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Was Robert Peel's reorganisation of the Tory party the most important factor in the 1841 election?

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Was Robert Peel's reorganisation of the Tory party the most important factor in the 1841 election? After the Tories' worst ever election defeat in 1832, many spectators felt that they would never re-establish themselves as a political force. In introducing the Great Reformations Bill that same year, the Whig party had given an extra eight percent of men the vote. This increase from two to ten percent, publicly opposed by the Tories, was expected to make the Whigs eternally popular. However, in less than ten years the Tory party, under the leadership of Sir Robert Peel, had a convincing majority and, in July 1841, Peel was Prime Minister. The reorganisation of the Tory party into the Conservatives was the crucial factor in Peel's victory. The party underwent major changes during Peel's ten-year pre-victory tenure, and his success stemmed from his accomplishment in broadening the base of the party's appeal. However, one must also examine the fortunate circumstances of Peel's victory, and analyse to what extent Whig failure aided him. Regardless of these other factors, though, Peel's sophisticated remodelling of his party was a remarkable achievement from which election victory seems wholly justified. The crushing 1832 defeat left Peel's Tories in a highly unenviable position. With just 185 seats in Parliament, and having suffered major defeats over Catholic Emancipation and the Reformations Bill, the party appeared destined for a period in the political wilderness. ...read more.


Peel's ministry lasted only one hundred days; being a minority government, it was easily defeated by the Lichfield House Compact of 1835. However, Peel had demonstrated admirable vision in his policies regarding the Church and the problems in Ireland. He also learnt to extend the breadth of Tory policy to incorporate the needs of the wider British electorate. From then until 1841, Peel looked to strengthen his control on party policy, and to affirm the foundations of the party's nationwide support. Between 1832 and 1841, there were an extraordinary four elections, enabling Peel to gradually build up support within the two Houses. The Conservative seats increased from 185 in December 1832 to 279 in January 1835, and from 314 to 367 between August 1837 and July 1841. This undoubtedly aided the progress of Peel's policies. However, it must be acknowledged that Peel was extremely fortunate in being able to increase his influence in such a way; with less elections, the Whig majority may never have decreased so rapidly. Furthermore, Peel was able to judge how well his policies were received in the minds of the electorate by analysing the locations of his party's gains. However, it is the 'Bedchamber Crisis' of 1839 that, in retrospect, appears the most fortunate event for Peel. ...read more.


This, combined with the rise of Chartism, Peel was able to induce fear within the British public: with the Whigs in charge, he asserted, the economy would suffer, Chartism would rise and radicals would gain influence within Parliament. Thus, one can see that Peel was able capitalise on these Whig errors, and in doing so emphasise his own party's success. However, without Peel's exploitation, the Whig mistakes may have gone unnoticed. It was only through the Tories' re-emergence, and their leaders' astute judgement, that they were to feel the full wrath of their failures. However, I feel that the Whigs' weaknesses were a more important factor than the fortunate circumstances that the Tories enjoyed. If Peel were to succeed, it was essential that the Whigs lost the momentum gained by the Reformations Bill. In the form of party splits and bad decisions, the Whig leadership ensured they did. The Conservative Party required Robert Peel's presence in order to take advantage of the weaknesses of the Whigs, and of the fortunate circumstances that preceded the 1841 election. His oratory skills, and public agents, meant that every Whig mistake was highlighted, and every Tory success celebrated. In remodelling and reorganising the Tory party, Peel had succeeded in creating the "first modern political party" (Gash) and ensured that the Conservatives exploited the favourable situation in which they found themselves. It is an example today's Conservative party dream of following. 21/2/2005 Luke Bullen SPC ...read more.

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