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THE ELECTIONS AND THEIR MORAL.

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THE elections have come and gone, and the Conservative party has every reason for a quiet satisfaction. Had the style of some Liberal journalists we should descant upon the hectic vehemence of our opponents; we should talk about their " war chest filled with foreign gold and the price of blood"; we should protest against their efforts to enlist Omnipotence as an election agent, and treat the moral law as part of the Albert Hall programme. But, since we prefer a more sober manner, we content ourselves with chronicling our positive achievement, and leave recrimination, which is a token of defeat, to those who so noisily proclaim their victory. The increase in Conservative votes has been some eight times the increase of the other three parties combined. We have a net gain of 105 seats. In nine English counties we have a monopoly of the representation, while the Liberals can only claim this in two. In twenty-four English counties, London being inoluded, we have a majority of the members, county borough and county division together, while the Liberals have a majority only in fifteen. Nor are our gains confined to one part of the country. If the peasant of Sussex has returned only Conservative members, so has the dalesman of Westmorland.

I.

Great ports like London, Liverpool, and Sunderland have given us a majority; industrial areas like Woolwich and Greenwich, Wednesbury and Walsall, Nottingham and Preston, Sheffield and Wolverhampton, have done likewise; dockyard towns

like Devonport and Chatham have changed their members; while in Birmingham and its neighbourhood the Conservative majorities have never been paralleled. Even in the industrial North we have done something, for if there are losses in Durham and Northumberland there is a net gain of one seat in Yorkshire and two in Lancashire. Instead of the Liberal majority of 76 of 76 over all parties, the Ministerial majority of 334 over the Opposition, we oppose in the new Parliament a united force of 273 Conservatives against 397 Coalitionists, containing in their ranks every diversity of political creed. A majority of 124 would be a formidable weapon for a coherent party; but it is little enough for the débris of an army, divided, mistrustful, and compelled to stick to the defensive.

The result seems the more admirable when we consider the grave disadvantage under which the battle was joined. On paper the Liberal policy had a tremendous appeal to the unthinking voter. It blew

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once more into flame the enrolled themselves as election ashes of the old "Down with agents; every chapel became the Lords agitation, which a committee-room for the Libmodern Liberalism had almost eral candidate; every Pleasant forgotten. It offered a Budget Sunday Afternoon sent forth which was capable of being a horde of canvassers, coninterpreted as the beginning vinced by much turbid oratory of a division of spoils. What that the cause of Liberalism so easy as to say to an audi- was the cause of God. The ence of working men- "Here Government went to the is an honest attempt to make country with a magnificent the rich pay for your pensions electioneering battery. The and the other benefits we are liberties of England, the food preparing for you. If you of the people, the pensions of won't have it, you will have the old, the job of the workto pay for them through your man, the future of the tradefood!" The ory of "dearer unions, the continuance of Nonbread" has immense effect in conformity, the authority of a season of under-employment, the Ten Commandments,—all and never was a scare better were in imminent peril from exploited. We are bound to the We are bound to the Conservative party. If admit that the whole contro- the people believed a twentieth versy was reduced to the low- part of it, they should have est plane; the appeal was to tumbled Conservatism into the the passions rather than to the intelligence; and graver issues went by the board. But in such a welter the advantage was all on the Liberal side. Sinister and halfwitted peers, rapacious trust magnates, and gaunt Germans living on offal and husks, were bogeys with a far more picturesque appeal than anything the Conservative electioneer could furnish. Besides, there was the Pensions question. Even if the labourer could be induced to believe that his pension was not in danger, he might have been expected, pro majore cautela, to vote for the people who had first given it. Finally, in no election in our memory was there so much ill-omened activity among the dissenting clergy. The "Free Churches of England officially

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They did not believe even a hundredth part, and hence the bitter disappointment of Liberals. When they girded themselves for the fray they expected to scatter their opponents like chaff: all they have done is to clear a little space with the help of a body of mercenaries, while the enemy, in increased numbers and the best of spirits, awaits them farther down the road. We see this disappointment in the behaviour of defeated candidates. Every morning half a dozen of them wrote to the Liberal press to explain why they were beaten. If one believed their evidence, the English voter would be a poor creature indeed, shivering and neurotic, bullied by squire, parson, and employer, roused to action only by surreptitious

gifts of beer.

Does it never strike these egotists, we wonder, that a voter might honestly prefer the politics or the personality of their opponents! Performances like those of Sir Henry Norman have shown the extreme of ill-breeding and folly, and we are glad to think that most Englishmen, of whatever political faith, would be ashamed to confess themselves such bad losers. Angry disappointment is shown, again, by the attacks of Mr LloydGeorge and Mr Ure on the agricultural voter when the counties began to go against them. The yokel, who in 1906 was a type of stubborn Saxon independence, is now a half-witted and half-intoxicated serf. We trust these words will be treasured up in the counties against the next General Election. It is a refreshing contrast to turn from this foolish vituperation to the attitude of Conservatives towards Scotland and northern England. They, too, are disappointed, for they hoped to do better, but there is no abuse of their fellow countrymen. They admit the importance of the adverse verdict, and the necessity of working patiently for its revision. There can be no question which attitude is the more statesmanlike or the more patriotic.

The importance of an election is obviously not to be measured by the majority returned. In England a great majority disappears by detrition, not by cataclysm: it took nine years for the Conservatives to wipe off the Whig majority given by the First Reform Bill.

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To have reduced the swollen preponderance of 1906 to a normal figure is in itself an achievement of the nature of a victory. But, further, to justify Liberal policy, something more was wanted than a Pyrrhic success. The Government offered a policy of revolution, a revolution which they declared was passionately desired by what they called "the democracy." "The democracy have shown by their answer that they were in two minds about the whole business, a position very far from passionate. The justification of of Mr LloydGeorge depended upon his sweeping the country. Clifford's estimate of a much increased Liberal majority would have met the case, but a majority of 122 means a fiasco. The first consequence, therefore, is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is seriously disoredited in the eyes of many of his supporters. The Fates are kind to Mr Asquith. Once again they have given him a chance to set his house in order, for there can be no question that the Prime Minister is in a vastly improved position, so far as he himself is concerned. The policy of rant and violence has been a failure, and Liberals who would have cheered it wildly had it succeeded, now declare that it was a blunder, and cast about for other tactics. Mr Churchill, among his other merits, is an excellent political barometer, and the eerie moderation of some of his recent speeches shows the weather that is coming. Mr Asquith, and what we may call the

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Whig section of the Cabinet, are now to call the tune. As good citizens we cannot regret the change. Profoundly 28 we differ from Liberal policy, we are anxious that the Government of his Majesty should be carried on; and, though it may be tactically less advantageous for us as party, we would far rather see authority in the hands of responsible statesmen, however faulty we may think their views, than in the hands of frivolous and emotional demagogues.

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How Mr Asquith will fare depends on how he interprets the terms of his new lease of power. The country by a narrow margin (for the Irish must be excluded) has declared for the Budget, and since this was the ground of dissolution it is right that the Budget should pass. The country has further, by the same small margin, declared against any immediate revision of our fiscal system. Finally, the country has signified in general terms its wish that the Liberal Government should continue in office. What the country has not done is to pronounce against the House of Lords. There is so much misconception on this point that we will endeavour to put it clearly. Mr Asquith asked in explicit terms for such a majority as would enable him to force the Lords to agree to a limitation of their veto. He knew very well that any majority would not do this: it must be a majority of a sufficiently crushing kind to overawe opposition. There was good sense in this attitude.

Mr Asquith as a lawyer knows very well that in all civilised systems of government sweeping constitutional changes demand two conditions. In the first place, there must be a very large majority in their favour; and in the second place, that majority must be elected on this point, and this point only. There must be an ad hoc appeal on the constitutional issue alone. Now, the fact that we have an unwritten constitution does not make the universal practice of civilisation less applicable to our case. To change our constitution materially there must be a very large majority elected on the change, as the sole or the dominant issue; and this Mr Asquith saw clearly when he asked for "such a majority as," &c. He has not got this majority, or anything like it. In the first place, it is too small in itself, and infinitely too small as compared with the majority before the elections to show any decided national feeling. In the second place, it is a strangely patterned mosaic, in which it is difficult to detect any predominant colour. Above all, it is perfectly clear that if there be a master colour it is not that of "Down with the Peers"; nay, it is certain that this colour is scarcely in evidence at all. In spite of every type of inflammatory appeal from poster and platform, the people have declined to interest themselves in this matter. The present writer, who saw a good deal of the elections in different types of constituency, never attended

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heard of а meeting would be so foolish as to prowhich showed much interest pose the creation of some five in the misdeeds of the hundred new peers. It would Lords. In London, in in the not be a popular act, it would Midlands, in Yorkshire and seriously weaken the prestige Lancashire, the subject after of the Crown, and it is quesa time was tacitly dropped by tionable, in view of the opinion both Liberals and Conserva- of Brougham and Lyndhurst tives. In the counties it was during the 1832 crisis, whether scarcely raised. The working the House of Lords would be man was eager to ask questions bound to accept the new about dear food and more creations. The alternative work, and occasionally about would be a dissolution on the pensions and land policy, but "limited veto" issue, and Conhe was bored to death with servatives need not fear the talk about the liberties of ensuing election. The country England, the rights of the is not in the mood for the Commons, and the dictatorship expense and worry of a second of the Peers. There are General Election on a question supposed to be one or two about which it is in no way constituencies in Northumber- interested. land which showed a faint interest in the matter, and it is reported (though opinions differ) that a few of the East Coast towns of Scotland were disturbed about the business. But the general attitude was sheer apathy. We do not say that this is a good sign, for in many ways it is better that a man should be concerned about the constitution of his country than about his stomach, but there can be no doubt about the fact. Mr Asquith will be wise to scrutinise carefully the terms of his new lease.

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It seems to us more likely that Mr Asquith will propose a declaratory act prohibiting the veto of the Lords in the case of a finance bill, and at the same time defining such a bill so as to exclude the abuse of "tacking." This is a specious proposal, but we should hope that the Lords would reject it. Every lawyer knows that the most revolutionary changes in public policy can be effected by means of a pure finance bill, quite free from any suspicion of tacking. If we are to have a Second Chamber, it seems to us essential that it should have power to the last resort to reject any and every measure, financial or otherwise. But, whatever Mr Asquith's tactics may be, the Lords must take up in earnest the question of their own reform. There are signs that moderate Liberals are inclined to see that it is their interest to meet the Upper

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