British politics used to be the envy of the World. There is a reason why our Parliament at Westminster is known as the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. Now our senior politicians achieve high office based on how few blemishes they have. Even new parliamentary candidates are expected to fit a mould shaped by out of touch graduates on Matthew Parker Street or Victoria Street. Where have the days gone where you could destroy your opponents with sound reasoning and facts? Now we have to watch every word we say. Our leaders are elected not on ideas, but on how big their cult is. There’s little duty in politics now; it’s all showbiz.
In some ways, Churchill was the original careerist. He jumped ship from the Conservative Party when his career wasn’t progressing as fast as he would have liked. He then came back when people had forgotten about his catastrophic errors in the Liberal Government in the First World War. Yet despite this, he is frequently listed as the greatest Briton of all time. That is because when no one else would, he stepped forward to take on the greatest evil the world had ever seen. He led a country that stood alone against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union until July 1941. But he was far from popular with his colleagues and peers. He presided over a country at war for 5 years, not for his CV, or a seat in the Lords, but because he believed in his country and in freedom.
Looking further back, in 1812 Lord Liverpool stepped up and took on the premiership when his boss was assassinated in the central lobby in Parliament. Murder in the heart of democracy in a country fighting the greatest War the world had ever seen. The 2nd Earl of Liverpool lead a deeply divided Tory Party. Contemporaries expected his government to collapse in under a year. But he was in office for nearly 16 years. He wasn’t power mad. He managed instead of ruled and led the country through the final years of the war against Napoleon. He lit the first sparks of industrialisation. Under his leadership, Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, founded the Metropolitan Police. His Cabinet was the pinnacle of a deeply divided Tory Party. Almost every member had a separate agenda. Testament to his legacy, the Tory Party collapsed 6 years after he died; the others couldn’t stay united. Sir Robert would form the Conservative Party out of the ashes of the Tory Party.
Between 1782 and 1783 there were four Prime Ministers. In December 1783 the King asked a 24 year old to be PM in 1783. He was derided by almost every Member of Parliament. If Theresa May is facing a hostile Commons, imagine how she would fare under those circumstances. People expected that Ministry to come to an end after a no confidence vote crushed the Government. However William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister until 1801, and from 1804-6. He was the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He believed his country was the only one capable of standing firm against a Europe united by Napoleon’s conquest.
Liverpool and Pitt did not surrender to pressure. They took risks, used bold policies, and held the belief that the country needed, and deserved, strong leadership. That’s what duty is. Not desperately clinging on when you have no vision for the future. Their example is still as relevant today as it was nearly 200 years ago. As Pitt the Younger said in November 1805, shortly after the victory at Trafalgar: “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will save Europe by her example”. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our history. It’s complex; nuanced; fascinating. And it makes me wonder: will our political leaders ever believe in our country again?
Jack Kennaugh is a 21-year-old sales advisor and chair of Nuneaton Young Conservatives. Follow him on twitter: @Jackalanch