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Club was only offering support to the policy which Lord Salisbury had been urging in China, Siam, West Africa and elsewhere where our trade interests were threatened by European Powers. This view, however, was not endorsed by Sir Edward Clarke, one of the acutest-minded members of the Conservative party. Speaking to the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce (Jan. 5), he showed the fallacy of the fear that when uncivilised countries pass into the hands of European Powers they ceased to become profitable to the British merchant. He took, for instance, the case of China, where the door was open and in the keeping of natives, but where our trade during the past fifteen years had decreased steadily. Sir Edward Clarke, however, in his argument seemed to put aside the fact that the period he had selected coincided with the adoption of an aggressive and bounty-fed colonial policy by France, and with the enormous commercial expansion of Germany.
The practical confidence felt in Lord Salisbury's management of public affairs was seen in the results of the bye-elections held during the earlier portion of the year. For Mid-Bucks Mr. Rothschild, a Unionist, was elected without opposition to the seat held by his uncle; in the Newton division of Lancashire, Colonel Pilkington, and in Mid-Surrey Mr. Keswick, both Conservatives, were elected without a contest. Sir Charles Dilke, speaking at Newent (Jan. 5), seemed to recognise the prevailing political apathy, which, he said, was due to a variety of causes originating in the Liberal party itself. The advanced Liberals, he maintained, formed the bulk of the Liberal electorate, but they were in a minority on the Liberal side of the House of Commons. There were, moreover, many Liberal members who wished virtually to justify the disruption of 1886, and the action of the Liberal Unionists, by shelving Home Rule altogether. Under these circumstances the new leader of the party would probably be its most Conservative representative on the front bench.
In the absence of more exciting topics, the proceedings of the the annual conference of the Miners' Federation held at Edinburgh (Jan. 11) offered certain points of interest to students of politics. The admission for the first time of the delegates of the South Wales and Monmouthshire coal-fields, representing 60,000 men, showed the tendency of workmen, as of employers, to close their ranks. The Compensation Act, which had passed in the previous session, was received with more favour by the bulk of the delegates than it had been by their representatives in Parliament, who had political as well as class interests to consider. Their conduct in this respect did not pass without hostile criticism. One of the delegates, however, pointed out how very far short the act fell of its intentions or of its promises. In the course of the previous year (eleven months) 3,228 lives had been lost in all trades by fatal accidents, and 63,562 persons had been injured. More than half these accidents were due to causes
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unrecognised under the act, and consequently the victims had no redress. A desire was also expressed to raise the limit of age for the employment of boys and girls from thirteen to fourteen years. With regard to the former a great diversity of opinion was shown; but of the employment of girls, even at any age, there was practically unanimous disapproval.
The more active political campaign, preceding the meeting of Parliament, was opened at Brechin by Mr. Morley (Jan. 17), who took this occasion to explain his withdrawal, in company with Sir Wm. Harcourt, from active participation in the policy of the front Opposition bench. His reception by his constituents was sufficiently cordial to show that he had not thereby lost their confidence. There were, he said, cross-currents running in the country, and in the Liberal party, as was not unnatural in the bewildering circumstances of the day. These cross-currents had affected the leaders of the Liberal party, and had compelled Sir Wm. Harcourt to resign, for no man could continue to lead a party when his authority was liable at any juncture to be called in question. Sir Wm. Harcourt had acted, therefore, as Mr. Pitt had acted in 1801, Mr. Gladstone in 1894, and Lord Rosebery two years later. The personal aspects of such acts were always obscure, and on them Mr. Morley threw no light, beyond saying that he agreed with Sir Wm. Harcourt. He himself had not resigned, for he had nothing to resign. He had kept in the background during the past year to avoid having any share in making the cross-currents in question; and he had decided independently of Sir Wm. Harcourt, but on similar grounds, that he could no longer take an active and responsible part in the formal counsels of the heads of the Liberal party, He would not go about the country praising Mr. Gladstone and at the same time wiping off the slate all the lessons Mr. Gladstone had taught. The Liberal party, he contended, would only prosper so long as it stuck to its watchwords—peace, economy, and reform. Imperialism meant militarism, and militarism meant vast expenditure—an increase of power in the privileged classes, and outlay for every purpose except the improvement of the taxpayer's home. He objected to the conquest of the Soudan as likely to yield no return; to the means employed for ejecting France from Fashoda, and to the treatment of the wounded at Omdurman. In conclusion Mr. Morley eloquently denounced the policy of making war for the sake of making money. “I want here to put a question to you. Have you in Scotland made up your minds, once for all, that it is right to kill people because it is good for trade? You will admit, as a nation with a conscience, that that is a delicate question, an interesting question, and a nice question. If you have not considered it, you should. It was only the other day, in another part of Africa, you were with your famous Maxim guns mowing down swaths of Matabele who had been driven by the plunder of their cattle, by forced labour, and by stupid mismanagement, into what is
absurdly called rebellion. Is it a good and valid defence for these operations that they are opening up markets for British goods? Turn the question over in your minds. Meanwhile, here is an answer for you, not from me, but from an eminent Tory lawyer. That eminent Tory lawyer, Sir Edward Clarke, speaking the other day, used this language. He said: 'If you seek to extend the area of your commerce by the use of Maxim guns and lyddite shells, and all the devilish contrivances of modern warfare, you are embarking on a policy which is a crime as well as a blunder. War for commerce sounds a very innocent phrase, and may be allowed to pass. Murder for gain has an uglier sound, but it as truly represents that course of policy.'”
Mr. Chamberlain promptly replied to several points raised by Mr. Morley, and to his challenge to define a "little Englander.” Speaking at the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce (Jan. 18), the Secretary for the Colonies said he thought the most prominent feature of the political history of the previous year was a clearer conception of an imperial policy, and a determination to accept the necessary obligations and to make the necessary sacrifices. He defined a "little Englander' as a man who honestly believes that the expansion of this country carries with it obligations which are out of proportion to its advantages,” instancing as a prominent representative of this theory Lord Farrer, who tried to prove that trade did not follow the flag, a fallacy which our trade with Mauritius and Burmah, as compared with our trade with Madagascar and Tonquin, fully demonstrated. With regard to foreign affairs, Mr. Chamberlain declared that by firmness and open dealing we had gained much in our negotiations with France, especially in Western Africa, where our influence in the Central Soudan had been recognised. There were two other questions requiring settlement-Madagascar and Newfoundland—and with reference to the latter he traced the history of the French rights; and, whilst fully recognising their existence, expressed his willingness to remove this cause of constant friction by arrangement on fair and reasonable terms of compensation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir M. Hicks - Beach, speaking at Bristol on the same day, defended the more cautious school of imperialism against the ever-increasing demands of the "Jingoes.” “ It was of no use to us," he said, “ to add to our territories more territory than we could digest. We could not do everything at once, and we should be wiser for the moment if we attempted to develop what we had already acquired rather than to add still further to the extent of our empire."
Of far greater interest and importance was Mr. Asquith's speech at Louth (Jan. 16), in which, whilst praising Mr. Morley, he did his utmost to bury him politically. He lamented his withdrawal from active co-operation with his former colleagues ; but he wholly dissented from Mr. Morley's estimate of the Fashoda incident, and dissociated himself entirely from his
criticism of the Soudan policy of the present Government. He had criticised the Soudan expedition when originally planned, but the energy of our commanders had made it a stupendous success. He demurred somewhat to Mr. Chamberlain's definition of a “ little Englander,” and suggested in its place, as the definition of a true imperialist, one“ who believed in such expansion only as carried with it advantages not out of proportion to its obligations.” In connection with the choice of a new leader of the party, he saw no necessity for putting forward a new programme. The Liberal party had two functions to perform—to civilise and to educate ; in other words to complete our political freedom, and to complete our national education.
Mr. Morley had an excellent opportunity of replying to his critics and opponents when addressing another section of his constituents at Montrose (Jan. 19); but he preferred to touch upon the several questions which dealt more directly with public welfare. In the matter of temperance reform he adhered to the views held by the Liberal Government in 1895, and expressed in the Local Option Bill brought forward at that time. The oldage pension question also needed a practical solution ; but he was not prepared to accept any scheme so far put forward. The Irish question presented no difficulties to him, for if the Irish maintained their demand for a national subordinate assembly the Liberals would not be justified in throwing it over, but must treat it as they did the demand for Catholic emancipation. He was, therefore, strongly in favour of retaining the Irish vote in the House of Commons, recognising the debt due to it by every Liberal Administration since 1832. He maintained his definition of the duties of true Liberals in the scramble for derelict countries. In the competition between nations we could only win by trade not by territory, and we could only beat our most dangerous competitors by increased economy and by increased economy of production. In conclusion he described the creed of the Jingo, as he understood that personage, as one by whom the following tenets were held dear: (1) Territory was territory, and all territory was worth acquiring ; (2) all territory —especially if anybody happened to want it—was worth paying any price for; (3) this country possessed the purse of Fortunatus, bulging and overflowing with gold, and was free to fling millions here and there with the certainty that benignant fairies would by magic make them good ; (4) “ do not show the slightest regard to the opinions of other nations, and you have no share whatever in the great collective responsibility of civilised people as joint guardians of the interests of peace; ” (5) the interests of the people of this country, classes or masses, advancement in all the arts of civilised life and well-being, their needs and their requirements, were completely and utterly a secondary and subordinate question.
It fell to Sir Edward Grey, one of the most brilliant and capable members of the last Liberal Government to reply to
this speech, and to show on how many vital points Mr. Morley was out of sympathy with the majority of his own party in the House of Commons. Speaking to the members of the Liverpool Reform Club (Jan. 20) Sir Edward Grey defended the attitude of his friends towards the Irish party. The Liberals did co-operate with the Irish party in the House of Commons, and they might co-operate with them again; but it was no part of their aspirations, and it could be no part of the intentions of the Liberal party to go into office dependent upon the Irish party. He thought the country had not given up Home Rule, but only suspended its judgment, and that the new County Councils would only give a new outlet to Irish feeling, and that the outcome of their working would be that the Home Rule demand would grow up again with new life and new vigour. Coming to the more dangerous ground of Irish university education, two things impressed him—the necessity of this suggestion, and its unpopularity with both political parties in England ; meantime Ireland was being starved for want of university education. Sir Edward Grey next turned to the charge of Jingoism brought against the Liberal party by some of its own members. He asked pertinently did any portion of that party propose to evacuate Egypt and the Soudan ? In China we wanted not a sphere of influence or interest so much as a better understanding with Russia. The whole burden of the criticism of the Opposition had been that the Government was so wooden, so wanting in intelligent anticipation of events that it allowed matters to drift to a deadlock.
The hesitation and confusion of the Liberal party, however, were even more strongly marked at a meeting of the party at the National Liberal Club, called to discuss the “Liberal policy,” upon which no two speakers seemed able to agree; whilst there was almost equal divergence of opinion as to who should be regarded as leader of the Liberal party outside the House of Commons. Sir R. T. Reid, M.P., who presided, thought it would be gross ingratitude to say anything unkind of Sir William Harcourt, and forthwith denounced various acts in which that gentleman had been closely associated. Mr. Labouchere denounced Mr. Asquith; and Lord Coleridge declared Mr. Morley's reasons for resignation were positively childish ; whilst Mr. Lloyd George, M.P., declaring in favour of a strong Navy as a protection against militarism, maintained that on questions of foreign policy there was no appreciable difference between Mr. Morley, Mr. Asquith and Lord Rosebery. The meeting, as might be anticipated, arrived at no practical results, and outsiders asked how in the face of such divergence of opinion the Liberal party could be reconstituted before the next general election,
The remaining speeches of the recess, as the meeting of Parliament drew near, multiplied in number without adding much to public enlightenment. Those most worth noticing were from the
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