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If the Whig constitution of parliamentary government framed party politics during the 1850s, two powerful factors shaped party dynamics within Westminster. First, there were the moderate policies and strategic intentions of Derby’s Conservative party; the single largest and most cohesive body of votes in parliament. Secondly, there was the shifting and ill-defined nature of non-Conservative, namely Peelite, Whig, Liberal, and radical, alignment. After formally relinquishing protectionism in 1852, Derby sought to establish the Conservatives as the representatives of moderate progress and responsible centrism; a party fit for government responding to the need for genuine reform as opposed to reckless innovation. Caution and non-commitment in opposition, as well as statements and legislation delivered while in office during 1858–9 and 1866–8, were intended to affirm Conservative claims to the guardianship of enlightened and safe progress. The bigoted backwater image of Protectionism was deliberately shed. The Whigs were to be deprived of their exclusive claim to the natural and disinterested leadership of responsible opinion.
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