David Cameron has recently been much compared to Benjamin Disraeli, the Tory prime minister who warned that extension of the vote would be tantamount to letting the mob into power. Disraeli eventually adopted the cause as his own, shattering his party in the process. In his own negotiations, Cameron has apparently shown a similar ability to change his mind. But is it laudable pragmatism or—as some (former) Lib Dem supporters would have it—brutal realpolitik?
Disraeli, before the twists that would bring him to the premiership, delivered his first-ever Budget (in 1852) with proper bombast. Outrageously, he proposed to establish income tax–thus far a temporary revenue-raising measure–in perpetuity. An even bigger problem was his economic policy, which imposed protectionist price controls. Disraeli probably knew that he could not get his budget passed, because a significant number of his own MPs had dedicated themselves to the pursuit of free trade, William Gladstone among them. These “Peelites” would certainly vote in line with the Whigs.