Tag Archives: william ewart gladstone

Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part one

Conservative Party logoPart 1: From the 2019 Constituency Revolt to the 1846 Corn Law Split, and back

In its April 22th coverage of the Tory Constituency Party leaders’ revolt in demanding an “Extraordinary General Meeting” to shake May’s throne, the BBC inserted the link to its article from August 2018 about how, between the Chequers Cabinet Brexit Agreement and May’s disastrous Tory 2018 Autumn Conference, a Hard Brexit revolt started brewing in the Tory grassroots.

That 2018 article, by BBC researcher Georgia Roberts, referred to the Tory party Conference revolt of 1950, right after the general election that slashed Labours massive majority, when the Tory grassroots “educated the platform” by pushing through the “build 300.000 houses a year”-target for its 1951 election manifesto (whereas the Tory front bench had reacted to Attlee’s nationalization drive by retreating from state direction). That promise turned out to be extremely popular, election-winning (for Churchill, and later Macmillan), and long remembered. Previewing the 2018 Tory Autumn Conference, Roberts wonders if it will see a similar “educating” Brexiteer uprising; it halfway did.

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Carswell, Brexit and Gladstone

As we know, there were several fairly eccentric and spurious reasons given by the Leave side for supporting Brexit last summer. One of the most bizarre reasons, however, is that made by erstwhile UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, that it represented the fulfilment of the legacy of Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, perhaps our greatest political forerunner as Liberal Democrats. It needs challenging.

According to Roy Jenkins’ 1995 biography, Gladstone did as much to define Britain’s Victorian golden era as the Queen herself. Nonetheless, his name is only vaguely recognised today-– he died in 1898, on the cusp of recorded sound and in 2002 he was not even included in the BBC list of 100 greatest Britons. Despite this contemporary obscurity, and total lack of importance in the referendum (compared to promises of a reinvigorated NHS), the Gladstone-Brexit argument is no less peculiar – and perhaps all the more revealing.

Carswell, and certain Brexit allies across the Tory Party, have frequently cited Gladstone as an inspiration. On April 19th last year:

It’s because UKIP is the closest party to Gladstonian liberalism today that this picture of the Grand Old Man appears in our Welsh manifesto. UKIP – like Gladstone – stands for freedom. Like him, we’re against a big, intrusive state.

Carswell keeps Gladstone’s painting in his office.

Gladstone’s career is too epic to effectively summarise– he spent 63 years as MP and 19 as Chancellor, and is the only person to have served as PM four separate times. Nonetheless, there are six clear ideas in his long life, which suggest somewhere behind a famously stern poise, he would be wincing with us in fear, bemusement and embarrassment at Britain’s upcoming Brexit disaster.

First, and most important, Gladstone was British history’s greatest advocate for free trade. He broke with the Tory party in 1846, because it would not support his mentor Robert Peel’s efforts to reduce tariffs on corn. Their triumph helped the emerging working and middle classes-build railways and initiate a second industrial revolution- whilst it hit the sclerotic land owning gentry.

1846 and 2016 have often been compared, lately by The Economist (set up in 1843 as an anti-Corn Law pamphlet) and many others, as triumphs and disasters over the same issues of British free trade. Whilst Carswell sometimes vaguely spoke of “soft Brexit” as a path to Free trade – this now looks forlorn, just as was obvious before last June for those of us in the Remain campaign. As George Osborne recently observed, leaving the Single Market would appear “the biggest act of protectionism in history”.

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David Rendel 1949-2016

David Rendel on Newbury Town Hall steps - Some rights reserved  by Martin TodAs we reported earlier, former Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel has died aged 67.

David was born in 1949 in Athens, Greece. His father was a foreign correspondent for The Times, and he was a great-grandson of civil engineer Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel, and a great-great-nephew of Liberal MP Stuart Rendel, the first Baron Rendel, a benefactor of William Gladstone, as noted in Roy Jenkins’ book “Gladstone: A Biography”.

David was educated first at Horris Hill school, Newtown, Hampshire, and then as a scholar at Eton College. He spent 14 months as a volunteer teacher in Cameroon and Uganda with Voluntary Service Overseas. Afterwards he went to Magdalen College and St Cross College, Oxford where he gained a degree in Physics and Philosophy and rowed in the record-breaking Boat Race crew of 1974.

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown – ‘I used to think the party of Gladstone would end with Ashdown’

Today’s Telegraph has an interview with Paddy Ashdown, timed to promote his new TV documentary The Most Courageous Raid of WWII.

From the BBC:

Lord Ashdown, a former special forces commando, tells the story of the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’, who led one of the most daring and audacious commando raids of World War II… Lord Ashdown recreates parts of the raid and explains how this experience was used in preparing for one of the greatest land invasions in history, D-day.

As well as the documentary, Lord Ashdown’s Telegraph interview covers Europe, the Liberal Democrats and the art of compromise:

When Ashdown became leader

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