Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd marquis of
In opposition Salisbury led the Lords in its overwhelming rejection—by 419:41—of Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill in 1893. He was also ruthless in exploiting the queen's Unionist preferences; some of his confidential dealings with her from opposition went beyond accepted constitutional bounds. After the Liberal resignation in 1895 Salisbury brought the Liberal Unionists under Hartington into a formal coalition with the Conservatives and this Unionist government won the election and another in 1900 (the ‘khaki’ election) when the opportunity of the Boer war was seized. By now Salisbury's vigour was declining—the approach to war had seen Chamberlain rather than the premier in control of policy—and his policies were looking dated to younger politicians. He resigned the Foreign Office in 1900 and the premiership in 1902. He did not live to see the sharp divisions caused within Unionism by Chamberlain's tariff reform campaign.
Though Salisbury spent a notable proportion of his later career in office, his governments were either minorities or Unionist coalitions, so that, outside diplomacy, he never had the command of policy to which he aspired. Over the church, which remained dear to his heart, his governments disappointed him. Though a high aristocrat at a time when events were moving against the aristocracy, he recognized the importance of cultivating middle-class and urban opinion, particularly after the 1885 Redistribution Act, and gave firmer support to central office and extra-parliamentary organizations, overseen by the party agent ‘Captain’ Middleton, than his predecessors had done. He was a free market ideologue, reflecting the spread of laissez-faire ideas from the Liberals to the political right, and an upholder of property rights at a time when bourgeois property, alarmed by Irish developments, trade unionism, and intellectual socialism, was moving rightwards. The Conservative Party became more responsive to business interests (the city of London swung its way) and more hostile to trade unionism; the Taff Vale case came at the end of Salisbury's premiership. His success owed much to Gladstone's talent for wreaking havoc upon the Liberal Party, and upon the Liberal Unionist Hartington's support from 1886 onwards. In his later years Salisbury became more relaxed about the simplistic fears of veiled class war—the have-nots plundering the haves—which he had expressed in his early writings. Much of Salisbury's politics had dated by the end of the century and modern Conservatives have tended until recently to make little of him in comparison with more presentable figures like Peel and Disraeli. Salisbury was too much the anti-democrat, too much the free marketeer, for his party's comfort in an age of democracy and welfare economics. Only in the Thatcher era did his reputation improve and his politics find reappraisal. The toughness and ruthlessness he displayed in his party's interests as well as his own do not easily date.
Blake, R., and Cecil, H. (eds.), Salisbury: The Man and his Policies (1987);
Roberts, A. , Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999).
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