TOPICS OF THE DAY.
DECLINE OF TILE DERBY CABINET.
IT is not "the defeat of Ministers" that has lowered them in pub- lic respect, but the character of their own acts, which are irrecon- eileable alike with the original professions of the men on taking office and with each other. On taking office in the teeth of a Par- liamentary majority, they professed to stand, at least during the remainder of the present Parliament, in a sort of provisional posi- tion; and on the strength of their modest assurances to that effect, Parliament waived some of the usual enforcements of Ministerial ' responsibility. It was understood that they would only endeavour to carry on the necessary public or routine business of the session,— that in consideration of the half-irresponsible position which they were permitted to retain, they would put a stricter limitation on the action of a Ministry. They have done the reverse ; they have put the very loosest construction upon their responsibility. The "necessary business" was construed to mean several things not to be understood in any ordinary interpretation of such a phrase. Chancery Reform for example, is an excellent thing, and if the conduct of Ministers had otherwise been decorous, the licence which was taken to include that luxury would have been readily pardoned ; but it could hardly have been deemed essential to the routine of public business. If anything not strictly of the cha- racter of routine was to be expected of the present Ministers, as something which they might have been reasonably supposed to think essentially necessary, it was a measure to repeal the repeal of the Corn-laws and restore Protection, for that was the essential doctrine of their party : but even that they waived till "next session," if not to some more indefinite period.
For proceeding with the Militia Bill they had a warrant in the technical position of the case: whatever may be the diversity of opinion on the general subject, measures to fortify the national de- fences have been pronounced necessary by competent authority ; and Ministers were to be applauded rather than blamed for taking up the subject. But as the debates advanced, some unpleasant traits came forth. The measure appeared to be designed to catch all sides : it was a militia, as Lord John Russell had practically suggested; Lord Palmerston, victor of the Russell Cabinet, was to be caught by making it not local; popularity was aimed at by making it in the main voluntary, and was further grasped at by the proposal to tack the electoral suffrage to it. All these incidents of the bill, indeed, might have been the result of conviction ; but the levity with which the suffiage clause was abandoned as "a joke," and with which the compulsory clauses were postponed till next session, throws a new light upon the very design of the mea- sure. One is at a loss to detect the common motive for such diver- gent and abrupt sallies, until it is suggested by the character of other sallies not less irreconcileable with each other.
If the provisional position of Ministers bound them to anything, it was not to meddle with constitutional changes. A policy in furtherance of their own essential dogma might have been looked for at their hands; an improvement of Chancery administration might have been received with a pardon adorned by welcome ; but any tampering with the representation any distribution of
Parliamentary seats, was a subject entirely be i
beyond their authority, their power, or their moral right. The very importance of the two counties which were to be newly endowed at the hands of a Ministry provisionally situated, rendered the matter proportion- ately worse. In repelling them, Mr. Gladstone has not only in- flicted the disgrace of defeat, but has exposed Ministers in a dis- honest excess of authority, and as failing in that transparent dis- honesty. In reference to the Maynooth question their conduct is of an opposite nature in effect, though not in morality. The responsi- bility which they must own, ex officio, for the correct management of Ireland at a critical period, had been aggravated by certain in- cidents. The obtrusive welcome given to Lord Eglinton by the Orange party rendered subsequent discretion doubly incumbent on the Cabinet. The intimate relation in which Mr. Spooner stood to the party of which Lord Derby was head before he accepted office, and in feet which supplied him with his title to be candidate for the post of first Minister, rendered it absolutely necessary, either that Ministers should enforce upon their old ally a semi-official discretion, or that they should distinctly mark his independent position apart from them. Lord Derby's avowal of opinion, ex- plicit as to his hostile animas towards Maynooth, equivocating in every other respect, proclaimed the community of feeling between the chief of the Government and the veteran Protestant-Pro- tectionist; and in the sequel Mr. Spooner was either permitted or procured—Lord Derby's equivocating manner suggests the dubiety—to make that attack on Maynooth which was not discreet even up to the semi-official degree. He is supported in a sleek No-Popery speech by Mr. Walpole ; although the sleep- ing Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord John Manners, and other members of the Cabinet, are old supporters of the grant, and have not avowed any conversion. Mr. Spooner appears as acting. under the patronage of some of the Ministers; while others dislike the affair, but permit a move which may catch Protestant votes at an election. It is an "open question" in the Cabinet—that Whig re- sort having been adopted by these Tories in a form of aggravated turpitude. We say nothing here as to the merits of the question, admirably set forth by Mr. Gladstone ; but only insist on the fact, that it was an affair in which Ministers, however they decided, were bound to take a firm, uncompromising, unequivocal, sincere course: we see how they have aoted. Throughout these divergencies there is one common trait—each act is explained, if it be regarded as a trick to catch at some popu- lar prejudice, as a show-piece in the budget of Ministerial favours for the election-time. In waiving their own pledged creed, in pre- cipitating a "Chancery reform, in empirically and tentatively patching up their Militia Bill, in an excess of authority to enfran- chise two new counties, in the culpable abstinence from official action on the Maynooth question, we detect the one common fea- ture—a trick to catch votes. No Anti-Reform leaning brought to the aid of Chancery Reform—no professions of defensive patriotism sung to the accompaniment of timorous compliments to the pos- sible invader—no Protectionist curtseying to Free-trade—no old traditions of proud independence worn as a disguise by the noble chief—no scientific ideas adorning the literary master-spirit of the Cabinet—can beguile the public insight enough to hide the con- fessed character of the Derby Government, as a timeserving waiter on events.
The block has been disused as the instrument for enforcing Mi- nisterial responsibility ; the inertness of the Commons as the ous- todes of national rights and national welfare has nullified even the mild responsibility of modem times • the tergiversations and prosti- tutions of party have extinguished that enforcer of conscience- responsibility, shame. We are in the full blaze of a regime which in impunity lends the opportunity of audacity to the puniest cou- rage, the facility of recklessness to the poorest invention ; and, re- yelling in that opportunity, rollicking in a strength intoxicating to vanity from its alien and unwonted exaltations, the Conserva- tive Ministers are hurrying "the system" to consequences which, however near, no one can foresee or calculate.