DISRAELI WAS a major player in the downfall of Sir Robert Peel. Peel's rejection of the Corn Laws, to which he had committed the Party in the 1841 election, and his moves towards Free Trade and a more liberal conservatism, provoked the Protectionist faction. The Corn Laws were especially emotive because of the links between protecting British agricultural interests, taxing cheaper imports, and the cost of the domestic loaf. Peel's proposal to repeal the Corn Laws as famine swept Ireland - and all that it symbolized - was hugely divisive. Writing in the mid-1960s, Lord Blake has compared the divisiveness to that of two twentieth-century benchmarks, the Abdication crisis and Munich. To these one might add the Suez crisis, the Falklands War and more recent crises. But it was not the only issue troubling Peel's relations with his party.
Ambitious to make his mark, and influenced by a romantic political attachment to the aristocratic settlement, Disraeli spearheaded the Protectionist faction, arguing against total repeal rather than for protectionism. If the leaders thought they could discard him after the battle they underestimated his tenacity.
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Last modified: 02 August 2005 by LwM