TOPICS OF THE DAY.
MR. GLADSTONE'S LAST THUNDERBOLT. AFTER Mr. Gladstone had launched his last thunder- bolt on Wednesday, and had explained with airy equanimity to the Committee that he had at last made up his mind to transform entirely, at the last moment, what he deemed that least important proposal of his Home-rule Bill which only affects the essential character of the Imperial Parliament for the six years immediately follow- ing the creation of a Legislature in Dublin, by grafting upon it eighty Members who, for all British purposes, are not to be representatives at all, but only aliens with a right to veto what the true representatives desire ; and after the only two followers who could find heart of grace to protest had delivered their protests, the Leader of the Opposition rose to make an observation upon a point of order. The Chairman of Committees was anxious to hear him, but the hands of the clock pointed to half-past five, and Mr. Healy, in the exultation which Mr. Gladstone's statement had excited in his breast, kindly determined to give the House a foretaste of what this alien tyranny would mean. Mr. Balfour was not allowed to ask the question which he had in his mind. Mr. Healy would not allow it. With inexorable vehemence, he put down the leader of a great British majority, and insisted that the orders of the House should be observed to the very letter. It was a very significant incident. Mr. Gladstone's gagging resolution came into operation for the Ninth Clause (and a good many other clauses) at 10 o'clock on the following day. Only six hours more of debate would be admissible on the most unconstitutional revolution which has ever been proposed in the structure of a representative Assembly ; and the leader of the party who will be most gravely affected by it was denied the right to ask a question,—probably a question affecting the form in which these six hours could best be spent,—by one of the interlopers who, if ever the Bill is passed, will probably rejoice in performing the same sort of service for the artificial majority which he helps to constitute, again and again. Yet the thunderbolt which Mr. Gladstone had just launched had been delayed to the very latest moment at which it was possible to launch it, and therefore the courtesies of the situation absolutely required a certain amount of liberality in construing the orders of the House. For anything we can see, there was the same means of coming to the con- clusion that the non-representative Irish Members should be allowed to vote on British questions in which they have no representative interest, not only yesterday week, when the clause first came up for discussion, but certainly three weeks ago, if not three months or three years ago, when the country would have had some clear notice of the un- constitutional revolution that was proposed. It is perfectly true that the change made does not, in the opinion of statesmen who have carefully considered the Bill, make all the difference which it seems to make. We ourselves stated last week that the form of the Ninth Clause then before the country was an absurd impossibility which no statesman in the world could work, and that it must give way to the franker cynicism which has just been forced upon the country with the help of the gag. But though that was manifest enough to the eyes of careful politicians, it was very far from evident to the popular mind. The mask which had been kept over the face of the battery has s3rved its purpose. The democracy has been bewildered and deceived by the proposal which seemed to them so much more equitable than the plain affront to all repre- sentative principles which now suddenly takes its place. And the people have been beguiled into accepting what they would never have accepted if it had been announced plainly before the General Election, as it might just as well have been. Mr. Gladstone's assumption that this open breach with every true representative principle, is really a matter of no importance, in comparison, at least, with the great reform of the Irish Constitution he is vainly labour- ing to pass,—that it does not matter whether for six years he plays at ducks-and-drakes with the English Constitu- tion or not,—may have been serious to his own highly artificial state of mind ; but if so, it only shows how artificial a, mind a man may breed in himself, by con- stantly and passionately dwelling on what he thinks his mission. But no one else can by any possibility share his illusion. It is not only, as Mr. Wallace says, that Mr. Gladstone asks leave to bestow self-government on Ireland by destroying self-government in England ; it is not only, as Mr. Rathbone pointed out in his very able speech, that he is forcing on the Irish Members, during the most important and structural epoch of their history, the most powerful temptation that can be conceived, to- extort concessions for Ireland by chaffering with Scotch and English Members for the irresponsible support they would be able to offer for Scotch and English measures; but the mere fact that Irishmen are to be taught to make light of all true representative principles in England and Scot- land in order that Ireland may lose no advantage that she would forego if England and Scotland were fairly treated, starts Ireland on a false and selfish conception of her position from the very first.
It is idly represented that Irishmen will simply continuer to vote as they have always hitherto voted, as Members of the United Kingdom, on English and Scotch affairs ; and it is asked what difference it makes that for the future Englishmen and Scotchmen will have no chance of voting on exclusively Irish affairs. Why, it makes this enormous difference,—that by the Home-rule measure you deliberately untie the knot which identified the interests of the three Kingdoms and impressed upon the Irish Members that the- Union was a reality ; and not only so, but you give the Irishmen a fresh and absorbing interest of their own in subordinating English and Scotch interests to Irish in- terests, seeing that by so doing they will be able to relieve indefinitely the pecuniary pressure upon Ireland, and to gain all sorts of other advantages over the colleagues who are to be interdicted for the future from any meddling, with affairs strictly Irish. You at one and the same moment make it clear to Irishmen that they t have no further direct interest in the local prosperity of England and Scotland, and that they have an immense direct interest in so manoeuvring English and Scottish affairs as to get loans on easy terms for Ireland, or other- wise to diminish her share in -the common burdens of the Union. And all this Mr. Gladstone takes pains to teach the Irish at the very time when Irish institutions are all in the most pulpy and malleable stage, when a little unscrupulousness here or there will make the greatest possible apparent difference to their fortunes, and will not be perceived, and will hardly indeed be perceptible, to the external observer. A more demoralising political education for the new Legislature we cannot imagine. It is like sending a clever boy to school where he will be surrounded with urgent temptations and assured of impunity if he falls into the mire.
And all this, as we have said, Mr. Gladstone does at the very last moment, when there is no longer time for the country to take in fully what it means,—when, indeed, six hours of debate at most were all that was left for the pur- pose of making manifest what he had done. Mystify your democracy to the very last moment, and then as you disperse the mist, assure them that, in comparison with the enormous gain which you are purchasing for one part of the country, nothing can be more insignificant than the trifling inconvenience to the remainder,—that is Mr. Gladstone's prescription for reconciling the English people to having a solid body of non-representatives lodged in the heart of their Imperial Parliament, like a bullet in the flesh. This assumption of the insignificance of the whole proceeding is the most cynical part of the business and comes very ill indeed from a statesman who has made his constitutional superstition that not only the whole Kingdom, but every organic part of it, shall be governed by the majority of its representatives, the very starting-point of his revolution. ' Only,' he seems to tells us in a sort of parenthetic aside, this principle cannot for the present be applied to the affairs of six-sevenths or so of the people ; but as compared with the beneficent results of applying it to the other seventh, that unfortunate necessity is of no prac- tical importance.' What would have been the result of the General Election if Mr. Gladstone had made this confession before it took place We think we know. And we have no doubt at all that it will be the result of the next General Election when Mr. Gladstone's purposes have been unmasked, and the leaders of Opposition have been un- muzzled. The murder is out at last in a form intelligible to the popular mind. And the murder is the murder of British Constitutionalism, which is to be offered up as a holocaust to the big Irish idol which Mr. Gladstone has worshipped for the last eight years, but the full deformities of which he has only just unveiled.