Thursday, 2 February 2012

Disraeli, Manchester and one nation Toryism

It might seem inconceivable today but back in the 1870's Manchester was a seat of Toryism.

So much so that the Prime Minister at the time Benjamin Disraeli chose the city to test out his concept of one nation Toryism.

The year was 1872 and Disraeli chose the Free Trade hall to make his speech.

It wasn't his first speech in the town,indeed back in 1843,he had shared the platform at the Atheneum club with none other than Charles Dickens and Richard Cobden.

Disraeli had been fascinated by Manchester.One of his works Coningsby published in 1844 had compared the industrial revolution in the city as being as important as the cultural one in Athens nearly 2,500 years previously

Five years earlier the Reform Act of 1867 had given the vote to working men of property for the first time,thus giving urban centres such as Manchester the right to vote. The following year Manchester returned a Tory candidate Hugh Birley who topped the poll in what was at the time a three member seat.

In April 1872,Disraeli visited the city for a week and was persuaded to address his loyal supporters and delivered a three and a half hour speech to a crowd of 6,000 whilst fortified with two bottles of white brandy.

The speech was according to Tory party historian Alistair Lexden,"a defining moment for Toryism in Manchester and throughout the country" The speech was seen as helping to promote a greater sense of social duty amongst the Conservative party,something that would not be unfamiliar to the current leader of the party.

The speech certainly struck a chord for by the time of the next election,the party had taken two of the three Manchester seats on offer and in 1876 their annual conference was held in the city.

Here is a section of the speech

Gentlemen, the program of the Conservative party is to maintain the Constitution of the country. I have not come down to Manchester to deliver an essay on the English Constitution; but when the banner of republicanism is unfurled — when the fundamental principles of our institutions are controverted — I think, perhaps, it may not be inconvenient that I should make some few practical remarks upon the character of our Constitution — upon that monarchy limited by the coordinate authority of the estates of the realm, which, under the title of Queen, Lords, and Commons, has contributed so greatly to the prosperity of this country, and with the maintenance of which I believe that prosperity is bound up.

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