For William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, often compared (not least in Dick Leonard’s recent joint biography of them), the factors that made them successful during their multiple premierships in the late 19th century were wildly different. Gladstone was a details man, Disraeli a schemer. Gladstone was a workaholic, his large team of aides and civil servants only an opportunity for him to achieve even more work. Disraeli was known to sleep through cabinet meetings. Both entered politics for different reasons – Gladstone from conviction and Disraeli out of a desire for fame in his lifetime. Yet both achieved considerable reforms. As our panelists pointed out, Disraeli ‘revolutionised foreign policy’ with his handling of the Treaty of Berlin and Gladstonian ‘fiscal orthodoxy’ was one of the great legacies for future governments; both introduced major social reforms. They were the great orators of their time, particularly in the House of Commons. This helped make their name. As Dick Leonard reminded the audience, both came to the fore on the back of demolishing the reputation of another: Disraeli through his attacks on Robert Peel’s reform of the Corn Laws in the 1940s and Gladstone through his critical intervention and demolition of Disraeli’s own […]

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