Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party's official historian. Read more of his historical articles on his website.
A magnificent church service was held in Tamworth last Sunday under the aegis
of the Peel Society to give thanks for the life and political legacy of Sir
Robert Peel born two and a quarter centuries ago on
The police top brass were there in force to commemorate the founder of
Britain's unique tradition of law enforcement by "the citizen in
uniform". The Chief Constabulary of Staffordshire provided a timely
reminder that "bobbies" were told by Sir Robert to " do their
duty with every possible moderation and forbearance".
Chris Pincher, MP for Tamworth, read from the famous manifesto issued by his
great predecessor in 1834. Peel pledged that Tories would always work for
" the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real
grievances". A year earlier he had stressed that the Party stood for
" reforming every institution that really required reform".
But Peel is not as well known as he should be for his broad social compassion
which sprang from deep religious faith.He scrapped the Corn Laws to bring down
the price of food." We must make this country a cheap country for
living", he said in 1842," to enable people to consume more by having
more to spend."
He raised millions privately from the well to do in the Tory Party which were
spent without publicity to relieve poverty in industrial areas. Peel wanted a
welfare state run efficiently by small-scale charities.
His compassion did not go unnoticed at the time. When he died in agonising pain
in 1850, nearly half a million working men contributed one penny each to a fund
which equipped newly founded mechanics institutes with libraries.
As younger Tory MPs like Robert Halfon and his associates plan new measures of
social reform, they should look back past Disraeli to Peel, the first great