THE POLICY OF DISSOLUTION.
IT is asserted that, at the Cabinet of Saturday, the Ministry came to the resolution not to dissolve at any rate before the spring ; and whether that decision was or was not then taken, we may be pretty sure, after Mr. Knatchbull- Hugessen's speech of Thursday, that it has been taken, and that the idea of an autumnal dissolution has been
finally abandoned. We must say we regret this ; and regret it the more, since Mr. Disraeli's generosity and the consequent success at Bath have turned the tide which was running so steadily against the Liberals ; and as our own view on this subject has been in many quarters misunderstood and misrepresented,—for instance, by a correspondent whose letter we publish in another column,—we will take advantage of the opportunity now afforded us to explain why we wished and wish for an earlier dissolution than seems just now possible. It is hardly necessary, we suppose, for us to repudiate any feeling of satisfaction at the signs of Conservative re- action. We have explained week after week that they seem to us proofs of the extreme incapacity of ordinary British Liberals to understand any political achievements, however great, which do not produce a brilliant harvest of immediate, visible success ; and of a tenacious self-will in some quarters in relation to particular parts of particular measures which promises very badly for the union of the party. That Mr. Gladstone has made one or two serious mistakes we have always frankly admitted, but that in spite of these mistakes his Administration has been and remains by far the most bene- ficent, the most earnest, and the most trustworthy of our own time, we have never for a moment questioned.
But for that very reason, ever since the great defeat of last March, we have deprecated as a grievous mistake that acqui- escence in the system of government on sufferance which was sure to be the result, and has been the result, of the great dis- organisation caused by the Tory victory. Mr. Gladstone ought, we believe, to have firmly declined on constitutional grounds to let his Ministry play that unfortunate part of a "resuming Government.," the prospects of which he himself so frankly avowed to be of evil omen. He should have thrown on Mr. Dis- raeli the responsibility which Mr. Disraeli had plainly incurred, of either at once dissolving Parliament or governing till he could conveniently dissolve it,—a responsibility which, if he really thought the policy of his opponents to have been one of " blundering and plundering," as he now states, no honourable statesman would have refused, even in spite of that vacuous condition of mind which made him
desire three months to search for a policy in " the ar- chives of Downing Street" before he could be prepared. to act. If Mr. Disraeli had absolutely and finally deter- mined that, blunder or plunder as Mr. Gladstone might, lie would not save the country from Mr. Gladstone's reign, then Mr. Gladstone should, we maintain, have himself dissolved Parliament at the earliest moment possible, instead of living for four months on an ascetic diet of perpetual mortifications, often in the shape of actual defeats, often in the shape of con- temptuous and patronising forbearance. It is this, we believe, which has led to the long series of reverses in the con- stituencies. The country itself grows contemptuous of a Government which, in spite of its nominal majority, does not really govern in the House of Commons, but submits to severe and repeated snubs both from that House and the House of Lords. The misfortunes which dotted so thickly the conclu- sion of the Session, from the whittling away of the Local Taxation Bills to the unpleasant scene of Wednesday, July 30, when it hardly seemed as if there were a government on the Treasury Bench at all, but rather an anarchy, were all refer- able to the loss of moral authority which a " resuming " Government must, as Mr. Gladstone admitted, expect. And how can an Administration which suffers such spectacles as these ever expect to be triumphant at the poll ? Had it not been for Mr. Disraeli's act of unexpected and spontaneous, though perhaps, unintentional assistance, there would indeed have been little chance of any serious turn in the tide of public feeling so long as the Ministry declined to challenge fairly the country's attitude towards it, and demand whether or not its confidence had been withdrawn. Englishmen do not like the appearance of political tameness of spirit. Mr. Gladstone's Government has ceased to meet with anything like real trust and hearty support in the House of Commons. It has lived too long on political alms. And the result of its so living has been that constituency after constituency has shown the utmost apathy in supporting it. We said last week that we believed the long course of defeats would hardly cease till the Government stood at bay, but of course we could not then have anticipated Mr. Disraeli's unexpected and power- ful aid. And now that we have received it, and that the result has been promptly seen at Bath, we wish more than ever that the Administration had decided to appeal at once to the country. The moment is more favourable than we are likely to have soon again. Last week we feared that even an immediate appeal would result in reverses over two-thirds of England,—England, of course, as distinct from Scotland and Ireland, England, where the county elections returned, even in 1868, 118 Conservatives to only 53 Liberals ;—but we felt sure that longer delay would be not unlikely to result in even worse reverses, and seriously diminish the large majority we may expect in Scotland and Ireland. Bat had it been determined to take an autumnal dissolution, we should no longer anticipate results so unfavourable. Mr. Disraeli's unstatesmanlike folly would be a millstone round the neck of his party, and with Bath and possibly even Taunton declaring in our favour, an appeal to the country such as Mr. Gladstone could make would be not unlikely to result in a good working majority, even if one greatly diminished as compared with the almost unparalleled majority of 1868.
But why not give the Government time to mature its new programme and present it to Parliament, before taking a dissolution ? Why not test the advantages gained by the reconstruction of the Ministry, and Mr. Gladstone's return to
the office in which he wields so great a power Because we feel no doubt that the chance of the new programme, what- ever it be, would be gravely injured by being submitted at all to a Parliament in which the Government has lost command of the reins,—because, instead of having a fair field, we believe that any measures, however good, which had once been dis- cussed in the present Parliament, would thenceforward have the air of discredited and defeated measures, measures trailed in the dust of a supercilious Liberal discouragement. And as far as regards the reconstruction of the Ministry, we doubt if the full benefit of that reconstruction be not obtained already, or rather, if it be not easily within Mr. Gladstone's reach, directly he chooses to explain the views with which he has come back to his old office. As regards finance, it is Mr. Gladstone, and not the Administration, who commands popular confidence. Mr. Bright, too, can give us in his speeches to the electors of Birmingham, as much of minis- terial purposes tending to reunite the Liberals as there may be to give. Waiting for Parliament will certainly not
help to cement that reunion, even if it does not revive the old jealousies. It is not in a Parliament that has in a manner shaken off its allegiance to the Government, that any new cordiality is likely to grow up between the former malcontents and the responsible leaders. There is a tradition and an atmosphere of discontent among the Parliamentary Liberals of the existing House of Commons, which would be fatal to any hope of more cordial ties. Till the country has spoken, the springs of loyalty will nut be renewed. But the appeal may end in defeat ? No doubt it may, but it will end in deeper and worse defeat the longer it is post- poned ; and if the country be really turned Tory, surely it is as desirable for the Liberals as for the Tories that the Government should turn Tory too. If, as Mr. Knatchbull- Hugessen very justly remarks, all Governments in power suffer by the necessary unpopularity of some of their measures, why delay the beginning of that process of Tory decomposi- tion which is sure to go on so much more rapidly with Mr. Disraeli to hasten it, than ever did the process of Liberal decomposition ? Whatever evil there may be in a Tory Government, it is nothing like the evil there is in a Liberal Government which is barely tolerated by the ruling House, and subjected to constant mortification. Either let us have, as soon as may be, a Liberal Government with a united, though it may be diminished, majority at its back, a Govern- ment that can rely on its supporters, or let us have a Tory Administration in its place. The sooner we have it, the sooner it will be over. And thanks to Mr. Disraeli's sagacity, the danger of having it at all is materially diminished, since the letter to " My dear Grey " was composed and published.