Or so thought the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury when still an MP under the courtesy title of Viscount Cranborne.

Tory Historian has been reading Andrew Roberts's magisterial biography of Salisbury and cannot recommend it highly enough. Roberts's step by step account of the ferocious debates around the 1867 Representation of the People Act (a.k.a. the Second Reform Bill) makes many matters clear. Cranborne was suspicious of the measure from the very beginning but was particularly incensed, to the point of resigning from the Cabinet, by the underhand methods whereby Derby and Disraeli pushed through a measure that was more radical than the one Gladstone had proposed the previous year, which Disraeli had opposed allegedly out of principle.

Not only was the Tory Bill more radical than the Liberal one had been but during its passage through the Commons it had shed all the supposed safeguards, ending up with a measure that simply enfranchised a great proportion of the urban working class men. Cranborne was against that for various reasons: ideological as he did not approve of a wide franchise and pragmatic as he thought that this would be a disaster for the Conservative Party in electoral terms (he turned out to be wrong on that). But, most of all, he was incensed by the political legerdemain practised by the leaders of his own party.

Mr Roberts describes Cranborne's speech during the Third Reading of the Bill on July 15, 1867 as "possibly the greatest oration in a career full of powerful parliamentary speeches". It was an open attack on Disraeli though he was not named in the speech. Mr Roberts considers the peroration to be worthy of being quoted in full and Tory Historian agrees though, this being a blog not a very long book, "in full" has to be limited to one rather than two paragraphs:

I entreat honourable Gentlemen opposite not to believe that my feelings on this subject are dictated simply by my hostility on this particular measure, though I object to it most strongly, as the House is aware. But, even if I took a contrary view - if I deemed it to be most advantageous, I still should deeply regret that the position of the Executive should have been so degraded as it has been in the present session: I should deeply regret to find the House of Commons has applauded a policy of legerdemain; and I should, above all things, regret that this great gift to the people - if gift you think it - should have been purchased at the cost of a political betrayal which has no parallel in our Parliamentary annals, which strikes at the root of all that mutual confidence which is the very soul of our party Government, and on which only the strength and freedom of our representative institutions can be sustained.
TH's one objection to those splendid sentiments is that however reprehensible may have been Disraeli's behaviour, it was hardly unparalleled but one must allow for political hyperbole.

1 Responses to It is wrong to retain power through political legerdemain

  1. I have been picking away at that book, too. It is the one I currently read when I am in the kitchen, or don't have one handy when I am near the kitchen. So it will take some time to get through it. As good as the business about the political legerdemain is, and it is good, the stuff about the Bulgarian massacres and the ensuing negotiations, and the then ensuing war, and the snatching up of Cyprus, are all even more thrilling. When I met Roberts a few years ago, I mentioned I had the book, and he quipped, oh you are one of the fifty people who bought a copy.

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