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Lowe, Robert

Lowe, Robert (1811–92). Liberal politician. An albino and a sharply sarcastic debater, Lowe cut a distinctive political figure. Of Anglican clerical family and educated at Winchester and Oxford, he went to New South Wales and made his name on the legislative council and money from legal practice and property transactions. Back as a Liberal MP (later London University's first member), he gained a reputation for free market and anti-democratic views, the latter apparently sharpened by Australian experience. As vice-president of the Privy Council and responsible for popular education, he introduced the 1862 ‘revised code’ linking government grants to examination results in basic subjects, antagonizing the religious denominations and the teachers. Out of office Lowe fronted the Whig ‘Adullamite’ revolt against the 1866 Reform Bill, bringing down Russell's government and putting the Conservatives in office. When they passed a comparably ‘democratic’ measure, Lowe concluded it was necessary ‘to compel our future masters to learn their letters’. Chancellor of the Exchequer in Gladstone's 1868 government, Lowe, after early success, had to withdraw his 1871 budget and was moved to the Home Office in 1873 under a cloud of departmental mismanagement. A public speech criticizing the queen in 1876 led to withdrawal and apology in the Commons, but failing eyesight and personal unpopularity also weakened Lowe's position. He was created Viscount Sherbrooke in 1880. A notable administrative and educational reformer, Lowe suffers in reputation from the sharpness of his anti-popular language.

Bruce Coleman

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