SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE AT THE LIVERPOOL BANQUET.
4 4 I- HAVE felt it my duty to say these words to you," said Sir Stafford Northcote, at the close of his speech at Liver- pool on Wednesday ; and he added, "You will hear much more of the same kind from others." The meagre reports of the subsequent speeches of Lord Sandon and Sir R. Cross, to whom Sir Stafford was presumably referring, do not enable us to judge how far his gloomy prediction was realised. Among the many nerveless and platitudinous discourses to which he has treated his party since he became their leader, a prominent place must be assigned to his speech of Wednesday night. The circumstances, as he explained at the outset, were such as to preclude him from "talking with a light heart upon any of
the political questions of the day." Until lately, he had always thought that "every Englishmen had agreed to regard as sacred those great fundamental elements of our Constitu- tion, those great supports of English greatness, the religious feelings and loyal feelings of the nation;" and that "among Englishmen there would be at least a regard" for the protection of life and property, and a united determiaation to resist the breaking-up of the Empire. Hitherto, moreover," we should have had no difficulty in showing that the Houses of Parliament were the constitutional bulwarks of the country," and that in the maintenance of their independence "our real road to safety was to be discovered." But the good old times in which these assumptions could be safely made have altogether gone by. We have fallen on evil days, days when the House of Lords, if it is kind enough "to enter upon an inquiry as to legislation to which it has been a party," is not " thanked," as it should be, but "rated severely ;" while the House of Commons, if it ventures to oppose the Prime Minister, is chided, interfered with, and gagged. Nor are these the only signs which Sir S. Northcote discerns of the prevailing political demoralisation. The Government "are beginning to show the failure of power which we for some years expected they would in time develope, but hardly expected to see so soon." Their supporters follow servilely the "tyrannical bidding" of Mr. Gladstone, whose strength is derived from that "un- wholesome and dangerous institution," the caucus. How, then, are the Conservatives to arm themselves and defend the country against this sea of troubles ? They are to study the history of the French Revolution, and remem- bering that the "same necessity" may fall upon them as "fell upon the propertied class of Prance," to organise them- selves into Clubs, and take measures for "concerted political action." Of course, it was not necessary for Sir S. North- cote to explain to an intelligent Liverpool audience that there is all the difference in the world between the "mischievous activity" of a Liberal caucus, an " unwholesome and dangerous institution" with an American nickname, and the "concerted political action" of a Conservative Club. After a good deal more of this kind of thing, Sir Stafford at last, much, as we should imagine, to the relief of his hearers, descended into the region of practical politics, and began to deal with the Irish question. But any hopes which they may have formed that at length they were to be treated to something definite and decided, were doomed to speedy disappointment. It was their duty, they were told, to strengthen the hands of the Government ; but it was not their duty to attempt to "hush up its difficulties." Agrarian outrages had increased to such an extent, that "they must insist upon this state of things being probed to the bottom." "The most necessary of all measures that can be taken are those that will secure life, property, peace, and order in Ireland." "The time has come when it is absolutely necessary that the Government should make up their minds and act." And the Opposition ? Their course, as chalked out by their leader, is no less simple and intelligible. On the one hand, they are to give the Govern- ment "cordial support," when it is acting "with firmness, with vigour, and with intelligence ;" and on the other hand, "they are not to be blindly led or silenced by anything like the intimidations of a single, imperious will.'
The incapacity of Sir Stafford Northcote for the Tory leadership, upon which we dwelt last week, could hardly be better illustrated than by the tone and substance of this speech. Addressing the local leaders of his party in the pre- mier Conservative constituency of the country, at an excep- tionally critical moment in the fortunes of his opponents, he could hardly have been provided with a more favourable opportunity for striking a decided blow, and leaving a lasting impression. The fact that he was preceded by Lord Salisbury was, especially when we remember the character of Lord Salisbury's harangue, not a drawback, but an additional ad- vantage. For Lord Salisbury at all times represents and appeals to only one stratum of Conservative opinion and Con- servative sentiment, and is never less effective than when he is brought into contact with the sober, old-fashioned, middle- class Toryism which may be assumed to have been predomi- nant in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Wednesday night. No doubt, the late Lord Beaconsfield, by inventing the Con- servative working-man and engraftingJingoism upon the Conser- vative creed, reduced the relative importance of this particular element in his party, and it no longer determines, as it used
to do, the direction of Conservative policy. But it is still, throughout the country generally, and more especially in the older towns, sufficiently powerful, both in point of numbers
and in point of influence, to render anything like a want of sympathy on the part of the Tory leaders, with its peculiar
temperament and views, of the worst omen to the party as a whole. So long as Lord Derby remained in the Conservative ranks, he was, on most points, its representative and spokes- man ; and Sir Stafford Northcote might have been expected, both from his training and the natural bent of his political instincts, to succeed to the position. But we have only to imagine the kind of speech which Lord Derby, had be still been one of the Opposition leaders, would have made at Liver- pool on Wednesday, to realise the extent of the gap which his defection has created, and the almost ludicrous unfit- ness of Sir S. Northcote to take his place. It is no exaggeration to say that a speech from Lord Derby, with its cold, but pitiless dissection of the Irish policy of the Government, its rigid under-statement of facts, its scrupul- ous avoidance of grandiose platitudes, and its carefully calculated appeals to the limited, but definite and in- telligible, political ideal which the businesslike and order- loving Englishman has, consciously or unconsciously, always- before his eyes, would at such a time not only have been infinitely more effective than Lord Salisbury's rapid; onslaught, but would have done more than anything else to maintain the Conservative supremacy in Liverpool, and to pro- mote Conservative reaction elsewhere. Fortunately for the- Government and the Liberal party, it is against Sir S. North- cote, and not against Lord Derby, that we have at present to contend ; and in the two columns of Sir Stafford's speech. there is not a sentence which we can imagine rousing the feelings, or swaying the judgment, or changing the con- victions of any decently hard-headed and well-informed. Englishman. The unique magnificence of our Constitution, and its "bulwarks," the two Houses, the imperiousness of Mr. Gladstone's will, the manifold iniquities of the Caucus, and the ghastly warnings which are strewn over the pages of French history,—surely these and the like are topics which Sir S. Northcote might with advantage leave to the debating societies" which, as he says, "pervade the country," and. which he believes "embrace quite as largely the Conserva- tive element as the Radical and destructive element.' And when, after occupying nearly two-thirds of his- speech with these familiar trivialities, he comes to deal with the really urgent problem of the hour, we feel that, for all the light he throws upon it, he might as well have left it altogether untouched. Outrages, he tells us, have increased but he does not even hazard a conjecture as to the cause. Life and property must be protected ; but he makes no suggestion as to the defensive measures which he would recommend. Ireland is "in need of well-administered and justly-adminis- tered laws ;" but whether the need is to be supplied by a change of laws, or a change in the mode of administering them, or both, we are left completely ignorant. We can hardly fancy that Liverpool Conservatism finds rhetorical saw-dust of this kind either appetising or nutritious.