Leaders of the Conservative Party

Leaders of the Conservative Party

The Leader of the Conservative Party is the most senior politician within the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. The post is currently held by David Cameron, who succeeded Michael Howard in 2005, and who since 2010 is also the serving Prime Minister.



Until 1922, there was no formal "Leader of the Conservative Party". There was a leader of the Conservative party in each of the two Houses, and they were regarded as coequal unless one of them was either the Prime Minister or a former Prime Minister, or if a particular crisis (as in 1846–1847 or 1916) had resulted in one clearly asserting authority over the other. In the periods when this was not the case (1881–1885, 1911–1916, 1921–1922) there was no clear "Leader of the Conservative Party"—this contributed to some of the internal party conflict at the time. The distinction of the leaders is often overlooked by many and there are lists in circulation that assume the eventual single leader who emerged after a period of coequal leadership was the leader from the outset. However this was not always the case—for example in 1881 it was widely expected that the Commons leader Sir Stafford Northcote would be the next Conservative Prime Minister, but by the time the party had returned to government in 1885 political developments had resulted in the Lords leader Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury having the stronger claimant for the premiership.

When the Parliament Act 1911 reduced the power of the Lords, it seemed likely that the leader in the Commons would be preeminent. But that was not formally recognised for another eleven years, and there were several occasions when members of the Lords were strongly considered for the leadership of the whole party after this time. Since 1922 an overall leader has been formally elected by a joint meeting of MPs, peers, and prospective parliamentary candidates, even when the party is in opposition. Until 1965 this election was a rubber-stamp for the individual who had already been asked by the monarch to form a government; the leadership did not fall vacant at any time when the party was in opposition during this period. Since 1965 a succession of ballots have been held in to choose between competing candidates. This was instigated by Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 after the confused circumstances of his own elevation in 1963.

Leaders in the House of Lords 1834–present

Those asterisked were considered the overall leader of the party.

Leaders in the House of Commons 1834–1922

Those asterisked were considered the overall leader of the party.

Overall Leader of the Conservative Party 1834–1922

Portrait Country of Birth Constituency/Title Took Office Left Office Prime Minister
Sir Robert Peel Robert Peel.jpg England Tamworth 1834 29 June
Peel 1834–35
Melbourne 1835–41
Peel 1841–46
Edward Smith-Stanley
14th Earl of Derby from 1851
14th Earl of Derby.jpg England Baron Stanley until 1851
Earl of Derby from 1851
29 June
27 February
Russell 1846–52
Derby 1852
Aberdeen 1852–55
Palmerston 1855–58
Derby 1858–59
Palmerston 1859–65
Russell 1865–66
Derby 1866–68
Benjamin Disraeli
1st Earl of Beaconsfield from 1876
Disraeli.jpg England Buckinghamshire until 1876
Earl of Beaconsfield from 1876
27 February
19 April
Disraeli 1868
Gladstone 1868–74
Disraeli 1874–76
Beaconsfield 1876–80
Gladstone 1880–85
3rd Marquess of Salisbury Leader of Lords
Stafford Northcote Leader of Commons
19 April
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil
3rd Marquess of Salisbury
3rd Marquess of Salisbury.jpg England Marquess of Salisbury 1885 11 July
Salisbury 1885–86
Gladstone 1886
Salisbury 1886–92
Gladstone 1892–94
Rosebery 1894–95
Salisbury 1895–1902
Arthur Balfour Arthur Balfour, photo portrait facing left.jpg Scotland Manchester East until 1906
City of London from 1906
11 July
1911 Balfour 1902–1905
C.-Bannerman 1905–08
Asquith 1908–16
5th Marquess of Lansdowne Leader of Lords
Andrew Bonar Law Leader of Commons
1911 1916
Andrew Bonar Law Andrew Bonar Law 02.jpg New Brunswick Bootle until 1918
Glasgow Central from 1918
1916 1921 Lloyd George 1916–22
Lord Curzon Leader of Lords
Austen Chamberlain Leader of Commons
1921 23 October

Leader of the Conservative Party 1922–present

Portrait Country of Birth Constituency/Title Took Office Left Office Prime Minister
Andrew Bonar Law Andrew Bonar Law 02.jpg New Brunswick Glasgow Central 23 October
22 May
Bonar Law
Stanley Baldwin Stanley Baldwin ggbain.35233.jpg England Bewdley 22 May
28 May
Baldwin 1923–24
MacDonald 1924
Baldwin 1924–29
MacDonald 1929–35
Baldwin 1935–37
Neville Chamberlain Arthur-Neville-Chamberlain.jpg England Birmingham Edgbaston 27 May
9 October
Winston Churchill Churchill HU 90973.jpg England Epping until 1945
Woodford from 1945
9 October
7 April
Churchill 1940–45
Attlee 1945–51
Churchill 1951–55
Anthony Eden Eden, Anthony.jpg England Warwick and Leamington 7 April
9 January
Harold Macmillan Macmillan cph.3b40592.jpg England Bromley 11 January
19 October
Alec Douglas-Home Alec Douglas Home Allan Warren cropped.jpg England Earl of Home until 1963
Kinross and Western
from 1963
19 October
27 July
Douglas-Home 1963–64
Wilson 1964–70
Edward Heath Heathdod.JPG England Bexley until 1974
Sidcup from 1974
27 July
11 February
Heath 1970–74
Wilson 1974–76
Margaret Thatcher Margaret Thatcher cropped2.png England Finchley 11 February
28 November
Callaghan 1976–79
Thatcher 1979–90
John Major John Major 1996.jpg England Huntingdon 28 November
19 June
William Hague William Hague 2010.jpg England Richmond, Yorks 19 June
13 September
Blair 1997–2007
Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith, June 2007.jpg Scotland Chingford and Woodford Green 13 September
6 November
Michael Howard Michael Howard 2007.jpg Wales Folkestone and Hythe 6 November
6 December
David Cameron David Cameron - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2010.jpg England Witney 6 December
Brown 2007–2010
Cameron 2010-

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