TOPICS OF THE DAY
THE MINISTERIAL CRISIS.
SOME of the gossip current about this Ministerial Crisis is to us almost unintelligible. An extremely proud and sensitive Premier, who believes in himself and the rectitude of his own purposes, who has had immense success, and is still followed by a large majority of the House of Commons, proposed to that House a measure which he believed to be of first-rate importance, which formed an essential item in his programme, and which he had repeatedly declared to involve the fate of his Government. The House, from motives we have just now no occasion to discuss, rejected that measure. The majority, though apparently minute, was really very great, the Premier having lost not merely a fractional superi- ority, but a decided and great majority, which on every other serious occasion since he assumed power has endorsed his view. To suppose that under such circumstances he would withdraw his Bill like a tradesman who had asked too much, or endeavour to elicit a general vote of confidence, a mere acquittal on grounds of general good character, was utterly to misread the character of Mr. Gladstone. It was certain that he would either resign or appeal to the country on his Bill, and as the latter course was impossible—the Bill being one out of the range of electoral comprehension—the former alternative became imperative. Mr. Gladstone therefore resigned, and naturally advised that the leader of the Tory party should be sent for. He had been beaten by the Tory party, possibly by accident, certainly with unusual allies, but still beaten by them, and to them the offer of conducting Her Majesty's Government must be made. That the Queen, into whose hands, at an hour like this, control of the situation falls by constitutional right, may have regretted the resignation is quite probable ; as it is also probable that Mr. Gladstone, deferring to that regret, may have once more consulted his colleagues ; but the decision remained unchanged, and at this moment the Government is in the hands of the Sovereign, who is consulting as to the hands to which it may most expediently be entrusted. No other arrangement would have been constitutionally possible, at least with a Minister whose faults, whatever they are, are at least those of a man chivalric to excess, devoted to the Constitution, and not with- out a keen sense that, if party government is to go on at all, its main rules must be implicitly obeyed. One of those roles in this country is, that a great Minister defeated on a great measure, must offer his adversaries in one of two ways the chance of seeing if they possess the confidence of the country.
Mr. Gladstone is " out " as completely as Minister ever was, and the only question directly in dispute is whether the Tory party is prepared to accept the responsibilities of office. The current statement is that it is not, that Mr. Disraeli stands pledged to a section of his followers not to take office with this Parliament, and that consequently the Liberals must hold the reins until the dissolution. We greatly doubt the authenticity of that rumour. If it is true, why did Mr. Disraeli, the first strategist in the House of Commons, defeat the Government upon a measure about which he did not care two straws, and in order to do it, form an alliance which he knows cannot last a week without exciting endless wrath and suspicion within his own party? It is no advantage to the Tories to let the Liberals manage through the remainder of the Session, but on the contrary a great disadvantage, for they lose the chance of manipulating in a popular way the mighty surplus which Mr. Lowe by most unpopular measures has accumulated. We know nothing of their secrets, but our belief is, that on consideration they will take power ; that Lord Derby, and not Mr. Disraeli, will be the nominal head of the Administration, and that he will appeal to the country for its decision. And we may add, at the risk of annoying many of our own friends, that we heartily hope this will be the course affairs will ulti- mately take. It is time that we should know how much of reality there is in the reaction. If the country is really wearied of movement, it is a good thing that it should say so, and Lord Derby is just the man to 0311 out all existing Conservatism, however latent or however obscure it may now be. A Parliament called by him, with a programme of quiescence, would be as Conservative as an English Parliament could be, and all parties would know for a time what they are about. If the majority were Liberal, the Liberals would re-enter office with new confidence, a new programme, and, we hope, some new men ; while if the majority were Tory, we should at last see for the first time since 1828 what a strong Tory Government, full of capacities and with a majority behind it, would actually do with substantial power. That is, as we judge, an experiment which. it is good for the country should be tried. We do not believe that it would succeed, or that Conservative government is possible in England; but it ought to be tried if Liberalism is to be thoroughly reinvigorated, and it cannot be tried, unless, a true Tory—not Mr. Disraeli, who is a separate personage,. not belonging to English politics at all=calls a Parliament together avowedly upon a Conservative programme. If the Liberals stay in, if the Government just potters on for a month or two, and then dissolves after Easter, all the issues will be blurred and blotted beyond recognition, a- 1 the country wilt decide, not between two schemes 'of policy, but, upon some other and comparatively unimportant question. It may be that the Conservatives wish this, we do not know, but if they do they must give up their allegation that the country is weary, that it is anxious for rest, and that if its, opinion could but be taken, it would elect Tories to represent and govern it If they have the courage of their opinions, they having deliber- ately defeated the Government, should dissolve and appeal to the country to accept them.
Mr. Gladstone being fairly " out," all combinations are, of course, mom or less possible, and one seems to have attracted. some attention. It is said that Mr. Disraeli may advise Her. Majesty; to send for Lord Granville, and that .a Ministry spay be formed of Liberals without their present chief. That alternative is just conceivable if Mr. Gladstone prefers it, but on no other condition. The allegiance of the Liberal party to Mr. Gladstone was not granted to him originally out of liking, or even for the sake of his opinions, but was while he was still a Beelike in "Dod," extorted, so to speak, by gifts and faculties which_ inspired even those who disliked him with a deep respect. Those gifts and powers have not departed, they_are as strong as ever, and the Liberals of Great Britain have not the power,, even if they had the desire, of transferring their allegiance.. Mr. Gladstone as a private Member of the House of Commons is simply impossible. He could shatter the party in an hour by a single speech, and power like, that must, be accompanied with responsibility. We have only to imagine the scene. on a Budget night, to understand fully the impossibility of the situation.; only to think of Mr. Gladstone rising to warn the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is misapplying his surplug, then warming to his work as a labour of love, bring- ing out his own ideas, and bursting into one of those wonderful orations half choked with figures and feeling, arithmetic and analysis, epigram and eloquence, which no House of Commons composed of Englishmen can hear without conviction. No. Government could go on so. A man who could utter a speech like that on the taxation of Charities, and literally convince a. hostile majority that it was stupidly in the wrong,—so con- vince it that had a vote been possible, it must have been in his favour, is not a private Member, and cannot become one, let him wish it ever so much. Mr. Gladstone as Liberal leader and Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden are- alike conceivable, but there is no third alternative. for the retiring Premier. If he should adopt the second—that is to say, if, in defiance of his entire history, he should insist on depriving his country of one of her greatest gifts, a genius which can legislate—there would, of course, arise question of Lord Granville, but till then the suggestion is hardly worth discussion or any remark except this. A Palmeratonian Ministry—that, is a Ministry with Liberal ideas and a policy of quiescence—should -not come in as an interim government,. to carry on business till the country has pronounced. It should be a real government, able to administer, very much feared, and regarded by the country as a preferable equivalent for a nominally Conservative regime. So regarded, it might prove, as Lord Palmerston's Ministry did extra- ordinarily strong, might represent a distinct desire of rest in the Electoral mind, and might receive, like a bridge, support from both sides of the river. But it is not Lord Granville's business to play stop-gap, and carry on affairs until the Con- servatives, having won the battle of the hustings, think they- may, on the whole, take their hands out of their'pockate and take a turn of serious work. A Gladstone Ministry is desir- able. A Granville Ministry is quite possible. A. Derby Ministry is exceedingly probable. But at all events, whatever we have, let us have a Ministry, and not a game of chess with the Queen left out, for fear it should make the play too severe and the battle too decisive.