A #Tory Rebranding?


The Conservative Party is engaged in an interesting exercise to try to change the meaning of a word. Tory.

It has mostly only ever been a term of abuse, as in “Tory bastard”, “Tory scum” … you get the idea.

The word derives from Middle Irish and Scots Gaelic words meaning robber or brigand and was used by opposition to mean “Irish Rebel.”

During the Civil Wars it indicated support for King not Parliament and in, and following, The Glorious Revolution of 1688 referred to those supporting the old absolutist monarchy not the constitutional form.

In more modern times it has been used to indicate those who are traditionalist not radical Conservatives.

The term has however been used by people as a positive and a negative who have different opinions, politics and strains of Conservativism.

Usually people who are Classical Liberals like Margaret Thatcher like to term themselves more Whig than Tory. But the lady herself always insisted she was “a Tory.” This was because Tories historically stood for “God, King and Country” which encapsulated her Conservativism transcending her economic beliefs which were undoubtedly Liberal.

I tend to call myself a Whig because if I had been around during the Civil Wars I would definitely have been on the opposite side from Mrs Thatcher if she had been there. I would have been a Parliamentarian.

In later generations Tory came to refer to those who opposed free trade, so that would have caused a dilemma for Mrs T. It would have kept me as a Whig not Tory.

This reminds me of the not altogether unsuccessful strategy of McDonald’s, maybe ten years or more ago now, to re-own the term “McJob.” McDonald’s folk prefix pretty much everything with “Mc” and at some point in time “McJob” had been coined in the US as a positive expression to describe their excellent training, personal development, and first job opportunities.

Then, inevitably in the UK, it started to be used as a derogatory term as  slang for a low-paying, low-prestige dead-end, and low skilled job. McDonald’s were incensed by this and launched advertising and communications programmes to try to take the word back.

The problem is to most people, particularly Brits, the negative rather than positive always sticks.

This came to  mind when looking at the new series of #Tory hashtags just launched by the Conservatives. I wonder if they will be any more successful in changing the meaning of a term. They have more than 400 years of history to try to overturn!

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