When Disraeli observed that Palmerston was ‘only ginger beer and not champagne’, he might have gone on to reflect that ginger beer is cheaper, healthier and more likely to leave you with a clear head in the morning. There was, indeed, nothing fanciful about ‘Old Pam’. Early in life, he had adopted the view that ‘the law of self-preservation is a fundamental principle of the law of nations’, and thereafter acted on it. Those with principles, to the right or to the left, found him less than satisfactory, but a majority of his countrymen held a different opinion.
Free of restraints, Palmerston zigzagged across the frontiers of Victorian politics. His first year in office saw him sitting with the Tories, enacting Pittite economies in the battle against Bonaparte. The threat from France was so pressing that there was no time for the ‘frantic’ reform programmes of