TV history channels tend to imply that history only began in 1939, and that the vast majority of it involved Germany between 1939 and 1945.
I have been struck by the things we can learn from further back in our own past, and especially by what we can learn from Conservative success more than a century ago.
Nobody nowadays will know about the Public Health (1875) and Artisans’ Dwellings (1875) Acts, but they lie at the heart of Conservative revival then and point the way we are following for Conservative revival. These laws were not suffocating top-down rules, but empowering legislation that made a real difference to people’s lives. Disraeli once said that ’ permissive legislation is the characteristic of a free people ’ . There is no more powerful lesson for Conservatives today.
So Disraeli used local expertise to provide local solutions to local problems. But localism was not the only legacy he left. He understood that a Party that had little to say about the ’ two nations ’ would be forever sidelined in a more democratic age.
A decade ago, the Conservative Party was pushed back to its core vote, much of it in rural areas. If you transpose an electoral map of our landslide defeat in 1997 on an electoral map of the mid-19th century, they are very alike. It was Disraeli above all who made the Conservative Party a force that could be equally appealing to all of the country, and who stopped it from becoming an exclusively rural Party , forever condemned to obscurity.
That has never been a tempting prospect. Boris Johnson’s victory in London, as well as recent by-election success in Crewe & Nantwich and Norwich North , show that, today, we are once again making progress across the country. And it was Disraeli who was responsible for three key themes of social responsibility, localism and pragmatism which, above all, explain the resurgence of the Conservative Party under David Cameron.
We have launched new policies to ease the council tax burden, to help young unskilled people and to improve public transport. It is likely that Disraeli would have understood, and welcomed, the programmes that we are developing for the next General Election.
David’s post is part of Conservative History Week on the Blue Blog. There will be posts every day on various aspects of the history of the Party.
This rare poster, dating from Disraeli’s second period as Prime Minister(1874-80), provides a powerful illustration of his commitment to making the Party truly national in its appeal to all classes. By this date some 150 Conservative Working Men’s Associations were in existence, virtually all them having been established since the Second Reform Act, passed by Disraeli in 1867, which extended the franchise to working men in urban constituencies. As usual the Conservatives were ahead of their rivals: there were no comparable Liberal associations.
In Reading in the 1870s every vote counted. This two-member seat consistently returned Liberal candidates, but no more than 150 votes separated the two Parties. This explains the importance attached to bringing the recently enfranchised Conservative working men together in an organised Association.