15 MARCH 1873, Page 6


IT is never wise to judge from a single election, but we are not disposed to undervalue the warning conveyed to the Liberal party in the recent campaign for Mid-Cheshire. It is of all things unwise to be premature in politics, and we are not sure that we are not premature in reckoning on Tenant Farmers as a Liberal force. That they will be a Liberal force

is certain, but that they are so is very doubtful indeed. As we understand the matter, when trying to look at it without prejudice, a candidate of the orthodox type, that is, a gentleman of a good kind, with no particular knowledge of politics or care about politics, and a set of derived but orthodox opinions, stood on the Tory side for Mid-Cheshire. Behind him were ranged a phalanx of county families, men who owned " granges," and knew the country, and treated tenants they liked with great and permanent leniency, and thought they had, they did not know why, a right to the "representation." Opposed to him was an excellent candi- date, who understood politics—rather, it would seem, from a viewy standpoint—and made good apt.ethes, and had the courage to raise the great land question in a very full manner. We thought that as the ballot had been established, and as tenant farmers have strong ideas about tenure, and as the right of the occupier was at last before a county, Mr. Latham would have a very good chance of running his opponent hard. The struggle did not turn out so. The gentry fought for their power, and fought very well, and the farmers were not so much attracted by Mr. Latham's ideas as we had expected them to be. The families did their best, and they had a very great hold. We will talk about coercion by and by, but coercion does not govern Englishmen when excited, and in this case coercion, we apprehend, was not needed. The farmers liked Col. Egerton Leigh the best. London laughed because an old gentleman, his uncle we imagine, recommended the candidate as a man who rode straight and waltzed well, and even quoted a girl's opinion about his dancing ; but London is not Mid-Cheshire, and we suspect that speech helped the Tory. There is a deal of human nature in county electors, and half of them or more sympathised with the speech, and liked the man who made it, and liked the man about whom it was made, and felt as if they were treated as friends in such a remark being made to them, and went in for the old connection, and not for politics at all. It will be a long time before such influences die out in England, and we have not the slightest wish to accelerate the dying. If a man can get into Parliament by sheer manliness—which we take to have been the inner meaning of the apparently funny oratory—let him get in by all means, and be manly there, even if he does vote as a rule for the wrong side. There will never be too many of that sort in the House, and they make invaluable leaven, whether they can talk or not, pro- vided only that they are liked by those who send them there. That was the case, we imagine, in this instance, the "granges" genuinely liking their man, and the farmers thinking they liked him, and the majority of electors taking their tone from those above them, and the election going on practically in the old way. The candidate was carried by " favour " rather than any more serious impulse, and we have only this remark to make. Favour seldom, almost never in England, helps a man against a serious political idea, and we hold it almost certain that the voters in Mid-Cheshire did not seriously and strongly incline towards Mr. Latham's principles. If they had, all the " influence" of the gentry, and the speeches of the squires, and the friendliness of the successful candidate would have gone for nothing, and he would have been beaten as thoroughly as if he had stood for a borough North of the Trent. The farmers did not want the things Mr. Latham promised strongly enough to make an effort for them, the effort of breaking old.relations and ways, and notions of how the world of Mid-Cheshire had better be managed for its own good. They wished him well enough, perhaps, but not well enough to take trouble, and run risks, and put themselves to the very great annoyance of making secrecy real. They liked him as well as a fine day out of harvest, for which they are thankful, but for which they would think prayer slightly irreverent, as for a surplusage of good things. It may be that they did not quite believe he could realise his promises. It may be they did not think the old order ought to be disturbed. It may be they did not like him for views which seemed to us most moderate, but apart from the land question not likely to attract any- body very much. But the main facts seem to be certain, that they did not care enough for Mr. Latitam's views about land, or tenure, or game, to be very earnest in his cause. If that is correct, as we feel sure it is, and is not a local, but a class feeling, then we should say there are on the land-tenure question just two courses before the Liberal party. One is to let the subject ripen, leaving it alone meanwhile. The other and the better is to press it as a substantive article in their creed, but with extreme moderation, and the most careful desire that their reforms should not only be moderate, but seem so, should be such as quiet Liberal owners of property can acknowledge to be just, and as the party can pass, even though those most interested are not specially eager about them. That strike among the labourers has placed a huge difficulty in our way,—that is, in the way of the full under- standing between the Liberal party and the county electors which is so essential to the welfare of both, and just now so imperative, if English parties are not, like Continental parties, to be geographically divided. A correspondent, who has much local knowledge, tells us that the election was not really free, that the farmers, aware that everybody above them was against them, accustomed from childhood to defer, awed by a machinery they only half understood, could not in the thirty seconds of full secrecy they obtained believe that the secrecy was real. The habits and observances and apprehensions of a life were not to be dis- persed in a minute, and the tenants voted just as they would have voted' in an open election. We admit and yet question that statement. It is quite possible that the electors were really in the state he describes, a state of doubt whether their votes were absolutely matters for themselves or not, whether the clerks would not tell, or the sheriff know, or some one above them have something to say ; but still all that does not prove to our minds that the electors were strongly with Mr. Latham. Mid-Cheshire electors are very like agricultural electors everywhere else, and agricultural electors anywhere else, aware that the law is with them and that secrecy is legal, are very difficult cattle to drive except upon the way they wish to go. The majority even, the fourteen hundred by whom Mr. Latham was defeated, could not have been all coerced, except in a case about' which they did not particularly care, and that is to-day our only point. They may have cared a little. They may have yielded to the kind of " influences " which rule at county elections, and which are hardly to be distinguished from intimidation ; they may have been more or less corrupted, but if their views had been strongly the other way nothing of all that would have happened. To say that secrecy was not preserved is to say it was not strongly wished for, and the secret strong wish of the electors is the point we expected the first County Election to bring out. If the electors do not strongly wish for a new tenure, why should they have one ? It is not a moral question at all. The question of conveyance to which our correspondent also alludes is no doubt formidable, more especially for the less wealthy of two candidates. We pointed out that during the discussion on the ballot as the most difficult form of inducement with which to deal, the tendency of the county voter without conveyance being to stay at home. But after all, the voters, if in earnest, could have driven each other. To say that the Squires corrupted fourteen hundred men, all of them earning their living, by offering them conveyance, and breakfast, and civilities generally, may be true, but it is only true because of a social influence no law can touch. To say they were really coerced by such means, is as far as our experience goes to underrate English farmers, and certainly to under-estimate their determination when their minds are once fairly made up to go their own way. We had hoped their minds were made up to have some security of tenure, but we must confess this election makes us doubt a little whether an English tenant does not always think first of what he wouldlike if he should ever realise his dream and own land.