VIRT w AND ITS COST.
WE are indebted to a contemporary for a very instrue. tire exposition of the difficulties that sometimes beset the ardent aspirant after the detection and punish- ment of political crime. We have not ourselves seen the balance sheet of the Gladstone League. But the Pall Mall Gazette has been more enterprising, or more fortunate, and in its issue of June 2nd it has given an account of the operations of the League during the year or a little more for which it has existed, and of the financial position to which its labours have brought it. On the face of things, nothing could be more praiseworthy than the purpose which its founders had in view. They felt a righteous dislike—a dislike which, we may say in passing, we fully share—to the intimidation of voters, and, with a natural disposition to think the best of their friends and the worst of their opponents, they assumed that it was the special, if not the exclusive, vice of the Unionist Party. It is among Unionists, they reasoned, that the tyrant landlord and the tyrant employer flourish and abound. Unionists intimidate for the love of the thing. They are reckless as to the chances of detection. They do not stop to consider whether their candidate has already a pretty secure majority. They take no account of possible election petitions. They fly to intimidation whenever an oppor- tunity offers itself for no better reason than because "it is their nature to." Could there be a clearer or more urgent case for a combined effort to shield the helpless elector against those who seek to deprive him of Man's— at least, of Liberal Man's—most sacred right? All around them they saw Liberal voters to whom every election must spell surrender or ruin. Left to themselves these voters would rush to the poll whenever there was a motor waiting to carry them. Despising the secrecy of the ballot, they would proclaim their principles to the whole world by the decorations of their hats or their coats. To keep out the Unionist oppressor, to return the Liberal deliverer, would be the twin purposes which would rule their lives during the electoral parade. But in the way of carrying out these heroic intentions there would stand the gaunt spectre of homelessness and beggary. To vote for a Liberal candidate means a notice to quit either their houses or their employments. A Unionist landlord tolerates no Liberal in his cottages or on his land. A Unionist manu- facturer tolerates no Liberal in his mill or in his factory. Here, then, was the need for protection clearly shown, and the Gladstone League sprang into life to supply it.
It might have been thought that the best form this pro- tection could take would have been to implant in the breasts of -Unionist sinners a healthy dread of detection and punishment. Even the long winter of Unionist rule did not produce an Act of Parliament promising impunity to all who tried to intimidate voters who in the absence of intimidation were certain to vote for Unionist candidates. The law courts are open to the sufferers and their political friends, and what better work could a new Gladstone League do than to drag into the fierce light which beats upon a police court the wretches who have kept Liberal electors from the poll, or punished them for what they have done at it? This was not, however, the method that com- mended itself to the Gladstone League. The law of charity, it may be, forbade them to have recourse to sucli brutal methods. Nothing is to be gained by inflicting suffering on offenders too hardened to profit by it. The man who voted Liberal has been dismissed from his em- ployment and given notice to quit his tenement, and no punishment that can be inflicted on his oppressor will undo the wrong that he has suffered. But even for wrongs such as these there is still a possibility of compensation. If the Liberal voter who has been turned into the street cannot be replaced in the home he has lost he may still be helped to find. another. If he has lost his employment he may be kept alive while he is looking for another engagement. Consequently it was to compensation that the Gladstone League decided to apply its funds, and their balance-sheet is the record of what has been done in this way. The figures are at first sight somewhat astonishing. The cases of intimidation reported to the League have been 290. At this point we are called to admire the wisdom as well as the energy of the executive. They have not dispensed with inquiry. The applications have been carefully gone into, with the result that thirty-eight have been found worthy of compensation in cash and eight of compensation in praise. We recognize the claim that these figures consti- tute to the sympathy even of political opponents. A General Election has only shown forty-six instances of intimidation on the Unionist side. Considering that party passions have run fairly high during the last year or two the founders of the League might fairly have looked for a more damaging disclosure than this. There are worthy people in all parties whom it is very difficult to convince that to exercise pressure on a vote is to defeat the main object of representative government. They are so anxious that the good cause should triumph that they cannot bring themselves to think it wrong to go a little out of the straight path to bring about so excellent a result. The injury to the particular elector is so small—indeed, when he has had time to think he will probably be glad that he has been hindered from following his first hasty inclination. What, after all, is the use of a landlord or an employer if he may not use his position to keep a tenant or a work-man in the right path ? The temptation to argue in this way is common to all parties. All it needs to make it a temptation is the con- viction that your own opinion is the only right one—not by any means an uncommon form of certainty. And yet, in spite of the many probabilities pointing this way, thirty- eight presents of money and eight presents of words are all that there has been occasion for.
But when we turn to the other side of the account we see at once what comfort the balance-sheet can be made to yield. Just over forty sufferers have received about £10 apiece. That may not seem much, but look at the sums which have been spent in finding them out. Though only £400 have gone in compensation the total expenses of the League have amounted to £6,000. That, at least, is something to be proud of. Money for the good work has been, forthcoming, and though it has not been spent exactly on the good work itself, it has been spent in con- nexion with it. The victims had, in the first instance, to be encouraged to make their wrongs known. Pamphlets and leaflets had to be written and distributed, and even if we assume that the enthusiasm of the writers made them disdain payment for their labour, their copy had to be printed, and we have no reason to credit printers with an exceptional desire to work for nothing, even in a good cause. At all events, literary expenses appear in the balance-sheet with .2621 opposite to them, so that already we are ahead of the £400 spent in compensation. It is a little depressing to discover that membership of the League does not seem to have been accepted as quite its own reward. We hasten to add that we do not mean that those who held this ennobling position wanted to be paid for accepting the honour. But just as the most patriotic army does not disdain a uniform, so the members of the Gladstone League seem to have yearned for a badge. What form these insignia took is not stated, nor can we recall having encountered anyone actually wearing it. But the best evidence of the existence of badges is their cost, and they could not be provided, it seems, for less than £714. Even in these expensive days this is a large sum for buttonholes, and though cards of membership are included under the same heading we do not think that they could have accounted for more than a fraction of the total cost—say for the odd £14 out of the .2714. We hesitate, however, to explain this expenditure by a commonplace love of "dressing up." We would rather attribute it to the belief that the moment a wearer of the badge was seen, either in town or country, victims of intimidation would at once surround him and pray to be taken to make an affidavit of the threats of which they had been the object. Possibly, indeed, the original 290 applicants may have been brought to the front by this means. In that case great allowance must evidently be made for the excitement which the first sight of the badge caused. Out of these 290 applicants only 42 seem to have come successfully through the examination to which their first simple tale was subjected. It may be that in the recesses of the Gladstone League office the badges were laid aside, and in the colder atmosphere thus generated the intimidation suffered seemed less serious. While, however, literature and personal adornment are the two items singled out for special mention in the balance- sheet, they are very far from representing all the money spent by the League. "Organizing and propaganda ex- penses" stand for the very respectable sum of £1,836 2s.8d, but as the particulars of this outlay do not seem to be given we are left to infer that the circulation of the League leaflets and the travelling expenses of the badge-wearers must have accounted for a good deal. The most thrilling leaflets will make no converts if they remain in a drawer; the most imposing buttonhole will bear no fruit if it is displayed only to those who are already members of the League. The leaflets had to be dropped about in what looked like promising quarters ; the badges had to carry glimpses of hope to the victims of Unionist intimidation before they would find a tongue to tell what had been done to them. And circulation, whether of leaflets or of human agents, must always cost money. We are tempted, how- ever, to wonder whether, if the figures are ever seen by the beneficiaries of the League, they will not wonder whether a little less lavish expenditure on these particulars might not have added a pound or two to the compensation they have received.