On Saturday 13th March 2021 we saw some rather unfortunate and disgraceful scenes in London as the Metropolitan Police clamped down on a Vigil being held (by mostly women) for the murder of a young girl.
Many UK Politicians blamed this incident on the strict lockdown laws implemented during the Pandemic. This uncanny situation comes at a time when many are clamouring for a proper exit strategy out of lockdown by the Government while others are calling for better alternative plans from Her Majesty’s Opposition who for a 27th week have been trailing the Tories.
The main question that is eminent in both situations is the need for “vision”. While Sir Robert Peel may only have had two terms totaling roughly 6 years as Prime Minister, he was the pioneer not only in developing the Conservative Party but rather creating the components of the party system as we know it.
Peel taught us that vision was key to Political success. Peel by his convictions and commitment to Politics brought new strength to a system in need of energy & innovation.
His idea of Governance wasn’t based on power but based on development. As we saw in 1833/34 Peel resented the idea of joining votes with the Irish and Radicals to force the Whig Government out, even if it meant obtaining Government.
Peel is quoted as saying: “there is no use in defeating, no use in excluding a Government unless you can replace it by one formed on principle more consonant to your own – our policy ought to be rather to conciliate the goodwill of the sober-minded and well-disposed portion of the community, and thus lay the foundation of future strength, than to urge an opposition on mere party grounds, and for purpose of more temporary triumph”
In essence, Peel was telling future political generations that one must not seek power for mere victory but rather for performance and for the better good. Reflecting on the present situation before us today, this is a line of thought which Labour should deeply consider as we have seen them throughout the Pandemic totally ignore recommendations for the national welfare but rather play for cheap political gain.
In 1834 when the King had dismissed the Melbourne Ministry, he sent for Peel who had to travel back from France. Upon accepting the King’s offer of First Lord of the Treasury Peel’s aim was to have a General Election so he could increase his majority. However, before he could dissolve Parliament, he had to seek re-election in his own Tamworth constituency.
In an effort to quickly get his vision out before the entire general election, Peel launched the Tamworth Manifesto which would tell not only of his vision for his constituency but all of England. Robert Peel had created the cornerstone of all elections – the manifesto of plans.
In the last few years, we have seen the importance of Manifestos such as in 2017 when Theresa May’s manifesto cost the Tories their majority while today, we see Sir Kier Starmer’s lack of vision to even fill a manifesto is costing Labour badly at the polls.
Robert Peel would then show us the importance of political vision again with his creation of Constituency Associations.
In the 1834 election, Peel working with Francis Bonham utilized the Carlton Club to create Constituency Associations around England which would help spread the vision of the Conservative Party. Nearly two centuries later, it is clear Boris Johnson understood the value of the Conservative Associations as they aided him in Red wall seats to elect Tory Candidates for the first time ever.
Sir Robert Peel understood the role of spreading political vision because in the 1800s there weren’t any televisions or social media as we know it today. Therefore, people throughout England, while not knowing what Peel looked like, would know of his vision through the Constituency Associations.
The election of 1841 came seven years after Peel’s initial creation of the Manifesto, party structure, and use of the term Conservative. But over that seven years, it was filled with hard work in building a party that would be successful in defeating the Whigs.
Looking back at the 1841 election, Peel showed through the remarkable results that political vision would bring Parliamentary democracy in line with true people-centred representation. The General Election of 1841 is described by Douglas Hurd’s biography of Peel as the “first time in British History a Government had been overturned not by the King or a vote in Parliament but by a vote of the British people”
While the Conservatives may be polling higher than Labour at the moment this is no time for complacency and Boris together with the top brass of the Cabinet must do all in their power to strengthen these bodies by listening to their views to ensure electoral stability.
Had John Major done this, maybe the Tories would not have been smashed in 1997.
Sir Robert Peel created the foundations of the Conservative Party and electoral reform. Though simple, if mastered it represents the key to electoral success.
In Pandemic times where party’s need to be in touch with citizens, Peel’s modus operandi leaves us with the map to political office.