Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool

Book review

By Martin Hutchinson; reviewed by Michael Arnold, published 26th January 2021

Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool, Martin Hutchinson, The Lutterworth Press, 2020, 429 pp, £50.00, ISBN 978-0-7188-9563-1 

A continuous period of almost 15 years as Prime Minister suggests that Liverpool possessed a large array of talents, yet the average student of modern British history knows much less about him and his characteristics than those of Pitt, Peel, Disraeli and Gladstone. Indeed, few mention him as a great war leader even though he was in office when Napoleon was defeated twice. Martin Hutchinson’s book is a carefully researched and well-written account of Liverpool’s political career, with a willingness not to pull any punches which enhances its appeal. 

The author’s careers in merchant banking and financial journalism have resulted in a particularly strong description and analysis of the country’s economic management under Liverpool. Budgets are discussed in detail and Hutchinson draws attention to Liverpool’s initiatives, unusual at the time, to stimulate the economy by funding infrastructure improvements and the building of new churches. The return to the gold standard to remedy the damage done to the soundness of the financial system by the war is also dealt with at length.

Liverpool emerges as a man of sound and unhurried judgement, for example in his support for a magnanimous peace with France, free trade consistent with secure food supplies and regulating child labour. He also had his eye on the future, making a grant to the British Museum to house George III’s 65,000 volume book collection, purchasing a major art collection which became the centrepiece of the new National Gallery and making some funds available to Charles Babbage to develop his Difference Engine. 

Hutchinson has not sought to assess what it was about Liverpool’s character and personality that made him such a formidable politician but he has written a first-rate political biography which is essential reading for all who are interested in the period.