TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE CENTRAL BIRMINGHAM QUARREL.
WE suppose that the Unionists will lose Central Birmingham,—not because the Unionists there are not in a very considerable majority, but because the Churchillites are exceedingly jealous of their claim to have made Central Birmingham Unionist through the persuasiveness of Lord. Randolph Churchill's oratorical spells, and think that that claim ought now to be acknowledged by merging the late Mr. Bright's personal following in the following of Lord Randolph. They say that the force of the Conservatives of Birmingham is not adequately represented by Mr. Henry Matthews, the only nominal Conservative amongst the representatives of Birmingham in Parliament, and they care more about having the Conservatives of Birmingham adequately represented, than they care about having the Unionism of either Birmingham or the United Kingdom adequately represented in that same Parliament. It is the old story over again. The Conservative is jealous of the Liberal Unionist, and is much more anxious that the Liberal Unionist's influence in Birmingham should not be exag- gerated by the public, than he is that both the Conservative and the Liberal Unionist should be represented by some one who believes all that they believe on the great issue of the day. If the same thing happens in many constituencies, we cannot expect to have a good Parliament. Mr. Balfour may go down to Birmingham and convince every reasonable man that it is far more important to place the Unionists in a great majority than it is to convince the world either that Lord Randolph Churchill carried Conservatism home to the heart of Birmingham, or that the late Mr. Bright was and still remains the pride and glory of Birmingham ; but what is the use of it, so long as the number of men who are not reasonable is large enough to turn the scale against the Unionists and secure the defeat of the man who has stepped in between them and their pride in Lord Randolph Churchill's feats ? Mr. Balfour has proved to demonstra- tion that it is not the Conservatives of the United Kingdom who have had to sacrifice most, and that it is the Conserva- tives of the United Kingdom who have gained most, through the alliance between them and the Liberal Unionists. So far as " the sweets of office " are concerned,—if, as Mr. Balfour evidently doubts, there be such things as the sweets of office,—the Conservatives have secured them. So far as the appearance of deserting their party is disagreeable and humiliating, the Liberal Unionists have incurred that. Especially in Birmingham, the Radicals have had to endure the mortification of giving up the agitation for Radical measures in order to defeat the agitation for revolutionary measures. Throughout England, the sacrifices have, for the most part, been all made by the Liberal Unionists, and in Birmingham, the centre of Radicalism, the heaviest of these sacrifices have been made. None the less, rather than that Lord Randolph Churchill should not be glorified as the true hero of the Conservative Party, the Gladstonian is to be seated in the House of Commons, and the Parnellites are to be carried a step forward towards the dismemberment of the Kingdom. It is hardly possible to conceive a more mortifying confession of comparative indifference to great issues, so long as mere local rivalries stand between the settlement of these great issues and the vindication of special leaders' personal pretensions, than we find in this state of things. And this is the danger every- where. Unionist anti-vaccinators want to seat an anti- vaccinator more than they want to seat a Unionist. Unionist local-optionists want to seat a local-optionist more than they want to seat a Unionist. Unionist eight- hours men want to seat an eight-hours man more than they want to seat a Unionist. And so Unionism goes to the wall to make way for all the petty " isms." It is no consolation to tell us that the same thing happens to the Gladstonians,—that Gladstonian teetotalers care more for teetotalism than for Home-rule ; that Gladstonian free- schoolists care more for free schools than for Hbme-rule ; that Gladstonian foes of the House of Lords care more for abolishing the House of Lords than for Home- rule. In the first place, this is not nearly so true of the Gladstonians as it is of the Unionists,—because, Home-rule being the ruling fanaticism of the hour, the Home-rule fanaticism has swallowed all the others, as the serpent into which Aaron's rod was transformed swallowed all • the serpents into which the Egyptian magicians' rods were transformed. But, in the second place, even if it were true that the Gladstonians are as unable as the Unionists to keep the main issue before their constituents, that would be little or no consolation for those who want to elicit a final verdict from public opinion on the subject of Mr. Gladstone's Irish proposals, and who find that no final verdict can be elicited because such swarms of petty issues interfere between the public mind. and the great issue. To men who cherish this very right and just aspiration, it is no consolation to be told that it cannot be gratified, not because the public mind is against them, but because a public mind hardly exists at all, in consequence of its being constituted out of a mere aggregate of private and particular minds which care about local jealousies and local fads more than they care about the destiny of their country.
There is one feature about the Birmingham imbroglio which seems to us even more menacing than this general want of large and consistent purpose itself. It looks as if Lord Randolph Churchill had acquired so special a hold over the political affections of the Conserva- tives of Birmingham, that they care for him personally much more than they care for any of the principles involved in the struggle between the two parties. Now, Lord. Randolph Churchill has distinguished himself from the other men of the Unionist Party only in two ways,—by utterly unscrupulous and virulent personalities, and by utterly unscrupulous and violent changes in his own political attitude. There has been no single Conservative who has lavished. so much intemperate and furious acrimony on Mr. Gladstone himself, or who has seasoned. these attacks with so much levity and pertness as Lord Randolph Churchill ; and there has been no Conservative at all who has sailed. first on one tack, and then when he found. that that tack did. not answer, on the opposite tack, with cooler effrontery. He was opposing household suffrage in the counties at Edin- burgh with very strong language within a few months of his turning round to advocate it in language no less strong. And he was delivering a bitter invective against the policy of economy in naval affairs, in the spring of the same year in which, when winter came, he resigned. his office of Chan- cellor of the Exchequer because he could not force on the Government the economy which he proposed. This has been his course throughout his career,—dashing attacks, now in this direction, now in that, conducted on no sort of principle, regulated by no love of moderation,—indeed, what he loves is want of moderation in all things,—and apparently conducted, like his famous " Fourth Party," from one single point of view, to enhance his own Parlia- mentary importance. We do not like a political character of this kind. Indeed, it is the character of the genuine demagogue ; and if there be a pure demagogue in Parlia- ment, it is not amongst the Members who are sent to repre- sent the working classes, but it is either Mr. Labouchere or Lord Randolph Churchill. And this is the man on whom a great Conservative constituency has really fixed its affections as a sort of political idol ! That seems to us a very bad omen for the British democracy, for, if Birmingham has given itself to such an idolatry, we shall surely have more of such idols, and they will do us more mischief than all the socialists and faddists put together. But most grievous of all is it that the first place in which such an idol is lifted. on to a pedestal should be the very constituency in which such a man as Mr. Bright has been known and honoured. Mr. Bright may sometimes have used language so strong that he after- wards regretted. it ; but when he did, it was always in the service of great principles and from the depth of his com- passion for the woes of the people. And Mr. Bright clung to his principles with absolute disregard. to popular favour. His was an example of indifference to the caprices of the multitude, and even of stern resistance to their caprices. It seems to us a symptom of grave danger that a constituency who are supposed to be now mourning for Mi. Bright, should be certainly fuming in a regular political pet because they cannot console themselves for his death by putting in his place such a titled demagogue as Lord Randolph Churchill.