• TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE OPENING OF THE CAMPAIGN.
FROM every quarter and corner of the kingdom come the confused cries of the electoral struggle, which has certainly been entered into with a will. It is out of the question to analyse the innumerable speeches ; one can only take a general view of the conflict, catch a few of the battle-cries which sound more loudly than the rest among the clamour, and examine a few of the tactical points which have made themselves apparent in the first week of the campaign. To begin with, we would say that though none of us can remember a time when politics were so absorbing and exciting—the type of man who is accus- tomed to stand aloof from the party conflict, regarding it as the mere work of professionals, has for the moment put aside all his other mental interests in favour of politics— there never was a time when a question of vital and super- lative importance excited less fuss and panic. Intense interest and strong feeling naturally there are, and ought to be, but there is no sense at the back of it all that one side is fighting with its back to the wall, and that if it loses the fight the political death of a whole class will be a certainty. That, at least, is how we, and we believe the majority of our countrymen, read the situation. Of course Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill invite us to believe that if the people decide that the Lords did them a good turn in giving them time to think over the Budget well before deciding whether they want it, the star of England as we know it will set and Englishmen will be in the position of slaves. But such arguments are mere sound and fury, signifying nothing. The reason for the singular absence of panic and all nervous misgivings is well worth examination. We take it to be that as both parties in the State are now democratic, the people—except when in the throes of a temporary emotion produced by some gifted Radical orator—cannot be brought to believe that if the General Election goes against the present Government their liberties as British citizens will be signed away. They know very well that nothing of the sort will happen. It was a very different matter in the days of the Stuarts, when a few rich, powerful, and unscrupulous nobles—when the King himself was not doing it—could enforce their will at the expense of all the people. To-day we are completely saved by the party system working in conjunction with a generous franchise. With each successive extension of the franchise the possibility of the people being exploited by a commanding but irresponsible group of Peers has become more remote; and it is fair, we think, to say that the possibility came to an end altogether with the enfranchisement of 1884, when more than two million voters were added to the list. The attitude of the country recalls Marjorie Fleming's verse :— "But she was more than usual calm,
• She did not say a single damn."
It is not only in the bearing of the people towards the crisis, but in that of those who are most intimately con- cerned day by day in the working of the national machinery of taxation—merchants and Departmental officials—that the calm is apparent. We were told that if the Lords referred the Budget to the people for their decision there would be a financial chaos which would demoralise and unbalance the country to such an extent that it could not easily recover. But what do we find? We find that the revenue officials are unaware even of symptoms of financial chaos, and that most of the heads of substantial commercial firms, who might, had they wished, have thrown the taxing machinery out of gear by nimble-witted attempts to turn the interval of "no-law" to their own advantage, have laid their heads together and taken the creditable view, and the long view, that it is their duty and advantage to see that this part of the King's Government is carried on without a hitch. In the case of the Tea-duties, for instance, most of the merchants have undertaken to deposit a sum equivalent to the duty. They have met the crisis in an English Manner The Board of Inland Revenue, again, has been instructed by the Treasury to regard the situation as analogous to that which occurs annually between April 5th and the date of the Resolution of the House of Commons authorising the reimposition of the Income-fax: A chaos which is analogous to that through which we pass every year' of our lives is palpably not very terrible. The predicted chaos, in fact, reminds us of the comets which we are told are going to burn up the earth with their tails ; but the earth always passes through the tail safely enough, and we laymen would know nothing about it were we not kindly supplied with information on the crisia by the astronomers.
One of the chief tendencies which are apparent already on the Liberal side is overstatement. This was only to be expected after Mr. Lloyd George set the note of the campaign with his hectic oration at the National Liberal Club. We shall be very much surprised if the people are persuaded to believe that the Lords in asking for an instruction from the country are really like landowners who put broken glass round the walls of their parks to keep out poachers, even if they believe with Mr. Lloyd George that glass is generally placed round the walls of parks for that purpose. The Lords are more nearly in the position of a landowner who should ask the poachers whether they would care to come in and have a few rabbits. Hysteria always grows by indulging itself, as doctors know, and if the Liberal practice of overstatement ' is carried on with its present zest, we may, expect it to produce some surprising results within the next few Weeks. The Nation has done pretty well in this line already, even though the words which we are about to quote were written before the campaign had well begun. It said in a leading article last week :— "Should the people of Great Britain decide to lay their liberties at the feet of the Peers the minority would instinctively act as their fathers acted two hundred and fifty years ago. Liberals would not directly pay taxes to any power outside the House- of Commons. Liberals would refuse to pay taxes so long as the sole taxing power of the representative House remained in doubt. Do the Cords refuse supplies to the Crown? Hundreds of thousands of Englishmen, Welshmen, Scotsmen, and Irishmen will; if necessary, refuse supplies to them."
If an intelligent and impartial observer from another - planet suddenly descended in our midst, he would surely decline to believe that these words could have been seriously applied to the action of the Lords. What the Lords have done is to refer the Budget to the people because they thinfr that the Government in embodying in it legislative principles which are not properly financial at all exceeded the wishes of the people, and, moreover, by the trick of " tacking " tried to withhold from the judgment of the Second Chamber principles which -under proper Constitutional usage should undoubtedly be referred to both Houses. But the Nation does not want the mature decision of the people. It apparently mistrusts the people. The only thing it wants is the decision of the small group of Liberals who form the Cabinet. According to the Nation, if the people vote against the Budget, that vote will not represent the true voice of democracy. The true voice of' democracy Only -enierges from a Liberal Cabinet Council at 10 Downing Street. The Nation invests the small group on whom it bestows the honour of its admira- tion with a Papal infallibility and calls it democracy. The observer from another planet would, we imagine, say : "You' call your plan ' democracy ' because it is what you want. But if you were a true democrat you would recognise that in trusting the people you must take the rough-with the smooth, and must consent to subordinate your reason to the popular will, even though you may be sure that you are right. What you are arguing for is a Liberal oligarchy, and nothing will induce me to believe otherwise." While such irrational perversions are afloat it is extremely important that the opponents of the com- bined army of Liberals and Socialists should refrain from emulation. We are convinced that if the Unionists play the part—a tempting part we admit—of Out-Heroding Herod, they will greatly weaken their cause in the eyes of the country. Let us remember that the whole nation is on the alert, that, as we have said, a great many voters who are not ordinarily interested in politics at all are now seriously applying their Minds to the crisis. We have sufficient confidence in the underlying good sense and seriousness of the country to believe that what will appeal to those who will probably determine the result of the Election will be a moderate and 'sober exposition of the facts. This consideration is really of imperative import- ance. 'The elections will bring into action the full force of the moderating 'Minds, and Unionists will 'unquestionably regret it if they fail to 'impress the electorate with the fact that in a 'grave Constitutional question they can display the temperance of thought and accuracy of language which their opponents are without.- Before we conclude we must refer to two matters which have commanded, a great deal of attention during the week. One is the question whether there is an actual alliance between the Liberals and. the Labour Party, and the other is the publication by the Birmingham Post of a Tariff Reform scheme of taxation which it is said. the Unionists would put into force if returned to power. As to the alleged alliance between the Liberals and the Socialists, it seems to us to be a matter of little moment whether it is a formal pact or not. Liberal and Labour leaders have both denied the existence of a deed of association, signed, sealed, and delivered, and we are quite content to accept their word. But that does not alter the fact that con- venience is evidently dictating a course which has not been formulated in writing, or even in definitely spoken words. In their attempt to get rid of the veto of the Lords the Liberals are prepared to part with a large share of their future power of resistance to Socialistic demands. In voting, therefore, for a Liberal the elector will be speeding the march of Socialistic legislation.
As for the proposed Tariff Reform Budget, it is quite possible that its place of origin has invested it with too much importance. On the other hand, as it fits in—except where it omits important principles—with the plans of Tariff Reformers as we have always known them, it has a credible enough appearance. It is proposed that from • sixteen to twenty inillions should be raised by Protective taxes, and that the new taxes in the present Budget should be entirely abolished. There would be three rates of duty giving an average of 10 per cent. on manufactured goods. The Colonies and " friendly " foreign Powers would enjoy a rebate on these duties. Though raw materials would be admitted free, there would be a two- shilling tax on foreign corn, and 5 per cent. on meat and -dairy produce. Half these rates would be charged on similar imports from the Colonies. We are told that under this scheme there would be none of the "multi- farious rates that throw open the door to Parliamentary intrigue or lobbying." As Free-traders of course we should do our utmost to defeat any such financial measures. The chief reason why we mention this proposal now is to remark that it was no sooner published than Tariff Reformers began hotly to criticise it. "It suggests by implication," says the Morning Post, "a 10 per cent, duty on agricultural produce. Needless to state there is no authority for this figure." The Morning Post then notices the absence of any reference to the remission of duties on tea and sugar as a set-off to other taxation. "To this remission," it says, "the Unionists are fully pledged." As to the proposals for a preferential tariff on imports from the Colonies, the Morning Post says : "There will of course be no question of Great Britain asking the Dominions to agree to any particular taxes any more than they ask this country for its sanction when drawing up their own tariffs,"—and so on and so forth. We need hardly say that if new indirect taxes were to be balanced by remissions, the tariff might be a very ingeitious piece of manipulation, but that it would never raise the necessary money. In fact, a tariff has only to be presented as a means of raising revenue for the doctors who recommend it to disagree among themselves, and for • every one to see how many obstructions lie in the path before a tariff can be introduced at all. Of course we do not say that a tariff could never be introduced. The danger is real enough. But we do with full conviction and responsibility say that the evil of seeming to support Tariff Reform by voting for a Unionist at the Election will be a lesser evil than that of voting for a Liberal, and consequently supporting Socialistic legislation without even the retention of a Second-Chamber veto to restrain it. When dealing with a rush of the enemy the only thing to do is to use your bayonet against the man nearest at hand. It would be literally fatal to point your bayonet over his head at another dangerous fellow who was following him.