Marking the birth of a giant:
What has always struck me most about Gladstone is that he was so utterly right. He applied his massive brain to the problems that faced our country at a turbulent, and near-revolutionary, juncture in its history and almost always found the right answers. So complete was his self-confidence, and his determination to put his country before himself or his party, that he would propound and pursue policies even if they contradicted what he had hitherto believed: any loss of face was nothing to him compared with the damage he feared would be done to the national interest if the country continued to take the wrong course.
Three things seem to underpin his genius. The first is the economic policy. He understood that Peel was right to repeal the Corn Laws, and that by applying the principle of free trade more generally, Britain – then the workshop of the world – would become richer. This cast of mind found loud echoes in the north of England, notably in the Manchester liberalism of Cobden and Bright, from whom Gladstone borrowed much. What we now regard as the monuments of Victorian ambition – Manchester, Bradford or Leeds town halls, Joe Chamberlain's Birmingham, the Gothic revival buildings still to be seen all over London and other major cities – are monuments to Gladstone's vision. It was not just his belief in free trade: it was his recognition that a complicated structure of taxation could only impede prosperity. He understood what it would take monetarists another century to demonstrate again: that if you cut taxes, you raise more revenue, because of the provision of the incentive to work and take risks.