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In the book Thinking in Time on page 194, it says

...contributed to a substantial Tory victory at the general election of 1959. Tory budgeting, which held down defense expenditure while boosting social services, ...

Did conservatives in the U.K. in the late 1950s used to be more like American liberals are today? If so, when did they change? I thought that British conservatives were for more defense spending and less social service spending.

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Not really. while superficially the polices my seem similar, both the context, ideology and long-term goals of both groups are/were very different. The Tories of the late 1950's felt constrained by the post war consensus of the UK requiring both support of the welfare state as well as the winding down of the British Empire. However the Tory party would still pursue deregulation (which is the opposite of American liberals) and still sought to project power abroad such as during the Suez Crisis and the creation nuclear weapons program both of which would be frowned upon by American liberals.That being said the party was much more moderate then it is today and that change was a product of the Thatcher administration that was more ideologically focused and more aggressive in implementation of Tory policy. Additionally in the context of social values both on things like race, class, sexual identity the Tory party of the 1950's was completely at odds with today's American liberals.

Often times very different groups can come to similar policy outcomes in different contexts

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/thatcherism_01.shtml

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/27/britain-black-power-movement-risk-forgotten-historians

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/timeline/present_timeline_noflash.shtml

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harold-Macmillan

https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/harold-macmillan

https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/anthony-eden

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  • +1 Also One-nation conservatism, which dates back to the ninetenth century, emphasised social responsibilty (in a paternalistic form), and was also swept aside by Thatcherism. Apr 9 '20 at 10:55

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