The government which Sir Robert Peel formed in the autumn of 1841 took office supported by a party which represented, above all, English agriculture and the Church of England. It is true that Conservative candidates in two-member boroughs with an electorate greater than 1,000 polled a larger share of the vote in 1841 than they had in previous elections; but in the large industrial towns and cities the Conservatives won no more seats than they had in 1835 or 1837. In Scotland and Ireland they were in a minority. By far the most telling statistic of the 1841 returns was that in the English and Welsh counties the Conservatives had an advantage of 137 seats to 22 over the opposition: the heart of Conservative support, the core of its majority (which was somewhere between 76 and 90) lay in the Anglican, protectionist shires.1 The election results continued a trend which had begun inside the House of Commons itself. In the nine years of Whig government after 1832 defectors from the pro-government benches had swelled the Conservative ranks, and of the 58 ‘reformers’ who crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the opposition, 54 represented English constituencies.
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