Lord Lexden corrects Ed Miliband on one nation

The Conservative Party’s official historian has today written to The Times in response to the Labour leader’s conference speech:

Sir, As your correspondent rightly observes (letter, Oct 4), Disraeli never used the phrase “one nation”. But he famously deplored the existence of two nations, the rich and the poor, in his novel Sybil, published in 1845 (report, Oct 3). And 30 years later he introduced a few measures to improve the condition of the poor.

His great speech in Manchester 140 years ago, on which Ed Miliband lavished praise, was a brilliant defence of Britain’s historic constitution, cast in traditional Tory terms.

“The programme of the Conservative Party”, he declared, “is to maintain the constitution of the country”. He spoke at length and with deep feeling about the monarchy, the hereditary House of Lords (specifically ruling out the creation of life peers which some leading Tories then favoured) and the established Church. He twitted the Liberals for making “no provision for the representation of the working classes”, which he himself had introduced five years earlier. He devoted no more than nine sentences to social reform in a speech of 3½ hours delivered “without reference to a note”.

Stanley Baldwin was the first Conservative to employ the term “one nation”. In a speech on December 4, 1924, he declared that “we stand for the union of those two nations of which Disraeli spoke two generations ago: union among our own people to make one nation of our own people at home which, if secured, nothing else matters in the world”. It was on that basis that Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain devised the first stages of a distinctively Tory welfare state in the interwar years.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords