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Midlothian campaign

Midlothian campaign, 1879–80. Unhappy in his Greenwich constituency, and retired from the Liberal Party's leadership, Gladstone accepted the Midlothian Liberal Association's invitation of May 1878 to contest the constituency of Edinburghshire (as Midlothian, the county around the Scottish capital, was technically known) at the 1880 election against Lord Dalkeith, the Tory candidate and son of the powerful duke of Buccleuch. With less than 3,500 electors the constituency was open to manipulation and both Buccleuch and Lord Rosebery for the Liberals spent heavily. Gladstone made a series of long and highly effective nationally reported speeches—six major speeches in 1879 and fifteen in 1880—attacking what he dubbed ‘Beaconsfieldism’ (the policies of Disraeli's government), especially its foreign, imperial, and financial politics. He denounced ‘a catalogue of expedients’ and ‘a new method government’, exposed the Tories' loss of moral equilibrium, and put forward ‘six principles’ of foreign policy. Political speech-making was by no means new to British politics, but the Midlothian campaign was the apogee of the popular presentation of politics through ‘the platform’ and established Gladstone as the dominant orator of the century. He easily won the seat and the campaign played a part in winning the great Liberal majority in the Commons (though present-day historians accord it a less significant role than contemporaries). It re-established him as the unavoidable leader of the Liberal Party. Lords Granville and Hartington (Devonshire) (the official party leaders) felt unable, despite strong pressure from Queen Victoria, to form a government, and Gladstone began his second administration.

H. C. G. Matthew

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