Sunday, 01 July 2007
Review of the Douglas Hurd book "Robert Peel"
Millions of words have been written about Sir Robert Peel, twice Home secretary and Prime Minister, who is best remembered for founding the Metropolitan Police, a worldwide model for a civilian police force. It is difficult to imagine what more could be said about one of the great C19th leaders. Douglas Hurd, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Home and Foreign Secretary in the Thatcher and Major governments, has proved that there is a lot more to appreciate about Peel than has been written so far.
"Robert Peel" by Douglas Hurd reveals aspects of his life which have not been emphasised. Having served in these great offices of state, Lord Hurd understands the pressures and opportunities that bear down on politicians. In this way, he brings a new insight into Peel's career in a well written and entertaining book.
Lord Hurd says that Peel was a "doer". If he felt that the condition of Britain would be improved by a course of action, he went for it even if it meant changing his mind, destroying his party and his political career. Lord Hurd divides politicians into "simplifiers" and "complicators". Peel was a simplifier, which made the life of the ordinary person better, hence the statues erected to his memory in Tamworth and most major cities.
Douglas Hurd makes many comparisons between politics in Peel's time and contemporary politics. One memorable passage in the book compares the 1841 election to elections today. In 1841 political parties had little control over candidates. There were no telephones, television or radio. National newspapers were in their infancy, so communications were very difficult. Voters and M.P.s were much more independent and free thinking. Voters often had long journeys on foot or horseback to vote. Voting was not secret. You declared yourself on the hustings to the approval or otherwise of the mob! Now, candidates have party scripts to follow. If they step out of line, they are sacked. We don't have to get off our backsides to vote, we can vote by post so Hurd calls it "the politics of obesity".
Douglas Hurd describes Peel's private life, which was very happy. A good illustration of this is the enjoyment Peel took from his newly built home of Drayton Manor. When defeat in the aftermath of the Repeal of the Corn Laws released him from office, he took great pleasure in feeding the partridges that dared to enter his drawing room through the French window.
If you want to obtain an insight into the achievements of one of Staffordshire's greatest personalities, read this book. It is enlightening and entertaining. You can buy a signed copy by attending the Peel Society Drayton Luncheon on Sunday, 22nd July.Contact the Peel Society for more information
Nigel Morris, Vice Chairman, Peel Society