When Were The Tories Ever the Party of the Poor?

Since David Cameron took over the Tories, they’ve been claiming that they’re the real party of the poor and the working class. Various Tory politicos have gone around speaking behind banners saying ‘For Hardworking People’. One of the leading Tory politicos made a speech, claiming that they were the party of the poor and workers, because they stood for tax cuts, which allowed the poor to keep more of their hard-earned moolah.

It’s a risible claim. The Tory party emerged in the late 17th century as the party of the monarchy, the aristocracy and the Anglican church. Its immediate predecessor was the Country party, who were disposed royalist gentry. Throughout the 18th and 19th century the Conservatives were thoroughly aristocratic, as indeed was parliament in general. It was also quite normal for the Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords, something that has since been forbidden by the British constitution. The modern Conservative party has changed its class composition slightly through the entrance of business people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who would earlier have been members of the Liberals. And there are one or two working class Tories on the green benches in parliament, such as Nadine Dorries, who apparently comes from a council estate. Working class support for the Conservatives was built up in the late 19th century by Disraeli. But despite this, the Tories still remain the party of the rich, the aristocracy and business. You can see that in the leadership of the Tory party – Cameron, Osborne and many others are pukka old Etonians.

‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymous author of the 1944 book, Your MP, also makes a point of the wealthy background of Tory MPs, listing a few. These include:

Arthur Balfour, who was among other things, director of the National Provincial bank, and who had not only his own company, but was also the chairman of two steel firms;

Lady Astor was a viscountess, and Col. J.J. Astor was given £1,400,000 in 1915 by his father. An exorbitant sum for the time. When he died, his father also left Astor and his brother a fortune of $40 million;

R.A.B. Butler married one of the Courtaulds. In 1928 the Courtauld Company gave its shareholders a bonus of £12 million, and the shares held by the family were estimated to have a market value of £11 million;

Sir Ronald Cross was a merchant banker and the grandson of the founder of the largest cotton manufacturer in Lancashire;

Brigadier-General W. Alexander (Glasgow Central), was a director of British Celanese, which had a capital of £9 million. He was also the deputy director of an oil company, and had been a director of Charles Tennant & Co. Ltd;

Irving Albery (Gravesend) was a member of the Stock Exchange, and senior partner in the family firm of I. Albery & Co. Ltd.

John Anderson (Scottish Universities) was a director of the armaments firm, Vickers, and the chemical company, ICI;

Ralph Assheton (Rushcliffe) came from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Britain. He married a daughter of Lord Hotham, also an ancient aristocratic family. Both families had been sending MPs to parliament since 1324, though Ralph Assheton had rather come down in their world, working as a member of the Stock Exchange.

Adrian Baillie (Tonbridge), was left a fortune of £140,000 by his brother. His wife was the daughter of Lord Queenborough, and heiress to an American multi-millionaire, Whitney. Lady Baillie owned Leeds castle in Kent, where Hitler’s racial ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, was a guest in 1933.

Brograve Beauchamp (Walthamstow East) married the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon. R.E.B. Beaumont was the son of Viscount Allendale, who bequeathed him £200,000. Alfred Beit (St. Pancras South East) was the director of a number of investment trusts, and was left £3,500,000 by his father. Lt.-Col. D. Boles (Wells), was an old Etonian, so obviously very rich. L.H. Boyce was chairman of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, along with seven other firms.

R.A. Brabner (Hythe) was a merchant banker.

Major A.N. Braithwaite (Buckrose) was director of Guardian Eastern Insurance co. Ltd, as well as a number of brick companies, and a director of Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co. Ltd.

William Brass (Clitheroe) was an estate agent, and director of the Guardian Assurance Company.

George Broadbridge (City of London) was a tin magnate and Lord Mayor of London in 1936;

Captain Bartle Bull (Enfield) was the heir of Canadian millionaire. His wife was a Miss Baur of Chicago, who herself inherited £500,000.

G.R. Hall Caine (Dorset, East) was a director of nine or ten companies.

Colonel W.H. Carver (Howdenshire) was a director of the LNER and a brewery.

R.A. Cary (Eccles) married the niece of Lord Curzon.

Somerset S. de Chair, (Norfolk South West) was the son of an admiral.

H. Channon (Southend-on-Sea) married Lady Honor Guinness, and was a friend of Ribbentrop’s.

Lt.-Col. R.S. Clarke (East Grinstead) also was the director of a couple of companies.

R. Clarry (Newport) was managing director of the Duffryn Steel and Tin Plate Works, and the director of a number of other firms.

Sir Thomas Cook (Norfolk North) was the grandson of the Thomas Cook, who founded the travel agency.

Duff Cooper is brother-in-law to the Duke of Rutland and nep0hew of the Duke of Fife.

Colonel George Courthope (Rye), belonged to another ancient aristocratic family that had owned land since 1493. He was a former chairman of the Central Landowners’ Association, and director of the Southern Railway, chairman of Ind Cooper and Alsop, the great pub chain.

Captain H.B. Trevor Cox (Stalybridge and Hyde) was another company director.

Lord C. Crichton-Stuart was the son of the Marquess of Bute. His wife was the Marchioness of Lansdowne, and inherited a cool million from his father.

J.F.E. Crowder (Finchley) was a member of Lloyds.

Against them, there were a number of Tory MPs from working class backgrounds. These were Sir Walter Womersley (Grimsby), Mr Denville (Newcastle Central) and Mr Rowlands (Flint). But, he concludes There may be another Tory MP or two who started with the advantages and disadvantages of ordinary men. Among the National Liberals, Mr Ernest Brown, part of whose job used to be to build us houses-in twos, or even in half-dozens-seems to have done so. Research fails to find any more.

This is not to say that the Tories haven’t been touchy about representing the interests of the rich and powerful. When Randolph Churchill, one of the two Tory MPs for Preston, said that the Conservatives in recent years had “had tended more and more to be identified with the propertied classes, and that those who dominated and controlled the Party had served the interests of a purse-proud, acquisitive and selfish minority”, the other Tory MP for the constituency, Captain Cobb, declared that his comment was ‘an insult to the electors’.

Well, Randolph Churchill’s comment was true then, and it’s just as true now. Winston Churchill himself declared, when he was a Liberal, that the Tories were the party of the rich against the poor. And in the century since, nothing has changed, despite the denials and slogans of Cameron, Osbo and co.

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