The decade of party strife which began with a huge Whig majority in 1832 and ended in Conservative triumph in 1841 was marked by the development of a constitutional principle which was not entirely new, but which had never before operated with such force: the notion that a government was responsible to parliament for the legislative measures which it laid before it. The word ‘programme’ still lay in the future, but the Whigs’ difficulties in the 1830s stemmed in great part from, or manifested themselves as, the failure to devise and carry through parliament a range of public policies able to command the assent of parliament and meet the aspirations of a majority of the electorate. In the past a government had fallen (when it was not the victim of royal whim) from mismanagement, from a realignment of parliamentary ‘connexions’ or groups of ‘friends’, or from the destabilising effects of a crisis. It did not fall from the failure to satisfy a variety of interests and its fall was not preceded by a war of attrition in which its strength slowly dwindled at successive elections.
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