11 SEPTEMBER 1909, Page 13


Stn,—Your article in the Spectator of September 4th seems to me to leave an undue responsibility on the House of Lords. You say, truly enough, that the Lords should not throw out the Finance Bill, when their doing so may raise a dispute on a Constitutional question, unless they feel quite certain that a majority in the country will support them. But bow can they possibly feel certain on such a question until it is tested by a General Election? The danger will be while the test is being made. Why, neither they nor the electors can feel sure of anything now, except that the taxation of sections of the community for revenge and not for revenue is part of the accepted and declared policy of the present Government ; and that abuse of small groups of persons, and " over-statements " about individuals, are part of the methods of the leaders of gilts new gospel of plunder by detaehments. Even if the House of Lords were to throw the Bill out (as, on its merits, it ought, perhaps, to be thrown out), it is perfectly certain that the present members of the Government would take care that the Election should turn, not on the merits of the Bill at all, but on the Constitutional question. And if at the next Election the orators of the present Government were sent up and down the country, as they would be, to lead the people to believe that the Peers were attacking the Constitution, the amount of temper and hatred that would be developed would be an immense evil, no matter which way the battle ended.

It is no use people saying that what is said by these political leaders is not true. That is not the point. They do not care what they say, and they certainly deserve the credit of not pretending to care. It is now an accepted feature of the political game, and it is really absurd to look for anything else from these players. What is more, it succeeds. And there is another thing that must not be forgotten,—that is, that the law of conspiracy does not hold in political life. If a man holds the door or watches in the street while real burglars do their work he is held to be part of the gang, and although he may not pack the plunder, or even bludgeon the owner, he is held to be equally responsible. But in political life it is not so. And thus the presence as an onlooker and watcher of a man of high character like Sir Edward Grey is held to justify, or at least to make tolerable, the robbery of any particular citizens who may be selected for attack. It is a melancholy sight, but the actual facts of political life must be accepted. We may, however, be grateful to Sir Edward Grey for one thing. At Leeds not long ago he referred to his colleague's " statements " as being " over-statements." It is a good word, and a very delicate and polite way of avoiding the use of a shorter one.

For these amongst other reasons an Election might easily be made to turn on a false issue, however well justified the House of Lords might be in throwing out the Finance Bill, and it would be far better that our leaders, whoever they are, should formally and officially tell the country that they will reverse all these dishonest methods of raising taxes if and when they are put in power. Let the Bill go through. Let all these " valuers " and " Commissioners " and innumerable officials of all kinds be appointed (the cost of which is admitted by Mr. Asquith to be at least two millions, and which in the end may be ten millions), but let our leaders undertake that when, by the lapse of time, the present Government are forced to appeal to the country, the Election shall be fought on a clear issue. There will be a great loss of money in the meantime, and there is the trying process of waiting for the fight; but that will be far better than having a battle on a side-issue which would have nothing to do with the real question. It is always trying to the rank-and-file to wait under fire; but if it is known that the leaders will lead them straight at the enemy when the time comes, they are generally willing to bear it. All the leaders need to do is to declare emphatically that if _they areznt into power they- will reverse_ all this taxation that is based on mere hatred and political revenge; and then we can all possess our souls in peace till these lovers of "short Parliaments and smaller expenditure" are obliged to appeal to the country. If the leaders will lead, they need not feel anxious as-to the temper of their followers or as to the result.