(1) Social, Legal and Commercial
There are no absolute principles in politics….
In practice everything is done by the arrange
ment and execution of the details.
LORD SALISBURY, 1884
The domination of the political scene by Gladstone and Disraeli in the years after 1867, and the histrionic character of their political behaviour, deepen the impression that the period from 1848 to 1868 was a static time when the process of adjustment to change was almost completely halted. This is untrue. On coming into office in 1868, Gladstone was obsessed with Irish and ecclesiastical affairs; on returning to it in 1880 his mind was so clouded with a messianic desire to purge the land of the evils of ‘Beaconsfieldism’ that he had few clear ideas about anything. As for Disraeli, his arrival for the first time as a prime minister with a majority was less like his own view of himself as one who had at last reached the top of a greasy pole than that of a long distance runner who, having finally breasted the tape, falls in a heap on the ground because he has nothing more to give.
The important domestic legislation of the Gladstone-Disraeli years may therefore be legitimately considered as a whole and to a great extent without reference to either of them. Both have had their names attached to reforms which owed little to their initiative and not much to their encouragement. Entirely without a sense of proportion, Gladstone absorbed himself to the exclusion of all else in whatever at any given time