THE LABOURERS IN THE HOME COUNTIES.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."] SIR,—In your article on "The Distribution of Parties in Great Britain" you appear anxious to ascertain all you can as to the
use the new voters have made of the trust,—or right, as you please. As I have lived amongst the agricultural labourers most part of my life, have for years taken the Spectator, have been for the past fourteen years a guardian of the poor, and during the late contest have worked with the labourers, I think I know something about their feeling and action in the matter, as we had as many labourers on our committee as were willing to join. Your "five gardeners," mentioned on page 1643, appear to me exactly typical of many of our agricultural labourers. Fear prevented many voting at all, and I have heard of cases where their employer ordered them not to vote at all, as it was certain how they would vote if they went to the polling-place ; many others, who did not feel deeply on the matter, finding they possessed something that " master very much wanted," thought they would please him by going his way, " not feeling the vote a trust of very great responsibility." But I am convinced of this, that in this part of Kent, if the labourer were free from those " chains on his hands," he would vote for the Liberal, for we found all those who were under Liberal employers were very warm in the cause.
November is not the month for a labourer on 14s. a week, with a family, and under a hard master, to feel independent ; and I will give a case or two within my knowledge. A farmer, about a mile and a half from the polling-station, dressed his horses in Tory colours, and " sold " at a halfpenny each the Tory rosettes, and had them placed on each of his men and sent the voters down in his waggon, with his son in charge ; but there were three who would not have the Tory badges, but would wear the Liberal colours. They were not allowed to ride, and the " master " took one under his especial censure, taunting him with how good he had been to him when he was ill, and telling him, " if he ever got in trouble again, not to come to him." Other little things have since occurred to prove that these three men were under the master's displeasure, as it has just been discovered that they have hitherto not paid enough rent for their cottages ; and he has charged them with poor-rates, which have hitherto been paid by the master, himself a tenant, under the Small Tenements Act, by which he claims deduction. Another farmer, about two miles from the polling-station, sent all who would vote as master down in his waggon, and gave them two hours off their time. All who voted on the other side had to work out their time and get down as they could. There are other cases of displeasure that might be named, and I am grieved to say the " chain is on their hands." Then there was probably a murmur, " You can go ;" and what this means in November is clear enough, especially when most of the other farmers—there are brilliant exceptions—hold the same way. In an adjoining parish, the vicar denied the Liberal candidate the National School for a meeting, which a week before was lent to the Conservatives. Most of the parsons were in a panic. A labourer told me that the parson's daughter—a Primrose Leaguer—was up at his house two or three times a day electioneering. We had one strong Tory sermon from the pulpit in our church, by the ourate, not the vicar ; he would not stoop to such conduct ; while the farmers were preaching a five- shilling duty on corn, and their wives going about amongst the labourers and their wives telling them how much more they could pay them weekly if they could only get it.
The parish in which the vicar denied the school-room receives a large Government grant in aid of the school, and half the parish belong; to the National Church. Surely some of this land might be let, at the rent it is paying now, to the industrious labourer. The labourer vote is not free. How can we make it s
Notwithstanding, the agricultural labourer, in this district, voted Liberal; the loose voters in the towns lost our election. I have no doubt that several labourers voted differently from the colour they had pinnel on them indicated, and they ought not to
b 3 forced to adopt what looks like deception ; but the man is corn.
pletely under the master's dictation. I can see no remedy for this, unless by protecting the labourer by a law fixing the minimum of wages. We have tenant-right. But we never hear of labour- right. Pardon me. Yes, we have the workhouse to prevent people starving. Break up a home and go into the house, or have, if outdoor relief is allowed, 2s. 6d. and a loaf of bread. Say what you will, the whole tithe arrangement requires recon- structing, and the Church lands so managed that the labourer shall receive more benefit from them.
The agricultural labourer is squeezed and tyrannised over, and the farmers have been bidding up for rents that they now find do not pay. As for land depreciating in value, it depends on the date that is taken for comparison. I know a farm the lease of which ran out in my time, and the terms of which were 7s. 6d. per acre, which is now let at least at £2 10s. an acre. The labourer's lot is a sad one, Mr. Editor. Do try and help him. You will perceive the difficulty there is in exposing the cases I have named in the local press. The men would suffer, as they would certainly get discharged.—I am, Sir, &c.,
Minster, Thanet, December 14th. ROBERT ROBB.