Sunday, 10 June 2012

How far was Disraeli’s contribution the main factor in the development of the Conservative Party to 1868?



One of the most dramatic contributions Disraeli made towards the development of the Conservative Party during his tenure; can be argued to be transforming the party’s emphasis from protectionism to free trade. This decision marked a significant change from when Robert Peel was party leader and Disraeli sought mobilise the protectionist interest within the party in defiance of peel. Another major development in the Conservative Party under Disraeli was an increasing focus on Social Reform; it was Disraeli’s intention to improve the living conditions of the poor.

Disraeli’s main contribution during this period was to provide strong authoritative leadership for the Conservative Party. Strong leadership was required, as the party had a few years earlier suffered a major schism over the Corn Laws. As chancellor if the Exchequer Disraeli’s contributions towards the Conservative Party, were ever present. For instance, Disraeli’s first budget of 1852 was designed to appeal as widely as possible to enfranchised citizens, in an attempt to attract maximum support for his party and thus improve the party’s chances of survival in government. Examples of Disraeli’s grand plan in the 1852 budget are: proposed reductions in the Malt Tax in order to help farmers, further reductions on Hop Duty in an attempt to win over the beer and ale drinking classes, in addition to decreasing Tea Duty to help the whole nation. All of these measures were viewed as highly popular initiatives. However Disraeli had to levy a higher house tax in order to compensate for these reductions, but this was at a time when the majority of the populace did not own the property that they lived in, so this did not substantially effect the Conservative’s popularity.

Disraeli’s first taste of a major public office was when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, such a role was important in preparing him for his later role as Prime Minister. Disraeli subsequently remained indispensable to the Conservatives and had persuaded Lord Derby to abandon protection, which had been along with Crown, Church and Constitution, a fundamental part of Conservative policy. On the other hand, Disraeli was accused of hypocrisy on this issue and was not, as a man who had been constantly plagued by debt, viewed as a suitable Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Disraeli was a keen parliamentarian and his influence in the House of Commons contributed significantly towards the development of the Conservative Party. Disraeli provided the Conservative Party with strong coherent leadership, and in addition he was also the master of political timing. Evidence of Disraeli’s political timing can be seen when he recognised the opportunity in 1865 to oppose Gladstone’s reform bill, only to go on and propose his own similar legislation in 1867. Disraeli was a vital in this respect to the development of the Conservative Party. For the first time in the party’s history, thanks to Disraeli’s actions, the Conservatives passed a significant piece of legislation, whilst taking advantage of rifts within Liberal Party. Disraeli was showing the general populace that the Conservatives were capable of providing reform that was beneficial for the nation, and that the party could effectively lead the nation. In addition, the Second Reform Act also brought the Conservatives the working class vote, which was important for the Conservatives as they strove to realise one-nation Toryism. This meant that the Conservative Party was no longer narrowly focused on the landed classes, who were slowly loosing their influence in society. Therefore Disraeli masterminded the expansion of the Conservative Party, giving the party a more National emphasis. Thereby giving the party the capability to win seats both in the town and countryside, all over Britain. Furthermore, to get the vote you had to own property, and property-owning people generally aligned themselves to the Conservative Party, both due to their core principles, but also because of the party’s emphasise on the right to property. The significance of this act was that it gave the Conservatives a rare success during a period where they were struggling to define themselves. Finally, it can be argued that Disraeli influenced Conservative policy through his novels and it was from these novels that he develop the idea of One Nation Conservatism, this policy later came to define the party.

Disraeli no matter how much he influenced the development of the Conservative Party, he cannot be argued to be the sole contributing factor towards the party’s development. The alternative argument is that Disraeli’s contributions towards his party only really happened because he was simply fortunate in the lack of political rivals and that the divisions in the Conservative Party propelled him from mediocrity to the front bench. This is because the Conservatives lack anyone else who could lead them, especially after Gladstone had left the party. Furthermore Disraeli’s ascension through the party ranks was even more remarkable because the party grandees who set party policy did not trust him, firstly because he did not come from a traditional Tory background and secondly because he was Jewish, at a time when the Jews were still being viewed as outsiders. Consequently his relationship with Lord Derby was poor, and he was prevented as Chancellor of the Exchequer from most notably reducing taxes for the urban middle classes, whom Disraeli wanted to garner political from support in order to increase the party’s power base. Derby suggested that Disraeli lacked the ability and capacity to win the support of this vital group. The alternative argument is that Disraeli made very little contribution towards the development of the Conservative Party. The majority of the Conservative party at the time regarded Disraeli as an opportunist and an adventurer, as a result they attempted to minimise his role, by blocking some of his key actions.

It could also be argued that Disraeli simply put into place what Robert Peel had envisaged. As Disraeli recognised that the party itself needed to promote ideas such as Free Trade in order to secure power. Disraeli first implemented such initiatives towards free trade in 1852. Furthermore, it can be argued that after a period of ten years in opposition the Conservative Party began to adapt to the agenda that had been set by the government, which was fronted by Palmerston and the united Liberal Party.

To conclude, Disraeli’s contribution to the development of the Conservative Party was both significant and extensive. However, the development of the Conservative Party by 1868 cannot be entirely attributed to just one man. Initially the Conservative Party were simply using Disraeli’s skills as an orator, in addition to taking advantage of his broad appeal to all social classes. However, it is clear that Disraeli was in actuality motivated towards the development of the party and he strove to do so off his own back. The reasons for this are debatable: he most probably did so to strengthen the party, but also to stamp some of his own ideas into party policy as well. By 1868 Conservatism was still not clearly defined and Disraeli being Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time did not have the capability to offer any major political ideology for the party to unite around. Nevertheless, his contribution towards free trade and parliamentary reform was significant enough to unite and shape the party, which eventually united to form a strong Conservative government under Disraeli’s leadership, whereby he was able to stamp his political ideology of One Nation Conservatism and implement much needed social reform.


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