Robert Buckland: This focus on shrinking the state is out of date. Voters have moved on from the 1980s. So should our party.

7 Jan

Robert Buckland is MP for South Swindon, and is a former Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor.

Politics in recent years has seemed to be all unprecedented challenges. This is undeniably true, but in many ways, history continues to repeat itself. Once upon a general election, an old Etonian Prime Minister with more than a touch of showman about him and who campaigned with a heavy dose of optimism, support for public services, an unapologetic appeal beyond strong cultural divisions and a distinct sense that our best days lay ahead won 365 seats right across our nation from Hartlepool to Swansea West. I am of course talking about 1959.

For Tory leaders from the 19th century onwards, the strong sense that we are the “national” party has been the golden thread linking everything together. It was of course Disraeli who famously said that the “Tory Party is a national party or it is nothing”. As Tory Unionism grew stronger in the ensuring years, this concept of the party representing all parts of the Kingdom and not just England became stronger too.

All true Conservatives would have shared a sense a pride and excitement as we captured Scottish seats in 2017 and then made huge advances in Wales and the North of England in 2019, which is why any sense of confusion or uneasiness about the party’s current configuration of Parliamentary seats and support is not just misplaced, but bizarre and contrary to our traditions.

Understanding the world as it is, not as we would ideally like it to be, is a fundamental tenant of practical Conservatism. Will Tanner from Onward was correct in a recent article in which he highlighted that the existing coalition of likely Tory voters are to the right on culture and the left marginally on economic issues. They want toughness on crime and illegal immigration, whilst also expecting greater investment into our public services and local communities.

As we embark upon the new year, it is worth reflecting upon the pools of ink that have been spilt by commentators, either lamenting about or salivating over seemingly irreconcilable divisions between the apparent ideology of the Conservative Party and the voters that we now represent. We are solemnly told that Boris Johnson faces an impossible task in trying to reconcile the two.

This thesis is based upon two fundamental flaws. First, it makes the assumption that Toryism is frozen in some sort of mid-1980s state, and that it is driven by nothing more than free markets and shrinking the size of the state. Second, it makes the assumption that voters in different parts of the country are entirely separate species, as detached from each other as if they come from Venus and Mars respectively.

Fortunately for the Conservatives, neither assumption is true. To suggest, as was done after the Chesham and Amersham by-election, that voters in the South of England are somehow more “sophisticated” than voters elsewhere was not only insulting, but just plain wrong. This year, as we turn our focus increasingly towards the next general election, we need clarity of leadership and seriousness of purpose to reject this notion and refocus our collective efforts on appealing to our new coalition of voters.

Up and down our country, people are looking out for the delivery of promises made, so it is sensible to look again at what was written in the 2019 manifesto. Already, we are delivering on many of the key pledges, such as record-breaking NHS funding, 50,000 more nurses, 20,000 more police officers and tougher sentencing. Major immigration reforms are going through Parliament, and as promised we are seeing millions more per week being invested in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure.

Even before the onset of Covid-19, the Conservatives were warming up for a degree of state intervention that had not been contemplated for a generation. The unprecedented set of measures taken by this government during the pandemic was an eloquent demonstration of the death of ideology and its replacement with the politics of practical action.

When it comes to the clear manifesto pledge to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, what unites voters in all corners of the country is the need to create more secure and sustainable sources of energy than fossil fuels whose supplies can be turned on and off by the likes of Russia. Greener energy sources mean greater energy security and self-sufficiency too, which is an aim that I believe is very much shared by the new coalition of Conservative suppporters.

The fact that millions of jobs and thousands of businesses survived, together with the NHS and our other public services, should be our message to voters that in extremely large measure, we were there for them in their time of greatest need. As a result, there can be no doubt about the Tory commitment to our public services.

Our opponents are fighting the battles of the past on this, whilst ignoring the real task, which has to be a relentless focus on value for money, particularly in the NHS. We have grasped the nettle of social care reform, but if the National Insurance rise this Spring is to mean anything, we have to see hard evidence that these funds will be used for social care once the Covid-19 health backlog has been dealt with. This is what voters will be looking for come the next election, and rightly so too.

A more unwelcome parallel with that historic 1959 win was that the Government was eventually laid low by a series of scandals that demonstrated a sense that it was no longer in touch with the people it was serving. With seriousness of purpose and a strong commitment to competent delivery, we can learn from history, maintain our great coalition and go on to even greater things as the 2020’s march forward. Less hand-wringing and more elbow grease is what is needed now.

Richard Brabner: How Disraeli’s One Nation vision can bolster the university sector

20 Dec

Richard Brabner is the Director of the UPP Foundation, a charity which works in the higher education sector, and over a decade ago worked for a couple of Conservative MPs in Parliament.

As well as criticise universities on cultural issues, in recent years some Conservatives have become sceptical of market reforms to higher education too.

Universities – which got used to the cultural and economic liberalism under Blair and the Coalition – have struggled to grapple with this ‘post-liberal’ shift.

Coming from the university world, it won’t surprise any readers that I don’t fully subscribe to the critics’ view, which is at times binary, lacking in nuance and too dismissive of the choices students make.

But underlying their challenge is a truth. Universities benefit and are valued more by the professional classes than those from working-class backgrounds. Ultimately this is driving much of the scepticism toward universities and is something the sector must change.

Benjamin Disraeli said it was on ‘the education of the people that the fate of this country depends’. He understood, like many guardians of the One Nation flame who came after, that unlocking potential and expanding opportunity is a cornerstone to a just society.

In that vein, the Higher Education Policy Institute recently published my vision for a One Nation University. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between the university sector which continues to do so much good, and fellow Conservatives who are increasingly sceptical of higher education. It is a paper based on spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community.

These are the key points for Conservatives to consider.

1) Spreading opportunity by extending choice to local students

The higher education market works well for most students, but there are important issues which need to be resolved to ensure it works well for all learners.

The removal of the cap on the number of undergraduates a university can recruit was one of the best reforms from the last decade. It meant more young people going to their first-choice university, and increased access for the disadvantaged.

But we can only keep an open system if we control the costs. Currently the taxpayer subsidy for loans is well over 50 per cent (much more than the 30 per cent envisaged when higher fees were introduced). To ensure fairness for taxpayers and future students, graduates need to pay back more of their loans.

There is also an issue with the market related to ‘place’ and the levelling-up agenda. Extending choice for school leavers undertaking the typical residential model has been at the expense of working-class students who need to study locally.

This manifests itself in the failure of the market to respond to the needs of working adult learners who need to study in the evening or weekend, subject availability and choice for local students who want to study unpopular but valuable subjects (like modern foreign languages) and how financially vulnerable institutions are supported – particularly in less advantaged areas with little higher education provision.

A system led by student choice inevitably means some universities are winners and others lose out. The answer is not to reimpose restrictions on choice for school leavers, but for government to use its levers to extend choice for students who are restricted to studying locally. Among several recommendations, the paper calls for an evening university like Birkbeck in every region to support working adults, and changing the role of the regulator to prioritise the geographic spread of higher education.

Many Conservative MPs get this, with strong support for new higher education in places where provision is limited (such as Jesse Norman championing NMITE in Hereford, and Paul Bristow supporting the development of ARU Peterborough).

2) Overcoming the culture wars through civility and thought diversity

Support for universities is weaker among older people, those who voted Leave and the working classes, but a One Nation University will strive to be valued by all in society.

Ultimately this is down to the sector to change, but Conservatives can too often fall into the trap of making this worse when we focus on the trivial – like a painting of the Queen being taken down in the Oxford common room. Large swathes of the higher education community then just think this is just bad faith arguments from people who don’t like them. Instead, we need to work in partnership and focus on the substantial, such as how universities engage people who do not share their dominant values, and how those with minority opinions in the academy are treated.

A key issue to focus on is the interplay between civility and thought diversity. Universities – like the rest of society – are not immune from polarisation and the general weakening of civil norms (as any trawl of academic twitter would testify). And while causation is difficult to untangle, common sense suggests this impacts ‘chilling effects’ in the academy, where staff and students with minority views feel unable to express them.

One idea is to establish a Heterodox Academy for England. This organisation could support practice, develop leadership training programmes and consultancy on how thought diversity should be protected and considered within recruitment and progression practices. It could also produce guidance around social media use for academics.

3) Building community

Danny Kruger and think tanks like Onward have shown how important community and belonging are to all parts of society.

University is no different. The relationships and ties formed as part of a full student experience (independent living, trying extra-curricular activities and so on) are key to building social capital and tackling an epidemic of loneliness amongst the student body.

But we currently have a ‘two nations’ student experience, with those from working-class backgrounds less likely to fully participate than their middle-class peers. The pandemic has inevitably made this worse, and there is a huge amount universities can do to rebuild the student experience, such as embed local work experience and volunteering within the curriculum (which is common in the US).

Working alongside or within the Kickstart programme, government could also look to develop an ‘Americorps’ style Student Community Service Programme, which would have a real focus on ensuring working class students are able to take part. Not only would this help individual students, but the programme’s activities would help to revitalise local communities and help bridge town-gown and generational divides.

Daniel Hannan: Through their intimidating fervour, woke hardliners are pushing our Enlightenment values to the brink

8 Dec

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

What do you see in the above image? It’s a self-portrait by William Hogarth from the late 1750s, in which he sits palette in hand, absorbed in the work of painting the Muse of Comedy. An apt theme for the bawdy satirist, you might think. But the curators of the Hogarth exhibition currently on at Tate Britain could see only one thing – slavery, supposedly embodied in the curved mahogany chair:

“The chair is made from timber shipped from the colonies, via routes which also shipped enslaved people. Could the chair also stand-in for all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity?”

Seriously? That’s what you see? I suppose, if you are determined enough, you will find racism everywhere – even in works by an 18th-century London artist who had no connection with slavery and whose political views tended towards radicalism.

The fact that Hogarth was no slaver does not deter the woke inquisitors of Tate Britain (whose chair, talking of chairs, is Roland Rudd). Nor does his humane and often sympathetic portrayal of the handful of black characters who make it into his works. Hogarth was satirising the world he knew, and many of his black subjects appear as servants in grand houses, looking out on scenes of upper-class degeneracy. He occasionally gives them the tiniest hint of a sardonic smile, as if they alone understand what is going on.

What might have been an interesting exhibition that set Hogarth (who was, for want of a better shorthand, a Eurosceptic) within the context of contemporary Continental trends instead descends into a harangue against the man it is meant to celebrate.

Where you or I might see, for example, a room filled with comical drunks, the show’s curators prissily tell us that “the punch they drink and the tobacco they smoke are material links to a wider world of commerce, exploitation and slavery”.

Where you or I might see, at the end of the Rake’s Progress, a young dandy brought so low that he ends up in a madhouse, the authors of the wall text see a white man “shackled and near naked, like the enslaved African”.

Where you or I might see, in Marriage A-la-Mode, a morality tale about a faithless couple, the authors see “overall a picture of White degeneracy”

Consider this image above: Southwark Fair, painted in 1733. Again, what do you see? A rumbustious outdoor crowd, yes? A vivid portrayal of ordinary people carousing noisily and chaotically? Well, reader, check your privilege. The young black boy playing the trumpet in the foreground might look as if he is joining the fun. But apparently “the dog makes a racist juxtaposition with the trumpeter”.

And what happened to the canvass itself, hmm? It turns out that “Hogarth’s Southwark Fair, painted for Mary Edwards, was subsequently owned by William Atherton, who joint-owned two plantations in Jamaica”. Hogarth might as well have fashioned the coffles himself, eh?

“All is race, there is no other truth,” says a character in one of Disraeli’s novels. That sentiment, already slightly nutty when Dizzy penned it in the 1840s, was utterly discredited a century later. But it is making an unlikely comeback in the Anglosphere.

Everything – absolutely everything – is nowadays seen through the prism of race. Horatio Nelson is judged, not as the man who sank our enemies’ fleets, but as someone who failed to support an abolitionist measure in the House of Lords. Jane Austen (a strong abolitionist) is condemned because her clergyman father (also an abolitionist) would have become the trustee of a plantation had a friend of his died – which he didn’t. Every work of art, music and literature is judged by standards which, in effect, damn every white man born before the First World War.

The oddest thing about this monomania is its timing. I understand people becoming obsessed with slavery at the height of the campaign for abolition. I understand people seeing things in racial terms while fighting for desegregation. But why now, at a time when (at least before the rise of BLM last year) race relations had never been better?

I know optimism about race infuriates wokies, but take pretty much any measure you want – mixed marriages, mixed neighbourhoods, violence, composition of Parliament and Cabinet, public attitudes towards immigration, acceptability of racist language – and find me a less bigoted decade.

Why then, when slavery still exists in parts of Asia and Africa, are we so preoccupied with Britain’s past participation in the trade? After all, we don’t extend the same test to anyone else. Go to an exhibition of Chinese or Arab or Russian art and you won’t be lectured about how everything you see is the product of forced labour. No, our obsession is purely – and paradoxically – with the country that poured its blood and treasure into a campaign to end the slave trade.

I fear the monomania is precisely the attraction. The experience of many ages teaches us that people respond to simplicity and certainty. From Marxism to Salafist extremism, we are drawn to creeds that allow us to interpret everything, from marriage to music, through a sacred precept. The very unreasonableness of the creed turns out to be part of its appeal, giving devotees a sense that they are set apart from the run of humanity.

The devotees may be few in number, but their intimidating fervour allows them to set the agenda. Just as the Bolshevists pulled behind them mainstream Russian socialists (who had had enough of Tsarist tyranny) and just as the jihadis pulled behind them peaceful Muslims (who had had enough of secular dictators), so woke hardliners exert a pull on moderate Leftists who have little time for cancel culture, but who don’t like to line up with conservative opponents of identity politics.

Thus, one by one, the Enlightenment values that we have taken for granted since Hogarth’s age are extinguished. A long night stretches before us.

David Willetts: New businesses, faster connections, better data, tighter security. There are so many reasons to commit to Space.

19 Nov

Lord Willetts is President of the Advisory Council and Intergenerational Centre of the Resolution Foundation. He is a former Minister for Universities and Science.

Britain can emerge from Covid more confident of what our scientists can do, more innovative, and hence more prosperous. That means backing the key technologies of the future. In the past, we have failed to exploit them.

One reason is that public funding has stopped too soon, before a new technology is fully commercial. Other countries, notably America, continue to provide public backing to support new technologies for much longer, reinforced with smart procurement. I have met American tech entrepreneurs with a contract to sell their new product to the Federal Government long before the first one had been successfully produced. It is all part of securing America’s lead in key technologies.

As Science Minister, I identified eight great technologies where Britain had a comparative advantage and there were global business opportunities. We backed them with funding to help get them to market and several unicorns, worth over £1 billion, have emerged as a result. They would not be thriving today in Britain were it not for that early support. Now Kwasi Kwarteng has identified seven key technologies which I hope he will be backing after the boost to science and technology funding in the Budget.

Space is a key one of these commercial opportunities in high tech for the UK. There is something special and exciting about space. Look at how Tim Peake has become a national hero. Attitudes to space tell us something important about a country’s willingness to look outwards. Britain was one of the original leaders in the space race. The Americans launched our first satellite for us 60 years ago (and subsequently disabled it with an atmospheric nuclear test). We launched our own satellite for the first and last time from Woomera 50 years ago.

Sadly, we then made the mistake of thinking of space as a useless luxury which wasn’t for us. You can still see on the Isle of Wight the decaying remains of a British rocket testing facility.

But Space is actually a key part of the infrastructure of a twenty-first century nation. Satellites collect the data that determine our weather forecasts. They enable us to track climate change and monitor natural disasters like floods. They give each one of us accurate information about exactly where and when we are. They synchronise financial transactions. They help our utilities to operate. They enable us to communicate across the globe.

Even through the decades when public interest and support was low, Britain’s entrepreneurs continued to do their bit. We don’t have the capacity to launch any rockets – at least not yet. So we had to hitch a ride on someone else’s launch vehicle (no wonder a Brit was the author of the wonderful Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). That meant we had an incentive to develop lighter cheaper satellites where we are now a world leader.

And this gives us an opportunity. The new space race is to launch constellations of small satellites – hundreds if not thousands of them in low Earth orbit (LEO). Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Prime Minister’s boldest move to get us ahead in that race, when the deal was concluded taking a stake in OneWeb which is developing such a constellation.

These LEO constellations have crucial advantages. Because they are much closer to Earth than traditional big satellites much further away, the signal travels so fast that the problem of the slight time delay, latency, disappears.

This matters if you are running a B and B in the Scottish Highlands or starting a business in the West Country – or indeed if you are a teenager in Cumbria trying to play a video game with a broadband link only available by satellite. OneWeb has entered a partnership with BT to deliver the manifesto pledge of broadband access in remote areas.

OneWeb was put on the market because of the financial difficulties of its main investor SoftBank. More than ten percent of its constellation was already up in orbit – putting it ahead of the competition. And its headquarters are not in the American West Coast or a corner of Shenzhen, but in that hot-bed of high tech Shepherds Bush, London W12.

The Prime Minister decided that the British Government should bid and, in partnership with the Indian mobile phone operator Bharti Airtel, together paid $1 billion. Investors from France, US, Korea and Japan followed Britain’s lead, and now OneWeb has $2.6 billion of funding so it can complete its first constellation.

It is already more than halfway there, so the UK is now second only to the US for the number of satellites we operate. OneWeb should be providing a service North of 50 degrees in the next few months and a full global service by the end of next year.

The deal is already paying off, and the Treasury has made a healthy profit. But, even so, is it a dangerous encroachment of the state into business? We are only doing the kind of things America does all the time. Elon Musk is a great entrepreneur, but look at the funding he gets from the American Government in grants, soft loans and guaranteed contracts.

Governments can’t plan the economy sector by sector and intervene in every one. But it is an important role of Government to make some big strategic decisions about key technologies to invest in. They won’t all come right, but when they do they yield fantastic long term benefits. And these technologies are inherently disruptive – they aren’t propping up old industries. Indeed, they are often a new competitive threat to big incumbents.

The first generation of the satellites are being manufactured in Florida, but the real opportunity comes with the second generation planned for service in the next five years or so. Developing these could create a British supply chain. We need big UK-based primes which can place the contracts that help our successful small start-ups to scale up and reach the big time.

Becoming a serious player in Space is the kind of strategic decision which governments have to take. The Prime Minister may have been inspired by the example of his great predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli who faced a similar choice. The Egyptian Khedive, owner of the Suez Canal, had gone bankrupt. The Canal had been constructed by the French and the expectation was that they would obtain it.

But Disraeli swooped and bought half the company from the Khedive for £4 million (borrowed from Rothschild’s). It was a crucial reinforcement of our links to India. Gladstone was outraged, of course – but Queen Victoria loved it and the bold strategic move commanded wide support and helped keep Britain as a global power. Now there is a similar chance to be a world leader in today’s most important space race – for small satellite constellations.

There are national security angles to this. American and China have long seen technology this way, but we have been wary.  Last week’s test by Russia of an anti-satellite weapon was a signal to the West that it sees our capability in this area, which it cannot match, as of real strategic significance. The Prime Minister’s new Science and Technology Council crucially brings security and economic aspects of technology together.

We have a space industry stretching from Goonhilly in Cornwall to the North of Scotland. It encompasses Guildford Harwell, Leicester and Glasgow. It is a truly national endeavour and, with this investment in a world-leading LEO, constellation it achieves global significance.

Adrian Lee: Why Russell Kirk, the Tory bohemian, deserves to be read and treasured by all Conservatives

23 Oct

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

In the 1950s William F. Buckley Jr emerged as Conservatism’s greatest exponent in the American media and galvanised a generation of activists to oppose the seemingly inevitable drift towards social democracy.

However, another unique and significant thinker simultaneously emerged and would become, as biographer Bradley Birzer commented “…the intellectual touchstone of the conservative movement”: Russell Kirk.

Russell Amos Kirk was someone of very different character and background to Buckley. In many respects, Kirk resembled our own Roger Scruton in both approach and political instincts. In physical stature he was short, which was commented upon by neo-conservative icon Leo Strauss at their first meeting, when he exclaimed “Oh, Mr. Kirk! I am so happy to find that you’re little too! From your books, I had feared that you might be a great, tall, fierce man.”

For many years, Kirk worked as a columnist for Buckley’s National Review. A member of staff commented: “…he seldom visited the National Review offices, but when he did, the staff met a plump fellow with a kindly face wearing a cape, a black wide-brimmed, floppy felt hat, a gold-plated stickpin in his necktie and carrying a sword cane.”

Kirk was born in Plymouth, Michigan, 103 years ago, on October 19, 1918. He was the son of a humble railway engineer and grew up in a prefabricated house (ordered from a Sears, Roebuck catalogue) located besides the tracks and close to the marshalling yards. Kirk attended a state school and studied for his first degree at Michigan State College.

For his Master’s, Kirk re-located to Duke University in North Carolina and completed a dissertation on the life of nineteenth century Virginian politician, John Randolph of Roanoke. After serving in the U.S. Army during the War (mostly in a dreary army camp in the Utah desert), Kirk was determined to return to university to obtain his Phd.

At this stage, a life of academia beckoned and he was soon employed as a lecturer in the history of civilisation at Michigan State College. The college allowed Kirk a leave of absence to study for his Phd. and Kirk’s choice of academic institution was St. Andrews University, Scotland. Kirk became enchanted by St. Andrews, calling it “the cosiest university in the world” and for the rest of his life he would spend several months each year in Scotland. His interest in British Conservatism deepened as a result and he discovered his life-long muse, Edmund Burke.

Unsurprisingly, Conservative philosophy was the subject of his thesis. When completed, Kirk re-edited the thesis and wrote to an American publishing house offering an astonishingly detailed, 500-page manuscript on the evolution of Conservative thought in Britain and America. His book was accepted and was first published in 1953 under the title of The Conservative Mind – From Burke to T.S.Eliot.

This seminal work deserves to be read and treasured by all Conservatives. It comprises a series of chapters examining the works of different cultural, philosophical and political Conservatives. Subjects examined included such diverse figures as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Walter Scott, Samuel Coleridge, Alexis de Tocqueville, Walter Bagehot, Benjamin Disraeli, Arthur Balfour and W.H. Mallock.

Kirk begins by asking “What is the essence of British and American Conservatism?” He answers: “Strictly speaking, Conservatism is not a political system, and certainly not an ideology. It is a way of looking at civic social order.”

The author then identifies the 10 principles of Conservatism, as follows:

  1. The Conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
  2. The Conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
  3. Conservatives believe in the principle of prescription – that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that man runneth not to the contrary.
  4. Conservatives are guided by the principle of prudence.
  5. Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.
  6. Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
  7. Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
  8. Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
  9. The Conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  10. The thinking Conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognised and reconciled in a vigorous society.

Kirk had little to say about economics and even contemporary politics in The Conservative Mind. His mission was to prove that Conservatism was a largely Anglo-American creed that first and foremost acted to conserve, to preserve and to pass on to future generations the best of humane traditions, rather than to advocate a rigid ideology or political party. He emphasised the spiritual nature of the individual, an acceptance of the mystery of human existence and the acknowledgement that innovation must be tied to traditions and customs.

Kirk’s parents were Protestants, but in his youth his faith went adrift, and he preferred to emphasise his stoicism. Later he re-discovered his spiritual side and became an ardent Christian Humanist. His religious convictions and the belief that Judeo-Christianity provided western civilisation’s moral foundation led to a close friendship with T.S. Eliot. Both men believed that for society to flourish in the future “permanent things” had to be defended in the present. After Eliot’s death, Kirk was to author the first comprehensive study of his works, Eliot and His Age: T.S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century.

Later in life, Kirk followed up The Conservative Mind with a history of the development of western civilisation entitled The Roots of American Order, in which he argued that the intellectual underpinnings of modern western society lay in the cultures of five cities: Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and Philadelphia.

The Conservative Mind was instantly successful and provided American Conservatives with a sense of history and philosophy. In 1956, Time magazine named Kirk as one of the 15 most important American intellectuals. Washington Post columnist Sidney Blumenthal commented in 1986 that The Conservative Mind “…was crucial in establishing the cause as a valid intellectual enterprise” because it “offered a genealogy of Conservatism.”

Kirk lived as a “Tory Bohemian” and worked from his eccentric home, Piety Hill, in Mecosta, Michigan. There he converted a toy factory into his library and built an Italianate house adorned with sculptures rescued from demolished buildings in Western Michigan. Kirk dwelt there with his wife and four daughters and frequently hosted refugees from communist countries.

Russell Kirk authored 20 further non-fiction books, three novels and some 3,000 weekly columns. He also became a noted author of ghost stories and horror fiction. Indeed, so esteemed was he that he was invited to become an honorary member of the Count Dracula Society and frequently attended their meetings in southern California.

Regarding his later political works, of particular note is Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered, America’s British Culture and The Portable Conservative Reader. Kirk had no interest in becoming a political activist, despite writing speeches for both Barry Goldwater and Pat Buchanan in campaigns two decades apart. However, his influence upon the growing American Conservative movement was pivotal and in 1989 Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal.

On his 103rd birthday, Russell Kirk’s work should be read by all Conservatives. He identified a Conservatism distinct from libertarianism and nationalism that valued a moral order rooted in faith and tradition. In doing so, Kirk demonstrated that Conservative values provide the essential foundation for a free and prosperous future.

Interview with Kwasi Kwarteng: “My job is to make us not lose sight of the fact that we are Conservatives”

1 Oct

Eloquent, ebullient and frequently bursting into laughter, Kwasi Kwarteng did not look as he gave this interview yesterday morning like a minister in the middle of a crisis.

He is confident the petrol supply situation is “getting better”. Britain, he says, is making the transition from a low-wage economy with high immigration to a high-wage economy, which is what people wanted when they voted for Brexit, and although various business associations are resisting this change, it will happen quite rapidly.

As Business Secretary, Kwarteng is opposed to tax rises: “I don’t believe we can tax our way to wealth.” He calls himself “a pragmatic Thatcherite”, outlines how that philosophy can meet present-day challenges, and expresses no sympathy for gas suppliers who have got into difficulties: “Why on earth did they enter the market?”

Kwarteng communicated the genial toughness which is evidently intended to characterise the Johnson Government’s approach to business, with those who merely want to preserve the status quo granted no sympathy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, pronounced “Bays”) is housed in a dreary modern building at the end of Victoria Street, but from Kwarteng’s office on the eighth floor enjoys a spectacular view of Westminster Abbey.

He said that unlike Angela Rayner, he would never use the word “scum” to describe political opponents, and neither would Boris Johnson. In Kwarteng’s view, it is sometimes best just to stand back and let the Labour Party argue with itself about subjects which are of no interest to most people:

“I think the best approach is for us just to simply allow the Left to have these incredible navel-gazing debates on identity politics, because actually Critical Race Theory is not something that comes up on the doorstep, it’s not something that’s going to put food on anyone’s table.”

Kwarteng, profiled on ConHome after his appointment in January, said his department is not there to act as “a cash dispenser”, but to enable private investment. He is heartened to have confounded the head of Goldman Sachs, who predicted that after Brexit no one would invest in Britain.

The Business Secretary began by discussing what should happen in the coming days in Manchester:

ConHome: “What’s the conference all about?”

Kwarteng: “The conference is about focussing us to win the next election. It’s only two and a half years, tops, until May ’24, and we’ve got to focus obviously on trying to consolidate our coalition, and that’s all about economic opportunity, that’s all about the Prime Minister’s phrase talent is everywhere but opportunity is still focussed in a few areas.

“And that’s the intuition behind the levelling up, that phrase, if you like.

“My job is to make us not lose sight of the fact that we are Conservatives. We believe in markets, we believe in individual responsibility, we believe in the ingenuity of the individual to come up with ideas that can transform society.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to make that voice heard, when we’ve had all the interventions that we’ve seen with respect to the Covid response.

“And just to illustrate that, I was elected in 2010 and the deficit then was £160 billion, something like that, and it seemed like a huge amount of money, we were talking about Greece, we were talking about bankruptcy.

“We’ve just spent in one year, ’20-’21, £350 billion on Covid support, well over twice what the deficit was. And no one batted an eyelid.

“And there’s that great phrase in one of my favourite books, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, and he says that before the war we spent millions, after the war we spent hundreds of millions, and we discovered we were all so much richer, so [laughing] it was a completely different order of spending and nothing bad happened.

“And our job I think is to try to get back to some kind of – and I know the Chancellor’s very much on this – to try to get back to some sort of fiscal discipline.

“But it’s hard. There are lots of competing pressures. You saw David Davis say with the foreign aid cuts, their argument was we’ve spent hundreds of billions, what’s a few more million?

“The way I see BEIS, and I’ve talked about this a lot, we can’t see BEIS as a cash dispenser. Officials think of BEIS sometimes as if it’s DWP, or as if it’s the Health Service.

“But it’s an enabler. We should think about the money we spend as enabling private capital investment. If you speak to Michael Heseltine, he’s quite good on this stuff, he talks about his career and he says he was never in a big spending department, he always saw himself in departments which were driving private economic growth and investment.

“So he was Defence Secretary, he was sort of equivalent to Michael Gove, I mean he wouldn’t want me to say…”

ConHome: “Is it too late for you to bring Michael Heseltine back in some form, by the way?”

Kwarteng: “Look, I mean, we have differences over Brexit, I’m not going to bring him back in tomorrow. But he was a great minister, and I enjoy talking to him.”

ConHome: “Brexit was a vote for many things. It was in part a vote for lower migration of a sort, higher wages, a different economic model.

“Isn’t what’s going on with this difficulty with the petrol fundamentally about the sort of economy we want. The road haulage people, like some of the fruit pickers, like some meat processors, basically want to go back to the old ways.

“They want Government to issue hundreds of thousands of visas, and they’re trying to use public pressure to get you to change course.”

Kwarteng: “That’s absolutely right, and I’ve said this a number of times, certainly privately. The reason why constituencies like mine [Spelthorne] voted decisively for Brexit, 60 per cent to 40 per cent, was precisely this issue.

“I remember three weeks before the referendum in 2016, I came out of Staines station and someone came up to me and said ‘I’m voting for Brexit.’

“And I said, ‘Oh, why are you doing that?’

“And he said, ‘Well I haven’t had a wage increase in 15 years,’ and he was someone who worked in the building trade, lots of people do work, certainly in my constituency, in that kind of self-employed, small business, logistics, construction world.

“And that was in his mind what this was all about. And so, having rejected the low-wage, high-immigration model, we were always going to try to transition to something else.

“What we’re seeing now is part of that transition. You’re quite right to say people are resisting that, particularly employers that were benefiting from an influx of labour that could keep wages low.”

ConHome: “Aren’t you therefore in a very difficult political position, because they have a kind of weapon, which is the queue, the shortage.

“All you can do, other than take various emergency measures, is tough it out.”

Kwarteng: “I think this is a transition period. As economists would describe, between Equilibrium A and Equilibrium B there’s always going to be a transition period.

“I think it could be quite short. I think what we’re seeing already is quite a lot of investment in the UK. I’ve got a list on my board of lots of things we’ve announced, of investments.

“The head of Goldman Sachs said to me three years ago, ‘No one’s going to invest in the UK because of Brexit.’

“And then about three months ago I said to him, ‘Look at all the investment.’

“He said, ‘Ah, that’s because your assets are cheap [laughter].’ They can hop on the left foot and then hop on the right.

“And we’re seeing investment, we’re seeing success. You speak to investors around the world, they’re all very interested in Britain.

“Not just because of the success they saw with things like the vaccine rollout, great science base, great intellectual capital, but also they see us as a less highly regulated, if you can believe it, jurisdiction than many others around the world.”

ConHome: “How long will this transition take? Because a counter-argument would be it would take a few years to scale up…”

Kwarteng: “No, no, the whole issue of immigration into the UK was something that happened, this particular issue of immigration from the EU, was something that started in 2004, and completely transformed the way we did our economy.

“In fact, the Romanian extension was in 2013, I remember Mark Reckless and Keith Vaz, they were on the Home Affairs Select Committee, they went down to Luton and welcomed these people.

“And that was only eight years ago, and then three years after that we voted for Brexit. I think in terms of the global economy, I think you can see very rapid shifts.

“I think in a year we could be in a totally different place to where we are today.

“I’ve just been speaking to people in the steel industry and they’re saying there are high steel prices, they think they are going to sell lots of product, Liberty are going to do a financing deal that I’ve read about in the newspaper.

“Three months ago, these people were saying this is a disastrous situation.

“So in terms of the economy, I think things can turn round very very quickly, and in five years’ time I don’t think we’ll be talking about this. We’ll be talking about other things.”

ConHome: “Will petrol stations be back to normal by the…”

Kwarteng: “Yes, they are. I’ve got some data here.” [Cameron Brown, Kwarteng’s special adviser, quickly removed two sheets of paper bearing what look like coloured graphs.]

ConHome: “Is that the hand-out? Is that for us?”

Kwarteng: “I think things are stabilising, is the word we use. And I think it’s getting better. There’s been an intense period of anxiety and a lot of pressure.

“That was an extraordinary thing about the power of the media. If I look back on Monday 20th September, my two issues there were carbon dioxide, and the shortage of it, and the gap with the energy suppliers.

“Those were the two issues. This petrol forecourt thing literally flared up I think on the Thursday, there was a leaked conversation, the thing was splashed in the paper on the Thursday.

“There was a full-blown crisis by the weekend, which is now stabilising, and I am hopeful that it will recede, but let’s see.”

ConHome: “Are there any circumstances in which you could conceivably imagine referring to your political opponents as ‘scum’?”

Kwarteng: “No, never. I don’t know whether she was as they say under the influence, or tired and emotional. I don’t know what that was all about.

“Famously it was Aneurin Bevan who said ‘they are lower than vermin’, but he was sober and that was a deliberate piece of insult.

“I don’t think it’s helpful, talking about scum. I think she’s trying to speak to that visceral tribal anti-Tory thing, to shore up the base, but in terms of the wider electorate, I think that doesn’t really work in Britain, that kind of name-calling.

“I don’t think it’s very prime ministerial. The funny thing is, she tried to say the Prime Minister says these things.

“Boris never says things in anger. All of those phrases, they’re either dressed up in the fancy-dress costume of metaphor, or there’s an ironic thing.

“I can’t remember him at any time in 30 years saying ‘So and so is scum’. There’s no venom in the way he uses words. So I think equating that with the Prime Minister is completely inaccurate. He never abuses people in the way that Angela Rayner did.”

ConHome: “No, he doesn’t. Nor does he say, as you quote Margaret Thatcher saying on page four of your book, Thatcher’s Trial: ‘Moral qualities were the secret of our economic success.’ That’s another thing you can’t imagine Boris Johnson saying.”

Kwarteng: “The whole first part of that book is rooting her philosophy in a kind of Manichean Methodism. That’s intellectual history.”

ConHome: “So what are you? Are you a Thatcherite or a pragmatist?”

Kwarteng: “I’m a pragmatic Thatcherite.”

ConHome: “She was a pragmatic Thatcherite, actually.”

Kwarteng: “She sort of was. The thing that fascinated me about doing research about her is she did have this Manichean, you’re either with us or against us, good/bad, black/white, very binary way of thinking.

“But within that, you’re right, she was pragmatic, and she picked her battles when she could. I’m struck by the way in her first term, everyone says they only got going in the second term, in the first term they did some pretty radical things, like get rid of price controls, get rid of exchange controls – I mean, that was a big deal – and some of the privatisations.

“I think to be a Thatcherite in 1985, and to be a Thatcherite in 2021, are always going to be slightly different things. The context – and this is what I love about history – there’s always a context to these things.

“In 1985, you’re trying, essentially, to denationalise, because you’ve had 40 years of quite sclerotic, unimpressive growth, and a huge expansion of the public sector, that can’t respond to innovation.

“In 2021 we’ve got a triple whammy of Brexit, where we have to think about how we’re going to reorder our legal subsidy control, that sort of stuff; you’ve got Covid, which was an unprecedented situation in which the whole world reacted to a global pandemic in a way it never has done; and then you’ve got the whole Net Zero agenda, which whether I like or not, whether you like it or not, is part of the law of the land, we have a legal obligation to try to decarbonise our economy by 2050.

“So these three things frankly didn’t exist in 1985, and we’ve got to navigate them, and we’ve got to use our ideas, our brains, our philosophy if you like to deal with that situation.”

ConHome: “One of the issues that keeps coming back is tax. In the run-up to the Health and Care package you said ‘I don’t see how we could increase National Insurance’, though to be fair you then made some qualifying remarks after that, to suggest it might be possible.

“The point is, very plainly you really didn’t like it very much.”

“Do you think we’re near the point, with a pretty high tax burden as a percentage of GDP, that we’re basically running out of room to raise taxes?”

Kwarteng: “I will frame my answer to your question, or your thoughts, very broadly.

“I’ve never understood how we incentivise economic activity by increasing tax. I always come back to that. We can talk about raising taxes in the short term to deal with a short-term crisis.

“But broadly, higher tax is basically a tax on economic activity.”

ConHome: “What’s the first thought that comes into your mind when you hear the Chancellor say, ‘We’re going to put up corporation tax?”

Kwarteng: “He is I think doing a fantastic job. It was only just a little bit more than a year ago that people were saying there’s going to be massive unemployment, there’s going to be a huge kind of catastrophe.

“And I think he’s navigated that really nimbly. And that’s all I would say on that.

“But broadly, do I believe in higher taxes? No. I don’t believe we can tax our way to wealth.”

ConHome: “And you don’t think we’re near a point where having put up a number of taxes…”

Kwarteng: “You’re doing a really good job of getting me to stray outside my portfolio [laughter]. But I’m not going to go there. I am a low-tax, small-state, what’s the Gladstonian phrase, let…”

ConHome: “…money fructify in the pockets of the people.”

Kwarteng: “That was very clumsy.”

ConHome: “It’s memorable.”

Kwarteng: “Fructify in the pockets of the people. I’m a great believer in all of that. But you know, he didn’t have to deal with Covid. And actually he probably wouldn’t have bothered. I mean he would just have let the thing rip.”

ConHome: “The present Prime Minister is much more Disraelian, actually.”

Kwarteng: “He’s more like Disraeli arguably on public spending as well.”

ConHome: “Disraeli would have said Gladstone was worse than Covid.”

Kwarteng: “Absolutely.”

ConHome: “The wind sometimes doesn’t blow, though it does today, as we can see from the flag on the top of Westminster Abbey. And sometimes the sun don’t shine. Is there a risk that this drive to Net Zero will compromise security of supply?”

Kwarteng: “I think that’s a perfectly legitimate question, and when I answer these questions I pivot back to the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan, The New Decalogue as he calls it.”

ConHome: “That was a satire.”

Kwarteng: “He said it ironically and I’m saying it ironically. And in that, there’s a clear commitment to nuclear power.

“Now I think our nuclear power story has been a shame, because we had early advantage, we were very good on nuclear power, but we simply haven’t invested in it enough in my view over the last 40 years.

“And I think that’s a key missing piece of the puzzle, in terms of energy security.”

ConHome: “But what about security of supply, is that going to be all right?”

Kwarteng: “I saw Iain Martin today in the paper. This is not a supply issue, OK, it’s a distribution issue.”

ConHome: “At the moment, yes.”

Kwarteng: “It has never been a supply issue.”

ConHome: “And will not become a supply issue?”

Kwarteng: “I do not believe it will become a supply issue. It’s like an old-fashioned bank run. But actually, in terms of security of supply, that has never been an issue.

“The point is getting the supply distributed properly, and of course with the HGV driver issue that’s been more challenging.

“In terms of the energy issue, the gas suppliers essentially came into the market with a price cap and then they failed to see that if wholesale prices were significantly above the price cap they’d be out of pocket, and some of them didn’t even hedge for that.”

ConHome: “The price cap stops it being a proper market, doesn’t it?”

Kwarteng: “Yes, but why did they enter it?”

ConHome: “Why did the Government impose the price cap?”

Kwarteng: “That’s a very good question, but once it’s there, why on earth did they enter the market? They still thought they could make money.

“And then when the wholesale price was much higher than the price cap they complained, but I said, ‘The price cap was there when you entered the market, you should have sold oranges or something, or entered another business.’

“They knew what the situation was, and then some of them expected government bailouts, and thankfully that hasn’t really had any resonance, because people could see that they entered the market, they’ve been caught, the tide has revealed that they were wearing nothing, and I’m afraid some of them are going to have to exit the market.

“Having said all that, some of the smaller companies have really driven innovation in the market, so the price cap has allowed for greater competition, has allowed for new entrants, and now, some of those entrants who haven’t been as well-managed are having to leave the market.”

ConHome: “This is probably the moment to sneak in the fracking question. It comes up a lot. People on the Right say look, we have this shortage, why haven’t we fracked?”

Kwarteng: “So I was very pro-fracking. My first summer as Energy Minister, we had Cuadrilla fracking in Lancashire, and I remember speaking to the MP, and he was a pro-fracking person, and the limit I think was 0.5 on the Richter scale.

“This thing came in at about 2.9, and walls were shaking and plates were falling off them.

“And someone said we’d never have had the coal industry if we’d had that approach, which may or may not be true, but the coal industry started in whenever, 1650, and we’re talking about 2020 when we have a full democracy and all the rest of it.

“So we said that we would impose a moratorium and when we had new evidence that this could be done without too much disruption we would look at the moratorium again.

“And I think there were too many communities that were being disrupted. We’re a small country. The fact that it can work in the United States, and it works successfully, it’s what a thousand times bigger than England? Something like that.

“They would frack in a hundred places, and maybe one would be successful. But we don’t have that luxury here.

“There’s also geological questions. I know a firm that Tim Eggar was involved with, they fracked all over Poland and it didn’t work.

“So I get the whole fracking thing, but I don’t think it’s the answer. I think more nuclear is the answer. I think a wider range of renewable technology and things like tidal stream, those sort of things, can help us as well.”

ConHome: “The Government takes Critical Race Theory seriously enough to have a minister go to the Despatch Box and say it shouldn’t be taught in schools.

“Why is it that Kemi Badenoch seems to be the only Conservative among a mass of MPs who takes Critical Race Theory seriously?”

Kwarteng: “No one knows what Critical Race Theory is. If you ask 360 MPs what Critical Race Theory is, how many do you think on our benches would be able to give you a coherent answer?

“To be fair to Kemi Badenoch, that is part of her brief. She was Minister for Equalities even when she was in the Treasury.

“And she’s got a particular approach, I think a very robust approach to a lot of this sort of thing.

“I think the best approach is for us just to simply allow the Left to have these incredible navel-gazing debates on identity politics, because actually Critical Race Theory is not something that comes up on the doorstep, it’s not something that’s going to put food on anyone’s table.”

ConHome: “Are you saying it’s not a problem in any way?”

Kwarteng: “I’m saying I don’t see why we should engage with it. Even your readers, people who subscribe to ConservativeHome, I’d be amazed if more than about five or ten per cent know what Critical Race Theory is.

“I’m trying to run a business department that affects the whole of the UK economy. My views or otherwise on Critical Race Theory are singularly irrelevant to how I do my job.”

ConHome: “Can only women have a cervix?”

Kwarteng: “What did Sajid Javid say? I agree with him.”

ConHome: “I think he said it defies science.”

Kwarteng: “All these things, I know they’re very important to a minority of people, but they’re not really levelling up issues, they’re not about the prosperity of the UK, they don’t deliver jobs.

“It’s the worst kind of rabbit hole which I don’t think sheds any light on anything, it doesn’t improve people’s lives.”

ConHome: “Can you deliver levelling up, Net Zero, industrial strategy, skills, without more localism – without more elected mayors?”

Kwarteng: “Really good question. I think you’ve got to have more local involvement. I think the Prime Minister’s view, which I share, is we shouldn’t get into a theological debate about the structures and what the people are called.

“We’ve got to just deal with what we have. Because if you were very rationalistic and Napoleonic about it, dare I say, you would just spread the combined mayoral authorities across the UK.

“You’d divide the UK up into mayoralties and then you’d have a little mayor with a little badge.”

ConHome: “You’d have a Mairie.”

Kwarteng: “Exactly. We’re not going to do that, so we’ve got to work with the structures, and some of them do work very well, the mayoralties, some county councils work very well, we’ve got to work with the kind of patchwork that we have, we’re not going to rationalise things in a kind of centralised way.”

ConHome: “If Johnson wasn’t Prime Minister he’d be finishing his book about Shakespeare. What book would you be finishing?”

Kwarteng: “I’ve already got one on the stocks about the Congo called Masters of the World, and it’s been there since I’ve been made a minister. I’ve done the research, so it’s simply a question of cleaning up the text.”

Johnson now has the serious task of restoring pride to the working class, failed by Labour

24 Jul

The New Snobbery: Taking on Modern Elitism and Empowering the Working Class by David Skelton

If David Skelton had delayed publication of this book by many more months, he would have had to rename it The New Orthodoxy.

For the lessons he urged in his last book, Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map, are becoming more and more widely accepted.

That book was reviewed on ConHome in October 2019, and in December of that year Boris Johnson redrew the political map by leading the Conservatives to victory in many of the forgotten towns.

Or the blue remembered towns, as one might now call them. The initiative now lies with the Conservatives.

The “new snobbery” identified by Skelton is mainly a problem for the Labour Party, which needs to regain the seats it lost in 2019, and cannot do so as long as voters in places like Hartlepool, captured by the Conservatives at a by-election held less than three months ago, feel despised by many on the Left.

That astonishing result came just in time for Skelton, who writes:

“Once the scale of the Hartlepool defeat for Labour had become clear, elements of the Left indulged in another round of electorate blaming. One claimed that the problem for the Left was that ‘a huge number of the general public are racists and bigots’ and asked, ‘How do you begin to tackle entrenched idiocy like that?’ Another claimed, ‘We don’t have an opposition problem. We have an electorate problem.'”

Skelton has collected much snobbery of this kind, some of which he quotes in his piece this week for ConHome.

In his book Skelton reminds us that such sentiments are not new. Here is Engels to Marx in November 1868, as newly enfranchised working-class voters supported “reactionary” parties:

“The proletariat has discredited itself terribly.”

Nobody has put it better than Engels. The workers often refuse to behave as progressive middle-class intellectuals instruct them to behave.

Skelton writes in a rushed, clumsy and gloomy tone about the dreadful delusions of the leftie intellectuals, but surely they have more cause for despondency as they contemplate Johnson’s to them incomprehensible success.

Lunatic “woke” nostrums, and attempts by their adherents to usher in a tyranny of virtue, cry out for a new Michael Wharton who helps us laugh to scorn these impertinent attempts to purify our history, language, institutions and the rest.

Earlier this week, I met a peer who has just been on one of the courses where members of the House of Lords are taught how to behave. He took it all with the utmost docility, but at the end asked his instructor whether it was all right to be rude to an Old Etonian.

“Oh yes,” she replied without a moment’s thought.

And perhaps that is one of the things people like about Johnson. One can be as rude as one wants to him and he doesn’t seem to mind.

The Prime Minister has an old-fashioned idea of liberty, as involving a degree of tastelessness; a propensity to live and let live; and a willingness to tease the Puritans, not least by avoiding a culture war fought on their own ineffably humourless terms.

We now have Wharton, not as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, but as Prime Minister: a man capable of seeing the absurdity of everyone, including himself.

But there is another part of Skelton’s story where gloom is understandable. The destruction of great industries, the loss of skilled trades, the humiliation of proud workers reduced to scraping a precarious existence, is the dismal post-war story in town after town.

The example closest to Skelton’s heart is the closure in 1980 of the great steelworks in his home town of Consett, a topic dealt with at greater length in his previous book.

One of the worst things about the nationalisation after the Second World War of the commanding heights of the British economy was that decisions were no longer taken locally, but in London, where it was easier to pretend that parsimonious investment, limited by Treasury rules and recurrent public spending crises, would be adequate to modernise these grand old industries.

Local pride and ownership were lost. Now everyone owned the plant, which meant nobody owned it, and its future was in the hands of distant politicians and officials who for the most part had no deep knowledge or commitment.

The nationalised industries declined into job-preservation schemes which failed even in their own terms, a series of doomed rearguard actions as the great names of British manufacturing went under.

Just as modern architecture done on the cheap in the 1950s and 1960s led increasing numbers of us to shudder at the idea of allowing anything to be built, so regional policy and industrial policy were discredited by a lengthening record of failure.

In his recent Levelling Up speech, Johnson lamented the “basic half-heartedness” of the 40 different schemes or bodies which over the last 40 years have tried to boost local or regional growth.

He admitted that “for many decades we relentlessly crushed local leadership” because “we were in the grip of a real ideological conflict in which irresponsible municipal socialist governments were bankrupting cities”.

Now, he rejoiced, “that argument is over and most of the big metro mayors know that private sector investment is crucial”.

So we are at last returning to local leadership. That at least is the idea. We can be pragmatic rather than ideological, and can bring everyone together in a particular locality in order to do what works.

Skelton agrees that we should not allow ourselves to get “stuck in the endless trenches of a culture war”.

He observes that the Labour Party “emerged from those great institutions of working-class life: the chapel and the trade union”, but that the proportion of Labour MPs who were manual workers “has fallen from almost 20 per cent in 1979 to less than three per cent today”.

The party has become obsessed by cultural issues, and has forgotten that secure, well-paid work is what matters to its former voters.

Let the Labour Party debate cultural issues to its heart’s content, while the dignity of work is championed by the Conservatives.

Skelton wants to formalise “the partnership between workers and employers” by putting workers on boards, which he thinks would “help to rein in the excesses of executive pay”, and would “increase productivity, enhance retention and promote a long-term focus”, instead of short-term expedients to increase shareholder value.

Every successful Conservative leader from Disraeli to the present day has taken seriously the requirements of the working class, and has thereby triumphed over priggish middle-class Liberals and Socialists who supposed they were the true guardians of the workers. Here is a serious task for Johnson.

Alistair Lexden: At the top of the greasy pole – Disraeli 140 years on

4 Apr

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here.

On 25 February 1868, Mary Anne Disraeli, whose adoration of her husband knew no bounds, wrote excitedly to her friend, Lady Charlotte de Rothschild: ‘By the time this reaches you, Dizzy will be Prime Minister of England!’ (the letter would have been delivered by the then highly efficient Post Office within a few hours).

The prospective new premier shared his wife’s attachment to the nickname by which he was widely and affectionately known; indeed, he often used it himself. By coincidence, he also wrote on that momentous day in his career to Lady de Rothschild, who had sent him a note asking who the new prime minister would be. He replied laconically: ‘ Your devoted Dizzy.’

He always appreciated, and responded warmly, to kindness, perhaps because he had to bear so many insults, even from within his own Party. A senior Tory backbencher, Sir Rainald Knightley, never ceased cursing ‘that hellish Jew.’ To his great credit, Disraeli uttered no public word of protest or complaint. He accepted that in Victorian England those of Jewish descent could not expect much general goodwill, unless they possessed great riches, like the Rothschilds.

In the afternoon of that memorable 25 February , the formal announcement of his appointment by Queen Victoria was made in the House of his Commons by his closest political friend at that time, Lord Stanley, eldest son and heir of the 14th Earl of Derby, who had led the Party for over twenty years and dominated its affairs.

Though Disraeli had been indispensable to him in the Commons, Derby had always had the last word on policy and tactics, supported by his lieutenant in the lower house who loyally deferred to him. The Party had no wish to change this long-standing state of affairs, despite its leader’s increasing ill-health. For some weeks, Derby dithered, but, racked by gout which made even the writing of a letter impossible, it finally became obvious to him that he could not go on. For months Disraeli had run the government, receiving and replying to long letters dictated by the immobile Derby at his ancestral seat, Knowsley in Lancashire, with Stanley, who in 1862 had been thought of as a candidate for the Greek throne, acting as messenger between them. (Ten years later, as the 15th Earl of Derby, he would resign as Foreign Secretary after a bitter clash with Disraeli, and go on to become a Liberal cabinet minister.)

When Derby told the Queen that he would have to resign, she immediately agreed, without seeking the views of anyone else, that there was only one possible successor. It has been argued recently that in such circumstances consultation within political parties had now become a settled duty; yet no one in 1868 seems to have expected it to occur. Everywhere, Disraeli, then in his sixty-fourth year, was accepted as the inevitable choice. At no point did he actively seek the premiership. His words on achieving the highest political office (he was the twenty-ninth person to occupy it) were to become famous: ‘Yes! I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.’

Did he actually say these words? They appear only in an unreliable book by a deeply distrusted figure on the fringe of Disraeli’s circle, Sir William Fraser, but it was exactly the kind of thing Dizzy would have said.

The existing, extremely competent cabinet, which included three dukes (Buckingham, Marlborough and Richmond), three other peers and two sons of peers, remained almost entirely unchanged, reflecting Disraeli’s unalterable view that government was a task for the upper classes, in which he confidently included himself (believing, wrongly, that he was descended from a family of high birth). A voluntary departure reduced the total size of the cabinet to fourteen.

The new premier wasted no time over his one and only sacking. He wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chelmsford, immediately after the announcement of his appointment , telling the unfortunate man peremptorily that ‘it is not in my power to submit your name for the custody of the great seal to the Queen.’ Chelmsford’s offence was insufficient partisanship: his speeches had lacked Tory passion and he had made judicial appointments impartially instead of reserving them for Tory lawyers. His very able successor from Belfast, Hugh Cairns, who both knew the law and loved party strife, was a man after Disraeli’s heart, and quickly became one of his most trusted colleagues.

The cabinet also gained a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, the post which Disraeli had held under Derby. The following day, 26 February, the Queen was informed that his successor would be the junior Treasury minister, Ward Hunt. ‘He is more than six feet four in. in stature’, Disraeli wrote, ‘but he has the sagacity of an elephant, as well as the form.’ From the start, it was clear that the new premier would not be altering his vivid, novelist’s prose.

The most important formality of all was completed on 27 February. There was no question of the monarch, who was at Osborne, Prince Albert’s creation on the Isle of Wight, coming up to London in a considerate gesture to a busy new premier (in July 1886, Lord Salisbury had to trek 600 miles to Balmoral). At least Disraeli had a warm welcome when he reached Osborne at 7pm on the 27th ,as he told his devoted Private Secretary, Monty Corry, in a letter the following day:

‘I was standing in the Closet when the door opened & the Queen came in, radiant with smiles, & holding out her hand, saying “ You must kiss hands” which I did, immediately & most heartily, falling on my knee, & saying I kissed her hand in faith & loving loyalty. Then she sat down, which she only does with the chief minister, I still standing, & talked so long, that I had hardly time to dress. I dined with her quite alone—i.e. Princess L[ouise] & Dss of Ath[ole] & I dine again with her today.’

It was the start of a remarkable relationship, applauded by Tories but excoriated by their opponents. On 29 February, the Queen told her eldest daughter that ‘the present man will do well, and will be particularly loyal and anxious to please me in every way. He is vy. peculiar, but vy. clever and sensible’. She wrote again on 4 March with rapturous comments: ‘He is full of poetry, romance & chivalry’.

Within weeks, abundant consignments of spring flowers, primroses prominent among them, started arriving at the Disraelis’ house off Park Lane. A view was taking hold, thanks in large part to Walter Bagehot, that the monarch should be an impartial, ceremonial figure, entirely above politics. Neither the Queen nor Disraeli accepted that doctrine. Monarchs do not readily abandon the powers they have inherited. Victoria, though wilful and obstinate like her Hanoverian predecessors, was shrewd, perceptive and, after thirty years on the throne, extremely knowledgeable. Disraeli subdued her more unfortunate prejudices (though not as regards Gladstone), and profited from her sharp insights into people and affairs, particularly in relation to the Church of England, then a source of many problems as well of major patronage (five sees including Canterbury had to be filled in 1868) which she understood and he did not, thinking always in Party terms (‘Another Deanery! The Lord of Hosts is with us!’).

Naturally, Gladstone and his supporters complained bitterly about Disraeli’s rapport with the monarch and the political benefits it brought him. It was up to his great rival to find ways of overcoming it, but he never had the faintest idea of how to go about the task of building a successful relationship with her.

The Queen’s new friend, her first premier not to have a title, took his seat in the Commons as Prime Minister for the first time on 5 March. The Times reported that the galleries ‘were unusually crowded, and peers, ambassadors, and distinguished strangers overflowed into the lobbies and corridors.’ A gay Liberal MP, Lord Ronald Gower, recorded that ‘when he entered John Stuart Mill [then MP for Westminster] was on his legs, but he had to interrupt his speech for several minutes on account of the ringing cheers that Disraeli’s appearance evoked.’

The new premier delivered no magnificent oration, as many had hoped. He spoke only briefly, promising ‘a policy of peace’ abroad and ‘a liberal policy’ at home, leaving his listeners perplexed, a frequent Disraelian ploy. He told the Queen that he had been ‘very guarded, &,in that respect, so successful, that it prevented all discussion. At least, the leader of the Opposition was silent.’ A taciturn Gladstone was a source of particular pleasure to him.

‘Will you lend your reception rooms to my wife?’, Disraeli asked Lord Stanley, his Foreign Secretary, on 9 March. ‘There must be some high festivals on a very extensive scale–& she can do nothing with D[owning] S[treet]: it is so dingy and decaying’ (the Disraelis continued to live at their own London home). A great celebration of the new premiership with several hundred guests duly took place in the gleaming new Foreign Office building on 26 March; even the Gladstones came. Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, who was there, wrote in his diary:

‘Dizzy in his glory, leading about the Princess of Wales; the Prince of Wales, Mrs Dizzy’. It recalled scenes in Disraeli’s novels. In the words of George Buckle, the official biographer of Disraeli’s later years, ‘it was such a party as the author of Coningsby and Lothair loved to describe, with half enthusiasm and half satire; and this time the author himself and his wife were the leading figures in the show’.

The glittering Foreign Office reception with its royal guests did not help inaugurate a memorable, if brief, period of Disraelian government. He had a year of political glory behind him, and would not know another until the start of his second administration in 1874. The Tories’ capacity to direct the course of events in the late 1860s, while in a minority of sixty without a coalition partner – a situation inconceivable today – depended entirely on keeping Gladstone’s Liberals in total disarray.

That is what Disraeli achieved in 1867. Having brought the Liberals’ right wing into the Tory division lobby in opposition to a modest parliamentary Reform Bill harmful to Tory interests and demolished the Liberal government in July 1866, Disraeli, as Derby’s standard-bearer in the subsequent minority Tory government, then abandoned his first set of Liberal allies and passed a radical Reform Bill giving the vote to the urban working class – which no one, least of all Disraeli, had even contemplated at the outset – with the support of the Liberal left. The Bill was a gamble as regards the new urban electorate (‘a leap in the dark’, in Derby’s famous phrase), but greatly strengthened the Tories’ prospects in their heartlands, the county constituencies, which was the government’s principal objective.

It was a breath-taking triumph which only Disraeli could have brought off. It required mastery of political manoeuvre and intrigue combined with bravura performances at the despatch box. Disraeli, the finest debater of his time, never faltered during his annus mirabilis of 1867. No wonder Gladstone disliked him so much.

In 1868, Gladstone had his revenge. Ireland provided the means. The country itself was not a source of grave anxiety. It was largely peaceful after sporadic violence the previous year. Disraeli had complete confidence in his ministers, both of them Irishmen (an unusual occurrence), in Dublin: the Chief Secretary, the Earl of Mayo, who was rewarded with the Viceroyalty of India in July (four years later he was assassinated on a visit to the Andaman Islands), and the Lord Lieutenant, the Marquess of Abercorn, whose frequent pleas for a dukedom were answered at the same time. In April, the Prince and Princess of Wales made a successful visit to Dublin which Disraeli hoped would be followed by the establishment of a permanent residence for them, an Irish Balmoral, but the Queen vetoed the scheme. Gladstone, who later took up the scheme, had no more success .

It was the eruption of Irish violence in Britain on a serious scale for the first time which enabled Gladstone to regain the political initiative and ruin Disraeli’s chances of a successful premiership. Politicians at Westminster were shaken by incidents in late 1867 associated with the shadowy (and consequently much feared) Fenian terrorist movement, funded from the United States.  A policeman was killed in Manchester; an explosion at Clerkenwell jail in London, set off to enable Fenian prisoners to escape, killed twelve people and injured 120. (Disraeli was incensed by the Met’s incompetence, and demanded the Commissioner’s dismissal.) Rumours of further outrages abounded.

Disraeli wrote to Derby on 16 December 1867 about ‘a plot, quite matured, to blow up the Houses of Parliament by gunpowder introduced through the gas-pipes.’ Ships were said to be on their way from America to kidnap the Queen at Balmoral. That level-headed woman dismissed the story as a hoax, which indeed it was.

In the wake of the Fenian threat, both Parties agreed, as they would again and again in similar circumstances over the next century and a half, that greater attention must be given to Irish policy. They would try to pretend that their response was wholly unconnected with Irish violence (dismissing terrorism in the late 20th Century as ‘ mindless’), but it was of course the shadow of the gun and the bomb that they sought to remove by taking new initiatives. In the atmosphere of crisis in 1868, Disraeli showed that he knew how to serve Irish interests as a whole rather better than Gladstone, though the latter would emerge with all the credit.

It was common ground between them that there were three issues above all which required urgent attention. First, a new university needed to be established, incorporated by charter, to provide for Catholic students (complementing Protestant Trinity College, Dublin). Second, the privileged position of the established Anglican Church of Ireland, which served no more than an eighth of the population, could not remain unchanged. Third, the unduly high rents which some, but by no means all, Anglo-Irish landowners charged their tenants should be brought down and kept under effective control. It was the final question which aroused the deepest feeling throughout Ireland (and from it sprang within ten years a mass movement, the Land League, which swiftly provided Irish nationalism with wide public support for the first time.)

At the beginning of 1868, the Tory government already had serious work in hand on all three, as well as on other issues including primary education and the extension of the railway system ‘affecting beneficially every part of the country’ as Disraeli told the Queen on 4 March after a two-day cabinet meeting devoted to Irish affairs. It was agreed at that meeting that, since the land question was more important than the others, a Bill to begin the process of improvement (no one expected a swift resolution of long-standing agrarian discontent) which Mayo, the Irish Chief Secretary had drafted, should be introduced in the Commons.

Twelve days later Gladstone made his dramatic move, which transformed the entire political situation and brought doom to Disraeli and his minority government. Though he had no quarrel with the Tory programme of action and fully acknowledged the importance of the land question, he suddenly insisted that the Church of Ireland must take precedence over all else. On 14 March, Disraeli told the retired, but still closely involved Derby that Gladstone was ‘in a furious rage.’ Late in the evening of the 16th, he vented his rage on the Anglican Irish Church, calling it ‘an insult to every Roman Catholic’ which ‘as a State Church, must cease to exist.’

Tories were swift to point out that just three years earlier he had assured his Oxford constituents that the Irish Church question was ‘remote and apparently out of all bearing on the practical politics of the day’. Now, suddenly, it was overwhelmingly urgent. How lucky Gladstone has been that there have always been historians ready to take at face value his insistence that he acted at all times from the purest motives untainted by Party political considerations. (It is a view that Professor John Vincent, who died recently, and I challenged in a detailed study of another serious Irish crisis – over Home Rule – in the mid-1880s.)

Inconsistencies count for nothing when the political stakes are high. A single radical reform, unexpectedly produced and offered with all Gladstone’s eloquence as the solution to Irish discontent, seemed to many infinitely preferable to Disraeli’s complicated package of measures, which would take time to produce results. Gladstone encouraged them to believe that disestablishment of the Church of Ireland would put an end the Fenian threat to British peace and, in his well-known phrase, pacify Ireland.

George Buckle described it as ‘Gladstone’s most brilliant and successful stroke as a party leader.’ It brought the squabbling groups within his Party, who had pulled in different directions over parliamentary reform, together again. Harmony reigned for the first time since 1865. The Liberals were back in full possession of their sixty-seat majority. When asked why out of the blue his Party had taken up the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, Gladstone’s friend and cabinet colleague, the Duke of Argyll, replied with refreshing candour ‘there really was no other way of getting Dizzy out of office.’ Just three weeks had passed since Disraeli had knelt to kiss the royal hand so fervently, taking it in ‘both his’, as the Queen had noted with surprised pleasure.

Gladstone’s demarche had come, said Disraeli, ‘like a thief in the night.’ During the rest of March and April, Irish disestablishment dominated Commons debate. It was now the Tories’ turn to fall apart, as they tried to work out a response to Gladstone. English love for the embattled Irish Church was in short supply. The cabinet could not agree whether to defend it a`outrance , to reform it, to endow Catholics and Presbyterians as well, or to disestablish it themselves (an option that only a few supported). Disraeli settled for a vigorous defence of the principle of Church establishment which, if completely breached in Ireland, would lead ineluctably to its abrogation elsewhere, and destroy the constitutional settlement of 1688.

The first of three Gladstonian resolutions demanding disestablishment was passed with a majority of 65 in the early hours of 1 May. Some cabinet ministers wanted to resign; Disraeli ignored them, and, with the Queen’s vigorous support, announced on 4 May that Parliament would be dissolved ‘as soon as the public interests permit, and that an earnest endeavour should be made by the Government that such an appeal should be made to the new constituency.’ In other words, the government intended to remain in office until new electoral registers including those enfranchised under the 1867 Reform Act were ready. Disraeli made clear that meant an election in November, unless Gladstone carried a motion of no confidence in the government ,which would precipitate what Disraeli called ‘a penal dissolution’ without delay.

Gladstone, relishing his new-found political strength, was happy to let the Tories remain in office without power. A Gladstonian Bill, paving the way for Irish disestablishment, passed the Commons in June (but made no progress in the Tory-dominated Lords). Measures acceptable to the Liberals proceeded. Bills implementing parliamentary reform in Scotland and Ireland were passed. Public executions were abolished. The first nationalised industry was created; the telegraph service passed into public ownership so that the Treasury could acquire its anticipated profits (they never materialised).

Disraeli was given just one cause for celebration. On 26 April, news arrived of a British triumph in Abyssinia, to which an army had been sent the previous year to rescue a group of British subjects, consisting chiefly of missionaries, held in chains in the remote mountain fortress of Magdala. Glad tidings of victory, achieved with insignificant casualties, were delivered to Disraeli at home, where he was found ‘gorgeously arrayed in a dressing-gown and in imposing headgear’. Having released the prisoners, the British forces withdrew .A barren and unprofitable territory was not added to the British Empire.

Disraeli naturally made the most it all, rejoicing that ‘ the standard of St. George was hoisted on the mountains of Rasselas.’ He continued:

‘We have asserted the purity of our purpose . In an age accused, and perhaps not unjustly, of selfishness, and a too great regard for material interests, it is something, in so striking and significant a manner, for a great nation to have vindicated the higher principles of humanity. It is a privilege to belong to a country which has done such deeds.’

The expedition cost twice as much as the government had estimated. Disraeli was unrepentant, writing airily ‘ it certainly cost double what was contemplated, and that is likely to be the case in all wars for which I may be responsible. Money is not to be considered in such matters: success alone is to be thought of.’

Naturally, Gladstone did not make life easy for his great opponent’s government. Disraeli wrote to the Queen on 18 July that ‘Parliamentary work has been so protracted, severe, & exhausting: amounting to upwards of twelve hours a day.’ The main item of business, as the Parliament elected in 1865 drew to a close was, he told her, ‘the bill for the prevention of the Cattle plague, by establishing separate markets for foreign meat at the ports of embarcation.’

Parliament was prorogued, prior to its dissolution, on 31 July. The speech from the throne read on behalf of the Queen invited the nation to reject Irish disestablishment (and by implication the Liberals) at the forthcoming election. She expressed the hope that the people’s verdict ‘on those great questions of public policy which have occupied the attention of Parliament and remain undecided, may tend to maintain unimpaired that civil and religious freedom which has been secured to all my subjects by the institutions and settlement of my realm.’

Disraeli always supervised Tory election campaigns in some detail, not unlike a 20 Century Party Chairman (a post created in 1911). In 1868, he scrutinised intently the work of the Conservatives’ election management committee, composed of grandees and apparatchiks. He solicited £10,000 from each of his cabinet colleagues (the three dukes were very reluctant to pay up) to put towards an election war chest of £100,000, which, to his disappointment, he came nowhere near achieving.

He seemed to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the recent electoral history of each county constituency, and the prominent local families from whom Tory candidates had been drawn. Many received letters from him, urging them to keep the faith and hinting at knighthoods and baronetcies in return. Advice was offered about how local difficulties could be overcome. Those who needed financial help were put in touch with wealthy neighbours. Throughout the summer he hardly rested. ‘I have written so much today that I am almost blind & can’t guide my pen any more’, he told Lord Stanley on 21 August. This was an era in which Prime Ministers wrote nearly all their own letters, delegating only the most humdrum matters to private secretaries

Unlike Gladstone, however, Disraeli did not set off on the campaign trail. For this, he was chided by the official biographer of his later life, George Buckle:

‘He had given the vote to a hitherto unenfranchised million of his fellow countrymen, belonging in the great majority to the working classes ; but so absolutely incapable was he of demagogic arts that he neglected, almost to a culpable degree, to endeavour to utilise his great legislative achievement to secure their support…Gladstone and several of his colleagues undertook impassioned electoral campaigns in which the new Irish policy of their party was eloquently expounded. But Disraeli contented himself with issuing an address, undoubtedly of some length and elaboration, to the electors of Bucks’, his constituency.

This was one of the greatest contrasts between the two famous adversaries. Disraeli was an outstanding Parliamentarian who rarely spoke on public platforms; Gladstone was formidable in, and outside, Westminster. Even Disraeli’s election address, dominated by disestablishment, contained nothing to make the new working-class electors feel that he would improve their lives. ‘One nation’ was conspicuous by its absence, but then he never claimed to be in the business of trying to create it, or even used the term.

Disraeli always viewed the world and public affairs with tremendous optimism, one of his most attractive qualities. As the election approached, he was confident of victory. On 28 October, he told the Queen that the government ‘may reasonably calculate on the return of 320 supporters’, giving the Tories their first Parliamentary majority since 1841. He was utterly confounded when the election took place in November. Gladstone won a majority of over a hundred. Disraeli had done significantly worse than Derby in 1865. It was, he told the Queen on 24 November ‘a strange & most unforeseen result.’ On the 28th, Lord Stanley recorded that the cabinet ‘all agreed, without one dissentient voice, in the policy of immediate resignation’, setting aside the age-old convention that after losing an election an incumbent government would wait to be defeated in Parliament before leaving office.

On 1 December, Disraeli tendered his resignation to the Queen at Windsor. On the same day, the London Gazette announced that Mrs Disraeli ‘had been granted the dignity of Viscountess Beaconsfield, of Beaconsfield, in the county of Buckinghamshire.’ The Queen told him that she ‘can indeed truly sympathise with his devotion to Mrs Disraeli who in her turn is so deeply attached to him’. The new Viscountess wrote of her ‘happiness’ at knowing that she owed her honour ‘to Your Majesty’s appreciation of Mr Disraeli’.


Three significant overall conclusions can be drawn from this account of Disraeli’s first, brief premiership, which make it a suitable subject for a commemorative essay.

First, it shows that, to an extent not widely recognised, he was an accidental Prime Minister. In an age of elderly premiers, Derby had absolutely no wish to retire in 1868. He was 69, eleven years younger than Palmerston when he died in office in 1865. He wanted to be the first Conservative leader since 1841 to win a Parliamentary majority, and leave a lasting mark as head of a successful government.

It was Derby’s gout that made Disraeli Prime Minister in 1868. At no stage had Disraeli said that he expected to get to the top of the greasy pole; there are some indications that he did not. If Derby had stayed on for several more years, as he intended, Disraeli, five years his junior, might well have been overtaken by another senior Conservative – Lord Salisbury, for instance, his own ultimate successor, who at this stage loathed Disraeli as a man who was betraying true Conservative principles and ought to be ousted.

Second, it shows that Disraeli did not neglect, or misunderstand, Irish affairs, as has been widely alleged. They had their place on the government’s agenda before Fenian attacks in Britain gave them extra urgency. Disraeli then intensified the work that was then in hand, particularly on the land question which was at the heart of the Irish problem. Gladstone outmanoeuvred him by launching an onslaught on the Church of Ireland, reuniting his divided Party and sweeping the country at the November 1868 election.

Third, and most important, his first short spell at the top of the greasy pole in 1868 did him no good at all. His one substantial achievement was to make the Queen a Tory. The Party in Parliament was in a much weaker state at the end of 1868 than at the beginning. The beneficiaries of Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act voted Liberal. Tories hate failure. In 1872, he nearly lost the leadership; only two of his ex-cabinet colleagues opposed a plan to replace him by the new 15th Earl of Derby. Disraeli himself lost heart. In 1872, his wife died; he said ‘I am totally unable to meet this catastrophe.’ Then suddenly Gladstone’s government ran into difficulty, and two years later the Tories reversed their 1868 humiliation.

The essential point here is that it was only at a very late stage in his career that Disraeli started to attract his Party’s acclaim. He was lauded after 1874, particularly as a result of his great triumph at the Congress of Berlin, from which he returned proclaiming ‘peace with honour’. The Tories now at last took him to their hearts. His sudden death in April 1881 produced an outpouring of feeling for him, which led, two years later, to the creation of the Primrose League , the two-million strong organisation that ensured his political immortality as the best-known and most loved Conservative of the nineteenth century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY – Robert Blake, Disraeli ( Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966) and The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher (Fontana,1985). George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield, Vol. IV 1855-1868( John Murray, 1916) and Vol. V 1868-1876 (John Murray,1920). Michel W.Pharand et al., Benjamin Disraeli Letters, Vol X. 1868 (University of Toronto Press,2014).Richard Shannon, The Age of Disraeli 1868-1881 ( Longman,1992). J.R. Vincent ed., Disraeli Derby and the Conservative Party: The Political Journals of Lord Stanley 1849-69 ( Harvester Press,1978) and his essay ‘ Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield’ in Herbert van Thal ed., The Prime Ministers Vol. 2( George Allen & Unwin, 1975).

From Walpole to Johnson, the rude, original vigour of the Prime Minister and the Commons have survived

3 Apr

The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister by Anthony Seldon

Spoiler alert. Ten pages from the end of his 337-page study, Anthony Seldon concludes that “the undoubted challenges” of being Prime Minister “have not made the job impossible”.

He also concedes that making lists of the best Prime Ministers, though “entertaining”, is also “largely meaningless”, because there are no “agreed criteria on what constitutes ‘success’ for a Prime Minister”.

But Seldon knows which PMs he puts in his top class, worthy of the accolade of being “Agenda Changers”, by which he means they “changed the course of the country, and with it, the way the job of Prime Minister operated”:

“Robert Walpole, William Pitt the Younger, Robert Peel, Viscount Palmerston, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, and Margaret Thatcher.”

No Winston Churchill, which is rather refreshing, for that endlessly fascinating figure can sometimes obscure everyone who came before him.

But oddly enough, in the piece for The Times which Seldon wrote about his book, the top eight become the top nine, for Churchill is included.

One must register here an immediate protest at the exclusion of Pitt the Elder. For although his titanic parliamentary speeches are lost to history – there was no Hansard in that confident century – the electrifying effect of this pioneering globalist’s performances is amply recorded, and it is a mere quibble to say that in 1759, the Year of Victories, he was not actually Prime Minister, but merely the driving force of the Government and of British arms.

In Seldon’s book, Churchill is relegated to the second division, described as “Major Contributors”, as if they had donated substantial sums to the school appeal, after which we get “Positive Stabilisers”, “Noble Failures”, “Ignoble Failures”, and “Left on the Starting Line”, this last category consisting of PMs who served for too short a time to make much of a difference.

All this has the merit of being highly thought-provoking. Seldon is a Gladstonian technocrat. He admires moral seriousness, and getting things done. Life is real and life is earnest, and so is politics.

Walpole, who took office 300 years ago today, is some ways lucky to make the cut. Seldon begins with an imaginary dialogue between Walpole, generally regarded as the first Prime Minister, and Boris Johnson, who is the 55th holder of the office.

Throughout these three centuries, control of the House of Commons has been a cardinal requirement for any Prime Minister, and loss of control, which Walpole suffered at the start of 1742, meant you were out.

Although Seldon reserves his greatest admiration for Prime Ministers who changed the way the office works, he does not seek to hide the fact that in some ways it has remained unchanged.

He does not, however, have much sympathy with any Prime Minister who might be suspected of frivolity. He has little time for Benjamin Disraeli, and a great deal for Robert Peel.

The enduring impact of the great split of 1846, when Disraeli destroyed Peel and almost destroyed the Conservative Party, is underplayed by Seldon:

“For Conservatives, memories of Peel’s splitting the party caused successive leaders regular anxiety.”

Regular nightmares would be more accurate. Robert Blake, in The Unknown Prime Minister, his life of Andrew Bonar Law, Prime Minister from 1922-23, puts the matter in its true perspective, when explaining why in 1913 Bonar Law felt obliged, as the still quite new Conservative leader, to abandon his personal support for Imperial Preference, an issue as bitterly divisive as Brexit became a century later:

“Did Bonar Law act rightly in thus reversing his own declared policy for the sake of Party unity? To answer this is to to answer a problem in political ethics which has never yet been satisfactorily solved. But in acting as he did there is no doubt that Bonar Law was following the established tradition of previous Conservative leaders. Ever since the day when Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws had broken the Party and driven it into the wilderness for 20 years, successive Conservative leaders had felt it was their duty, at all costs and at almost any sacrifice, to avoid repeating Peel’s action. Disraeli, Salisbury, Balfour, had all regarded party unity as of paramount importance – and Bonar Law both on this occasion, and at several other critical moments in his life, took the same view.”

Such party considerations are almost entirely ignored by Seldon, who instead focuses on what happens inside Number Ten. Bonar Law, who brought down Lloyd George but then served as Prime Minister for only 212 days before being forced by mortal illness to step down, is put among the Prime Ministers who had too little time to do anything significant while in office.

Lord Salisbury, who spent a total of almost 14 years as Prime Minister, is placed by Seldon in the third division. One looks in vain for any recognition of Salisbury’s ability often to defeat Gladstone, by ensuring that after the widening of the franchise in 1884, an organised appeal was made to the “Villa Toryism” found in the suburbs which were springing up round every prosperous town.

In Seldon’s view, Salisbury “was responsible for few fresh initiatives over his 14 years”, so doesn’t belong at the top table. Novelty is what counts, so Tory leaders who disguise innovation as keeping things the same receive no credit.

Lord Rosebery, who in 1894 succeeded Gladstone but remained in office for only a year and a bit, comes off worse. “We need not linger on Lord Rosebery,” Seldon tells us, later adding that this Prime Minster “lacked gravitas, failed to build on Gladstone’s legacy, to give a clear direction, and led the Liberals into a defeat”.

It is certainly true that despite being a man of wealth, intellect, charm and spell-binding eloquence, and winning the Derby twice while he was Prime Minister, Rosebery was a failure. But reading Seldon’s study reminds us that failure can be good for liberty, and good for Parliament.

The voters, who are almost entirely absent from this account, need someone to blame when things have gone wrong, and in many ways it is more satisfying to blame a brilliant Prime Minister than a second-rate one.

The Commons matters because it can end any Prime Minister’s career. Here is one of the great checks on tyranny, for MPs in whichever party or coalition of parties has a parliamentary majority are quick to realise when their leader has become such a liability with the wider public that they themselves will be in danger of losing their seats at the next election.

The Commons withdraws its confidence from a Prime Minister who has failed, and a new Prime Minister, who perhaps sees more clearly what the nation requires, is given the chance to show what he or she can do.

Churchill taking over from the previously impregnable Neville Chamberlain in 1940 is the most dramatic example of this brutal process. We have a wonderfully responsive system, which is one reason why it has absorbed three centuries of shocks: plenty of wars, riots, crashes, slumps and strikes, but no revolution.

The Commons is still there, and when it senses that the right moment has come it will – unless pre-empted by some some other means of getting rid of the Prime Minister such as an election defeat – unmake Johnson as it unmade Thatcher.

Seldon makes proposals for lightening the load borne by the Prime Minister, by delegating much of the routine business of government to a Deputy Prime Minister, and many external responsibilities to the Foreign Secretary, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer demoted to become only the fourth most senior member of the Cabinet.

Such reforms may be desirable, and might even lead to greater efficiency, but efficiency is not enough. And Seldon recognises that well-intentioned reforms often prove transitory.

John Major tried to show he was a different kind of leader by consulting the Cabinet more respectfully than his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, was accustomed to do. As Seldon comments, “It didn’t last. It never does.”

Seldon has interviewed a number of insiders, including Gus O’Donnell, a former Cabinet Secretary, who tells him:

“The role of full Cabinet has been over-emphasised. It’s just become too big to be the decision-making body.”

The same point was made, more amusingly, by C. Northcote Parkinson in the 1950s.

There are a number of astonishing errors in Seldon’s book: Lloyd George is said to have sat for 55 years for a “South Wales seat”, while a well-known remark by Horace Walpole about the fourth Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle (“A Secretary of State without intelligence, a Duke without money, a man of infinite intrigue, without secrecy or policy, and a Minister despised and hated by his master, by all parties and Ministers, without being turned out by any”) is attributed to H.T. Dickinson.

But there are also some wonderful things. Here is the Duke of Portland, Prime Minister in 1783 and again in 1807-9, and classified by Seldon as an Ignoble Failure:

“the idea of courting popularity by any means I have always reprobated…the possession or enjoyment of it has always something in it very suspicious, and I know hardly any act or measure vulgarly or commonly called popular which has not originated in a bad cause, and been productive of pernicious effects.”

Many Remainers would agree most devoutly with Portland. Could it be (as I suggested the other day) that we still live in an 18th-century country?

One of the best things about this book is that it makes one think anew about our political tradition, and give thanks that certain features of it, including the office of Prime Minister, still possess, despite all attempts by glorified management consultants at modernisation, some traces of their rude original vigour.

Alistair Lexden: The Conservatives and the Carlton Club – in partnership for nearly 200 years

30 Jan

Alistair Lexden is the Carlton Club’s official historian. His publications include ‘The Carlton Club 1832-2007’ (with Sir Charles Petrie,2007) and ‘A Gift from the Churchills: The Primrose League,1983-2004’ (2010). In preparing this address, he drew heavily—and with gratitude– on Seth Alexander Thevoz, ‘Club Government: How the Early Victorian World was Ruled from London Clubs’ ( I.B.Tauris,2018).

On 28 January, Lord Lexden spoke to some 100 members of the Carlton Club by Zoom about the Club’s history. The text of his address follows.

There would have been no Carlton Club without that excessively overweight, spendthrift, arts-loving monarch, King George IV.

There would undoubtedly have been a powerful Conservative club, but it would have been called something else – perhaps the Wellington Club in tribute to the great Duke, who was leader of the Party when the plans for its establishment were made after 1830. In that case, history would have been robbed of one of Wellington’s celebrated quips: “never write a letter to your mistress, never join the Carlton Club”.

It was a very odd thing for him to say, despite its having his characteristic terseness and, as regards the first bit, good sense. He was after all the Carlton’s founding father and, although he played no large part in its affairs, he must have observed its success with considerable satisfaction. Perhaps, like many phrases supposedly uttered by famous people, it was attributed to him, but actually coined by someone else.

In no sense was George IV a founding father of the Club, though one of his brothers, the Duke of Cumberland, a man widely reviled as a murder suspect, was one of the original members, along with a cousin, the Duke of Gloucester; no one at that time thought the royal family should be politically impartial. The King made his contribution unwittingly. In the 1820s he decided to demolish Carlton House, a palace in all but name, where he had lived in splendour as Prince of Wales, and to turn the then unpretentious Buckingham House into a residence fit for kings.

Carlton House Terrace, itself not lacking in splendour, was built over what had been the royal gardens. While it waited for its permanent home to be made ready for it in Pall Mall, the Club found a temporary abode in the Terrace, renting the house of a Tory supporter, Lord Kensington. It was in this way that the famous name was acquired. The indirect royal link was commemorated through the incorporation of the Prince of Wales’s feathers into the Club’s symbol. (At least I think that was the case; in the absence of any surviving records bearing on the point it is impossible to be sure.)

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the establishment of the Carlton Club in the history of British party politics. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, there were in existence two great clubs, Brooks’s and White’s, linked to the historic Whig  and Tory Parties respectively. But by the 1830s, the two Parties needed far more than their long-standing London bastions could supply. They simply were not large enough. Some MPs had begun to resort to non-political Clubs, like Boodle’s in St James’s Street, giving rise to the following merry ditty: ‘In Parliament I fill my seat/With many other noodles/And lay my head in Jermyn Street/And sip my hock at Boodle’s’.

Such exile from the political mainstream soon became unnecessary. Politics entered a new era, in which the two Parties, which evolved in the 1830s and the two subsequent decades (acquiring new names, Conservative and Liberal), expanded their activities greatly. They needed London accommodation on a generous scale in premises which provided  a variety of rooms, large and small.

That is what the Carlton Club supplied. In 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, it opened its first Clubhouse in Pall Mall on the corner of Carlton Gardens, yet another reminder of the gross, bloated monarch, George IV (114 years later a slim Miss Margaret Roberts would depart from the next door house in Carlton Gardens en route to her marriage to Mr Denis Thatcher).

The Club remained on its Pall Mall corner site until a Nazi bomb fell on it in October 1940. The original Clubhouse underestimated the Party’s need for space. It was enlarged in the 1840s as Sir Robert Peel brought the Party first to election triumph in 1841, and then to political disaster and division as a result of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. To assist the Party’s recovery from the split that the Corn Laws’ repeal brought about, the enlarged building was demolished and replaced by an even bigger one in 1856.

Members stared from the Club’s windows across Carlton Gardens at the Reform Club, founded in 1836, four years after the Carlton, to equip the Tories’ opponents with the same range of services, social and political, that the Carlton  pioneered. (It should be noted in passing that in the new nineteenth-century political world the Conservatives put themselves at the forefront of organisational change, where they were to remain until Tony Blair’s day.)

The close proximity of the two rival Clubs meant that they kept each other under close observation. In the early days, the Reform took a great interest in the volume of mail posted by servants of the Carlton, who retaliated by waiting until darkness fell before venturing forth. During a political crisis in 1884, blinds were pulled down at every window of the Carlton Club’s library after a member  noticed two figures across the road in the Reform Club spying with the aid of opera glasses. Members of the Carlton noted with satisfaction that their Club eclipsed the Reform in size and grandeur.

The Reform Club’s interior today gives some idea of what the Carlton would have been like inside. The Carlton’s atrium, immediately inside the entrance, at over 100 square metres was larger than the Reform’s. It was there that Conservative Members of Parliament and at least a sprinkling of peers would meet with some regularity to be addressed by their leaders over the next century, the most famous such meeting occurring in 1922 when Lloyd George’s coalition was brought to an end. With all visitors to the Club banned, absolute privacy would have been guaranteed if MPs, then as now, had not leaked so readily to the press.

The smaller premises in St James’s Street could not accommodate such meetings, which must, I think, be a cause of some regret. The Parliamentary Party had to settle for a large Commons committee room or Central Hall, Westminster.

The most important cause of the fundamental political changes, of which the formation of the two great political clubs was such a significant consequence, was the reconstruction of the electoral system, brought about by the Great Reform Act of 1832. It is no coincidence that the Carlton was established in that year following earlier, more modest attempts to give the Party a new London base in Charles Street, off St James’s Square, by a group of leading Tories, known unsurprisingly as the Charles Street Gang.

The 1832 Reform Act created, for the first time, a set of common qualifications for the right to vote in borough seats on the one hand and for county seats on the other, based on stiff property tests – designed as a permanent measure, not as the first step on the road to full democracy. The total number of voters increased, though not hugely so; the new electorate numbered around a million. The Tory Party needed to locate and enlist its supporters in order to get them on the electoral registers, which the Reform Act brought into being for the first time. This often involved long and expensive battles in the courts.

Of course, then as now, most of the work had to be done in the constituencies themselves, where solicitors became the first agents of the Conservative Party, in effect if not always in name. The Carlton provided a centre in London, where nationwide activity could be co-ordinated and, where necessary, supplemented.

Finance was a constant requirement at a time when general elections cost a million pounds and more, colossal sums in today’s values. From the outset, the Carlton had no more important function than to maintain a substantial Political Fund, for which its Political Committee was given responsibility. Lurid accounts appeared in the non-Conservative press about the flow of Carlton gold, as it was called, to constituencies for corrupt purposes, of which there were plenty of examples under the reformed electoral system, down to the 1880s.

There was no doubt much exaggeration in the stories of Carlton-financed malpractice, put about by opponents and included in the political novels of the period. To the historian’s deep regret, It is impossible to establish the truth because the records of the Club’s Political Committee do not survive for any part of the Nineteenth Century. How good it would have been to have had the inside story of the Carlton’s role in the colourful history of nineteenth-century electioneering.

(May I mention in parenthesis at this point the means by which the Conservative Party finally broke away from high, often corrupt, election expenditure? It was achieved through the Primrose League, founded at the Carlton in 1883. The League produced a whole army of election workers, half of them women, who happily toiled for votes, constituency by constituency, without receiving a penny piece in return. Beginning its life at the Carlton, the League returned to it in the years of its decline, occupying a small office at the Club in the 1970s. The Carlton at its height had some 1,800 members; the League at its zenith some two million. I am glad that Primrose League banners, and some examples of the extensive regalia worn by its members, are now on permanent display at the Club, along with a short sketch of its history which I wrote for the Club some years ago.)

Like Conservative headquarters today, the Carlton was sometimes accused of imposing candidates on constituencies. That was rarer then than now. What normally happened is that constituencies with vacancies to fill turned to the Carlton for recommendations, the nearest thing to today’s official candidates’ list.

It was in this way that a remarkable Tory who fascinated his contemporaries, and continues to fascinate posterity, got into the Commons after a succession of unsuccessful contests. An ardent supporter of the candidate recorded what happened:

“At the General Election in 1837 a Committee of the Conservative party in Maidstone had determined to run one candidate only, namely Wyndham Lewis Esquire (an intimate friend of the Duke of Wellington). At the end of the first day’s canvas, on casting up the promises, they so far exceeded the number contemplated, that the Committee determined to apply to the Carlton Club for another candidate, and three of our Committee went up to London, and with the aid afforded at the Club, Mr Disraeli was selected, and he consented, and went down with our three friends at once, and entered upon the canvas on the following morning. He soon became a great favourite with the voters.”

(At the 1837 election Maidstone had 1,399 electors.)

This important role in election management was supervised from ‘dark little rooms under the Carlton Club’, as an election agent put it in 1853. Above, in the infinitely more comfortable rooms of varying size, MPs gathered in some numbers when the Commons was in session. It was almost unheard of for an MP not to join the Carlton. The Commons was an unattractive place to spend any length of time at this period. Destroyed by fire in 1834, rebuilding work continued for some 30 years, and the place often smelt horribly because the Thames was little more than an open sewer until ‘the great stink’, as it was known, was finally subdued by Disraeli’s versatile political skills in 1851.

Travel between Commons and Club was easy. An MP recorded that “there is a cab stand at the very door of the House, and the whole process of going for, and returning with, an honourable gentleman does not occupy more than eight minutes.” The Carlton provided everything MPs needed: accommodation, food, drink (that indispensable element of club life), stationery, newspapers, a postal service and that essential ingredient of political life at all times and in all places, gossip. Sir Robert Peel as Party leader spent much of his time at the Carlton, as did Disraeli who called in most days. Never before had Tory MPs seen so much of their leaders, or been on such close terms with them.

The Club’s Committee, dominated by titled grandees, was kept busy ensuring that services were up to scratch. Who among today’s Committee members would be willing to sort out maintenance problems on Christmas Day as their noble predecessors did in the early days? In 1839 they ordered that “holes in water closet seats throughout the House be cut larger.” Britain’s leading political Club did not neglect its members’ comfort.


“In a progressive country”, said Disraeli, “change is constant”. How has the Carlton changed over nearly two centuries? The election managers and agents, supervised by the Party Whips (there was no Party Chairman until 1911), departed from their dusty basement for the newly established Conservative Central Office in 1870, for they now needed more room for the work of election organisation with the arrival of working-class voters in borough constituencies as a result of Disraeli’s Second Reform Act of 1867. But Carlton gold, raised by the Political Committee, continued to help fill the Party’s election coffers for the rest of the Nineteenth Century.

Almost all  MPs remained members of the Club until the First World War, happily paying its ten-guinea subscription, fixed in 1832 (equivalent to nearly a thousand pounds today), which remained unchanged until  the 1930s. But as the Commons developed its refreshment and other services, MPs tended to make less use of the Club .

No longer could they expect to rub shoulders on a daily basis with their Party leader. Disraeli, who died in 1881, was sorely missed. His successors spent little time in the Club, appearing only when they had meetings to address. Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour positively disliked it. Affection at the highest level was not seen again until after 1945, when Churchill and Macmillan resumed the habit of making fairly frequent visits, a practice continued by Mrs Thatcher who was to become the Club’s second President (Harold Macmillan, who was devoted to the place, having been the first). Perhaps in the future serving Conservative Party leaders will  be drawn once again to visiting the Club with some frequency .

Cause for serious complaint arose in the early Twentieth Century. The Club’s standards, maintained by Christmas Day Committee meetings in the early years, fell sharply. A great crisis erupted in 1912. Lord Balcarres, then Tory Chief Whip, recorded in his diary on 1 April 1912 that:

“the club is rapidly falling from its high state. Not only is the food bad, the waiting atrocious and the normal comforts of club life quite deficient, but with the steady deterioration in its social qualities the Carlton which in old days was at the very centre of political activity now almost ceases to count…The management and control have fallen into weak hands with deplorable results.”

Could the decline be reversed? The Club’s Secretary, who had been in his post for 35 years, was sacked, and a Club Chairman was appointed for the first time. Marked improvement occurred. MPs attested to the high quality of the catering during the inter-war years by eating in the Club in considerable numbers; they were well represented when the Nazi bomb arrived at 8.30pm on 14 October 1940. Cuthbert Headlam MP noted in his diary the following day that “there were over 100 members in the Club at the time and not one of them was scratched which seems to indicate that God approves of Conservative legislators.”

The real test for the Club was whether it could revitalise its serious political work. That did not happen for a long time. The Political Committee, on which all such work depended, had ceased to exist by 1912, and was not reconstituted until 1949. Even then, it did not do much, apart from arranging for Churchill to address a packed Club through loud speakers. The final completion of the  Political Committee’s resurgence was noted as late as 1983 when the Club’s AGM was told that “the Carlton Club was back as a strong political force”, as it had demonstrated by raising £50,000 for that year’s election campaign. The Committee had returned to its central position in Club life, where it remains today.

But for the Club as a whole that was by no means the most serious problem which had to be overcome in these years. Even before members arrived at 69 St James’s Street in 1940, longing for the moment when their Pall Mall home could be rebuilt and complaining about the cramped quarters in which they were now confined, membership had been falling alarmingly. By 1976, it was down to just 845, with only a handful of MPs among them. The spectre of closure loomed. It was removed by the one of the greatest of all political magicians, Harold Macmillan, then aged 83. In 1977, he achieved in months what had eluded everyone else: the amalgamation of the Carlton with the Junior Carlton, founded in 1864, which had been clinging obstinately to its independence in Pall Mall while its membership also plummeted. Not since the days of Disraeli had the Carlton had such unstinting support from an outstanding Conservative – and it came just in time.

As the Club was climbing back to financial stability, rebuilding its membership and regaining its political role in a form suited to our times, it suffered its second physical assault. It came from the IRA on 25 June 1990, fifty years after the Club had been bombed out of its Pall Mall Clubhouse. Half the ground floor, a quarter of the first floor and a significant area in the basement were damaged. In 1940 no one was killed; in 1990 a member, Lord Kaberry, and a porter, Charles Henry, died as a result of their injuries, a source of infinite sadness to members.

Everyone was astonished by the speed with which the Club patched itself up, and, having done that, began to lay ambitious plans for refurbishment which, evolving over the years, have brought the Club to its present handsome state. The grand building in Pall Mall was certainly imposing, but no one ever said it was a thing of beauty.

Happiness within the resplendent walls of 69 St James’s Street was impaired for some years after 1990 by a division of opinion over whether women should be full  members, having been associate members since 1977. The issue was finally resolved in 2008. Who today is not glad of the great contribution which women are making to the Club?

Long- established institutions must always remain conscious of the traditions of which they are custodians. Writing to Winston Churchill in 1948, the then Club Chairman, Lord Sandford, stressed that ‘members should realise the traditions attaching to their membership, and be prepared to shoulder those responsibilities which commit them to an unstinting support of the Party and its work.’ In that essential respect, the Carlton has remained unchanged over nearly two centuries.