Several years ago I was at an academic conference where the journalist Nick Cohen was a keynote speaker. Part of the way through his talk he paused in the middle of a sentence, looked up, scoured the room and declared: “of course there can’t be any Conservatives left in academia anyway". Whether or not there is a dearth of conservatism on campus, there is certainly a vibrant research community looking at the Conservative Party in politics departments across the UK. The most obvious manifestation of this is the "Conservatives and Conservatism" specialist group of the Political Studies Association, established only in late 2008 by Tim Bale of Sussex University.
One recent event advertised on the group’s website was a conference at the University of Leeds on April 4th, entitled "Cameron and the Conservatives: The Transition to Coalition Government" organised by Timothy Heppell and David Seawright. I was not involved in the conference or its organization, but went along to observe and join in discussion, along with a good many others.
Beginning detailed academic analysis of a government less than a year after it has been formed is full of pitfalls – not least the risk that academics slip into punditry. However, the quality and breadth of opinion that was represented by the scholars at this event – including such luminaries as Philip Norton and Andrew Gamble meant that this really was a benchmark contribution to the study of the Coalition in government. This is not the right forum for a detailed analysis of each speaker’s contribution, but there were several points raised during the day that are worth taking note of, either because they furthered debate, or added new insights.