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Amol Rajan: A few other things the Tories have done for the poor

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Wednesday, 28 October 2009 at 11:01 am
Like John, I was very impressed by Philip Collins' superb commentary for The Times this morning.  Damn it, the piece was so good I even tweeted about it.

But given the piece is headlined 'Progressive Tories must learn their own history', it's a shame that Collins missed out on a couple of important parts of the history of 'One Nation Toryism' (a term popularised by Disraeli but reflecting a tradition erected long before his time). I know there are space considerations with these things, but still.

Three things come to mind. 

First, Peel abolished the Corn Laws in 1846 to make the bread of life cheaper (the poor had recently discovered they couldn't afford it). 

Second, it wasn't just Disraeli's Factory Act of 1874, with its compulsory education for children up to the age of 10, that marked out that Prime Minister's contribution to the welfare of the poor. Most of his 1874-1880 administration focused on development: of new sanitation systems, new houses, and new schools (a policy initiated by Gladstone).

Third, it was a Tory (Churchill) who commissioned the 1942 report entitled Social Insurance and Allied Services, later known to popular culture as the Beveridge Report.

Intriguingly, the latter two of these strengthen Collins' central contention: Peel aside, the Tories have done most for the poor through legislative programmes that - crudely speaking - increase the size of the State. 

The 'end to Big Government' schtick, a nod to the tenets of Jeffersonian liberalism - "That government is best which governs least" - later adopted by Reagan and Thatcher, has not historically been the means by which Tories have governed compassionately.  That is why Collins' column is so important (and so good).

I am not a Tory, and say the above in the interests of History rather than the Cameroon project.