Tag Archives: Gladstone

The beacons of change

There is controversy around the decision to rename Gladstone Hall at Liverpool University, citing the fact that Gladstone’s family earned their wealth on the back of the slave trade and that as a young Tory politician, in 1831 Gladstone spoke in favour of compensating slave traders for the loss of their income.

It is my understanding that the decision to rename Gladstone Hall was taken democratically within the rules of the Liverpool University, and I find myself on the same side of this debate as the Gladstone Library who have stated that:

… if it is the democratic will, after due process, to remove statues of William Gladstone, our founder, we would not stand in the way. Nor, we think, would Gladstone himself – who worked tirelessly on behalf of democratic change.

That said, it is important that we do not in this act, or in calls for the removal of other statues, fail to acknowledge that people can change; indeed the cause of Black Lives Matter is entirely dependent upon that ability for people to change if we are to eradicate both the conscious and unconscious bias in our society today.

For that reason it is important that we reflect on the fact that Gladstone’s politics changed under the influence of people such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, so much so that by 1841 he opposed the equalisation of the duty on foreign and colonial sugar in the belief that that equalisation would aid the slave trade.  The evidence is that he was by this time campaigning against slavery, indeed by 1850 he was a changed man when in Parliament he described slavery as “by far the foulest crime that taints the history of mankind in any Christian or pagan country.”

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Gladstone’s first government

Looking for something to take your mind off Brexit? The Liberal Democrat History Group can help! One hundred fifty years and six weeks ago, on 3 December 1868, William Ewart Gladstone took office as Prime Minister at the head of what can reasonably be accounted as both the first identifiably Liberal government and the first modern administration.

Gladstone was eventually to serve as Prime Minister on four separate occasions. The most famous, recognisable and enduring of all the Liberal Party’s leaders, he dominated British politics for more than thirty years. He brought to the leadership of the party and the labours of ministerial office a physical and mental temperament unequalled among former prime ministers. A voracious reader and bibliophile, who found leisure in his closely argued studies of the classical poets Homer and Dante, he also had a passion for physical labour, expressed in walking, estate work at Hawarden (his wife’s family home in north Wales), and tree-felling.

As Chancellor during the 1850s, he established his reputation for prudent financial innovation by replacing taxes on goods and customs duties with a progressive income tax and established parliamentary accountability for government spending. He swept away import duties on hundreds of products and established free trade almost as an article of faith. Although firmly devoted to the Church of England, he won strong support from Nonconformists for his attitude to religious questions, which at that time affected basic liberties as well as such matters as education.

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