Victoria's Twin Peaks ; the Lion and the Unicorn by Richard Aldous HUTCHINSON [Pound]20 (368Pp)
Campbell, John, The Independent (London, England)
In the gentlemanly club that is (or used to be) the British House of Commons, relations between opponents are normally quite civil. Behind the ritual abuse they are frequently good friends. Your real enemies, as Harold Macmillan warned a young MP, are on your own side.
Gladstone and Disraeli were a towering exception to this rule. Gladstone thought Disraeli an unprincipled adventurer, "the grand corrupter" of British politics, whose "mischievous and ruinous misdeeds" flouted "every principle of morality". Disraeli thought Gladstone an unscrupulous religious maniac: an "extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition - never a gentleman". They met socially as rarely as possible, and never alone. Gladstone conspicuously failed to attend Disraeli's funeral, and had the greatest difficulty composing a suitable tribute.
In fact, they did start out on the same side. Gladstone, the earnest evangelical, was seen as "the rising hope of those stern unbending Tories". Young Benjamin D'Israeli, Jewish dandy and Byronic novelist, was a much more unlikely Tory. Yet it was Disraeli who stuck with the Tories, playing a leading (if opportunist) part in driving the Peelites out of the party following Peel's U-turn in abolishing the Corn Laws in 1846, while Gladstone metamorphosed into a stern unbending Liberal.
As so often in politics, it was not their views that made them rivals but personality and circumstance that drove them to opposite positions. Disraeli tried several times to draw Gladstone back to the Tories - not because he liked him, but because the Tories needed him if they were ever to form more than an occasional minority government whenever the dominant Whig-Peelite coalition fell apart. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Disraeli enjoyed only three brief spells as Chancellor, scarcely interrupting Gladstone's magisterial reign of more than nine years at the Treasury under Aberdeen, Palmerston and Russell. …