Disraeli and Conservatism, 1874–80
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1874 brought Conservatives into the sun-lit uplands of real parliamentary power. For the first time since 1841 they took office with a Commons majority: 350 Conservatives looked across the chamber at 242 Liberals and 60 Home Rule MPs sitting on the opposition benches. Their triumph was, in part, a result of the collapse of Liberal unity after 1870. The desertion of moderate Liberal support, in particular, had exposed widening fissures in progressive opinion. The transformation of Irish Liberal MPs into Home Rulers created further opposition disarray. Disraeli’s avoidance of haste, in not seizing office in 1873, had accelerated the process of Liberal disintegration. But Conservative victory was also a measure of the effectiveness of the rhetoric with which Disraeli clothed the Conservative party after 1872. He donned Palmerston’s mantle and captured new constituencies of electoral support.
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