The British Conservative party has been the most successful political party of the modern era. Between 1881 and 1990 the Conservative party won sixteen of the twenty-eight general elections held, and, under a variety of electoral systems, their share of the vote rarely fell below 40 per cent. This electoral success ensured they were in government, either alone or in coalitions dominated by their party, for seventy of the 109 years separating Benjamin Disraeli’s death and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. Even when the Conservatives did not gain office, their electoral strength was often great enough to deny their opponents a working Parliamentary majority,1 whereas Conservative electoral success resulted for the most part in Parliamentary dominance.2 No other European party of the Right operating within a mass electoral system has equalled this achievement, and on the Left only the Swedish Social Democrats have come close. In the light of this record the Conservative party could be forgiven for considering itself to be Britain’s natural party of government.