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Robert Peel introduced many radical reforms in his second term which changed the general attitudes within Britain and helped to push Britain towards a more modern state. He reshaped politics by ending the clear Whig, Tory divide and introducing a liberal attitude. His series of economic and social reforms metamorphosed Britain towards a more liberal modern state which encompassed the growing middle classes.
Peel’s conservative politic position has been critically analysed by many historians. Historian Norman Gash promotes peel as the founder of modern conservatism while Richard A.
Gaunt argues he developed a new liberal approach to politics. His removal of tariffs and encouragement of free trade highlight his liberal attitudes. Peel rebuilt his party and as Douglas Hurd puts it reinvented his party to be more appealing to the growing middle class. The middle classes were growing in prosperity as well as numbers, they were becoming impatient with the old rigid ways but were against revolution. Historian G.H Francis describes peel as a slave to public opinion, he mentions in his work that ‘(Peel) his mind marched with that of the public’.
However it can be argued that Peels reorganisation and public confidence led to restoration of faith in politics. Peel built a cabinet of outstanding talent which included dukes, small farmers and tradesmen. Peels moved his party towards liberal policies; he has been described as the pioneer of Gladstonian liberalism. Eric J Evans argues that the conservative party had become better organised thus become more popular. Norman McCord argues the conservative victory was due to new conservative organisation.
His liberal ideas were further highlighted by his idea of constructive opposition by supporting oppositions policies which he felt where necessary; as Douglas Hurd mentions, Peel helped Grey retain the Malt Tax and reform local government and therefore try to maintain peace. The use of constructive opposition has been used in the modern times when David Cameron helped Tony Blair pass his Education Bill. Peel wanted to be the model of the common sense moderate and middle ground party. Peels method of party leading made him into more of a national leader. J.B Concher describes Peel as Conservative but argues his approach to political questions was rational rather than emotional. His inclination was to treat an issue on its merits. Robert Peels political party was designed to enlarge the social base of the conservative party, he wanted to highlight that there was no natural barrier between the conservative party and the middle classes.
This greater involvement of the middles classes highlights the move towards modern state. Peels political party changed peoples attitudes and allowed greater social mobility. He used himself as an example; the son of a cotton spinner who worked his way up the hierarchy. Journalist and Economist Walter Bagehot argues that peels second class intellect allowed him to gain a initiative rapport amongst the silent majority. His new political party helped to shape the modern state politically, his political party showed that social mobility was possible and he further encouraged a new party through his moderate and middle ground approach which came to be known as the liberal party in the modern British state.
Peels economic policies also helped to shape the modern British state. Peel passed a series of economic reforms which allowed the revolution of economics and the railway. Peel passed a number of acts to continue and authorise more railway construction, a further 7,000 miles of of railway was laid raising a capital of £190 billion. By 1844 805 miles of line were sanctioned and by 1845 2700 miles of line were sanctioned. The 1842 Railway act ensured safe running of the railways. New lines were to be inspected by the board of trade who had more authority to demand traffic return and question any accidents. This Act created the Modernisation as we see it today with tightening of rules and regulations all the time. He passed a series of other railway acts which modernised and made efficient the railway. The 1844 Bank Charter Act created stability and confidence in the pound which restricted previous banks from issuing notes, the main objective was to strengthen relationship between paper money and gold reserves. The low lending rate which had been cut to 3¼% which allowed construction of more railway thus creating speculation on railway construction and allowing capital to be generated. Peels economic policy has been described by Blake as successful. His policies led to a time to an age of prosperity which involved financial stability and revision of free trade; His policies moved Britain towards becoming a liberal modern state, these ground breaking acts created the perfect breeding ground for monopolies. The economy was further stabilised through The Companies Act of 1844 which controlled the formation of businesses and stated that all companies had to be registered and submit annual accounts.
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