LETTERS written to Dorset MP George Bankes show parallels between the current situation in the Houses and Parliament and that of 1846.

Bankes' Westminster home was the meeting place for Conservative rebels in 1846.

Thanks to Roger Lane of West Stafford near Dorchester for making us aware of some of these letters through his work as a volunteer at the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester.

Roger writes: "There was even an Irish dimension; not the 'backstop' of today, but a 'background' of starvation following the potato blight.

"This encouraged the PM, Sir Robert Peel, to provide for cheap bread by repealing the notorious Corn Laws despite earlier promises to maintain them.

"This U-turn – ‘rotten potatoes.....have put Peel in his damned fright’, as the Duke of Wellington put it – outraged the Conservative majority. "Calling themselves protectionists, they were led by Lord George Bentinck and it is his letters to George Bankes that reveal the venom behind this dispute."

And as Roger says, we can see the real venom behind the dispute in these extracts from Lord Bentinck's letters to George Bankes.

"March 21st, 1846: I think the poison has worked its way so deep into the blood of the party that the least injurious change will be that of the musket and bayonet for the baton now in my hands."

Roger writes: "The press seemed to be fanning the flames. In the same letter Bentinck refers to the unscrupulous and unprincipled writer of the Morning Herald..... (from whom) the most angry of the malcontents...take their cue.

"Again, as now, the rebels could not agree amongst themselves; he cites two whippers-in (who) have perverted their trust.

Lord Bentinck's letter says: "I kept good faith," he writes angrily. "The party is suffering because the Whippers-in are violent No Popery & No Jew Men." Bentinck was in favour of reducing discrimination against both religious groups, Roger tells us.

Roger said as for the exploitation of procedure, tabling amendments etc, there was more scope back in 1846 because there was no guillotine then. In Lord Bentinck's letter of March 15th, 1846, he writes to Bankes: "I think the mover (of an amendment on the Corn Bill) should at least speak for an hour and two would be better. One MP has offered to speak for six hours on the bill."

Bentinck then tells Bankes of a question he plans to ask Peel himself; like Mrs May, the PM was spending hours at the dispatch box. "This I flatter myself will occupy an hour or two and is sure to get up a discussion," he writes.

Roger writes that articles in the Dorset Chronicle in 1846 keenly followed the debates over Corn Law repeal, well aware of the differences of opinion over how it might affect both the economy and the lives of its readers.

Here are some of the Chronicle's quotations from debates in the Commons and its editorial comments.

"June 3 1846: Report – The Government (has) forfeited trust.

"Bentinck: The ignorance or double-dealing ministers had displayed prevented his friends trusting them at all (cheers). It was time atonement be made to the betrayed honour of Parliament. It was time Europe and the world should know that treachery had been committed by the minister in power but that they did not represent the honour of England."

After lengthy and bitter debates, Sir Robert Peel secured his Repeal of the Corn Laws thanks to the support of the Whig opposition in the Commons but, within hours, he was heavily defeated on another bill and obliged to resign.

Dorset Chronicle: July 2nd, 1846: ... mad pranks of faction

"In order to turn out Sir Robert Peel, the combined forces have opened the way for the worst political jobbers of any age. To be sure, he had failed in an effort to rule without party but unhappily he left it in the power of the worst parties to succeed him. The ministry have triumphed in one great victory and by unprecedented political manoeuvring also been defeated. They have Victory versus Defeat to console and dishearten them. Joy and Sorrow agitate Sir Robert Peel, but who shall say joy does not preponderate. We have no doubt of it: his fall will, therefore, be endured by him rather as a matter of gladness than of grief."

Needless to say, there was no sympathy for Peel from Lord George Bentinck. He promptly wrote to his friend George Bankes, who was not in the Commons for the PM’s resignation speech. He was staying with his daughter and son-in-law, John Floyer MP, at Stafford House, now the home of Julian Fellowes, Lord of West Stafford.

While Peel looked to posterity to justify his actions and his decision to put the national interest before that of the Conservative party, Bentinck is planning to fill the power vacuum; George Bankes is to have a key role in rousing and rallying the troops.

*Thanks to Roger Lane for sharing these interesting letter and newspaper extracts with us.