W E regret. as much as do members of the Liberal
party the fact that so small a number of Unionist Free-traders felt able to vote against the Government on Thursday night. We admit that there is something to be said for the plea for delaying the General Election entered by Mr. Lambton—than whom there is no sounder and more fearless Free-trader in the House of Commons —but on the whole it appears to us that the weight of argument is against him. It is true, no doubt, that Chamberlainism is at present on the wane, that the country is growing heartily sick of the Fiscal question, and that if the Tariff Reform League parades for another year the pageant of a ruined commerce before the country, an immense number of people will begin to declare that the whole thing is an absurdity, and that we need no longer bother about it. They will return to the comfortable slumbers from which they were awakened by Mr. Chamberlain, and it will be impos- sible to persuade them that there is anything further to be feared from a return to Protection. At present, however, there are thousands of men throughout the country who, though as a rule supremely indifferent to political issues, have been thoroughly alarmed by the prospect of the abandonment of Free-trade, and are most anxious to record their votes in a plebiscite against Protection in any shape or form. Now we wish for an immediate appeal to the people because we want to see a verdict given in favour of Free-trade so overwhelming that no sane politician will think it possible to raise the question again for a generation. From this will come a double blessing. We shall not only have defeated Protec- tion, but we shall have offered an irresistible inducement to the Unionist party to reconstruct itself on a Free-trade basis. And this, as our readers know, is a prime object with those who, like ourselves, desire and intend to remain Unionists as well as Free-traders. But unless the vote is taken while the Fiscal issue is still alive there is a danger that no such crushing vote against Protection will be recorded. Once again, then, we must express our strong regret that the entire Free-trade section of the Unionist party did not vote for Mr. Asquith's amendment. By so doing they would have been serving, in our opinion, the best interests of the Free-trade cause.
But though we regret their action, we cannot in fairness lay the whole blame of their failure to vote upon the Unionist Free-traders alone. A great share of that blame—nay, the greater part—must rest upon those Liberals who insist on attacking the seats of Unionist Free-traders, and so dividing the forces arrayed for the defence of Free-trade. Human, or rather Parlia- mentary human, nature being what it is, one cannot expect Unionist Free-traders who are threatened with the opposi- tion of Liberal candidates, and who at the same time have no Tariff Reformer in the field against them, to feel enthusiastic at the thought of a Dissolution, or to wish to embitter Unionist feeling in their constituencies by joining the Opposition on an amendment where the actual merits and demerits of Protection are not raised directly. It is only natural for them to argue :—' If I vote with the Opposition on such a point as that raised by Mr. Asquith, I shall not weaken in the least the antagonism of the Liberal who is in the field, though I shall set a good many Unionist waverers against me, and shall probably give the Tariff Reform League an oppor- tunity which they will be eager to seize to bring out a Chamberlainite candidate.' In other words, we are bound to admit that the unwillingness of many of the Unionist Free-traders to take a bold course is directly due to the opposition offered to them by the Liberals.
Nevertheless, and though we fully understand the atti- tude and appreciate the difficulties of the Unionist Free- traders who are opposed by Liberal Free-traders—men who ought, instead of opposing, to be co-operating with them— we are by no means sure that the Unionist Free-traders in question are really doing the best in the long run for themselves. Our reason is this. We believe that when the Dissolution comes it will be a signal for the Tariff Reform League, acting quite independently of the Central Conservative Association, with whom it is no secret that they are in strong antagonism, to put forward candidates in every constituency now represented by Unionist Free- traders. We admit that there are plenty of constituencies in which at the present moment such a course seems very unlikely ; but unless we are strangely mistaken in regard to Mr. Chamberlain's political methods, such candidates will be found the moment Parliament is dissolved. Mr. Chamberlain is not a politician who believes in com- promises or half-measures, or who thinks that it is wise to show mercy to those who differ from him and oppose him. He did not form the Tariff Reform League as a merely educative body, nor was it to do missionary work only and to circulate lachrymose leaflets about our "ruined industries" that he raised the very large sum of money now in their possession. That body was formed and endowed with the sinews of war in order to fight, and unless the end of Mr. Chamberlain's career is to belie its whole previous course, we shall at the next Election see the Tariff Reform League sending down and paying the expenses of candidates, not merely in places where they have a, reasonable hope of victory, but in every case Where there is no Chamberlainite or Balfourite before the electors. The Tariff Reform League —and quite rightly from their point of view—mean to give the nation as a whole the opportunity to vote on the question of Free-trade and Protection. But if only a Unionist Free-trader and a Liberal Free-trader are standing, such an opportunity will not be given. There- fore Mr. Chamberlain is bound to attack every Unionist Free-trade seat, and will do so in the end. Unionist Free-traders who are threatened only with Liberal opposition will not then in reality gain what they appear to be gaining at present by not opposing a Government which, whatever its professions, we all know to be Pro- tectionist at heart. This being the case, it seems to us that Unionist Free-traders will not only do what is best for the cause of Free-trade, but best for themselves, by abandoning all thought of Parliamentary finesse and diplomacy, and by going straight for their Free-trade goal regardless of the consequences. They should warn the Government that until they receive from Mr. Balfour a clear and unambiguous declaration that he and his Administration are opposed to the Chamberlain policy root and branch, and mean to do their best to prevent that policy being carried, into practice, they (the Unionist Free- traders) will oppose them at all points, as a Government not willing to defend Free-trade, but ready to betray it to its enemies. If such a declaration could be obtained from the present Administration, the Unionist Free-traders would be amply satisfied. If, however, such a declaration cannot be obtained, then Unionist Free-traders had far better take their coura,qe in both hands and treat the Government as the enemies of Free-trade, be the consequences to their own seats what they may. In spite of present difficulties and present opposition by Liberal Free-traders, we believe that in the majority of cases such a course of action will prove best calculated to save Unionist Free-trade seats. It will not, we are sure, increase the risk of Tariff Reform candidates being chosen, because that risk is already at the maximum, and we believe that in many cases it will induce local Liberals to reconsider their opposition, and even when such opposition is insisted on will secure many Liberal votes for the men who have sacrificed so much for the cause.
The reception which our article in regard to the Liberal opposition at one time threatened to Mr. Arthur Elliot met with, not only at the bands of individual Liberals, but also from important Liberal organs throughout the country, makes us feel confident that firm and strong action on the part of Unionist Free-traders will not be seceived by the Liberals as a party in a grudging or ungenerous spirit. What we should, of course, like to see would be some con- cordat or agreement on the one hand in regard to Unionist Free-trade seats, and on the other in regard to the action of Unionist Free-traders in constituencies where the fight is a simple one between a Liberal and a Balfourite or Chamberlainite. In a note which we have appended to a letter from a correspondent who writes to us from Bodmin we have endeavoured to discuss on very general lines the sort of agreement which might be made, and to this note we must refer the readers of the present article. We will only say here once again that we would implore the Unionist Free-traders to remember that they will never be returned by Protectionist votes. Mr. Chamberlain, whatever else he may allow, will never allow that. He wants to poll every vote he can for Protection in the phliscite of a General Election, and therefore he must have a standard-bearer of Tariff Reform in every con- stituency. On the other hand, we would remind the Liberals that if they are to gain the overwhelming majority for Free-trade which we wish them to gain at the next General Election, they can only do so by securing the votes of the Unionist Free-traders, who will be able to turn the scale in at least fifty or sixty closely contested constituencies. Those votes will be freely given to Liberals if the Liberal party as a, whole has done its best to help bond-fide Unionist Free-traders. If, how- ever, the Liberal party is merciless or is indifferent to the Unionist Free-trade candidates, how can we ask Unionist Free-traders to make the sacrifices required of them in voting for Liberals in the rest of the con- stituencies? These are the essential facts of the situation, and on them it should surely be possible to base a reason- able agreement for loyal co-operation' in the interests of Free-trade.