THE DECLINE OF THE SESSION.
1 T does not do in a Parliamentary State to take back power
at your adversaries' request. That is, to our minds, the first and, indeed, the only lesson of the second half of this Session. Up to the moment of Mr. Gladstone's resignation on the Irish University Bill, everything, if not prosperous with the Government, was at least orderly ; but from the day the Premier resumed power as a tolerated, rather than supported, chief, the Government has been discredited at every step. It has not lost its character, for throughout the crisis Mr. Gladstone was not suspected of desiring office, but it has lost the moral force—call it prestige, or the influence of success,
or what you will—which enables Governments in this country to execute their designs. In the first place, the Cabinet, instead of controlling the House of Lords, which in England is the first proof of a strong Government, has been compelled to conciliate the Peers at every turn, or to prepare its measures, at all events, so as to conciliate them. It could not hope to defy them, for, armed with their legal rights, the Peers can always throw out a Bill on which an appeal to the people is not possible, and can nearly always reject any proposal by a Government apparently not in accord with the whole body of its followers. They can say that, as Mr. Gladstone has been beaten and does not dissolve, there is no proof that he is in accord with the majority of his followers. No such resist- ance as Lord Cairns is now offering to the Judicature Bill would have been possible last Session, nor would Mr. Glad- stone have thrown out a Commons' amendment in the hope the Peers would pass it, nor would Mr. Stansfeld have been worried into severe illness by his certainty that all his labour upon his Rating Bill will not induce the great Peers to let through anything which affects their interest so closely. There is a positive change under such circumstances in the pivot of legislative power, with which no Liberal Ministry can practically deal, and which secretly daunts their energies. Then the House of Commons, losing confidence in its chief's star, breaks loose, and all the hidden spites, and the suppressed "views," and the criticisms which do not come from men's brains, but from their hearts, or rather their livers, are allowed full play. Every adversary tortures the Ministry. They are suspected of bidding for popularity. They are cross-examined on petty errors. They are accused of every possible act which can offend their con- stituents. They are questioned, harassed, and defied, not only by their adversaries, but by their friends. A man like Mr. Plimsoll, with an undigested "cause," which he has bolted whole, becomes a power in the State. Men stop away from divisions till the Whips are nearly frantic. Everybody sees that a dissolution is by and by inevitable, and as some change at least must have occurred in the constituencies, tries to make himself secure. The Cabinet can rely on no one, wearies of its uphill task, and begins to lose its own spirits and coherence. The Ministers who can drift into muddles do drift into them, those to whom muddles are impossible lose their heart.. The Chancellor of the Ex- chequer, who cannot see masses of figures, gives an extravagant contract, and there is a fuss which at the beginning of the Session would have been stamped out of existence. He is pressed by some currency talk in the House, and forthwith brings in a Bill revolutionising English credit, for which no human being has a word to say, except Mr. Hubbard when it is too late, and which dies and is buried in silence, without even a funeral oration over its grave. The Colonial Office is obliged to say it will and it will not annex Feejee, and does not know whether it is at war or not. The Premier him- self takes his conscience between his teeth, and makes a speech about peace and arbitration which makes the hair of three-fourths of Parliament stand on end, and will bring down the ridicule of every Court in Europe on poor Lord Granville, who did not make it, and yet is beaten by Mr. Richard. The defeats are endless. In one week the War Office has to confess that there has been a breach of law in the matter of recruits' chests, the Attorney-General has to remake his Juries Bill, and the Government collectively has to confess that it mistook the feeling of Scotland and Ireland about Appeals of all sorts and of England about ecclesiastical appeals. A spokesman for the Civil Ser- vants of Ireland defeats the Government on a vital point, which when raised against Lord Palmerston was settled by him in ten minutes by the frank admission that everybody in Government service was underpaid, and must remain so, if State work were to be performed at all. The Landlord and Tenant Bill, quite the most important of the Session, is suffered to fall through. It is only by shifting and painstaking that the Cabinet has been able to avoid extinguishing mixed educa- tion in Ireland, and it is by no means certain that it will get through its educational reform in England, or even carry on the Endowed Schools' Commission, while its daily work, and bother, and humiliation have been so severe, that it has been positively grateful for the odd enthusiasm suddenly displayed for the adoration of the Shah, and has hardly cared to take credit for its most considerable feat,—the suppression of the Slave Trade in Western Africa. Its followers split off into groups, the Dissenters being not only discontented, but in open and active mutiny, and except in Scotland, it never feels I sure of a seat. There is not at this moment a Member I sure for one minute of his Bill, nor any Liberal Member who can say confidently that the election he dreads will certainly be postponed to the Spring. Even the Press grows weary of the imbroglio, and except the Telegraph and the Scotsman, we can scarcely remember a newspaper which speaks without shame of a scene nobody seems able to change, or hesitates to remark on the legislative languor and vacillation which almost justifies the London Press in its nearly unanimous decision not to report fully the proceedings of so very dull a club.
We very much question whether, in circumstances like these, it is wise to defer so much to the wishes of shaky Members, and postpone the dissolution. We fully recognise the badness of the situation, the elation of the Tories, the depres- sion of the Radicals, the absence of a cry intelligible to the masses, unless it be that of Household Suffrage in counties, and the presence of as many rebels as there are crotchety men in the House ; but we have not the slightest proof that delay will alter the situation of affairs. There is the chapter of accidents, of course, but it may go against Liberals, as well as for them. Governments usually lose prestige as time goes on, and the Recess is always the time for Governments to suffer, because everybody is explaining or attacking, and they have no opportunity of defence. Suppose the result a defeat, and what have we to fear from a Tory Government which, within three years, would manufacture Liberals by the thousand, and except possibly in the Army, could do no harm to anyone, while it would give the Liberals time to re-form their "platform," which just for the present has obviously gone to pieces altogether. If, on the other hand, we have an unexpected victory, a new Parliament will bring the Liberals fresh strength, new ideas, and possibly new men. It is weary work to bear all this load of discredit through the Recess, without a possibility of its diminution, and with a certainty that the Tories are all the time straining every nerve to secure a victory which shall suit them like the great reaction of 1841. Is there the slightest chance that five months' quiet will diminish the rancour of the beersellers, or change the attitude of Dissenters, or induce farmers to believe that the Liberals, who have not even discussed the Landlord and Tenant Bill, are their friends, or do any one thing it is expedient for the party to have done ? We do not believe it ; and hold it far more to the credit of the Ministry, whose reputation is being whittled away day by day, to appeal to the people, and if defeated, wait with folded arms for their inevitable restoration.