TOPICS . OF THE - DAY. •
LORD ROSEBERrS SPEECH.
J-FUDGED either as a piece of platform .omtory or as a statement of political views, Lord Rosebery's, speech was a very striking one. It was, in fact, a great Opposition speech, and worthy from that point of view of our best politi- cal traditions. While it frankly and strongly criticised the Government and offered an alternative policy, it never degenerated into factiousness. It was just the Lind of speech that .should be made by a • patriotic leader of "his Majesty's Opposition." • While opposing the Government in. power, it did not oppose or thwart the policy of the country. It was anti-Government, not anti-national, and never lost sight . of the fact that the King's Government must be carried on. The blows fell, as , the blows, of an Opposition leader should fall, on the Government, and not on the nation itself, or on its Army_ or permanent and non-party public servants. If, then, speeches were all that were wanted from statesmen and words were deeds, Lord Rosebery's speech must be regarded as eminently suc- cessful. But something more is wanted from statesmen than great speeches. If Lord Rosebery is going to reconstruct, and then to lead, the Liberal party, his speech is an excellent beginning.- If it is to remain a merely isolated oratorical monument set up in a lonely furrow over which "the wind sweeps and the plovers cry," it will avail the country nothing. But it may be said It is unfair to ask deeds from a leader of Opposition. He cannot by the nature of things do anything but talk. The rle of the Opposition is to criticise, and criticism is talk.' Quite so. .We do not mean that Lord Rosebery can follow up his speech by administrative action. The action we have in view is action within his own party, and , action which will secure him the leadership of that party. His speech was the speech of a leader,—it had no other meaning. Unless it is followed by the assumption of a real leadership, it might as well . have been an article in a daily paper or a magazine. Lord Rosebery tells the Liberal party in effect that he is willing to lead them, and Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey endorse all he says. That is well, but things cannot stop here. Lord Rosebery must now either become. leader or miss his opportunity altogether. He cannot stand for ever looking over the wall and telling the world with the utmost sagacity and perspicacity of tone that he ii.quite willing to jump over the wall. Such a .course of action will never get him over.
The position in certain ways reminds one of the story of General Boulanger's failure when he • premeditated a coup d'etat. General Boulanger on the night of his election was waiting in a cafe to receive the news of his triumph: When he heaa d that he had been acclaimed by all Paris, his friends advised him to move at once on the Elyse and assume the leadership 'of the nation. But Boulanger hesitated, and declared that he wanted further invita- tions and assurances before he could take action, and finally both he and his supporters went home to bed. An epi- grammatic observer noted that the news of the election reached Boulanger at 12. When after half-an-hour nothing had -happened, he took out his watch and remarked : " The sun of Boulanger reached the zenith at 12 o'clock. It has now been declining for half-an-hour." At 1 he put his watch in his pocket, declaring that the sun of Boulanger had set for ever. Lord Rosebery, though not a weak and foolish adventurer like Boulanger, is in a: similar position: If he means to win he- must act. No One will' carry him -by force to his Elysee,—that is never done in revolutions.' He must 'put on his hat and walk there himself' at the head of his followers, and run all the risks and incur all the. disagreeables himself. No doubt it will be said by Lord Rosebery's friends in answer to this Row can he act SO ? Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is leader of the Opposition, and has no sort of idea of resigning; and it ii therefore impossible to get Lord' Rosebery at present :for; many acknowledged as 'leader of the party. Even ifthe attempt were made, the only result would. be to break- up' the party.' Well, if that is-so, then Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman is a stronger-man than Lord Rosebery. Lord Rosehery cannot certainly lead the Liberal party if there is alstiOnger man in his way who refuses to allow that leader- ship. But in that case Lord Rosebery had much better not have spoken with the voice of a leader, as he certainly has spoken. He should have simply let things alone, and told his Liberal friends that they had a leader already, and that as long as that leader remained they must look to him for guidance. - Since,. however,, Rosebery. aid not do this, but decided to tome forth as a leader of the. Liberal party, and to speak with the leader's voice, he has now only two', courses open to him. He can either do nothing, in. the hope that of itself the Liberal party will first make a: vacancy, -the leadership, and then ask him to fill the post, which, of course, they will not do; or 'else he must openly say that the time has come to reconstruct the, party on his'lines and -under his leadership, and then begin the work. Needless to say, this will net be very agreeable work, but omelettes were never yet made without breakiug eggs. Lord Rosebery must, to begin with; tell' his partythe truth. The first truth is that they want a real leader for, the whole party,—a leader not merely in the Commons, but a leader who will be acknowledged by the whole party as the man who would be their Prime Minister if they should be called on to take office. The next truth from Lord Rose- bery's point of view must be that he is the man. This is not . a moment when. he', at any rate,3can or ought to pretend that he is not the - right man to lead. the party. His speech at Chesterfield has no raison d'être if he does not consider himself destined to lead, and to lead the party on the programme he there sketched. But it may be said :—`How can he physically carry out such a scheme ? The Liberal party as a whole has no existence. The Liberal Members of Parliament are a definite body with a leader already chosen, and Lord Rosebery cannot summon them to meet and depose Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.' Perhaps not ; but what Lord Rosebery, could do as ex-Premier, and so ex-leader of the whole party, is to call together all his former followers. in the Lords and Commons, and also the chief notables of the party, and then ask them point blank whether they will accept his leadership.. That would be an entirely revolutionary step, no doubt, but it is only 'by a revolution that the condition of the Liberal party can be improved. It is possible, of course, that a great number of the Liberal Peers, Members, and notables would:refuse to meet Lord Rosebery, or if they came, would refuse his leadership. In that case Lord Rosebery must consider whether those who supported him were numerous' enough to make it possible for him to act as leader. If not, then he would .have failed, but not worse than he must fail if he does nothing. If, as is much more probable, the best and ablest Liberals in the Lords and Commons rallied to his standard, he must of course be content to face a certain amount of antagonism from those Liberals who would not agree 'to his leadership. But though. at first such antagonism would be fierce and numeri- cally strong, it would not last, provided that Lord Rosebery and his lieutenant in the Commons—pre- sumably Mr. Asquith—could organise an effective Opposition in Parliament. As we have said before; nothing attracts Parliamentary support like effective opposition. If Lord Rosebery made malcontents by his revolutionary assumption of the leadership, he would soon win them back by successful attacks on the Government If and when Lord Rosebery had once fairly got into the saddle, the task of reorganising the party would, we believe., be comparatively easy. The personal animosities, would remain, no doubt ; but personal animosities are, in truth, only dangerous to 'a political party when there is un-' certainty as _ to the - leadership. When there is a real . leader who has Made himself secure in 'his :post,- the: personal squabbles cease to be important. .
We Shall, of course, 'be told that what we have written is an impossible counsel of. perfection, and that in English. pOlitics things cannot be managed in the high-handed: theatrical wAy, haVe 'suggested. 'Possibly - that is so ; but . if it is 'se, then it seems to 'ue that Lord Rosebery's- intervention in the, affairs of 'the'. Libeial party at ,Chesterfield" had much better -neVer • have taken price. 'Look it the alternative to the line of action we have skntelied. '-lord Rosebery, if he does not take sothe-defmite action calculatedio make-him-head 'of.
hie party, will infallibly- come to --be looked ' -on- by the nation as a mere political rhetorician and- critic. lie will have-accustomed them to hear' great Speeches which have no results, and to see him propou nding policies and snea.kinz Wit Yeal leade-fs Work :quietly mia,tivithont troubling theinselves about hie oritteri; cal excurinoni into their .domalits. If after all: the - talk- and•excitement in regard to it the Chesterfield- speech is allowed to=die away, and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman -quietly meets his followers at the beginning of.the Session, and -either makes no allusion to the speech or meets it with a Conventional • rom.pliment ; if in fact, :nothing happens from. the . speech, the country will never again believe, that there is anything serious in Lord 'Rosebery.- To put the matter in another way, a man Of Lord Rosebery's position in. the country—i.e.; an ex.-Premier, who: is • also personally one of the best known and most popular men in the country apart. from • politics—cannot speak as if he were a natural leader of men,and then be clearlyseen. to be leading nobody: If the • Chesterfield speech is • not followed by definite action, Lord Rosebery may remain a -popular Magnate and . millionaire, but his days as a serious -statesman will be over. We sincerely hope that he will take action, and that having plunged into the river he will fight his way to the other side, and. not simply climb baek to the bank from which he took his header: Lord Rosebery's speech shows that he could if he would play to perfection the part of a leader of the Opposition; In heaven's name, then, let him now throw all his scruples and doubts and distractions to the winds, and boldly call the Liberal party to his banner, and proclaim himself their leader. Boldness, boldness, boldness,—that is what is wanted at the moment to enable Lord Rosebery to seize the opportunity afforded him by the present crisis in the affairs of his party, and. to endow that party once more with health and vigour.