Sunday, April 29, 2012

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 13 and 14, "The Hostile Partnership with Palmerston" and "God's Vicar in the Treasury"

Derby's Conservative government fell and Parliament was dissolved in the wake of Disraeli's failed attempt at a second reform bill in 1859.  The Conservatives gained seats in the subsequent election, but their opponents gained cohesion: the Liberal party in its modern form was organized.  The new party unified Whigs, Radicals, and Peelites, but it did not, at first, include Gladstone.  He had voted in the minority for both the Reform Bill (though he, along with Palmerston, opposed extending the franchise) and for the failed Conservative attempt to form a government after the election.  Yet the Liberals were eager to have him, because his oratorical talents made him too dangerous in the opposition.  Gladstone, for his part, found common ground with Palmerston over the desirability of Italian independence from Austria, and agreed to become Chancellor of the Exchequer.  It was a partnership that worked well, according to Jenkins, partly because Palmerston and Russell were so old (so that Gladstone's ambition for leadership would not be held back for too long), and partly because Palmerston was enough Gladstone's equal to provide a stabilizing counterbalance.

Gladstone's first budget after returning to the chancellorship passed with ease in 1859, despite a near doubling of the rate of income tax.  There was more of a struggle over the 1860 budget.  In the first place, this came from Palmerston's (and Herbert's) desire to expand military spending, especially for coastal fortifications.  Gladstone resisted, and was not above stalling the armament plans by remaining absent from cabinet meetings when he looked likely to lose the argument.  A treaty with France to cut customs duties -- worked out in collaboration with the radical Richard Cobden -- caused further opposition from affected interests.  This treaty was made part of an overall effort to eliminate duties on nine-tenths of the items still subject to it.  The biggest ruckus was actually caused by the repeal of paper duties.  This was passed by the Commons, but rejected by the Lords -- with Palmerston's encouragement.  The small additional increase in the income tax caused little controversy, however.

Due to the paper duty dispute and other issues on which Palmerston and the party leadership abandoned him, Gladstone came close to resigning.  But, crucially for his career, he didn't.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: Chapters 11 and 12, "Health and Wealth" and "A Short Odyssey for a British Ulysses"

Gladstone was out of office for most of the 1850s, so his genuinely political activity was pretty scant. This gives Jenkins the opportunity to notice that Gladstone got sick rather a lot. He also fills us in on Gladstone's quixotic scholarly effort to cleanse Homer of paganism, and his book and china collecting.

During a visit to Liverpool in 1853, Gladstone made his first essay into political oratory before large public audiences -- an activity that other leading figures viewed with disfavor. His mostly irenic speeches about the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War -- their advocacy for Turkish cause so hedged with reservations that any impetus for intervention was stopped short -- were well received in a locale where peaceful trade was favored over martial fervor.

Gladstone's March, 1857 parliamentary speech denouncing Palmerston's aggression towards China helped bring down the government. Ironically, this ended up helping Palmerston, since many of advocates for a more pacific foreign policy were defeated in the subsequent elections.

I found it peculiar that the crisis in India in 1857 didn't even merit a mention. Perhaps this simply reflects how remote the concerns of India were to British government at the time, even in extreme circumstances.  If so, it would have been more illuminating if Jenkins had made that point explicitly.

That same year, Gladstone's characteristically priggish opposition to Palmerston's divorce liberalization bill failed to carry the day -- the last of his moralistic crusades.

Early in 1858, Gladstone helped bring down another Liberal Palmerston government with a speech opposing the Conspiracy to Murder Bill (a sort of anti-terrorist measure the government had pushed in order to placate the French in the wake of an attempted assassination of Napoleon III).  But Gladstone and his fellow Peelites proved too precious to serve in the succeeding Conservative Derby government, either.  Somewhat at loose ends (apart from his new avocation of felling trees), Gladstone accepted an appointment as Extraordinary Commissioner to the Ionian Islands in the middle of 1858.  During his half-year there, he obstinately insisted on addressing the (Greek) islanders in Italian, recommended a soon-superseded policy of delaying union with Greece. clashed with and pushed out the already serving High Commissioner, and then quickly removed himself from the office of High Commissioner when he discovered that it conflicted with holding a seat in Parliament.