Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (Fifth Series)

Research Article

The Political Arts of Lord Liverpool

Boyd Hilton

After her third consecutive election victory in 1987, Margaret Thatcher chose as her holiday reading Norman Gash's biography of Lord Liverpool. It was a fitting tribute from one remarkably durable prime minister to another. No one now thinks of Liverpool as a mediocrity, let alone an arch one, and the fact that many of his colleagues were more flamboyant than he was merely adds to his stature. His achievements as a statesman are emphasised by Gash, who depicts him as ‘one of the great through unacknowledged architects of the liberal, free trade Victorian state’, the first exponent of a public doctrine which, in both its economic and its moral components, would be taken up triumphantly by his successors—Peel, Gladstone, and (it might be argued) Thatcher. His achievements as a politician, meanwhile, can be measured by the fact that he sustained a fifteen year premiership, broken only by his stroke in February 1827, during a period of extreme social and economic difficulty. This seems all the more remarkable in view of the fact that the eighteenth century had seemed to demonstrate that in order to run a stable administration, a first lord of the treasury needed to be in the House of Commons.

(Revised December 11 1987)