This September's issue of the Conservative History Journal (the printed edition) published by the Conservative History Group concentrates, understandably, on the two great anniversaries: 100 years since the beginning of the world-shaking war of 1914 - 1918 and 300 years since the Hanoverians assumed the throne of this country with their descendants still there. They have not yet overtaken the Plantagenets in their longevity as a ruling dynasty but they are well on the road to it.

Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party (and who could fill that position better?) and Chairman of the Conservative History Group has a long article on the transition from the last Stuart Monarch, Anne to the first Hanoverian one, George I and what that meant in political terms for the two parties: the Tories and the Whigs. He explains very clearly how the Tories mismanaged their affairs to the extent they did and how they lost their political supremacy (brief though it was) to the Whigs who maintained it more or less for the rest of the eighteenth century.

Lord Lexden also gave a talk on the subject at the Carlton Club on October 9.

One paragraph particularly caught my attention as it demolishes so many modern myths about politics at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries:
Frequent elections, required under the Triennial Act of 1694, ensured that the country as a whole was divided as sharply and passionately as Parliament itself. Both parties had highly developed organizations which attracted abundant support in the constituencies amongst voters and the unenfranchised alike (the latter enjoyed the excitement and money that elections brought), and both maintained close links with journalists and pamphleteers committed to their cause in a country where literacy rates were high by European levels (perhaps nearly two-thirds of men and one-third of women).

It is estimated that at this time Britain had an electorate of some 250,000, or 4.7 per cent of the population, a slightly higher proportion than after the Reform Act of 1832. [Another myth that needs to be destroyed: the notion that the First Reform Act enfranchised people.]

The country went to the polls no fewer than ten times between 1690 and 1714, far more frequently than any modern generation of democrats would contemplate in such a short period. The pendulum swung between the two parties, producing either small or significant majorities for one or the other until 1710. Then the Tories achieved two landslides in a row. In 1719 they won 346 seats, leaving the Whigs with 193; three years later, following a sudden upsurge of fanatical popular support for the Church, the margin was even greater: 370 Tory MPs were returned and only 177 Whigs. The party of Church and King had at last secured the ascendancy for which it had worked since 1688. Moreover, the monarch was a staunch Anglican. The Tories looked forward to serving her in government indefinitely
Naturally, things did not work out quite as planned, partly because of Queen Anne dying and partly because of the in-fighting within the party as well as sympathy for the Jacobite cause expressed by some Tories.

It would be useful if people who talk loudly about politics being particularly venomous at the moment would spend a modicum of time on reading history. They might find much to surprise them and to put "the present discontents" into perspective.


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