The man who invented income tax

The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle by John Ehrman, Constable, pounds 35

With this masterly volume, 40 years of work by a great historian has come to a triumphant conclusion. Ehrman's first book on Pitt, The Years of Acclaim, was published in 1969; his second, The Reluctant Transition, in 1983. In effect this is Ehrman's life's work; and it has been a life well spent. In Ehrman's work, there is not a word out of place, every detail is judiciously weighed and takes its rightful place in a delicate web of beautiful prose.

It is melancholy to observe that Pitt lived for only two years longer than it took Erhman to write about him. In our own times, we often remark on the youthfulness of political leaders but Pitt entered the House of Commons at the age of 21, became Prime Minister at 23 and died at 42. And with one relatively short break, he served as Prime Minister for 18 years, and died in office. Unquestionably, further, he was one of our finest prime ministers, just as his father, the great Chatham, had been before him. Of course, he had considerable advantages. The Pitts were related to the powerful Grenville faction in parliament. One cannot, however, by any stretch of the imagination, ascribe Pitt's achievements to his family connections, but only to his sterling character.

It is interesting that, whereas Chatham was a great PM at war, and a poor one in peace time, William was a great PM in peace and a poor one in war, although in his last years he was reading voraciously about military strategy and striving to find the ideas and the generals to fight and defeat the seemingly invincible Napoleon.

Pitt's domestic achievements can be divided into two categories. There are the financial systems he put into place which we still have with us today, and the ideas he propounded which, though they were not implanted in legislation in his own lifetime, were later to become fundamental parts of the British constitution. He invented income tax and created the Sinking Fund, the modern version of which Mrs Thatcher was so efficiently to employ in the Falklands War. In its initial and successful incarnation, it restored order to an economy which was chaotic by its own nature and constantly battered by the pressures of the long war against France. Thus, although Pitt never understood war, nor the mechanics of war, it can safely be said that, without the stabilisation and development of the economy that was his master-achievement, Britain would never have had the strength to prosecute the war.

In the waging of war, as in the reform of French institutions, Napoleon enjoyed the priceless advantage of total power, and a command centred entirely upon himself. In Britain, the perennial squabbling of parliamentary factions was exacerbated by the potentially fatal challenge from across the Channel. In our century, we have been accustomed to government by a single, more or less disciplined party, with coalition a last resort in times of national crisis. In Pitt's time, parliamentary politics was invariably in a state of flux. Yet Pitt managed for he was a superb parliamentary manager.

In the face of all his trials, Pitt still succeeded in giving impetus to other causes - Catholic Emancipation (which earned him the wrath of the King), the abolition of slavery, and parliamentary reform among them. He did not live to see the fulfilment of all his dreams but, although Britain has had many great prime ministers, he was, in my view, the greatest.

Suggested Topics
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The number of GP practices with 10 or more doctors has grown by 75 per cent
science
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game