Volume One of Angus Hawkins’s magisterial biography of the 14th Earl of Derby ended just as his subject was about to become Prime Minister. Volume Two traces the events of the next eighteen years, in which Derby would hold the highest political office three times. On each occasion he would lead minority administrations. On each occasion, his survival depended on Whigs, Liberals, Radicals, Irish and Peelites disliking one another more than they suspected him. He would never know the comforting cushion of a large majority.
On top of this, his party’s only man of ability in the House of Commons was Benjamin Disraeli, who, as the world well knew, had debauched Derby’s younger brother and malevolently influenced his son. Ambitious for more than his origins could possibly allow, Disraeli was so unencumbered by principle that