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Alistair Lexden: On this day, 225 years ago - the birth of Robert Peel, the first Compassionate Conservative

Lexden AlistairLord 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 February 5.

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 compassionate Conservative.


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