Reading progress update: I've read 115 out of 384 pages.

The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli - Richard Aldous

115 pages in and this is getting a little more interesting. Well, ... sort of. The author is still basically throwing together lists of names and hopes that the reader knows all of them and can make some sense of it while forgetting that the author hasn't really relayed a lot of complex information at all. 


This was one of the better sections in the book, and I think it shows what I mean when saying that the book lacks depths:


"Willis’s Rooms, King St, St James’s, London, 6 June 1859


The burble of excited chatter came suddenly to an end. More than two hundred and seventy faces turned expectantly to look at the door through which two elderly gentlemen had entered. Both moved slowly towards a raised dais. The older of the two, cheerful and pugnacious in demeanour, was first up the steps. Following behind was his considerably shorter companion who, though younger, was less fleet of foot. When he stumbled, the first man put out his hand to assist him up on to the platform. All those watching burst spontaneously into enthusiastic cheering. In that moment of comradely thoughtfulness the Liberal party was born. It was, wrote a later grandee of the party, ‘[the] nineteenth-century equivalent of Martin Luther nailing his notice to the church door in Wittenberg or of the embattled farmers by the rood bridge at Lexington firing “the shot heard around the world”’. For the first man was Lord Palmerston, and the second was his rival for the premiership, Lord John Russell.

Both men delivered rousing speeches in which they called for unity and promised each to serve under the other. Next up was the great Radical, John Bright, who offered his ‘cordial support’. Then Sidney Herbert gave the proceedings a Peelite blessing by calling for ‘a decided movement’ to challenge the Conservative government. ‘The entente cordiale seemed perfect,’ wrote afterwards the new Radical MP for Tavistock, Sir John Trelawny. At the meeting’s end, a motion was proposed that the united party should seize power through a vote of no confidence in Derby’s administration. Amid raucous cheering and banging of chairs, the motion was carried. ‘On the whole,’ Herbert reported to his wife, ‘it was very successful, no one objecting who was not expected to do so and others concurring who had not been reckoned on.’

This new party was at first sight a curious alliance. On the one hand there were the parliamentary Radicals. For much of the century they had led the charge against the outdated pre-industrial system, particularly ‘land monopoly’ – the special legal, financial and political privileges given to landowners – and the Church of England. Although they were a small cabal within the Commons, and even within this new political union, the Radicals provided much of the flavour and individuality of the Liberal message. Most of their leading figures, such as Bright and Richard Cobden, were rich businessmen who wanted to modernise the nation’s political practices in line with its economic and trading base. They masked this capitalist purpose behind the egalitarian language of ‘progress’ and of promoting the interests of ‘the people’ against ‘monopoly’ and ‘privilege’. Yet at heart, their politics came down to redefining the place of wealth-generating industrialists in a modern political society. ‘They cannot endure,’ summed up the constitutionalist Walter Bagehot, ‘they ought not to endure, that a rich, able manufacturer should be a less man than a stupid small squire.’

The Whigs might have seemed strange bedfellows for these Radical capitalists. Their prominent families – the great houses of Russell, Cavendish and the rest – were, after all, England’s most privileged landowners. Self-immolation by ending the ‘land monopoly’ was hardly likely to attract those for whom it had brought eight hundred years of supremacy. Yet other aspects did appeal. The Whigs revelled in their tradition as framers of the constitution – the idea of reinterpreting the principles of 1688 for a new industrial age appealed to many, not least to Russell (who had already done the trick once in 1832). This Whig commitment to constitutional improvement, married to an inclination to meddle (‘what is, is wrong’) and a detestation of the countryside, offered enough hope that the new alliance might prove a capable organ for progressive, metropolitan politics.

The first test came soon enough.


This is all there is about the formation of the Liberal Party. It goes on to describe how Gladstone became a persona non grata at the very first stand the newly formed Liberals took against the Tory government, but again without a lot of background or analysis as to why Gladstone chose to do what he did.


It's not that this is a bad book, but there seem to have been a lot of missed opportunities.



Three pages later, Gladstone is suddenly a Liberal. How did this happen? I re-read the last few pages and there is no explanation how the author suddenly jumped from Gladstone voting for and with the Tory government to Gladstone being a member of the Liberals.

Holy narrative jump, Batman!