THE MANCHESTER ELECTION.
TliE Liberals of Manchester will, we think, mistake their duty, if they fail to fight for the Tory seat vacated by the death of that excellent Conservative Mr. Birley. Mr. Gladstone's Government will, before this Parliament ends, bring forward a Reform Bill, and, in face of the pressure which the farmers will exercise upon Liberal County Members, the Cabinet will require every jot of national support it can obtain. The support of Manchester is of the greatest importance. It is the third city in the kingdom, and one of the wealthiest ; it has a traditional position as the centre of the cotton in- dustry, and it is so nearly divided in opinion that its decision has far more weight than that of any persistently Radical borough or steadily Tory county. Nobody cares to ask for an opinion which is quite certain beforehand. An unbroken vote of Manchester for Mr. Gladstone would not only increase his majority by two, but weigh as heavily on public opinion in the North as the Liberal -victory in Liverpool. No Premier can keep up heart if his followers with such an opportunity before them desert him, and deliberately offer him one supporter in the House instead of three. It is argued, no doubt, that with two Liberals re- turned already the third seat was intended for the minority, and should be filled by them ; and had this been the practice adopted by the two great parties, as no doubt logically it -ought to have been, this objection would be irresistible. But it has never been adopted, or even seriously pro- posed. Where it has been possible, all three seats have been secured by one party ; and where that has been im- possible, a vacancy for the corner-seat has been clutched as eagerly as any other. Tories on such occasions have shown • no 'hesitation, and Liberals no remorse. Nor, indeed, could it be otherwise. If one party is strong enough under the system of minority voting to carry all three seats, it ought, even in the judgment of those who approve the triangular scheme, to seat three Members ; and if there is only one vacancy there must be a poll, or a distrusted Member may be imposed on the minority, without its consent, by its own Managing Committee. The Liberals, unless bound by secret pledges of which we do not hear, are perfectly entitled to fight the seat ; and they ought to do it, if only to show publicly that, in spite of all the talk of re- action and of the unquestionable lull in political strife, Mr. Gladstone remains, as in 1880, the representative of wise government in the eyes of Manchester. The Conservatives are never tired of saying that Mr. Gladstone no longer rules by plebiscite, that the tide of opinion has turned, and that a dissolution will either unseat or paralyse this most unhappy Gbvernment. Manchester can, as regards the boroughs, bring that assertion to the test. Its electors are more numerous than the population of many large towns ; they include men of every interest, class, and opinion ; and they are at least as much divided in political sentiment as the people of Great Britain. The city has, therefore, the power of giving an answer to the allegation which most weighs with politicians, and it ought to do it.
But we shall be told the attempt is dangerous. If the Liberals succeed, one of their three Members will be defeated at the next election, and it may be the wrong one. It would be a small gain to send up three Liberals for one or two Sessions, and then for a whole Parliament lose the services of Mr. Slagg or Mr. Jacob Bright. Granting that to be true, and as regards Mr. Slagg we should grant it in the fullest degree, the danger is either very trifling, or one which is entirely within the control of the electors. If they want the sitting Members very much and the third Member very little, they can return the men of their preference at the top of the poll. They have only to will it, and Messrs. Slagg and Bright are as safe as if they were sitting for Tavistock or Shoreham. It is foolish to argue that two Members ought to sit, even if the electors do not care for them, and that is all this argument of the caucus-room really amounts to. Liberals must learn to leave such matters more to the constituencies, to put "calculations" on one side, and to acquire a more robust confidence that strong men who are also popular will never be left out in the cold. In the last twenty years, we have seen but one Liberal at once valuable and known thrown away, and that was Mr. Ayrton, who to powers of nearly the first order added a Stuart-like faculty of making personal foes. And, finally, the same advo- cates for retreat whisper that the Liberals may be beaten, and that a defeat for such a city would be a great shock to the Liberal party. Conservatism, they mutter, is very strong in Man-, cheater ; Mr. Houldsworth is a very good candidate ; and there= isa dreadful Dr. Pankhurst, who will be a marplot, who favours. Home-rule, and who will carry the Irish vote, and may carry a great many of the more extreme Radicals. Those sound' formidable objections, but if they are to be effective, we may as well beseech Lord Salisbury to take the helm at once. A defeat does not always operate to depress. It is very often a tonic, especially when the party defeated is in power, and needs to be warned that unless it exerts itself to the full its. power may slip from its hands. As to Dr. Pankhurst, that difficulty will have to be faced at the next election in half the great boroughs in England. The single evil result of the Corrupt Practices Bill will be a great increase in the' number of candidates, a majority of the "interlopers " will be Extremists of one sort or another, and perhaps half of them• will like to begin with the solid block of Irish votes, to be secured by accepting Home-rule. The Irish will remain till the election in appearance at least implacable, and may not be sorry, by voting for Home-rule candidates, to show the electors for once how many they are, and how great their in- fluence must be on elections. The Liberals must face this risk, and they can face it as they face every other, by energy, organisation, and careful persuasion. Dr. Pankhurst, or any man like him, can have no strength unless it be derived from' the people ; and if the Liberals as a body dislike or dis- trust him, they have only to divide the wards into small blocks, and see that every elector is carefully informed why he should not, as a Liberal, vote for Dr. Pankhurst, and should vote for the choice of the party. It is by persuasion, and by rousing enthusiasm for Liberal ideas, not by small arrangements, that elections in great constituencies are carried, and the Irish vote is less a- danger to Liberals when given to an eccentric than when given to Tories. If, in spite of this, the ranks are broken, and the substantial vote divided, the Tory will come in, and the Liberals will have time to ponder by next election on the necessity as well as the advantages of unity, a lesson which. some of them want very much. It is folly to shrink before a difficulty which is identical with the main difficulty of the United Kingdom, and to say that because the Irish are un- grateful, therefore the Tories are to rule. That is to leave to Mr. Parnell not only the balance of power, which he thinks he can obtain, but the whole of it.