Young Mr Nick Clegg has delivered a most inspiring and hopeful speech on the occasion of an event that passed me by some 150 years ago.
According to the historians, the parliamentary Liberal Party was formed on this occasion when Palmerston, Russell, Bright, Hartington and others met at Willis's Rooms, a little before today's date, for the meeting was on June 6th. I do not think I was present as I rejected the plan to remove Lord Derby's government and in many ways rejected Palmerston's statesmanship. However after Palmerston assumed the premiership, I agreed to resume my post at the Exchequer, for the good of the nation and also because I was increasingly in sympathy with others, such as Russell and Bright, who had joined the new Liberal Party.
Mr Clegg's argument is that today, yet again, the old party lines are no longer relevant and that today it is time again for a Liberal hour. This has been my perception but I am not sure the events of 1859 provide an example to follow.
Undoubtedly on that occasion Mr Bright and the Radicals represented the new generation of newly enfranchised electors. Was it opportunism that led the Whigs to seek to coalesce with them? Or was it merely force of habit inasmuch as the Radicals had in general given support to Whig governments?
There does not appear to be an equivalent circumstance now, even though there are four significant parties in the British parliament and an increasing number gaining support outside of Parliament.
The cause of progress is tainted by the failings of the present government; and indeed there is no clear liberal tendency within the governing party, although liberal causes are predominantly espoused by those on the left of that party. Indeed there is now a liberal wing of the Conservative party that is more overt and outspoken than that in the Labour Party, although its numbers are uncertain and one of its leaders, Mr John Bercow, has recently been elevated to the Speaker's Chair.
Nevertheless Mr Clegg is broadly correct that the best course for Britain to take in the near future would be under Liberal leadership, not Conservative nor Socialist leadership, just was the case in 1859. Now as then, the nation was emerging from a costly and ill-considered martial entanglement. The public would desire Mr Vince Cable to be Chancellor, as I was, and it is possible to imagine a coalition forming across the existing parties for that purpose, to give Mr Cable the support that is needed to fetter the power of those who have abused our financial freedoms and the power of the market and to disperse power from the wealthy to the populace. It is equally possible to imagine the polling numbers giving encouragement to the electorate to sweep away the present power structure, as seemed possible last month; for the most part that can only be done by voters placing their trust in Mr Clegg and his party.
It is most likely however that the electorate will hesitate and return to their comfortable habits, condemning the nation to a new period of incompetence and dishonesty under the platitudinous and deceptive leadership of Mr Cameron.
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