Friday, 20 April 2012

Benjamin Disraeli’s Social Reforms



Gladstone loses the election of 1874: Gladstone and his cabinet are accused of being like a ‘range of exhausted volcanoes’. Disraeli takes power with a majority government.

Why did Disraeli win?

·     Too much legislation in his first ministry, proved overwhelming. Alienated too many groups in the country. There was disquiet and discontent from the Whiggish element of the Liberal Party: feared Gladstone was becoming too radical. For example: disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and the Irish Land Act (appeared to challenge property rights -  these acts were regarded by the Tories as conflicting with their core principles and posed a significant threat to the landed-gentry).

·     ‘Tory Democracy’. This slogan has been associated with Disraeli’s speeches in 1872 in Manchester and at the Crystal Palace. Trying to create an all encompassing concept which the country could unite around.

Basically, Disraeli was trying to unite the country around certain key themes.

1) Wanted to preserve institutions such as the monarchy, the Church and the constitution. The 3 Cs.
2) Uphold the British Empire and its interests.
3) Believed there should be some degree of social legislation, to improve society for the less fortunate.
The Ruling Classes should prove their worth and use their power wisely for the benefit of the nation. This later became known as One-Nation Toryism. ( Followed and used by Mcmillan and Ted Heath)

Tory Democracy was more a loose set of ideas and principles rather than a coherent program with its own unique agenda. It was a useful means of garnering support across the country from those groups alienated by Gladstone’s ‘harassing’ and obtrusive legislation. The reality was that Disraeli was vague when it came to social reform. He spoke about ‘air, water, factory inspection, food’ reform, but did the rhetoric match the reality.

Disraeli was appealing to the nation. There are many new voters after 1867, notably tradesmen, white collar workers, and the rich traders who were impressed by Disraeli’s speeches.

Social Reforms:

Disraeli did enable some important legislation. There is much debate as to whether it was initiated by him or by his ministers such as Richard Cross.
Dizzy (a nickname given to Disraeli) claimed to be interested in ‘The Condition of England’, issues relating to poverty and health. His early novels included Sybil and Coningsby in which he wrote about ‘Two Nations’ developing within britain - of the extreme rich and extreme poor.
There was plenty of ‘permissive legislation’: observance of the law is not compulsory but can be applied by a local authority.

Some have suggested that Disraeli’s legislation was much needed, although in many cases they simply finished-off the work started under Gladstone.


For example:

1875: Public Health Act. This built on the decisions reached by a Royal Commission set up under Gladstone's administration. Possibly, the single most important piece of social legislation in the entire latter part nineteenth century. Lays down for the first time the responsibilities of local councils in providing adequate lighting, water supplies, drainage, sewers. Offensive items in the street to be removed, and infectious diseases were to be notified. Thereby improving public decency and sanitation.

Artisans’ Dwellings Act: local authorities could buy slum areas and redevelop them. This was not compulsory and many councils ignored it.

Sale of Food and Drugs Act: established rules for preparation of food and set up inspectors. No longer allowed for food to be adulterated: e.g. beer or flour.

Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act:
Peaceful picketing became legal; Unions could act legally as a group and could now strike: about winning over the working classes. Gaining legitimacy and government recognition.

Employers and Workmen Act: for the first time employers and workers were on equal terms. Both had to accept contractual law.