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Instead of diminishing, it adds to the artificial restrictions which have been created by legislation, and custom and tradition. The position of the farmers, it is to be feared, will not be really strengthened or bettered by Parliament taking them under its special wing, and regulating their contracts for them. As a Devonshire farmer said in reference to the financial projects of the late Administration, this looks like taking the bull not by the horns but by the tail.' Legislation of this kind moreover labours under the imputation of being undertaken not merely for the purpose of dealing with an alleged public grievance, but of being done to please a section of the community which had shown an inclination to wheel into Liberal line in the late elections. There is much that is radically wrong in the relation between landlord and tenant. Such artificial restrictions as the law of distress; such legal presumptions as those which unduly bolster up the position of the landlord to the disadvantage of the tenant and the detriment of the land, might very well have been dealt with; and if the Home Secretary had brought in a Bill dealing thoroughly and effectually with such matters, he would have had the sympathies of all true Liberals. But he has been in such a hurry to do the obvious right thing from the electioneering point of view, that instead of conciliating he has alienated the minds of those of his party who think there are principles in political action which override even the exigencies demanded by the agricultural vote at the elections. If this matter had been left over till next session, and a large measure introduced dealing with agricultural tenancies, and moving in the direction indicated by Mr. Gladstone in his speech to the representatives of the Farmers' Alliance on the 17th of June, less hostility would have been aroused, and there would have been more probability of a settlement of the vexed questions between landlord and tenant on a broad and permanent basis.
With regard to Mr. Forster's unfortunate proposal to embody a considerable measure of confiscation in an amendment to a clause in the Relief Bill, the less said by friendly critics the better. The proposal bears on its face a similar interpretation to that which we have assigned to the crude proposals in the Hares and Rabbits Bill. It was made without adequate consideration, and with the obvious intention of conciliating a section of the community. The section of Irish members who sit in opposition seem to regard politics as instrumental mainly for getting as much pecuniary assistance for Ireland as a House of Commons exhausted by their pertinacity will grant. To this section of the community the agricultural depression said to be existing in Ireland is an unexpected auxiliary. It requires a strong mau and a firm majority to withstand the combination of menace and solicitation by which an Irish Secretary is persecuted both in the House of Commons and out of it. Mr. Forster, by yielding to this section to the extent of offering such a proposal as that embodied in the clause which he has been compelled to withdraw, has given an
opening to the more pertinacious among the Irish members of which they will not be slow to take advantage. He has shown himself squeezable, and a squeezable Irish Secretary will have a hard time of it at present. The problems opened up by Irish politics just now are no doubt most intricate and difficult. But they ought not to be insoluble by a man of Mr. Forster's capacity, backed by a strong Government. They cannot, however, be solved by any hasty or precipitate action dealing only with the difficulty of the moment. They require investigation and calm consideration. The immediate pressure of the moment (which, if we may judge by the fact that the returns from the Post Office Saving Banks in Ireland have been showing a steady increase since the distress became a matter of political notoriety, is greatly exaggerated) might surely be met by some temporary expedient short of confiscation, and the general treatment of the question postponed to a future Session.
Our complaint, then, with regard to the action of the Government is that they are in too great a hurry to do big things; that their determination to please exacting interests prevents them from looking all round the various questions with which they are attempting to deal; and that, by striking at what appears upon the surface, they are not going deep enough into the subjects they will be called upon to handle. The great work of this Parliament must be its Reform Bill. Whether that measure is to be introduced next session or in some future session, it is full time that preparations should be made with a view to securing the best and most trustworthy information on the subject. Have any steps been taken to procure the information, or to set machinery in motion by which information may be secured and the various theories of redistribution elaborated into practical and working schemes? Before the introduction of the Reform Bill of 1868 this matter had been carefully considered by experts in the confidence of Mr. Disraeli's Government; and there is good reason to believe that it had not been lost sight of by the late Government. Schemes of rearrangement of seats, including new borough-groups and county re-divisions, prepared in the interest of the party which has just gone out of office, are said to be extant. We doubt if anything has been done in this direction by the present Government, and the danger is that when they come to handle a new Reform Bill they will approach the question with insufficient information, and deal with it crudely and imperfectly. What steps should be taken in the matter it may be difficult to suggest; but if the question were relegated to a small committee of the Cabinet, or to two or three experts outside the Cabinet, or even outside Parliament, the necessary steps, whatever they may be, could very easily be discovered, and the knowledge that the matter had been taken in hand would be satisfactory to those who look with serious misgivings on any future leap in the dark' in the matter of the representation of the people.
In the foregoing remarks we have not hesitated to criticise freely the action of the Government with regard to its domestic policy. We fully admit that they have had difficulties to contend with. They have a strong body of followers kept together in loose order, and bent more upon carrying out their own individual inclinations than upon giving a steady unwavering support to their leaders. They have opposed to them a party without any guiding mind to direct their action. Sir Stafford Northcote kept his followers together through a loyalty to the Government of which he was the leading representative, and not through any personal loyalty towards himself. He walked on the lines of policy laid down for him by the stronger minds in the Cabinet, and his supporters followed him like sheep. In Opposition he can no longer calculate upon these results. He has to work out for himself the lines of policy which from day to day he wishes to follow, and he finds his supporters will not go with him. He has never had the authority of a great intellect and force of character, such as Mr. Gladstone possesses, wherewith to coerce the recalcitrant members of his party, and he has no longer the authority of office. Consequently the Tory party have already come to disregard him. They have put themselves under the guidance of two or three irresponsible and self-appointed chiefs of an inferior order of statesmanship, such as Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Gorst, and Sir H. Drummond Wolff, and seem to follow them with the instinctive and unreasoning fidelity which the same party formerly awarded to Mr. Disraeli. The political ideas of this school range over a limited field of speculation, and their political action is bounded by a ring-fence of party partisanship. They regard an organised and successful attempt to irritate the Prime Minister as the highest effort of statecraft, and a night expended in embarrassing the Government with the aid of the malcontent Irish party as a genuine success in Parliamentary tactics. Against an Opposition so constituted and guided, the Government have to rely upon a large body of supporters who cannot and will not be disciplined into obedience, and who consist of several sections moved by conflicting interests. The difficulties, therefore, of their position are considerable. But though the machine has not been working so smoothly as many who are friendly to the Government would desire, and though, as we have not hesitated to state, the Ministry have done, or have shown an inclination to do, things that cannot be commended, it has done nothing to shake in any essential particular the confidence of those who returned it.
The interest of the country is concentrated on home rather than on foreign affairs, and it is to ourselves rather than to other nations that the Ministry is giving its attention. But the inheritance of intermeddling which it has had to take up cannot be exhausted in a couple of months. The opponents of the Government, both in Parliament and in the Press, have never ceased taunting them with the accusation that they have recanted much that they and their
supporters urged against the foreign action of the late Government during the elections, and that, in fact, they have adopted the policy of Lord Beaconsfield. No accusation could be more unjust. In 1874, when Mr. Disraeli succeeded Mr. Gladstone, precisely the same charges were brought against him, and for nearly two years the lines of divergence between the Liberal and the Tory foreign policies were almost imperceptible. But they were separating and moving apart from the day that Mr. Disraeli took office, and were gaining momentum every week. So it is at present. Many accomplished facts have to be accepted and incorporated into the Imperial policy. The Bartle Frere incident is one of these. The Ministerial action has been gravely criticised and condemned by a considerable section of their followers. And though at first it is not easy to dismiss from our minds a suspicion of inconsistency in regard to it, the more it is considered the faster the suspicion vanishes. Sir Bartle Frere was tried by the late Parliament and censured by the late Administration. A new Parliament and a new Ministry have come into being. Is it just or is it expedient that he should undergo a new trial and be condemned in a new punishment? There is a principle of Scottish jurisprudence that a man cannot 'thole his assize twice,' and that principle ought to be extended to cases of this kind. If colonial governors are liable to be tried and punished now by this majority in the British Parliament and again by that, it is obvious that it would soon become a settled habit of those exalted functionaries to adapt their policy to suit the conflicting parties at home rather than the interests of the people over whom they may have been temporarily placed. In this particular case there are other and more cogent reasons to induce the Government to act as they did. And though the rhetorical arguments which may be urged against their apparent inconsistency appear strong, they are hardly of a calibre to cause a reasonable man who takes the logic of facts into consideration to withhold his confidence from the Government in the matter. But, putting this aside as being debateable, there is no lack of evidence to show that we are off the old rails that the forward policy' and the policy of isolation' are shunted-and that we are on the fair way to return to within our old frontier in India, and towards the concerted action of the European Powers in the East of Europe and in Asia Minor. That we must be watchful in India, is now an established fact, and it is no less certain that we must have a definite policy with regard to the affairs of Central Asia. What that definite policy should be, it is for our Indian administrators in this country and in India to determine. But so far this is clear, that we are not, in the immediate future, to strike at a weak Power in order to coerce a strong one. 'Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos' was the proud motto of the proudest nation of ancient times. So it should be now with the proudest nation of modern times. If Russia were distinctly informed
that any clear proof of intrigue on her part in Afghanistan would be regarded as a casus belli in this country-a casus belli directed, not against a wretched congeries of tribes such as that with which we have been warring for the last two years, but against Russia herself— and if Russia were satisfied that we were in earnest in this determination, there would be an end of Russian intrigue, if any such exists, in Central Asia: there would be an end also of the discreditable panics, produced by rumours of such intrigue, in British India and at home.
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