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THE MINISTRY AND ITS WORK.
new as i
HE new Parliament, as it appears to many observers, was not born under a lucky star. Already in their eyes there are indications that its existence may be less prolonged than those who accepted its birth with gladness fondly anticipated. The sections into which the House of Commons is divided appear to be consolidating, and none of them are quite pleased with the actions either of the other sections, or with those of the Government. The Conservatives proper are drifting about without guidance, and united in little except hostility to the Prime Minister. The moderate Liberals oppose whatever satisfies the extremer sections: the latter view with suspicion whatever may be pleasing to the Moderates: and the Irish engage in a free fight with the Government, the Opposition, the Moderates, the Radicals, the tamer section of their own people, and every now and then with each other. There is but one matter which combines some portion of all the sections, and a very perplexing matter it is, viz. the persecution of Mr. Bradlaugh, and until that is settled one way or another, there will not be much peace in Parliament. The real motive power, however, on the Liberal side of the House is in the Radical section. It is devoured by an extreme impatience to hurry on the huge and complex machine which regulates the march of political events in this country beyond its natural and healthy pace. The Radicals will have everything their own way. And when they are asked to listen to the voice of reason-when they are reminded that there are other sections in the community, and that these sections like to have their opinions represented, and to some modest extent considered, the phials of vituperation are unsealed, and quiet-going men who do not wish to condemn the Government before it has had a trial are overwhelmed with invective, and classed among those who were dismissed with ignominy from office at the late election. The attacks from below the gangway which were made upon the Government in the Bartle Frere incident, and the language which was directed against Lord Hartington in the debate on the Opium question on the 4th of last month by men of his own party, showed an amount of virulent intolerance that was unworthy of any section of English politicians, even when exulting in the exuberance of their strength. Mr. Gladstone was more than justified in the meek rebuke he uttered when he said that this was not the first time even during the present session that members had been led by feeling . . . to overlook considerations of reason and of judgment which ought to restrain them.' If honourable members of any section of the Liberal party continue to overlook considerations of reason and judgment which
ought to restrain them' whenever they do not get exactly what they want, it does not require a gift of prophecy to foretell that the life of a Parliament which contains such members in any number cannot be a protracted one. And this is more particularly the case in such a Parliament as the present. This Parliament is pledged to a considerable measure of electoral reform. The knowledge that this weapon is in the armoury of the Administration ought to have a sobering effect on even the wilder spirits who are congregated in this Parliament. The Prime Minister has merely to announce that he proposes early next session to introduce a measure assimilating the borough and county franchise, and after carrying it-which he can readily accomplish-to dissolve Parliament, in order to bring his political young bloods to reason. No one wishes to go before his constituents in the year 1881. But unless some moderation is permitted it may become matter for consideration whether such a threat may not be necessary. Because a threat of this kind does not affect this or that section of the House in particular. It touches the moderate Liberal as closely as the most advanced Radical, and the most troublesome member of the extreme Irish party as seriously as the soberest among the Tories. The terrors of a Reform Bill, especially if it contains a wholesome and widespread redistribution of seats, are not without avail in any Parliament. And these terrors are of especial value in such a Parliament as the present.
But it is not only the new Parliament which appears to some to have been born under an unlucky star. The horoscope of the Ministry, they tell us, does not seem to be entirely propitious. Their misfortunes commenced in the broad fact that there were too many capable men who each and all considered himself and themselves entitled to office. To put it in a homely phrase, 'there were more pigs than teats.' The heartburnings and disappointments are toning down now, and probably before the commencement of another session there will be not much more heard about them. But the disappointment of a life is a sad damper to enthusiasm, and a strong encouragement to criticism, and there are not a few who sit on back benches or below the Ministerial gangway who look on at the troubles of the Administration with less sorrow than might have been expected when taken in connection with their devotion to the front Opposition bench. during the latter days of the late Parliament. And it must be admitted that in the selection of office-bearers luck has not been altogether on the side of the Prime Minister. That his Home Secretary and his Scotch law-officer lost their seats when they went for re-election was unfortunate. It was inevitable that some
loss of prestige should attend a misfortune of this kind. Petitions have indeed been presented against the return of the two members who displaced these high officials, and apparently with good prospects of success. The discomfiture, therefore, of Sir William Harcourt and Mr. McLaren in their respective constituencies may be, and probably
will be, traced to causes which cannot be explained by any very definite symptoms of dissatisfaction with their appointments to office under the Crown. A certain aroma of defeat, however, clings to a candidate who has lost his seat even by corrupt practices. And though the Home Secretary has been restored to the House of Commons by an unusual instance in political life of disinterested self-effacement on the part of an honourable member, the Scotch Lord Advocate is still without a seat and apparently without the prospect of one. In like manner the Surveyor-General of Ordnance is still unprovided with a seat, and until these two members of the Government have joined their brethren on the Treasury bench the Administration cannot be said to be complete. The negotiations. which ended in the appointment of Mr. Chamberlain to the Cabinet, and of Sir Charles Dilke to the office of Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, cannot be considered as altogether a happy augury. Though the exact character of the negotiations has not transpired, it is acknowledged that the Prime Minister met with a check and the party of neo-Radicalism scored a victory when the two most active leaders of that party were placed in such important posts as the Presidency of the Board of Trade with a seat in the Cabinet and the Under-Secretaryship for Foreign Affairs.
Encouragement, moreover, has been given to the class of poli ticians who secure their ends by an attitude of critical hostility to the official leaders of their party by these appointments. Grumblers complain that men who are loyal and faithful-perhaps over-loyal and over-faithful-to their leaders are disregarded, whereas those who have been loyal to nothing but their own opinions are rewarded. As soon as you cut off the heads of the highest poppies by putting them into the Administration, a fresh crop of poppies spring up and fresh heads become prominent in the field. In the particular instance the victory of the neo-Radical section in the House has undoubtedly been deserved. It is admitted that the choice of Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke has been amply justified by the manner in which so far they have discharged their duties. But, nevertheless, the fact remains that the framer of the Cabinet met with a reverse at the very commencement. Popular prejudice has combined with natural difficulties to embarrass his task. The appointment of two Roman Catholics-one being a recent proselyte-to exalted posts in the Administration, though unassailable by those who take a judicial view of questions of religious toleration, has not found favour in the eyes of the constituencies. And the unreasonable thing about it is that the outcry against the appointments comes mainly from those who make the loudest uproar in favour of religious liberty. But be this as it may, the fact remains that any Liberal who ventured to defend these appointments at the present moment would have some difficulty in securing a seat either in Wales or in Scotland. voices in those countries which clamoured for the return of Mr. Glad
stone to office, and are still clamouring for religious equality in all Protestant denominations, are hushed, and in some cases turned to railing, now that by these appointments he has proclaimed in a practical form that the Government which those countries have done so much to place in power regards these matters from a somewhat wider point of view, and that from henceforth religious disabilities, so far as Government appointments go, have ceased to exist in this country. The choice, again, of a private secretary by Lord Ripon, which was accepted as some compensation by many of the religious bodies which deprecated his own appointment, has come to nought, and the departure of Colonel Gordon to more congenial work than that which he would have had to perform in India, must be added to the list of misadventures which the Government have had to encounter on the commencement of their career. All these points have been emphasised to the disadvantage of the Ministry. The Conservatives have been jubilant over any mistakes which have been made, and not a few Liberals have indulged in the usual criticism of square men having been put into round holes both within the Cabinet and outside in one or two of the minor offices. It is unnecessary to say that we only partially share in these misgivings. There always will be grumblers when a new Ministry is created, and those who are left out in the cold will, either by themselves or through their friends, predict all kinds of evil until time has proved the inaccuracy of their misgivings. It is impossible to please everyone. If we had had the shuffling of the cards we should have been glad to have seen them come out somewhat differently, and we should have liked to feel a little more distinctly than we do that luck was with us. But take the Administration as it is, though it might have been made better, it might equally have been made very much worse. Both the great sections of the Liberal Party are fairly represented, and the members of the Government seem, each and all in his or their departments respectively, to be applying themselves with vigour and determination to the work. The criticisms which we would pass upon this work, so far as it can be judged by its results up to the present time, is, that there is more danger of too much zeal than of too little, and that the minds of the Government are more occupied on the circumstances of the immediate present than on the outlook for the future.
The practical work of the session commenced on the 20th of May. There were thus but ten weeks of regular business before the usual time of prorogation. The heads of the different departments had been installed but a few days before that date, and could not have mastered the details of the current transactions. Yet no sooner had the House of Commons met for work than five large questions were tabled and Bills introduced concerning all of them. The matter of the relation of Church and State was introduced by the presentation of the Burials Bill. The question of landlord and tenant was tabled
through the instrumentality of the Hares and Rabbits Bill. The discussion of the relation of employers and employed was invited by the Employers' Liability Bill. The whole category of Irish grievances was brought to the front by the Irish Relief Bill and the Bill dealing with the borough franchise. And the Supplementary Budget, with its wide-reaching provisions, stirred up a swarm of financial hornets, and aroused the animosity or suspicion of one at least of the most powerful interests in the community. In addition to this work, which—with the exception of the Irish Relief Bill-may almost be considered gratuitous, there are such matters as the Census Bill and the Ballot Act which demanded attention, and which, with the usual crop of undertakings instituted by private members at periodical intervals, were sufficient to occupy the short session. It may be good policy to catch the golden hours' at the commencement of a new Parliament; but it cannot be of advantage either to the community or to the Government of the day, to throw a whole bundle of crude and half-digested measures on the table of the House before it has settled down to its work. The Government has, in our opinion, attempted too much. If it had confined its appetite for work to what was imperative upon it to accomplish during this short session, and next session been prepared with schemes carefully thought out during the recess, dealing with the more pressing questions, less anxiety-we may almost say less suspicion-would have been engendered, and less opposition to the schemes aroused. This is especially the case in regard to the Hares and Rabbits Bill of the Home Secretary and the measure threatened by the Irish Secretary dealing with the matter of evictions. These two measures have sent a shock of misgiving through the minds of a multitude of moderate men, not so much, perhaps, from the policy which they foreshadow, as from the crudeness which they indicate, and the proof which they afford that the Ministry are inclined, so to speak, to rush at their fences without much consideration as to what there may be on the other side. Neither of these two measures has been thought out. The relation of landlord and tenant is at the present moment in a state of transition. The old feudal restrictions, by which this relation has been regulated, are dying out-dying hard, if you like, but in the fair way to disappear. Commercial principles are fast becoming the guiding star which will before long lead to a better state of things with regard to matters agricultural. The simpler these principles are, the firmer hold will they ultimately have on the community. Agriculture in this country is pursued at the present time under regulations which are artificial and non-natural. The object of legislation, therefore, ought to be to abolish, as far as possible, all that is artificial, and to reduce the relations between landlord and tenant to simplicity in order to give full scope to the natural play of the agencies of supply and demand. But the Bill of the Government does not move in the direction of simplicity.