TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE FIRST NIGHT OF THE DEBATE.
MITE first point that must have struck any one who listened .1 to the debate of Thursday night was the advantage,— the enormous advantage,—taken by the Government of the great blunder committed by the critics of the Reform Bill, in grounding their criticism on the very foolish and very unjust fancy picture of the working class which Mr. Lowe, whether he intended it or not, was understood to have drawn. We do not doubt that if the sound, natural, and simple view of this subject which we, in perfect unanimity with almost all intelligent politicians, have taken of it,—that this Bill is a redistribution of power between different sections of the people, and as such ought to be fairly and carefully adjusted, as any other redistribution of power would be adjusted, with a full knowledge of all the circumstances affecting that distribution and on some clearly intelligible principle,—if this sound, natural, and simple view of the subject fails to recommend itself to Parliament and the public, the failure will have been due simply and solely to the false issue raised, or believed to have been raised, by Mr. Lowe, as to the "ignorant, drunken, venal, violent" character of the still excluded class. We do not exactly accuse Mr. Gladstone of trading on this one gross blunder of his critics, because, with the instinct of a keen assailant, he could not fail to have directed his lance against the one weak point in his enemy's armour. But we do assert that the Govern- ment have absolutely lived upon this moral and intellectual blunder, that their only strength, their only success, has been made by its exposure,—that they have to thank Mr. Lowe for the single gleam of plausibility attaching to their argument and their position,—and that to those who have never re- garded Mr. Lowe's real or supposed aspersions on the working class as either true, or like the truth, the present position of the Government seems absolutely naked and quite incapable of defence. Yet such was the force, both moral and oratorical, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's reply to Mr. Lowe, both at Liverpool and on Thursday night,—so deep has been the impression produced in the country that this is the real issue before Parliament,—that we should not be surprised to see the Government win the day, on the strength not of any defensible position in their own case, but of a triumphant replyto a mischievous and misjudged attack upon their measure. Any one who watched the debate on Thursday night could see the great pains taken,--and we fear, as regards the country, the only partially effectual pains taken,—to clear the Amendment of the false arguments which had given Mr. Gladstone a wholly facti- tious strength. It is well that Lord Grosvenor did not follow, and marked in the most emphatic way his refusal tofollow, in Mr. Lowe's path. But even he unfortunately was half-inclined to in- sist upon the self-rectifying character of the present franchise, and the mere possibility,—as we regard it,—that the working class would before long attain under it an adequate share of political influence. This threw some air of suspicion on the ultimate drift of Earl Grosvenor's amendment, which many who act with him will be disposed to regret. It is of the first importance that those who agree with us,—and it is difficult to find anybody willing to discuss the subject in all its bearings who does not agree with us,—should clear themselves of all suspicion of wishing to do less than justice to the political capacity, and just claim to a substantial political representation, of the working class. But these false issues once fairly removed, the Government had absolutely no answer,—no endeavour at an answer,—no pretence of an answer,—to give to the masterly and, we believe on this question, sincerely Liberal, speech of Lord Stanley. What could be said to the charge that the architect of the Constitution was submitting but a fragment of his plans, and asking the House to trust him that he understands the relation of that fragment to the whole ? What could be said to the charge that, on financial matters, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be the first to repudiate such piece- meal changes, and to say, "Wait until the whole case is before you," though the Reform of a Constitution which can only be attempted once in a generation, requires infinitely more care than a reform in financial arrangements which are revised every year ? What can be said to the charge fiat the Government proposes to Parliament a scheme for the redistribution of power which will very likely end not only in taking the decision out of the hands of Parliament altogether, but in putting it into the hands of ad interim con- stituencies, to which no one proposes to entrust the political fortunes of the country,—constituencies under treatment, but. not treated,--constituencies which will give their vote for that. occasion only,—constituencies which will have run terribly to stalk and leaf since they last bore any fruit, but which will not have been pruned and grafted according to. the original intention before the new fruit is gathered ? What. answer can-there be to the charge that even as a matter of "constitutional right" the House of Commons, entrusted as. it is with the legislative power of this country, is bound to. know what it is doing, what transfer of power it is effecting before it decides upois effecting it, and that to accede to one measure without knowing how its operation will be affected by a supplementary measure standing to it in the closest and. most organic relation, is to neglect the plainest duty.. Lord Stanley said, "If the Bill comes to Committee, I think it will be possible to show that the Government have under- rated the transfer of power which will be effected by it. But we are cut off from arguing this question of the transfer of power by the peculiar manner in which the Bill is brought for- ward. If lam able to showthat in alarge number of boroughs,— one estimate makes it over 50, returning 95 members—the effect will be to give a large majority of votes to the working classes, and if I show that in as many more they will be a minority so large as to turn the scale, I have proved nothing at all ; for the question is not as to the effect of this Bill on existing con- stituencies, but the effect of this new franchise on the exist- ing constituencies plus those new boroughs which are about to be called into existence,"—and Lord Stanley should have added, minus those old boroughs which are about to be called. out of existence.
Now what answer does the Government attempt to give to all these charges ? Simply no answer at all,—miless it be one to maintain, what is very likely true, and quite irrelevant,. —that the working class comprehends as many Tories in pro- portion to its numbers as any other class. Mr. Gladstone and the Marquis of Hartington in urging this, wished it to be inferred, though they did not venture quite to say, that this is not a Bill for the fair redistribution of power between different classed of the community at all. Then what, we should like to know, is its. purpose If there are no such things as class-views and class- principles to be represented, if precisely the same views, and the same principles,—convictions not only divided in the same proportion, to use a mathematical metaphor, but absolutely identical in tone and social drift,—prevail in the class below the 10/. householders as in the class above them, what is the object of this Bill, and what is the grievance which is to be remedied ? The electors cannot speak themselves in Parlia- ment. They can only be represented, after all. If they are represented now, why all this trouble ? And they are repre- sented now, though without votes, if there is nothing special in the working class to represent. This argument is simply insincere. The advocates of the measure assume that there are certain views not adequately represented in Parlia- ment, and claim for them an adequate representation. And: yet they turn fiercely round on those views which are now ade- quately represented in Parliament, and assert that there is, nothing distinctive in them at all which will not be pre- served even if the working class came to be the only effective electoral power in the country. Surely it is fatuous, it is suicidal, to make a fuss about,—what we assert that Reformers are quite right in making a fuss about,—the fair representa- tion of the working class, and then to turn round to the middle class and say, "AU classes are the same ; don't. talk of classes ; there are no such things as class- views." The simple answer is, Then why all this. wrangling about them?' If the working classes are unfairly treated now, the middle classes may be unfairly treated. under some future contingency against which it is the first. duty of the House of Commons to provide. You cannot take. one line of argument for the working class and another for the. middle class. Let the Radical party choose which they will. have,—no class-views, and therefore no grievance under the present system,—or the existence of real class-views, and_ therefore of possible grievances to other classes under other systems precisely of the same sort as the present grievance of the working class. Say what you will, it is simply insincere to assert that this measure is not a measure for a new redis- tribution of power in the community. And if that be its rear object, that should be its avowed object, and all the elements for judging of the true "distributive justice" of the case should be fairly laid before us ; and nicely weighed after they are laid before us. This is no new doctrine. It is at least nearly a century old. People who call it doctrinaire, and crotchetty, and what not, might read with profit Mr. Pitt's first speech on Reform. 'This is what he said on the principle of universal suffrage,— to which we contend that that whole line of argument of the Government, which affirms the existence of no class politics, inevitably tends :—" Among the various expedients that have been devised to bar the entrance of such influence into that House, he had heard principally of three. One was to extend the right of voting for 'members to serve in Parlia- ment, which was now so confined, to all the inhabitants of the kingdom indiscriminately, so that every man, without the dis- tinction of freeholder, of freeman of a corporation, should have the franchise of a vote for a person to represent him in Parlia- ment, and this mode, he understood, was thought by those who patronized it to be the only one consistent with true liberty in a free constitution, where every one ought to be governed by those laws only to which all have actually given their consent, either in person or by their representative. For himself, he utterly rejected and condemned this mode for it was a right of voting, which, howsoever finely it might appear in theory, could never be reduced to practice. But though it were even prac- ticable, still one half of the nation would be slaves, for all those who vote for the unsuccessful candidates cannot in the strictness of this doctrine be said to be represented in Parliament, and there- fore they are governed by laws to which they give not their assent -in person or by representatives: consequently, according to the ideas of friends to this expedient, all those who vote for un- successful candidates must be slaves ; nay, it was oftentimes still harder with those who are members of Parliament, who are made slaves also, and are governed by laws to which they _not only have not given their consent, but against which they have -actually voted." Now that passage really holds all that those -contend for who demand a fair distribution of the representa- tion among different sections of English society. This Bill is in fact an attempt to effect such a distribution, and authority, no. less than reason and justice, demands that we shall know precisely what we are about, and make the adjust- ment in the spirit not merely of atonement for past injustice, .but of resolve against a greater, because irremediable, injustice in the future.