In the early 1870s, when the Liberals were in power, a feeling was abroad that Britain was not playing the role commensurate with its standing in the world. The 'failure' to mediate in the Franco-Prussian War, to prevent Russia's denunciation of the Black Sea clauses and to modify the results of the Alabama arbitration 1 all appeared to be instances of Britain's spineless policies, self-effacement or passivity. The grant of responsible government to the Australian colonies in 1857, the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867 and the grant of responsible government to Cape Colony in 1872 had increased the disquiet. At the same time, the advance of Russia in Central Asia seemed to bring a powerful European state menacingly nearer the frontiers of the Indian Empire. Many began to argue that the Liberal recipes of laissez aller, non-intervention in European affairs and 'dismantling' of the empire would not do. Even some Liberals began to share these views. By this time, the Reform Act of 1867 had enfranchised one out of every three male adults in Britain and had thus doubled the electorate.
Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of the Conservative Party, who is often described as 'the arch tactician', sensed that political capital could be made out of the rising tide of criticism of the 'spineless' policies of the Liberal government. He also appreciated that if Toryism was to survive in the days of extension of franchise, it was essential for it to take up issues that would fascinate the masses. He picked up the imperial theme, which enabled the Conservatives to project their party as an epitome of the spirit of patriotism and glories of the empire. In his speeches of 1872, he remoulded the image of the party. He projected the Conservative Party as a national party which would strive to maintain the traditional institutions, uphold the empire of England and alleviate the condition of the people. In the famous speech delivered at Free Trade Hall in Manchester in April 1872, which has been regarded as one of the great moments of Victorian rhetoric, he exhorted his audience to be proud of the fact that the Queen of England had become 'the sovereign of the most powerful of the Oriental states'. He added that 'there never was a moment in our history when the power of England was so great and her resources so vast and inexhaustible'. He expressed his conviction that the possession of a vast empire should influence the standing of Britain in the hierarchy of nations. Towards