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FOR THE YEAR
Position of the Ministry-Mr. A. J. Balfour at Manchester—The National Liberal
Federation at Cardiff-Lord Rosebery's Address-Sir Wm. Harcourt at Derby -Mr. Asquith at Hull-Mr. John Morley at Newcastle--The New Labour Party and the Miners' Federation–The Attitude of the Government-Meeting of Parliament-Queen's Speech-Debate on the Address-Amendments in the Commons by Mr. Jeffreys, Mr. J. Redmond, Mr. Chamberlain-The Colchester Election-Indian Cotton Duties, Voluntary Schools—Mr. Chamberlain at Stepney–The Church in Wales Bill - Bimetallism Debate-Factories Act Amendment Bill—London County Council Election—The Irish Land BillExtradition of Jabez Balfour-The Cost of Cyprus-Navy Estimates-Army Estimates-Speaker's Retirement Announced-Second Reading of the Welsh Church Bill-Lord Rosebery's Illness-East Bristol Election - The Vacancy at Leamington—The Home Secretary at Cambridge-Payment of Members— Egyptian Affairs-Home Rule all roundIrish Land Bill Read a Second Time - The Local Control Bill--- The Speaker's Retirement-Election of Mr. Gully.
At no moment since its formation had the Cabinet, which Lord Rosebery had inherited from Mr. Gladstone, found itself in such smooth waters as at the opening of the New Year. Our relations with foreign Powers, especially with France and Germany, were not precisely cordial, but they were not more perplexing than they had often been without serious results. Russia was for the moment standing aloof from all engagements with Western Powers, and apparently absorbed in the new questions raised by the war between Japan and China. Lord Rosebery's reputation as a skilful negotiator had not been raised by his attempted dealings with Belgium in Central Africa, but he had managed to retreat from a doubtful position without serious loss of dignity. At home, externally at least,
the appearance of a harmonious Cabinet was preserved ; and whatever may have been the jealousies and intrigues which were at work, its individual members were eagerly preparing or advertising specifics for the national happiness and prosperity, which their colleagues, as a body, accepted and endorsed, and which they maintained would commend themselves to the electorate, as: the more or less remote appeal to the ballot boxes would prove. The idea of bringing the question of confidence or no confidence to an issue on the questions already raised was definitely abandoned. The rejection of Irish Home Rule and of the Employers' Liability Bill by the Tfouse of Lords had failed to stir popular feeling against that branch of the Legislature, and the inexpediency and even the futility of grounding a resolution (condemning the action of the Lords) on such a pretext was admitted even by the small group of stalwart Radicals who were sincerely opposed to the Lords’ veto in any form. The alternative policy—that of “ filling up the cup,” by presenting measures which, having passed the Commons by a small majority, were sure to be thrown out by a large one in the Lords-was ultimately adopted, and curiosity and ingenuity were alike taxed to the utmost to forecast the mode in which the resolution would have to be drafted so as to offend as little as possible newlycreated and prospective additions to the Upper House. An election, moreover, was pending in the Midlands, of which the result might, it was hoped, modify in some measure the depressing effects of the contests in Forfarshire and Lincolnshire (Brigg), where the Ministerialists had met with unexpected rebuffs. The party managers at the same time were reported to be far from unanimous as to the best course to pursue. Some were for holding on, not only throughout the year, but until the new register should come into force (Jan., 1896), whilst others urged that it would be more and more difficult to conjure with Mr. Gladstone's name, in proportion as his personal influence and attraction faded from men's minds.
Under such circumstances it was not surprising that rumours abounded. One day it was asserted that Sir William Harcourt, desirous of framing a democratic Budget by the help of his surplus, had resigned, being unable to agree with his colleagues to an increase of naval expenditure. On another it was declared that Lord Rosebery, weary of the situation, was anxious to take the sense of electors, which, if favourable, would enable him to form his Cabinet afresh. Little light was thrown on the subject by Mr. Campbell-Bannerman (Jan. 7), who contented himself by assuring his audience at Hawick that the strength of their party lay in principles of justice and equality, whilst the weakness of their opponents was alike visible in their lack of both principle and programme. He added, however, that the main objects of his party were to establish Irish Home Rule, to disestablish the Church, and to “deal with " the House of Lords, not by strengthening that body, but by asserting the supremacy of the representative Chamber. In this the War Minister seemed to be somewhat at variance with his colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Bryce, who, speaking a few days previously at Darwen (Jan. 1), had expressed himself in favour of a Second Chamber, so strengthened by popular authority as might claim to represent mature experience and cautious wisdom.
The actual political campaign was opened by Mr. A. J. Balfour, who addressed his constituents in East Manchester (Jan. 16) a week later. He anticipated a general election within a comparatively short time, certainly within the year, and he then laid down with precision the issue upon which it would be fought throughout the country. The Unionists, he said, would uphold a national policy, putting
the interests of the whole nation in the front of the battle. Their opponents, made up of cliques and sections, could only be held together by reciprocal pledges to assist each other in destroying in turn the political aversion of each clique—the unity of the kingdom at the request of the Irish clique, the unity of the national Church at the request of the Welsh clique, and the unity of the Constitution at the request of the Radical clique. For himself and his party, Mr. Balfour declared that their policy was to keep the empire secure and powerful, to strike at the root of Socialism by inaugurating wise and temperate social reforms, and to preserve such institutions as had life by adapting them to the special needs of the time. The most important feature, however, of Mr. Balfour's speech was the indication it gave of his own wishes and feelings with regard to the outcome of the approaching general election. He anticipated clearly the return of the Unionists to power, and he regarded the necessity of including in any Cabinet a fair proportion of those Liberals who, since 1886, had thrown in their lot with the Conservatives. His desire obviously was that such a coalition Cabinet should represent the groups of which the Unionist party had been formed, and had acquired its power in the country. The example set by Mr. Goschen would, he hoped, be followed on a larger scale, and the rank and file of the party be prepared to. ratify such an arrangement.
In his second speech (Jan. 17) Mr. Balfour dealt with the more delicate question of the Indian cotton duties, which the Government of India, in view of its financial necessities, had imposed upon the importation of Manchester goods. Mr. Balfour warmly repudiated the idea that he or his constituents regarded India as nothing but a source of wealth from which it was right to wring the last grain of profit, which superior powers of production might render possible. At the same time he held it ridiculous to say that English interests were never to be considered, and that the English manufacturer should be expected to submit in silence to unfavourable treatment. He held, too,
that there was no British interest which ought to be nearer to our hearts than the financial solvency of the Indian Empire, of which the resources were few and very nearly exhausted. Without absolutely committing himself to the statement, Mr. Balfour led his hearers to infer that the Government, with every apparent desire to safeguard the principle of free trade, had assented to a scheme of taxation in India, which in substance amounted to a protective prohibition of Lancashire, the Indian consumers having by the imposed taxes been driven to consume a class of goods which were not exported, and on which there was no internal tax at all. Still more cautious were Mr. Balfour's references to bimetallism, in which he evidently believed as a permanent remedy for Indian financial difficulties; and although he expressed his personal views on the subject with his usual clearness, he was careful not to hold out any promise that he would endeavour to act upon them. “If,” he said, “we had a reasonable monetary system as between India and England, there need have been no deficit to begin with ; there need have been no cotton duties; there need have been no taxation of Lancashire goods; there need have been no protection, direct or indirect, in favour of the Indian manufacturer. If there was a par of exchange between gold and silver, there would not only be no deficit in India at this moment, but there never would have been a deficit in all these years. If, therefore, you can cure the evils from which the difficulties of exchange arise, if you can adopt any system of currency, as I think you can, by which these difficulties would be avoided, all this bitterness of feeling, of which we have not seen the end, mind you, all this pressure put upon Governments by the Lancashire members to interfere with the Indian finances, would never come about. The evil would be cured at the root, and you would not have to occupy your time with any quack remedies. If we wish to have our monetary affairs placed upon a solid basis fitted for the commerce of our country, it must be one settled by international arrangement, one which will not be subject to perpetual and uncertain fluctuations, one which will serve the main purpose which every currency is intended to serve—namely, that of proving a tolerably firm standard of value and the measure of transactions between man and man."
Mr. Balfour's third speech, delivered in the Congregational schoolroom, Chorlton-on-Medlock (Jan. 18), was mainly devoted to the education question, in which he stated his view that the normal machinery for education required by the parent and the community was the voluntary school. The Board schools, inevitable in certain poorer districts, should supplement the voluntary schools, where the latter failed to do their duty. He agreed that if voluntary schools did not represent great voluntary effort they would probably lose their value and their efficiency. But that was exactly what they did represent; and every penny subscribed to them saved a penny to the ratepayers. If it were once granted that there could be no true education without religion and—which everybody would admit —that the State could in its schools take no special denomination under its patronage, it followed that the best way was to give a cordial support to voluntary denominational schools, without distinction. If these schools were destroyed it was not merely the cause of religious education that would suffer, but the cause of the ratepayers.
In his final speech (Jan. 19), addressing a social gathering of the Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society, he touched casually but sympathetically upon Mr. Chamberlain's scheme of making provision for the old and infirm. While acknowledging that the great results once anticipated from an extension of the co-operative system had not been realised, he was still of opinion that if co-operation could really be carried out on a large scale, if—which was the original idea-producers and employers could be made one body, they would be able, without the costs of arbitration, and without the unhappy machinery of strikes, to get rid of many of the difficulties and losses incidental to modern industrial enterprise. At the same time he was not one of those who thought that in the present complicated condition of society every form of industrial activity could be carried on through one kind of machinery alone. There was room for private as well as for co-operative distribution, and we could íll afford to dispense with either. With one of their objects, the advancing of money to members for the building or purchase of a house—an object, it would seem, rather aimed at in the future than attained in the past, he had personally peculiar sympathy. He regarded it as of enormous importance that the number of owners of houses and, if possible, of owners of land should be multiplied. A movement in that direction led to thrift, to a provision for old age, to independence; and he could conceive of no work worthier a statesman's attention than the work of encouraging such aims and aspirations.
Mr. Balfour's speeches to his constituents, however interesting as showing his personal views, were scarcely to be taken in the light of a party manifesto. The interest in them was therefore altogether overshadowed by the proceedings of the National Liberal Federation Association, which this year held its annual meeting at Cardiff (Jan. 18 and 19), Dr. Spence Watson of Newcastle-on-Tyne, as usual, presiding. At the preliminary meeting, at which, contrary to previous usage, a certain amount of discussion was allowed, resolutions were passed expressing confidence in Lord Rosebery and his colleagues, declaring that “the cause of Home Rule for Ireland still holds the foremost place in the policy and programme of the Liberal party,” rejoicing that “by the declarations of the Prime Minister the question of the House of Lords has been