedom and supporting the institutions and culture we share as one nation.’ [11]

Ed Balls, reported in 2007: ‘As the PM came under pressure to clearly set out his “vision” in his first Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, Cabinet minister Ed Balls said Labour was the “one nation” party.’ [12]

An anonymous Labour cabinet minister attacks the leadership of Gordon Brown in 2008: ‘We are not a one-nation party any more. We are now a no-nation party. We cannot win in Scotland, we cannot win in England, we cannot win in Wales. There is only one thing that can be done, and it’s a change of leader.’ [13]

Kenneth Clarke on David Cameron in 2010: ‘We have the same political position. I am a One Nation Tory. David enticed me back to the front bench because he said that he had changed the party and taken it out of the right-wing cul-de-sac.’ [14]

Ed Miliband’s speech as leader to 2012 Labour conference: ‘One nation — a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together. I didn’t become leader of the Labour Party to reinvent the world of Disraeli or Attlee but I believe in that spirit. That spirit of one nation, where everyone has a stake.’ [15]


[1] Daily Telegraph 14 July 2016

[2] Times 16 February 1995

[3] Guardian 7 October 1995

[4] Independent 12 January 1996

[5] Independent 13 April 1998

[6] Times 2 November 2000

[7] Independent 4 July 2001

[8] Herald 16 August 2001

[9] Express 18 March 2005

[10] Express 5 July 2005

[11] Guardian 17 August 2006

[12] Sunday Mirror 4 November 2007

[13] Daily Telegraph 26 July 2008

[14] Times 13 February 2010

[15] Sun 3 October 2012


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