Stephen Michael MacLean, on a date with history
If Theresa May had any historical nous, she would have postponed divulging her polling intentions by one day and announced her plans the following morning, Primrose Day — once a high holiday in Conservative circles.
For April 19th is the anniversary of the death in 1881 of Benjamin Disraeli, the Victorian premier who in many ways wrote the manual for successful Tory leaders. Rumoured to be Disraeli’s favourite flower, a primrose wreath was sent to his funeral by a mourning Queen Victoria. Lord Randolph Churchill — Sir Winston’s father — never one to let an occasion pass him by, coined the phrase Primrose League to take advantage of the deceased leader’s popular appeal. For decades, Conservative party ranks were filled with thousands of loyal members from Primrose Leagues across the United Kingdom.
But Dizzy would have admired Mrs May’s electoral gambit. ‘In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill,’ she explained to the press. ‘The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.’ ‘The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,’ she lamented.
So, the Prime Minister reasons, ‘we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.’ Disraeli, a wily tactician himself, relished thwarting his political adversaries by ‘dishing the Whigs.’
He would have been equally impressed with the Brexit campaign to free England from European oversight. Having once declared that ‘the programme of the Conservative party is to maintain the Constitution of the country,’ Disraeli would be aghast to learn that his successors were content to suffer the EU to meddle with its institutions and to supersede its laws. Brexit was a vote for restoring Britain’s sovereignty – over domestic legislation, border security, and relations to the wider world.
Disraeli was acutely aware of continental intrigue. For every 21st-century Brussels bureaucrat there was a 19th-century Europhile grandee ready to belittle the patriotic ambitions of average Britons. ‘Influenced in a great degree by the philosophy and the politics of the Continent,’ Disraeli snuffed, trading retort for retort, ‘they endeavoured to substitute cosmopolitan for national principles.’
And he would cheer Theresa May’s agenda to unleash Britain once again, freed of EU constraint, as a diplomatic and trading power-house. Disraeli wore his imperial notoriety lightly, proud of his crafted vision that dwarfed the ‘Little England’ mentality that constrained the island nation to focus its aspirations inward.
As his beloved Tories prepare the writs for a June general election, Disraeli would have probably presented them with some Primrose Day advice ‘which statesmen ought not to forget’ — to wit, ‘Let your plan be founded upon some principle. But that is not enough. Let it also be a principle that is in harmony with the manners and customs of the people you are attempting to legislate for.’ This is a perfect summation of the Brexit agenda.
Stephen Michael MacLean maintains the weblog The Organic Tory