|Charles James Fox, by Sir Joshua Reynolds|
The movement for reformJohn Wilkes was not really a radical, but his career energised those who were critical of the political system. The demand grew for shorter parliaments and a redistribution of seats away from the boroughs that could be managed by powerful patrons and towards the more ‘independent’ counties. Opposition politicians were increasingly appropriating the name ‘Whig’ and pursuing an agenda of limiting the power of the Crown. Their parliamentary leader was the Marquess of Rockingham, who had been briefly Prime Minister 1765-6.
Edmund BurkeThe Irishman, Edmund Burke, emerged as the most eloquent spokesman for the Whigs. Unlike most of his fellow-Whigs he came from a middle-class background, and this made him something of an outsider. He had come to London to study for the bar, but he wanted a political career. In July 1765 he became private secretary to Lord Rockingham. In 1766, thanks to the influence of Lord Verney, he was elected for the borough of Wendover.
|Edmund Burke, by Sir Joshua Reynolds|
In May 1770, with Lord North now Prime Minister, Burke published Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents. It was a defence of the Whigs and an attack on the growth of a court party which undermined successive ministries. In contrast to the prevailing view that party was ‘faction’, Burke saw it as the means of restoring integrity to public life because it would allow policy to be moulded by convictions and ideals:
‘Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joining endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle on which they are all agreed.’He also declared, in a now frequently misquoted statement: ‘
When bad men combine, the good men must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’In 1774 Burke was elected MP for Bristol, a freeman borough and the Empire’s second city. The Tories were in disarray, the Whigs were looking for a candidate, and Burke fitted the bill. His ‘Address to the Electors of Bristol’, delivered in November after he had been elected, expounded the now widely quoted principle of representative government. (This principle was to be tested to destruction when he fell out with his constituents over America.)