A New Style and Content: 1880–1885 and 1886

  • David Steele


Over these few years a new Conservative Party emerged, much more purposeful and effective, to the undisguised dismay of Gladstone, then at the height of his powers and his fame. The third Marquess of Salisbury, whose direction of British foreign policy for most of the last quarter of the nineteenth century was, and is, admired, is not always given his due for the political transformation on the home front. If the reading of his character in several modern authorities is to be accepted, it is difficult to understand how someone with his deficiencies could have risen to lead his party and to head three administrations between 1885 and 1902.1 He was, we are told, ‘inept at all but the most intimate or the most impersonal relations’. As a reactionary, and apparently he was at heart never anything else, ‘his political persona was largely a function of his fears and antipathies’.2 It is a strange judgement on a man whose intellectual distinction and ability to handle the shifting realities were almost universally recognized by his opponents. In their view, he had by the mid-1880s ‘recreated a Conservative party that is a living, disciplined organization with living principles’.3 What follows here is an extended commentary on that specimen of the tributes he attracted. The nature of his undoubted achievement has to be set in a context that may require some exegesis.


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  1. 1.
    I am grateful to the owners and custodians of the MSS on which I have drawn for this chapter, and in particular to Mr Robin Harcourt Williams at Hatfield House. Any student of Conservative politics in this period must acknowledge his debt to, among other scholars: R. Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1970).Google Scholar
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© David Steele 2005

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  • David Steele

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