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LIBERALISM AND EMPIRE.
ANY reasons perhaps are required to explain the rout of official
Liberalism at the last election. From the Liberal party the middle-class had received free trade and enfranchisement. There was nothing more to get. The natural progress of events, and the development of education carried the gifts of Liberalism on to the working-class. The middle-class, grown fat, and greedy for its dominance, kicked and 'verted. On the other hand, the workman feared for his beer, the social democrat ran amuck, respectable Liberals salked. Liberalism, distracted by competing claims, and wishing to carry the millennium at a single election, leaped at a dozen objects and failed. The atmosphere was unkindly. The party was suffering heavily through the Unionist revolt. The transfer of power from Mr. Gladstone to his lieutenants kindled no enthusiasm, and set before the country no distinct issue. Home Rule would have been capable of settlement by compromise if the phantoms of socialist agenda had not alarmed the right wing of the Liberal party and given it an excuse for a dignified scuttle. There has been evidently no such transfer of allegiance throughout the country as was imagined in the first days of elation and depression. The reaction has come without leading or policy. In the Unionist party two powers have been struggling for control : exiled Liberalism striving for space and air ; Conservatism a bit shy of its Unionist allies, yet exulting in the addition to its numbers and financial strength. Hence we see efforts in a popular direction baulked or cut short. Concessions and doles are given, not with honest full hands, but by instalments. The Agricultural Rates Relief Act may have been a sincere blunder ; the Educational Grant is an andisguised challenge to the national sentiment. Progressive municipal government is an object of dislike, but the “ biting of thumbs” has not yet developed into a serious attack,
In foreign affairs it is difficult to refrain from pitying a Government resigning itself to a period of rest and thankfulness after the distribution of largesse to its supporters. From the moment the Unionist Cabinet took office the stage has been filled with challenges and commotions. Amongst much that is pitiable, it is only fair to admit that the Government might have done worse. The Jingo party in the United States, which threatened us over Venezuela, but which never carried the serious weight of the country with it, is now occupied in actual warfare, whilst the large body of sober opinion, both in the States and Great Britain, appreciates with increasing clearness the permanent reconciliation of British and American interests.
No doubt the position of this country in foreign politics is complicated by difficult issues. The conflict of colonial interests between the different European Powers makes alliances confusing. The unanimity of object which prevails in Europe between ourselves and another State may disappear on the African or Asiatic continent. Too much has already been sacrificed to the maintenance of a Concert. Harmony is all very well, but the massed bands never play “God save the Queen.” Our arm, paralysed by our hold on Egypt, fell nerveless before European opposition to our intervention on behalf of Armenia. The Cretan question is only partially solved, and the country is considerably ruined. Greece has restored the reputation of Turkey, and generally the action of Europe in Eastern waters has been to strengthen and consolidate the waning power of Turkish oppression. In South Africa, and in China, the Government have only temporised. No sincere patriot desired them either to wage war on the Transvaal; or to withdraw our Ambassador from St. Petersburg because Russia occupied Port Arthur; but in making concessions and in refusing to be provoked into open hostility until our interests were seriously imperilled, we have failed to get value for the concessions in the good will of those States to whom we have tendered them.
It will, however, be urged that enough has been said of the past, and that the Liberal party, in particular, cannot succeed by mere criticism.
The country requires some assurance that a transfer of power would be accompanied by a distinct policy and well-considered measures of reform. It will not overthrow a blandering majority in favour of contending factions working under the ancient and noble title of Liberalism. Neither must Liberals, careful of their reputation and of the good of their country, fetch about for some new measure which will only prove a convenient election cry. Many reforms are desired; it is the fittest which must first come to birth. The reform of the House of Lords comprehends, it is true, all other questions, but it would be profitless to raise an agitation against that House until, by their systematic rejection of popular measures, a new Government had unmasked the scientific obstruction. The “mending or ending" cry is not good enough in itself. The sympathetic assistance given by the House of Lords to the present Conservative Government has for the time removed the reproach of its drag upon legislation. Broadly speaking, the country does more than tolerate a Second Chamber. It would be better to retain its name and ancient usages, although the principle of hereditary succession followed other feudal claims into past history. A system of life peerages, ander which the vacancies would be filled by the Government of the day, whether Tory or Liberal; and a suspensive veto, or a joint vote with the Lower House in case of difference, would restore the Upper House to the confidence of the nation, and so enable it to act as the
second thought ” of legislation; revising and improving, but always giving full expression to the national will. The First Chamber, with this judicious advice behind it, might be even more democratic.
Reform in electoral matters is necessary, but only incidentally. It is not a great principle with which to fire the imagination of a nation. A local control of the liquor traffic can only be carried into effect by a strong Government, and, whilst never to be overlooked, should occupy a subordinate position. There is one measure, however, which could become the battle-cry of Liberalism. It would have the merit, at once, of reconciling Ireland to Great Britain, wiping away the reproach from the Liberals of favouring separation, and presenting a clear and cohesive idea of Imperial policy.
The relation of the colonies to the mother country has changed altogether during the last forty years. The large freedom conceded to the growing colonies and the unbounded possibilities opening before them produced a self-reliance which worked for separation rather than for union with Great Britain. The extraordinary vitality of the United States suggested sister empires in the southern hemisphere which could work out their own political salvation without fear and trembling. A marked change has recently set in. No longer do the colonies seek to cast off from the attraction of the mother country in order to try their fortunes on an errant orbit in space.
The movement, once centrifugal, has become centripetal. One or two reasons for this change can be recalled. The extraordinary competition in colonial expansion among the chief European nations has brought home to the colonies the fact that the broad shadow of England is projected from a great rock. Not only has the scramble for Africa furnished an object-lesson, but the German warships at Samoa, the French flag on the New Hebrides, and the partition of New Guinea suggest to the young States that the wilderness of the world is no longer unclaimed and solitary, and that the effective defence of their
own territories implies the assistance of a powerful navy, which can carry war, if need be, to the very coast-line of the Power which threatens ther. At the same time, the increase in the population of Great Britain is slowing down; consequently the emigration of the Anglo-Saxon and the Irish Celt is much less than forty years ago. The Teutonic and Scandinavian nations may form a larger proportion of the intake of the British colonies in the future. Great Britain herself grows richer, if not more populous, and her virility shows no sign of abatement. There has been the usual set-back, after a term of unexampled prosperity, in the history of the Australian colonies in particular, and our kinsmen of the Southern Cross are beginning to recognise that their growth requires time for consolidation. The Canadian States have confederated, and the federation of Australasia is already an issue at the polling-booths. The moment is propitious for a movement to federate the Empire; now, and not later; now, whilst England is yet green in the memory of her sons; whilst the majority of the colonists are of British descent, holding dear the traditions of the ancient realm. In the next half-century- perhaps in the next five and twenty years—this great movement will have become more difficult, if not almost impossible. The English tongue, the English literature, but not the British sentiment, will be preserved. Canada, South Africa, Australasia, each with their federal associations, and strong in their territorial armies and their fleets, will feel no menace in the unfurled flag of France or of Germany. More, it would be a distinct disadvantage to remain connected, even by the slight tie which at present binds them to the home islands, if they are liable to be involved in war with a first-class Power on account of a border raid in the Himalayas, or a quarrel in Eastern Europe in which they have no kind of interest. Neither can we expect the Britain of the future to keep pace with the growth of her children. Her great cities—the creation of the last sixty or soventy years will begin to dwindle as the hives of manufacturing industry fall dumb, and British capital is transferred to the East and West, where the cost of production will be less and the market for the goods manufactured will be closer at hand. England will live through distant centuries in her speech and song, but how can we guarantee for her -the Phænicia of Western Europea longer life than her commercial ancestor of Western Asia ?
Much has been spoken and written on the subject of federation; now it is time for it to condense from cloudland into practical form. For the scattered portions of the Empire to find one national life in Imperial unity there must, of course, be a central government in which all are represented. This would mean, of necessity, a re-casting of the Constitution—a process from which the ordinary British mind instinctively shrinks. It is well known that the actual facts of government hide within the shadows of ancient forms.
An attempt to push the vast powers of the Crown to their logical issues would provoke a revolution. Unwritten law binds us in constitutional chains. This condition of affairs has not hitherto caused any serious difficulty. Common sense has worked an irrational system with astonishing smoothness. But difficulties might well arise. For instance, the reform of the House of Lords would probably put a strain upon the Constitution. It is a nice question whether the interests of the three kingdoms are better left indefinitely to the chance of a benevolent understanding. Federation would, without doubt, mean a written Constitation, in which the rights and duties of the different portions of the realm would have to be defined.
It is neither possible nor desirable that the powers of the several Governments of the colonies should be curtailed to any serious extent. Of course, colonial members could not sit in the British House of Commons, as at present constituted, to deal with the local affairs of the three kingdoms. The Imperial Parliament must be a House in which equal rights and privileges would be conceded to every member. British and Irish Home Rule become at once parts necessary to the system. If Scotland and Wales · desired local Parliaments, there could be no more objection to granting it to them than to Ireland. On the other hand, if the English and Scotch members preferred to act together, Wales and Ireland could take up their native Home Rule. This solves the real difficulty of national subordinate government. It would, however, be necessary to define the powers which are devolved upon the local Parliaments, everything not so scheduled remaining with the Imperial Parliament, which, together with the Crown, would be the supreme power in the State. Home Rule, whether in England or the colonies, continues a matter of statute, to be granted or repealed at the will of the Imperial Houses. The Imperial Government would control through its executive the whole naval and military forces of the realm, and be responsible for foreign affairs and questions affecting the relationship of one part of the Empire to another, including the erection of fresh territories into States, and of extending or contracting the limits of Empire.
Under what conditions can federation be effected ? A Customs Union would certainly not be to proceed along the line of least resistance. The young colonies have relied to a greater or less extent upon protection as a source of revenge and in order to coax into flame the “smoking flax” of their native industries. A conflict of commercial interests ofttimes breeds passionate differences of opinion. Oar American colonies deserted us on a question of taxation. Time and co-operation are required for the growth of a public opinion on the subject of Imperial Free Trade, but closer association would, no doubt, foster the question. The first coarse would be to summon