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PARLIAMENTARY DIFFICULTIES AND
THE warmest well-wishers of the Ministry cannot say that the
Government machine is working smoothly or satisfactorily. To tell the truth, we never thought it would. The undue passion excited during the election has necessarily spilt over into the wheels of the machine, not as a smooth oil, but as a gritty and impeding mixture. This is so far always an inevitable result of our great party contests. Political power is one thing, and political work is quite another thing. Mr. Gladstone in opposition stimulating by his passionate oratory the fervour of the country in the interests of a great cause, and Mr. Gladstone at the head of a Ministry bent on carrying important public measures, are very different persons; and so no less are Mr. Chamberlain at the head of the Birmingham League and the Apostle of the Caucus, and Mr. Chamberlain at the head of the Board of Trade. Every friend of Mr. Chamberlain must be proud of the good sense and the clear orderly intellect which he has brought to bear on the discharge of his ministerial duties; but neither he nor his confrère Sir Charles Dilke need be astonished if their political opponents remember that calm reasoning and the instincts of political good taste bave not always been their distinguishing characteristics. Even Lord George Hamilton was a wiser man in office than he has proved himself as yet to be in opposition; and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, if sufficiently irrepressible in the last Parliament, was yet restrained in it within some becoming bounds in his incessant desire to obtrude his guidance in public matters,—to rush in where higher spirits fear to tread.
This friction of the political machine is one of the prices we pay for our system of party government. Our two great parties are held together not merely by the bond of certain definite principles, standing in clear opposition to one another (nay, thoughtful observers might doubt how far there is, with certain wings of each party, any opposition of essential principle), but by the ties of personal and social instinct, and a considerable measure of blind enthusiasm germinated by the mere process of rival aggregation. No one who has seen practically the working of party warfare can doubt tbis.
A great leader like Mr. Gladstone stimulates political force by the mere contact of his personality, and no less surely does the sweep of his character and of his rhetoric—the direct expression of his character ---generate in others political antagonism and enmity. It is not to be wondered at, however much it may be deplored, that the enmities of political warfare should survive the period of struggle, and reappear in forms of obstructive manæuvre, when the arena of contest is transferred from the platform to the House of Commons.
This is not said in any excuse of the arts of obstruction which have so far marked the course of the Conservative Opposition since the meeting of the new Parliament. It would have been infinitely wiser and more dignified for them to have accepted their decisive defeat at the election in a quiet spirit ; to have sought to learn from it the error of their ways, and their need of a more righteous, highminded and penetrating public policy. Making all allowance for the fickleness of the constituencies, and the natural swing of the political pendulum, so crushing a defeat had undoubtedly many lessons for the defeated party. It was not only a defeat; it was a rebuke. It spoke of a wide-spread feeling of outrage at the successive war-surprises which had been sprung upon the country, and the uneasiness as to what might happen which had arisen from the veiled play of a statecraft at variance with British traditions. It was not the defeat of Conservatism so much as of Beaconsfieldism. The political passion which carried all before it contained an element of moral indignation which no party can afford to despise, and which a wise party would take care to understand and respect. The shade of opposition is a congenial school for political improvement, and we hope it may still prove to be so for the Conservatives. Never did any party throw away greater opportunities for what used to be called shadow-hunting' than they did during their late tenure of office. They will certainly not regain any of their loss under the leadership of men like Mr. Gorst or Sir Henry Drummond Wolff. It may be doubted whether they will do so even under the guidance of Sir Stafford Northcote, whose penetration and power are by no means equal to his adroitness and affability.
It is to be hoped, however, that as the Conservative Opposition consolidates it will rise above any delight in a mere policy of obstruction. Something may in the meantime be allowed to the residual exasperations of the elections and the excitement engendered by the Bradlaugh affair; but nothing can be so unsatisfactory to the country as the spectacle of mere personal or selfish conflicts within the House of Commons. The country desires measures more than men; or at any rate it soon loses its interest in men who are plainly more bent on keeping their own personality before the public than on promoting the public good. The value of an Opposition is not to be found in making difficulties for the sake of the difficulties, or of arresting parliamentary progress; but in an enlightened and effective criticism of public measures. A speech like that of Mr. Gibson on the second reading of the Irish Compensation for Disturbance Bill is one of the few efforts in this direction which have proceeded from the Tory benches, and marks out Mr. Gibson as a distinct force in his party who may exercise a beneficial and elevating influence upon its future career. Liberalism has nothing to fear from intelligent and able criticism. The political world is the richer for any clear and powerful intellect embarked in its service on either side or for any cause. What alone impoverishes it is the play of mean intellects and passions, or what, if not so bad, is yet more common is indeed a growing feature of the House of Commons—the obtrusive influence of narrow and conventional minds barely capable of grasping any political principles while servile in their enthusiasm for the commonplaces of their party.
| The maiden speech of the hon. member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) deserves also the tribute paid to it by Mr. Gladstone, of being marked by an evident love
The Bradlaugh difficulty was a disagreeable inheritance from the heated strife of the election time. It could be no satisfaction to either side to see a man like Mr. Bradlaugh sent to the House of Commons. Apart from his peculiar opinions, his personality was not likely to add dignity to its membership, nor his crude social and political theories likely to contribute to the wisdom of its debates. In so far, however, as he represents any true elements of our political condition—any thoughts of the masses which have hitherto failed to find political expression-he has not only a legal but a moral right to his position. He was duly elected. He was right to let it be known that he could not take the usual oath in any spirit of honesty or even decency. And in the circumstances the undoubted
. course should have been to allow him from the first to affirm at his own risk. He had been allowed to affirm in a court of justice; in the opinion of the best lawyers it was a competent course for him at the table of the House of Commons; and it was a pity that any obstacles were interposed to such a course. It was a pity, above all, that this should have been done in the professed interests of religion, while really with a view to the disparagement of the Government.
Seldom bas the course of any difficulty been more damaging to both parties and to the House of Commons itself. We cannot help feeling that if Mr. Gladstone, as the leader of a large unbroken majority, had intervened at an earlier stage, the futile labours of successive committees, and the melodramatic scene of June 23, might have been spared. It is impossible to say that such a scene, or the abdication of leadership on the part of Mr. Gladstone, which was one of its prominent features, was calculated to strengthen either Parliament or Government in the minds of the people; while the spectacle of the House of Commons giving a majority in two different directions on the same subject within the space of ten days, was neither pleasant nor edifying. Nothing can so damage parliamentary government as any idea that its votes are given under dictation rather than under the reasonable and well-understood impulses of party movement. The embarassment throughout was no doubt made, not so much by the admitted difficulty attending Mr. Bradlaugh's admission—that was a matter for legal experts, and should have been
of candour and truth, which is rarer,' the Premier added, in the House of Commons 'than ability. It is such qualities that make Opposition criticism valuable-far more than mere sallies of invective rhetoric, however lively.
authoritatively settled by them from the first-but by the shadow of religious and social considerations outside the House of Commons. It can never be safe to disregard such considerations. Elections depend upon them. But to convert them into party weapons within the House is a dangerous, besides an illogical, expedient. Mr. Bradlaugh's right to take his seat as a member of the House of Commons had plainly nothing to do either with the respectability of his character or the soundness of his opinions, but with the answer to the simple question -Had he a right to affirm in the circumstances in which he claimed to affirm ? It would have been better if the first Committee of the House had reported in favour of this right as well as the second, and left no room for doubt as to his legal right to do so. But as the balance of legal and constitutional opinion was plainly on the affirmative side, the ultimate action of the Government in removing all obstacles to his admission by a general resolution appears to us to have been not only defensible, but in the right line of future legislation on the subject.
It may be seriously questioned whether the day for oaths on the admission of men to public offices has not passed away. They were never probably the security that certain minds are disposed to regard them; to the most conscientious minds, pausing to realise their meaning, they have always been something of a torture. As to the manner, careless or otherwise, in which the Parliamentary oath is sometimes taken, we say nothing. Men are not to be judged puritanically by their manner on such occasions. But there is no lack of charity in supposing that the oath is probably forgotten as soon as taken by the average member, and that the solemnity of its form exercises little or no influence upon his afterthoughts. Oathtaking, in short, has become a convention, like other things, and the more it is so the more objectionable it is seriously considered), and the more need there is for reducing a solemn form of this kind to the simplest possible affirmation, the purport of which can be grasped in a moment without raising scruples of any kind, and dismissed in a moment as carrying with it at once the assent of every loyal mind. We are no advocates for the abolition of venerable customs merely because they may have outlived their day. There may be beauty and propriety in them, although the feeling in which they originated no longer exists in any force. But unnecessary oaths are traps both for the political and the religious conscience which we would be glad to see removed. No statesman nowadays can suppose that they are of any service in securing either loyalty or religion.
The Irish legislation of the Government has tried its powers and tested the spirit of the present House of Commons more than anything else after the Bradlaugh difficulty. This legislation is confessedly of a very grave kind, and only to be justified by an extreme necessity; while there was much in the primary aspect of it that suggested suspicion both of its origin and character. The Royal Speech at the opening of Parliament contained no allusion to it, and the proposal of the Irish Chief Secretary to embody so important an alteration of the Land Act of 1870 amidst the provisions of the Irish Relief Bill was, to say the least, unfortunate. The measure itself, which has taken the form of the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill, is allowed by Mr. Gladstone to be an interference with the rights of property. At the same time he has warmly resented the epithets of plunder,'robbery,' and confiscation,' which have been freely applied to it. We are bound to say that his powerful and comprehensive speech on the second reading of the Bill, and his subsequent explanations, have modified the views we expressed regarding it in our last number. It is one of the greatest merits of a statesman that he is able, both from the amplitude of his knowledge and the natural range of his mind, to elevate the discussion of a great subject, and bring to its vindication a whole repertory of historical facts. A proposal which in its naked view, and as apparently the sudden product of the pressure of the Irish party, seemed to partake dangerously of the character of confiscation,' is seen in the light of his elaborate defence, and of the commonsense statements of Lord Hartington and Mr. Forster, to be a necessary practical outcome—if not a logical sequence-of the main principles of the Land Act of 1870. Mr. Gladstone did well to commend to Lord Randolph Churchill to temper his natural liveliness and undoubted cleverness by the study of the history of the Irish Land question. But then we fear the liveliness of his facile assaults would disappear under the weight of hard facts and the harsh daylight of a clear knowledge of the traditional relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland.
For all the period of Irish history before the Land Act, these relations were all constituted in favour of the landlord. • Everything was for the landlord, and nothing for the tenant.” Wholly exceptional powers of eviction were given to the landlords-powers unknown to the landlords in England and Scotland—and which have often been put in force under circumstances of great cruelty and privation. It is to be remembered in any discussion of the land question in Ireland that the position both of landlords and tenants is exceptional. The former has special agencies at his command to enforce his rights ; the latter has special rights in the land. Both these classes of rights are the creation of Parliamentary statute, in the one case dating from the reign of George I., before which anything like eviction for nonpayment of rent by the process so well known in Ireland was unknown to the law;' the latter created by the Land Act of 1870. And it is to be further carefully considered that, whatever may have been the nature of the opposition originally offered to this Act, that its necessity was so well acknowledged at the time that it secured the silent assent of Mr. Disraeli, who, to his signal honour,' as confessed by Mr. Gladstone, sought to save his party from a hopeless opposition to it; while there is no politician of eminence who does not now acknowledge its value, and the benefit it has conferred upon Ireland, and not