There's a 'lockdown' on - but that doesn't mean giving up. Indeed, it's a time to turn to passions and enthusiasms for intellectual sustenance - as well as helping family, friends and community through the pandemic.
I've just got hold of one of the key political documents of the nineteenth century. It's simply a twelve-page pamphlet - but it both was the first recognisable party election manifesto and is regarded as the founding document of modern Conservatism.
Sir Robert Peel wrote the 'Tamworth Manifesto' - here's the full text - as a statement of his views to his Parliamentary constituents in December 1834. But it was also intended for much wider circulation. It appeared in the papers and the pamphlet was widely circulated.
Two years earlier, a Whig government led by Earl Grey had seen the Great Reform Bill - the first big measure of Parliamentary reform - through to the statute book. Towards the end of 1834, King William IV dismissed the Whig government and invited Sir Robert Peel to form a Tory administration. Inconveniently for all concerned, Peel was in Rome at the time and the Tory diehard the Duke of Wellington served as acting prime minister for a couple of weeks.
Once back, Peel installed his cabinet but also sought a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections. The Tamworth manifesto was designed to present his views - and so that of any future administration he led - to the country, particularly on the great issue of Reform which most Tories had opposed.
In the crucial passage of the manifesto, Peel declared:
'I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question - a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb, either by direct or insidious means'.
Peel was making clear that he had no wish to turn the clock back and undo the measure of Parliamentary reform so recently, and controversially, introduced.
He also expressed what some might see as the key principles of progressive Conservatism. He was content to abide by the spirit of Reform if that meant simply
'a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances'
but he also made clear that he had no sympathy with a process of reform that
'meant we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation'.
That just about sums up modern Conservatism.
Peel's Tories emerged as the largest Parliamentary group in the election of January 1835 but they were well short of an overall majority. His administration lasted just three months.
In 1841 Peel regained power and presided over a notably reforming Conservative administration which culminated in his decision to repeal the Corn Laws, so splitting his party and relegating it to the opposition benches for a generation.
If Peel is remembered above all for dividing his party, he also deserves to be recalled for setting down in a few simple sentences its lasting approach to political and constitutional change.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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