TOPICS OP THE DAY.
TEL LIBERAL PARTY AND ARMAMENTS
DURING the week attempts have been made in various Liberal newspapers to explain away the interview which Mr. Lloyd George allowed to be published on New Year's Day in the Daily Chronicle. Probably we shall not be doing an injustice to the Daily Chronicle itself if we say that it, too, has tried to lay the spectre which it raised. Having made the most of the sensational pronouncement which had been placed at its disposal, it has tried to counteract any inconvenient reaction there might be on the fortunes of the Liberal Party by showing that Mr. Lloyd George's expression of his sentiments had been matched by those of various other members of the Cabinet. In fine, it would have us believe that what Mr. Lloyd George said had all been said before, and that his words represented the convictions of a united body. No doubt it is an extremely easy task to select from the speeches of a Ministry, most members of which habitually blow hot and cold on the question of national defence, a number of quotations which all tell in the same direction. Mr. Lloyd George's remarks, however, must be judged by their general inopportuneness and by their particular emphasis rather than by any special verbal incongruity with isolated passages in the hot-and-cold speeches of his colleagues. If it be argued that Mr. Lloyd George did not really mean to put himself at the head of the anti-armament Liberals—and of course we should not like, on any occasion, absolutely to swear to Mr. Lloyd George's mean- ing—and that he never dreamed of such a thing as slapping Mr. Churchill in the face, the only possible answer is that a Chancellor of the Exchequer who has such an extraordinarily blunted sense of the effects of language as Mr. Lloyd George has proved himself to have is not fitted for his position, and still less fitted to conduct irregular sallies into the departments of his colleagues. It may be remarked in passing that ever since the present Govern- ment came into office Ministers have made a practice of violating one another's boundaries, to the confusion of the public and to the detriment of the old tradition that the Prime Minister was responsible for all the acts of his subordinates. No wonder Mr. Asquith cannot accept universal responsibility when the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer speaks sometimes as though he were Foreign Secretary and sometimes as though he were First Lord of the Admiralty. But we venture to say that it does not make a great deal of difference whether Mr. Lloyd George knew what he was doing or not when he slapped Mr. Churchill in the face. A slap was in effect administered. It is impossible for Mr. Lloyd George to reverse the effect of his speech upon the Little-Navy Liberals. They are encouraged to the point of enthusiasm, and they will be even more impotent in action than they have been in the past if they do not either make an ally of Mr. Lloyd George or muse him to eat his words with due humiliation.
Let ns compare Mr. Churchill's words with Mr. Lloyd George's. The contrast is too fundamental and glaring to be denied if we take essential statements and not those passages in which Liberals customarily do lip-service to the ideal of reduced armaments. On November 10th at the Guildhall Mr. Churchill said :—
" You must not suppose that any relaxation of our efforts in armaments is possible at present. Nor must we expect that the burden which we bear is likely to be diminished in the immediate future.. . . The measured and unbroken development of the German Navy, and the simultaneous building by many Powers, great and small, all over the world, of powerful and large modern ships of war, will undoubtedly require from us expenditure and exertions greater than those we hove ever made in times of peace, and next year it will be my duty, HI should be responsible for this important Department of State, to present to Parliament Estimates substantially greater than the enormous sum originally voted in the present year.'
In the Daily Chronicle of January let Mr. Lloyd George said :—
"The strain is completely relaxed. Both countries [Britain and Germany] seem to have realized what ought to have been fairly obvious long ago. . . I think this is the most favoumble moment for us to overhaul one expenditure on armaments that has pre- sented itself during the last twenty years. I feel convinced that, area if Germany ever had any idea of challenging our supremacy at sea, the exigencies of the military situation must necessarily put it clean out of her mind."
The Little-Navy Liberals will write themselves down the most futile group that over existed in British politics if they allow Mr. Lloyd George quietly to go back on the words we have just quoted. They have tasted blood— if the metaphor be thought not too outrageous in such a connexion. As Mr. Lloyd George's words cannot possibly be reconciled with Mr. Churchill's, either the one prin- ciple or the other must triumph in the next Session when the Naval Estimates are introduced. We have no' doubt where the victory will lie. Nine hundred and ninety- nine Englishmen out of a thousand simply will not tolerate any trifling with the question of our naval supremacy. When a Liberal Ministry appeal for support on a Motion for increasing the strength of the Navy to the extent recommended by the Admiralty, they get all they want from the Opposition. Mr. Churchill knows well enough that he has nothing to fear, and we do not imagine for a moment that he will shirk his duty. The meetings in the country which are being organized by the Navy League, and by business men who recognize that the supremacy of the Navy is an insurance policy for the continuance of their business, will utterly obliterate any. passing impression that might be produced by the Little Navy group. It is not true that English business men shrink from the unpleasant necessity of paying for the Nary. They do not like putting their hands deep into their pockets more than anyone else, but they will never hesitate to pay every penny that is necessary. We are amused to notice that when the Westminster Gazette talks of the business interests "taking alarm" the instance to which it refers is in Germany. The Daily Chronicle, when it is performing the friendly and discreet office of watering down Mr. Lloyd George's statements, on the other hand, points out with delightful inconsequence that the burden is not no very crushing after all :— " On one or two points Continental opinion should not be misled. The Chancellor has no idea of so disarming his country as to prevent it from playing its part in the world ; but he conceives that part as essentially a pacific one, and he deprecates such • over-arming as might cause it to be conceived otherwise. Again, though he realizes the burden which our naval expenditure lays upon our shoulders, he abases Mr. Churchill's opinion that (thanks largely to Free Trade) we are burdened less near the breaking- ' point than any other European Power ; and while anxious to end for all the futile competition in burden-bearing, his anxiety is not prompted by any doubt as to Britain's comparative resources for standing the strain."
The Daily Chronicle might have quoted Mr. Asquith on the same subject. When he spoke to the National Liberal Federation on the reduction of armaments, he said that whereas the proportion of expenditure on armaments was 49.4 per cent. in 1883, it was only 42.7 per cent. in 1913. Socialistic Liberals are never tired of defending the growing expenditure on uneconomic State philanthropy on the ground that the normal increase of revenue will automatically keep pace with the outgoings ; but some- how they quite forget this argument when it is a question of the Navy, and talk of the Naval Estimates as though they were absolute things bearing no relation whatever to the ability of the country to pay for its insurance or- to the value of the property to be insured. Unless Mr. Churchill chooses the unimaginable course of recanting decisions which have not merely been taken, but have been publicly announced, he is bound to increase naval expenditure next Session. It is said that the unexpected expenses of the past year were very consider- able, and that this money will have to be voted. Even if reports are wrong on this point, the Naval Estimates for 1914-15, which will be presented in March, will show an increase. This, of course, is already known. Four capital ships have been promised. The Estimates in any one year depend to a very large. extent upon those of the year before and on those which are to follow in the next year. The Estimates of next March will be the necessary sequel to what the House of Commons agreed upon last year. " We can no more refuse to meet these obligations," Mr. Churchill has said, "than we can repudiate the interest on the National Debt." As for the unforeseen expenditure of the past year to which we have referred, it is difficult to see that report can be wrong, since acceleration of the naval programme became necessary directly the Canadian policy of assisting the Admiralty collapsed. The safety secured by this acceleration is, however, only -temporary. Ships offered by the Dominions are always to be regarded as providing us with an extra margin of security. They are reckoned, even in Mr. Churchill's moderate view, in the consideration of what he has called the " whole world requirements" of the Empire, but not in estimating the security of the United Kingdom. The place of the three Canadian ships which have failed us must be filled unless we are to be, in 1916, behind the programme which Mr. Churchill has declared to be necessary for the whole Empire. Unless, as we have said above, Mr. Churchill is going to take back his words, he must in the next Session begin to provide for these three extra ships. We con- clude that if Mr. Churchill does only the minimum of what he has said it is necessary to do, Mr. Lloyd George's words about a complete relaxation of the strain must be pilloried either as an attack on the Navy and the safety of the whole Empire or as the veriest nonsense ever uttered for the misleading of a party of amiable fanatics.
The effect of Mr. Lloyd George's declaration on the immediate future of the Liberal Party is, however, only part of the consequences that flow from his New Year's message. The result at home is obscure for the present, but abroad it is quite otherwise. Anxiety has reappeared. Any fairly careful student of foreign affairs could have told him that this was bound to happen. Will Liberal poli- ticians never learn that vague and general talk about the reduction of armaments always causes the very unrest which it is intended to abate ? Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman's well-meant offers to Germany increased the ill-will which already existed. When one looks into the matter it is not surprising that this should have been so. From the German point of view, the British proposal was simply a suggestion that Germany should consent to stereotype her position of naval inferiority. When the British Government abandoned the attempt to arrive at an accommodation with Germany, and increased their naval programme with the frankest and most open announcements of what they intended to do, relations with Germany instantly became better, and have been growing better ever since. It may be a strange and para- doxical result, but the fact cannot be disputed. The reason is that Germany mistrusts offers which seem toaimat making heraparty to the crippling of hernational ambitions, whereas when she knows exactly what we mean to do she both understands and respects our course of action. Mr. Lloyd George's statements have already excited the angry criti- cism of Count Reventlow in Germany. It may be said that we ought not to be diverted from the right path by the mutterings of Pan-Germanism, but again the fact is clear that the sleeping dog which was lying quiet has been aroused. And of course it is not only in Germany that mis- trust has been excited. It is a much more serious matter that anxiety should have been created in France and Russia. The Triple Entente is the creation of force of circumstances. We could not retire from it without making every nation in Europe our enemy. Is it not then madness to do any- thing that causes our friends to doubt our sincerity ? Do Liberals accept with serenity the certainty that if we do not play the part which we have led them to believe we shall play, the legendary belief in the perfidy of Albion will be acutely revived ? Even if Liberals fancy that the present improved relations with Germany and the complete confidence in us shown by France and Russia are merely a coincidence, and not the direct result of Mr. Churchill's firmness and constancy of purpose at the Admiralty, would they not do well in the interests of peace to main- tain the conditions that have had such happy results ? We warn them that if by their manoeuvres in the coming Session they should induce Europe to believe that we mean to relax our naval efforts, a Pandora's box of evil passions would be reopened, and these passions would fly into every corner of the world. We do not think that such a thing will happen. The Little-Navy group will probably once more be proved harmless, and it may be that Mr. Lloyd George will be clever enough to dodge the boomerang which ought to recoil upon him. But if Mr. Lloyd George should continue in his present temper, and put his rhetoric at the disposal of the Little-Navy men, we should await the fulfilment of our prediction with the moot melancholy confidence.