Peel Norman Gash. Longman Paperback.
IN JULY 1850 Sir Robert Peel died following a riding accident. He was described by The Times, with uncharacteristic effusion, as 'the greatest statesman of his time'. In his lifetime and aftereards his close association with many of the most difficult problems of the first half of the nineteenth century have made him a figure of controversy and have obscured his achievement.
There seemed to have been so many contradictions both in his often harsh personality and in his shifting policies that it was all too easy to praise him for his work in the formation of the Metropolitan Police and have done with him.
Norman Gash has been the chief instrument in Peel's rehabilitation and this present book is a skilled distillation, available in paperback for the first time, of his major studies on the subject. It is a complex and clearly written biography which shows Peel's mastery. Peel was perhaps the I list Prime Minister who faced up to the implications of the Industrial Revolution and he had to confront their challenge in a society still largely dependant on an aristocratic ascendancy.
He brought a businessman's facility to economic matters in a generation which still regarded 'trade' as somehow unbecoming.
He had to cope with the stirrings of Irish nationalism which, not for the last time, were threatening the equilibrium of the British Government, and found himself the architect of Catholic emancipation. He had to steer the party through one of its greatest periods of crisis and led it from the age of Pitt to the age of Disraeli.
All these factors in Peel's career come out clearly in Professor Clash's book which makes fascinating reading not only for those interested in Victorian England but also for all those who are intrigued by the workings of the political mind and the practical imagination.
Gash's insights. reflecting Peel's preoccupations, are as relevant in their revelation of the art of political management and the finer points of administration to the coming 1980's as they are to the 1830's and '40's.