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Cameron and Big Society. May and Shared Society. Same Party : Two Visions ?

Raphaële Espiet-Kilty
p. 213-233


The second female Prime Minister in the history of Britain, Theresa May, from the outset, seemed eager to distance herself from her famous female predecessor and thus avoid easy parallels. She also seemed just as eager to distance herself from her direct predecessor, David Cameron (2010-16). Was this distance the result of Theresa May incarnating an altogether new type of Conservatism or simply an electoral tool to win over the voters who had expressed their discontent in the June 2016 referendum ? For the purpose of this article, the focus will not be on general Conservative ideology but rather on the specific ideas which influenced the social and welfare policies of the recent Conservative governments. We shall do this through a comparative study of Cameron’s Big Society and May’s Shared Society. We shall also consider whether they are both influenced by Thatcherism. Our hypothesis is that whilst Mayism is different from Thatcherism in many respects, it is not different in its attitude to the poor, in spite of a very different rhetoric about society. For this same reason, there is a definite ideological proximity with Cameron’s Conservatism and his social vision, which were also influenced by Thatcherism.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en novembre 2018.


Return to a more traditional Conservatism
The Shared Society vs the Big Society

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Theresa May first came to political fame when she declared that the Conservative Party had no choice but to shed the image of being the “nasty party”. This was, or so she believed, a sine qua non to lure back mainstream voters who not only feared a party that was bent on privatising the NHS and increasing inequalities through tax rebates for the rich but which, furthermore, seemed to be no longer representative of 21st century Britain. Although this declaration probably meant that May made many enemies amongst the Thatcherite majority of the party – it may even be argued that, in the short-term, it prevented her from competing for the highest office – it enabled her, from the outset, to position herself as a reformer who was keen to shift the party to the centre ground. It also moulded her image as a “no-nonsense” Conservative who did not hesitate to communicate a few home truths, however unpleasant they may be to hear, an image she would build on later in her career. In...

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Raphaële Espiet-Kilty, « Cameron and Big Society. May and Shared Society. Same Party : Two Visions ? », Observatoire de la société britannique, 21 | -1, 213-233.

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Raphaële Espiet-Kilty, « Cameron and Big Society. May and Shared Society. Same Party : Two Visions ? », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 21 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 20 septembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.2303

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Raphaële Espiet-Kilty

Maître de Conférences en Civilisation britannique à l'Université de Clermont Auvergne

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