THE LIBERAL LEADERS AND SIR E. DERING.
THE correspondence about Sir Edward Dering, published in Monday's papers, will not, we fear, be received by thoughtful Liberals—we use the term, in spite of the outcry against it, as the only phrase which expresses the truth- -with entire satisfaction. Sir E. Dering's supporters in East Sent were, it appears, annoyed that he should have voted in -support of Lord Dunkellin's motion for a rating qualification. They thought he had been false to his party, and in East Kent, where yeomen have still some influence, to be false to one's party is almost as discreditable as to shoot or trap a fox in a hunting county. You cannot be imprisoned for either crime, but if you commit it there is an end of public confidence in you. At the same time the electors, who have a pretty stiff battle to fight, did not exactly want to break with Sir E. Dering. He is a very convenient candidate, and con- venient Whig candidates for county seats who are at once able to take all the pledges and pay all the expenses and yet get re- turned, are not to be picked up under everyhedge. Sir E. Dering -smoothed the way to a reconciliation by saying that although he voted for rating in preference to rental, i. e., apparently for res- triction, he would have accepted 5/. as the limit, that is, would have included several thousand more workmen than Mr. Gladstone proposed to do. Armed with that concession, -which we greatly fear strained Sir E. Dering's conscience, his principal supporter, Mr. E. Knatchbull-Hugessen, approached Mt. Gladstone to ask if he could not give his member some sort 'of clean bill of political health. Mr. Gladstone gave it in a letter which, if it proves anything, proves that Sir E. Dering did not -understand the drift of his own vote, but recommended the electors to believe that their candidate was not a wilful teller of fibs. " I read his letter, and accept his declarations, in the spirit of confidence, and not in the spirit of suspicion. We, the supporters of the Bill, who have had occasion to feel how the spirit of suspicion poisons the atmosphere of politics, and renders hopeless what otherwise, though difficult, was practicable enough, should, I think, set an example of dis- carding it, and of interpreting and treating others as we wish to be treated and interpreted ourselves." Then, aware that his letter would probably be treated as a political manifesto, 'he submitted it to Earl Russell, who in five lines, which we defy any human being but a great Whig magnate to have composed, endorsed Mr. Gladstone's opinion, remarking tersely, -" If he agrees to the 51. rating franchise he ought to be taken back into the fold." Whereupon the electors, just a trifle perhaps taken aback, separated without pronouncing their ver- dict upon Sir E. Dering's faults or merits, an omission which in his case, we presume, means they intend to support him again.
We cannot say all that is exactly satisfactory. We do not -say anything about the tone of the letters which seem to have -roused so very much ire in the minds of the Tories, for after all there is nothing very objectionable in their wording. Nobody but Mr. Gladstone would have been at the pains to prove that 14 member whom he recommended for re-election was rather an ass than otherwise, but Mr. Gladstone never can bear to see a fallacious argument left unanswered. It is the one ." superfluity of naughtiness " in which he cannot help in- dulging. He would taunt a poet for describing the sun-rise because the sun never rises, and tell a woman who said " It is so because it is " that a repeated assertion was not a con- vincing argument. Too much head, however, is not a disquali- fication in a political leader, and if Sir E. Dering will but vote straight, his internal annoyance matters little to anybody out- side the doors of his house. Nor does Earl Russell's note, extraordinary as some readers have deemed it, deserve the severity of comment which it seems to have produced. It is very like the tone of a Colonel telling the mess that as Ensign -Smith has apologized they need not send him to Coventry, but then Earl Russell always uses that tone, to superiors as well as inferiors, and that is one of his many uses in the State. He rapped the Queen just as severely the other day, when he said, " Her Majesty was pleased to call the amendment
a point of detail," but he thought exactly the reverse, and his frankness is at least straightforward and clear. If Whigs like to be snubbed in that style they ought to be snubbed, and it is not for us to object either to the taste or its thorough gratification. Our objection to the letters is a very
different and, as we think, very much more important one. We see in them no sign that the Liberal leaders perceive the real obstacle in their way, or are prepared to make the slightest attempt to heal the deplorable breach in the great Liberal party. To judge from Mr. Gladstone's letter, he regards his Reform Bill as an inspired production, which he is at liberty to interpret, but not to alter, while Earl Russell's leaves the impression that if he alters the Bill at all it will be by making it slightly more obnoxious than before. Sir E. Dering thought a 71. rental a little too low a qualification, and Mr. Gladstone says 5/. rating would admit a few thousand more, whereupon Earl Russell, who has read and who endorses Mr. Gladstone's letter, says if Sir E. Dering will swallow those thousands he ought to "be readmitted within the fold," doubtless as a repentant sheep with a fleece which one day may be worth the taking. Surely all this condescension is a little beside the point. Sir. E. Dering has " explained " himself to his constituents, and so long as the vote is all right politicians should, as Mr. Gladstone says, be above suspecting motives ; but he knew, and Earl Russell knew, perfectly well what the member for East Kent meant. Sir E. Dering did not care a straw, any more than any other Liberal, whether the qualification was fixed at 71. rental or 5/. rating, would, we dare say, on the whole have preferred the latter, as being a little nearer the bottom, and therefore affording a little less leverage for troublesome agita- tion. But he voted against the Ministry, as at least half the Whigs wished to vote, because he could not see any guarantee that in admitting the new constituency he was not swamp- ing the old one. Personally, as Mr. Gladstone might have done him the justice to remark, the Bill was to him an un- mixed good. The Liberals were not likely to turn him out for helping on a Reform Bill, and the chance of a Tory in East Kent under a 141. franchise would not be worth the trouble of calculation. The gain to Sir E. Dering in Blackheath and Lewisham alone would make his seat twice as secure as ever it was before, and a secure seat is one of the pleasantest things in the world. Sir E. Dering fought for his political view, not himself, and though he fought in a roundabout way, as we think in a way without any justification in principle, still what are Whigs to do when their leaders insist on pledges like non-electors at a show of hands. If a man, as Earl Russell implies, is not fit for election as a Liberal unless he accepts a 5/. rating, what is he to do except accept it, and then either leave it to the Peers, which is cowardly, or get rid of it by a side vote, which is not honest, or, as the last alternative, incur the certain vengeance of his chiefs by voting according to his judgment and con- science in the matter ? That is not a dilemma for a skilful chief to put before a party which is split into two divi- sions, each heartily anxious to discover some basis for a reconciliation. It only widens the breach. The letter reminds one of the Bishops who were ordered by Henry VIII. to find some means of reconciling the Common Law with their Canons, and who replied that it was easy to do so, for his Grace had only to make the Law a counterpart of the Canons and every- thing would be harmonious. Sir E. Dering has said in effect that he only wants a guarantee which shall make an extended suffrage harmonize with his view of English politics, and Earl Russell tells him to accept a suffrage wider still and there will be harmony the most perfect. He seems to think if only he can secure the votes the secret distaste of the voters does not matter a straw, a view which was true in '31, when the country had made up its mind, and obedience was at worst only submission to the national will, but which is not true to-day, when the country is much divided, and unwilling sup- porters are sure to have a hundred opportunities for making their unwillingness felt.
The need of the Liberal party, and therefore of the nation, is a reconciliation between its two sections, neither of which can by possibility be either extinguished altogether or para- lyzed for any considerable length of time. While Englishmen with money and brains continue to take an interest in politics there will be men among the representatives who, heartily Liberal in every thought, more than Liberal in many of their latent ideas, are yet determined not to submit to the brute force of numerical majorities, and the Government which tries to crush them, or to compel them to vote against their opinions, is only crushing its own bones to avoid the trouble of clearing a way, We may indeed go further than this, and say that so long as Englishmen retain their peculiar social organization there will be a party in the House who, Liberal by conviction and character, are Conservative by position and feeling, and who, if driven too hard, may allow, have always hitherto allowed, their feelings to overcome or modify their convictions. It is all very well for ideologues to despise such men, but since when have great Whigs like Earl Russell or great statesmen like Mr. Gladstone turned ideologues ? They have England to rule, not France, and mast reckon with the forces in England,—can no more affect to despise the class whom Earl Grosvenor represents than those in whose name we plead. They must, if they want to frame an effective working machine, and Heaven knows it is wanted badly enough! frame a programme which can be supported by the people, by territorialists who want the people to be admitted within the Constitution, and by the moderate Liberals, who are willing to grant the working class every power except that of ostracizing all who do not work with their hands.
We do most sincerely trust that during the recess calmer counsels will prevail, that Mr. Gladstone will see the folly of alienating the only class which thoroughly under- stands him, that Earl Russell will recall to his mind that his favourite precedent was not a merely democratic revolution. It is quite clear that Reform must next session, by some dead heave or another, be got out of the way of decent government. The existing system fell, * the Carlton very well knows, with the Hyde Park railings, even if it had not fallen before. It is also clear that this Government, as it calls itself, is a mere ad interim arrangement, with scarcely a chance of life, and no chance at all of ordinary longevity. The choice practically lies between a quasi-Liberal Government, with no convictions and great abilities, or a really Liberal Government, with strong principles and, let us hope, some decent modicum of adminis- trative nerve. We prefer the second, and so, as we believe, does the country, but we . shall not have it if Mr. Gladstone persists in deelaring that his Reform Bill came down from Heaver; ready-sewn, in insisting that because Whigs. and Radicals are equally Liberals, therefore every Whig is bound to suppress his convictions, whenever a Radical thinks their expression inconvenient. The party requires recemenbiug, and the only way to cement it is to widen the Bill. till Radicals feel they have little more to ask, while inserting clans* which assure Whigs that their voices are not to be drowned in the multitudinous repetition of one single roar. Had every head of a household in all the great boroughs been ad- mitted within the pale, and the medium boroughs been let alone, the Carlton would have lost half its power, the Reform have gained all to which it has a just claim, and the Athenaeum have missed its recent practical experience of the value of brain when opposed to unreasoning physical force. M all events if this be impossible, let there be some appearance of wish to consult all Liberals, instead of telling one section that they must either obey the other or be turned out of "the fold." English Liberals are not sheep, whatever Earl Russell may think, to jump when the gate is gone because the bell- wether jumped while it was still there.