One hundred years ago, almost to the day, and barely six months after Disraeli’s death, the Beaconsfield club was opened in Shrewsbury, in honour of the great man who had represented the constituency for a few months only in 1841 and 1842.
Tonight, we are celebrating the club’s centenary; but we are also celebrating 36 years unbroken service to the people of Shrewsbury by your most distinguished member, Sir John Langford-Holt whose grandfather was a founder member of the Club.
John, you had already been in the House of Commons for 14 years when I was elected as member for Finchley in 1959 [end p165]
To serve in the Mother of Parliaments at all is a high privilege and honour; to have done so for 36 years - and we are still only half way through this Parliament - is a record which has been equalled by very few.
I remember John’s kindness to me when I was a new member and I want you to know how delighted I am to be able to visit John's constituency tonight.
Not all of you will know how John became your Member of Parliament. He was serving in the Navy at the end of the war and come home on leave after escorting convoys to Russia. When he returned to his home town of Shrewsbury, in April 1945, the then member, Arthur Duckworth, announced that he would not be standing again. [end p166]
John went to see the Association chairman and told him that he would like to apply for the constituency. The chairman, who Was a friend of John’s family said:- “You will never last. Disraeli lasted only 18 months and I see no reason why you should last any longer, but it doesn’t matter anyway Because within 24 hours i shall have about 100 applications so you haven't got a chance.”
The first annual dinner of the Club was held in the Music Hall, Shrewsbury, on 12th December 1882. The bill of fare consisted of beef, veal, pork, mutton, ham, suckling pig, fowl, sausage, ducks, goose, pastry, cheese, celery and etc, (it would be interesting to know what the “and etc.” was!) 134 tickets were sold at 2s,6d. Per head, although the price has risen somewhat Since then, I am glad to see that numbers, too, have doubled. [end p167]
Disraeli died on the 18th April 1881. He had a deeper and more lasting influence on the Conservative Party than any other leader and in this audience and talking to members of the Club which bears his name we may reflect on the abiding lessons which he taught us. [end p168]
First, and above all, Disraeli had an intense pride in the British people. Speaking in Manchester in 1872 he said this:-
“And yet, gentlemen, it is not merely our fleets and armies, our powerful artillery, our accumulated capital, and our unlimited credit on which I so much depend, as upon the unbroken spirit of her people.”
Amid all the difficulties which face us, the unbroken continuity of the British nation over 1,000 years and more is a phenomenon unique in history, from these islands and into almost every part of the globe have gone all that is noblest in the British achievement - our laws, [end p169] our literature, our democracy, our self discipline.
Second, Disraeli believed in the diffusion of power in the importance of institutions like the church, the universities and the judiciary. He detested centralisation, bureaucracy and would have been appalled at the extent to which, in recent years, there has been a growing concentration of power in Whitehall and County Hall. [end p170]
Third, he believed in the private ownership of property as being the guarantor of economic and political freedom.
Fourth, he believed in the rule of a just law.