TOPICS OF THE DAY.
• PERSONAL DIGNITY AND PUBLIC LIFE.
" ICOULD not continue in office without a loss of personal dignity." That is a phrase to be found in one of Macaulay's letters,—a letter in which the writer points out that, if such-and-such a line were to be adopted by the Ministry, he would be obliged to resign his office. The phrase, however, was not in any way peculiar to Macaulay. Again and again in the memoirs of the last century we find similar expressions. Politicians were careful then not merely of their personal honour, but of their personal dignity, and if a loss of that dignity were involved in retention of office, they never were in doubt as to what course to take. Possibly the men of the past may have stood too much on this question of personal dignity ; but who can deny that the members of the existing Ministry have gone too far in the opposite direction ? The question whether a loss of personal dignity may not be involved in a particular course of action never• seems to trouble them. It is not that they consider it and put it aside, but rather that it never enters into their calculations ; and when the point is raised by outsiders they regard the suggestion with a kind of pained bewilderment. They accuse those who raise the point either of malignity, or else of being foolish, pedantic people who do not understand the realities of public life. As long as we can keep in power without doing anything morally wrong or openly disgraceful, no one has any right to object or to express astonishment or disgust.' That is the kind of attitude taken up by the present Government and those who defend them.
No better example of the willingness of Mr. Balfour's ' Government to suffer a loss of personal dignity rather than risk a loss of power can be found than the Parlia- .mentary incident of Tuesday. On that evening we had the spectacle of a Ministry which boasts that it has a majority of at least 85 against all comers, which declares that it has not lost the confidence of the country, and, finally, which insists that it has another year and a half of Parliamentary activity and usefulness before it, allowing the House to pass a unanimous vote of censure upon the Prime Minister. The House of Commons, without a dissentient voice, declared on Tuesday : "That in view of the declarations made by the Prime Minister, this House thinks it necessary to record its condemnation of his policy of Fiscal Retaliation." Can it possibly be said that after such action taken by the Assembly from which the Prime Minister derives his power and authority, he has not suffered a loss of personal dignity ? To argue that there is no such loss is surely childish. No doubt it might be logically asserted that personal dignity is a thing for which Prime Ministers have no use, and that it is to the interest of the public service that they should not bother their heads about so trifling a matter. Once, however, it is admitted that personal dignity is a thing about which public men should concern themselves, then unquestionably Mr. Balfour has suffered a grievous loss.
Again, it will perhaps be said that the censure of the House of Commons does not matter, and can be ignored, because it resulted, not from an adverse vote deliberately inflicted by the majority of the House, but from a bargain made between Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Balfour that Fiscal questions were no longer to be discussed in Parliament But if that is so, the loss of personal dignity seems to us not to be diminished but to be increased. No Premier who valued his personal dignity at a pin's worth would ever have made such a bargain with one of his followers. -When the bargain was sug- gested to him, a Prime Minister who thought of his personal dignity would surely have declared that whatever else he could do, he could not enter into any arrangement which would expose him to public humiliation in the House. 'As low, as I am Prime Minister,' he would have said, I must not be capable of obtaining a vote of confidence from the House when I specifically ask for it, but I must also be sure that the House shall never treat me with indifference or contempt.' Mr. Balfour, apparently, cared for none of these things, but was quite willing to enter into a bargain which so astute a Parliamentarian Ra he is must have realised would almost certainly lead to what happened on Tuesday night. His position, we presume, might be defined somewhat as follows As long as I am not forced out of office by a hostile vote, what the House of Commons says or does is quite immaterial. Its babble, and even its votes, matter no more to me than the chatterings of the monkeys of the Press. After all, if they will allow me power on these terms, why should I trouble ? If there is a lolls of personal dignity, the loss is as great on their side as on mine.' We confess that it is very difficult to meet such a proposition as this with logic and argument. The sense of personal dignity, and the value to be attached to it, are matters of instinct rather than of argument, and those who are without that instinct cannot be expected to understand the feelings of those who possess it, and. believe that it is one which ought to be obeyed. We can only say that we hold most firmly that the unwillingness to suffer a loss of personal dignity is a valuable element in political life. Nay, we would go further, and say that such unwillingness is the antiseptic of politics, and that in communities where it does not exist political life becomes degraded. When men cease to be careful of their personal dignity they soon become the slaves, not the free men, of party.
We have chosen the Prime Minister as an example of what happens when a statesman is indifferent to the loss of personal dignity; but it would not be fair to represent him as a solitary example. The responsibility for altering the standard of public life in this respect is shared by others of his colleagues. Take, for instance, those members of the Ministry who still profess to be Free- traders. Can it be said that they retain their places in a Government like the present without a loss of personal dignity? Let any one who is inclined to think that they suffer no such loss remember what happened to Lord Stanley only a month ago. Lord. Stanley gave Mr. Bowles a personal pledge that he would speak for him in his constituency. Not content with giving the pledge, he ratified it before the Chief Whip, and thus deprived himself of the excuse of saying that he had inadvertently undertaken to do something which the party managers had forbidden. Yet in spite of this personal pledge, Lord Stanley, under pressure from the Tariff Reform Leaguers yid Mr. Balfour, withdrew his pledge and repudiated his formal undertaking. If this did not involve a loss of personal dignity for Lord Stanley, and also for the Chief Whip, language has no meaning. Take, again, the action of Sir Alexander .Acland-Hood in regard to the Greenwich contest. Sir Alexander Acland- Hood, speaking in his capacity as Chief Whip, told the Greenwich Unionists that it was their business to support Lord Hugh Cecil. In spite of that, Mr. Chamberlain, who is not a voter in, or in any way connected with, the con- stituency, writes a letter telling the Greenwich Unionists to vote against Lord Hugh, and to support a Tariff Reformer. What does the Chief Whip do in these circumstances ? Does he write to Mr. Chamberlain reminding him that, however great a man he may be, he professes to be a member of the Unionist party and a follower of Mr. Balfour, and so is subject to the regular party discipline exercised by the 'Whip? Does he back up such a statement by asking Mr. Chamberlain to withdraw his Tariff Reform candidate ? Finally, does he ask Mr. Balfour either to endorse such a letter and to sanction its publication, or else to accept his resignation of the post of Chief Whip ? Not a bit of it. Sir Alexander Acland- Hood does nothing whatever. He remains perfectly calm and indifferent to the humiliation inflicted on him by Mr. Chamberlain. It never seems to occur to him that his personal dignity has been in any degree impaired, either in this transaction or in that in which he was involved with Lord Stanley.
It must in fairness be noted while dealing with this question of personal dignity that Mr. Chamberlain and his immediate supporters, though they have of late endured so great a loss of public support, have not suffered in the matter of personal dignity. Mr. Chamberlain is not Prime Minister, and therefore is not concerned with the censure passed on Tuesday on the head of the Adminis- tration. Again, in such incidents as the Bowles meeting he emerges as a victor, and the humiliation is not endured. by him and his group, but solely by his allies. It is the Ministry, who are content to retain power in spite of the humiliations which they endure, who suffer a loss of personal dignity. They seem, indeed, to be animated by a . spirit which suggests a parody of the legendary cry of the Old Guard. at Waterloo. The Old Guard of Downing Street will receive any number of kicks, but will never resign.