Explain the 19th century British Liberal and Conservative parties.

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The Conservative and Liberal Parties were the dominant political parties of the Victorian Age, with their most famous leaders being Benjamin Disraeli for the Conservatives and William Gladstone for the Liberals. Generally speaking, within the nineteenth century European context, Conservatives tended to support traditional power structures and institutions, whereas Liberalis tended to be more reformist and democratically minded. One sees this reflected in the base of support for these two parties. The Conservative Party drew its support from the traditional landowners and the business elites, while the Liberal Party drew significant support from the working classes.

That being said, while the Liberal Party was more ideologically focused on reform, the Conservative Party did have a reformist dynamic. When discussing this aspect of history, you should keep in mind the larger European context. There was widespread turmoil in the first half of the 19th century. Disraeli supported the 1867 Reform Bill, which greatly expanded the voting pool (Britain remained short of universal suffrage). Disraeli also supported various social reforms relating to the abuses of the Industrial Age.

Generally speaking, however, one still tends to see these traditional understandings of Conservativism and Liberalism reflected within the British political context. The Conservative Party, for example, tended to be the more nationalistic and pro-imperialist of the two parties. Gladstone had a reputation as a critic of Empire, and also supported self-government in Ireland.

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