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Those fuddy-duddy, 19th Century values

“But his [Peel’s] chosen remedy for widespread poverty was already apparent. It did not lie in changing the Poor Law, or reducing factory hours through a Ten Hour Bill, or in accepting the irrelevant political demands of the Chartists. Still less did it consist in commissioning that engine of public welfare and State guidance of the economy to which we became accustomed in the twentieth century. Peel and most of his contemporaries would have regarded our giant complex of State machinery as a destructive restraint on individual freedom.”

Robert Peel, page 243, by Douglas Hurd.

Indeed they would have so regarded the modern state of the late 20th and 21st centuries. And with good reason. Somehow, I doubt that even the founder of the Metropolitan Police would have liked the idea of the modern Surveillance State. I am not too sure that he’d have been all that keen on top tax rates of 50 per cent and more, compulsory schooling to the age of 18, or the hideously regulated labour market of today.

And this historical shift, I think, can explain to a certain extent why, to a British audience dulled by decades of socialism, the sight of Americans protesting against Big Government and the like is so odd. Last night, on the BBC, the broadcaster and one-time Sunday Times (of London) editor, Andrew Neil, was looking at the Tea Party movement. It was not all bad as a documentary – he had a great short interview with the son of Barry Goldwater – but in the main, the general idea that the viewer was meant to draw was that the Tea Party movement was comprised mainly of cranks, bigots and fools. The problem, I think, is that Britain has not really had a genuine, tax-cutting protest movement since the anti-Corn Law League of the 1830s and early 1840s, which is why I was so struck by that passage about the Peel administration. We have to go back to the early years of the Industrial Revolution to find anything remotely like such a protest for government retrenchment and tax cuts. No doubt Mr Neil would regard Cobden, Bright, or indeed Peel himself, as a bunch of nutters.

And that, of course, is why the accurate teaching of history, such as around such episodes as the Industrial Revolution, is so important.

10 comments to Those fuddy-duddy, 19th Century values

  • Pat mCcANN

    Here is the real introduction of Barry Goldwater and the Conservative movement:

  • I haven’t yet found time to watch the Andrew Marr documentary about the Tea Party. But what you say agrees with the impression I got from a quick Twitter search for “Andrew Marr Tea Party”. There’s something funny about accusations of tea partiers of being narrow minded and having their eyes shut from people who’ve learnt everything they know about it from a single BBC documentary.

  • So, er, what was Peel’s solution? The quote is tantalising, but what’s the punchline?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Cut tariffs, IanB

  • Laird

    Thanks, Johnathan. That was my question, too.

  • Sam Duncan

    Andrew Neil, Rob.

  • Johnathan, quoting Douglas Herd on Peel:

    … or in accepting the irrelevant political demands of the Chartists.

    Wikipedia, on that::

    Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during the mid-19th century, between 1838 and 1850. It takes its name from the People’s Charter of 1838, which stipulated the six main aims of the movement as:

    My brief summary:

    We now have:
    1. Universal franchise for adults: even more-so than their demand for 21+ males.
    2. Secret ballot in parliamentary elections.
    3. No property requirements on candidates for parliament.
    4. MPs to be paid (so more than the rich could afford to stand).
    5. Equally sized constituencies (now broadly achieved).

    And we do not (yet) have:
    6. Annual Elections.

    Now those are the sort of irrelevant political demands that I really go for.

    IMHO, Peel did have many good policies. Again IMHO, Hurd has my attention only to the same extent as Richard Dawkins: a high risk of wasted money and wasted shelf-space.

    Back to Johnathan:

    And that, of course, is why the accurate teaching of history, such as around such episodes as the Industrial Revolution, is so important.

    I agree, but even natural science now seems to be a matter of opinion (maybe it always was). What chance, therefore, has history?

    Best regards

  • Oh bother: apologies for Herd/Hurd.

    The man certainly deserves me not making that sort of careless error.

    Best regards

  • Chuck6134

    Thank God people are actually trying to kick over the apple cart here. Unfortunately it looks like the leaders of the anti Obama forces will be some of the same idiots who planted the seeds for his rise during the Bush years.

    Still Obama’s days of having to only worry about his own party’s defectors preventing him from having his way should be over. Exit polls so far are showing voters are not voting for Republicans but against Democrats particularly the President. Hopefully by tomorrow morn the numbers will give us a clue to how much he will likely be restricted for the next 2 years.

  • Paul Marks

    Not just free trade J.P.

    Sir Robert Peel also beleived in keeping domestic taxes, government spending and regualtions down – indeed in reducing them over time.

    He was in the tradition of Edumund Burke and then Canning, Huskinson and Robinson before him, and Glandstone after him.

    However, he was also rather effective a using government as well as rolling it back.

    For example Peel’s relief exercise in Ireland (in response to the emergency caused by the blight) was far better organized than that of Russell.

    The fall of Peel was unforntunate for England – but terrible for Ireland.

    Like war – if the government undertakes fammine relief it had better do it as least badly as possible.

    As for the Andrew Neil show – so it was yet another hit job on Tea Party people. Like everything else on the BBC and the rest of the MSM.

    Oh well – good I missed it.

    I remember Mr Neil as one of the “new economy” people who said it did not matter if a “dot.com” company had ever made profits one should invest in it anyway (even if its stock market price was hundreds of times earnings – let alone profits).

    That the man is still taken seriously after the bursting of the dot.com bubble (back in 2000) shows what short memories people have.