Robert Peel: A Biography
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007 - 436 pages
Robert Peel, as much as any man in the nineteenth century, transformed Great Britain into a modern nation. He invented our police force, which became a model for the world. He steered through the Bill which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament. He reorganised the criminal justice system. He put Britain back on the gold standard; he invented the Conservative Party which we know today. He sent his constituents at Tamworth the first modern election manifesto. He settled Canada's border with the United States.
Above all he tackled poverty by repealing the Corn Laws. Thanks to Peel the most powerful trading nation chose free trade and opened the door for our globalised world of today.
Peel was not all politics. He built two great houses, filled them with famous pictures and was devoted to a beautiful wife. Yet he was a stiff, not easy to know. 'Such a cold odd man' wrote Queen Victoria - who later became a keen admirer - and Disraeli attacked him for dishonesty.
Many followers never forgave him for splitting his Party. But when in 1850 he was carried home after a fall from his horse crowds gathered outside, mainly of working people, to read the medical bulletins. When he died a few days later, factories closed, flags flew at half mast and thousands contributed small sums to memorials in his honour. He was the man who provided cheap bread and sacrificed his career for the welfare of ordinary people.
Douglas Hurd, like Peel, was Home Secretary and argued for Peel's One Nation philosophy. He too lived through a time of conflict in the Conservative Party and has watched its defeat and rebirth. In this biography, with one eye on the present, he charts Peel's life and work through the dramas of nineteenth-century politics.
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