MB. LOWE ON THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
MR. LOWE has seized the somewhat curious occasion of the breaking-up of Merchant Taylors' School for the Christmas holidays, to deliver a rather forbidding pane- gyric on the House of Commons as it is. Somehow Mr. Lowe always manages to make his praise seem inverted censure. There is a ring both about his voice and his choice of words in eulogy, which suggests that his appreciation of one thing is disguised depreciation of another,—just as some tutors always bestow their commendation so as to hurt some un- happy pupil in its rebound, and some schoolmasters make the prizes which they bestow on the clever boys a sort of wrapped-up sarcasm on the slow. So Mr. Lowe enumerates the great qualities which the present House of Commons has, with the bitterness of that metallic tone which suggests—what, indeed, in this very speech he asserts,—that the House of Com- mons reformed as is proposed will be sadly deficient in them. The present House of Commons, he says, "with no common emo- tion,"--and when Mr. Lowe speaks with no common emotion, he always speaks, too, with no common acerbity,—is intelligent, business-like, industrious, orderly, uncorrupt, and successful in its policy. Moreover, if you alter it " you will probably get a worse before you get a better one,"—that is, either a less intelligent, or less business-like and industrious, or less orderly, or less pure, or less successful House of Commons, or probably a House combining some permutation of these deficiencies. And yet Mr. Lowe makes it one of his great points of pane- gyric upon the House that for six hundred years it has been "ripening, maturing, amplifying, expanding,"—until appa- rently it needs no more ripening, maturing, amplifying, or expanding, but may remain perfectly rigid, and unable to assi- milate the new elements crying to be taken in 1 All that reformers maintain is that a House of Commons which does not care to represent some of the most vital elements of the popular life, cannot pretend to be the true successor of a Parliament whose boast it was to ripen, mature, amplify, and expand with each generation. Mr. Lowe's great argument, which lie reiterates on every opportunity with so intense an emphasis, —" show me the vices to be remedied in the present Parlia- ment, before you rush into change,"—really almost answers itself. The chief fault,—the pregnant fault which gives birth to all the others,—is the excessive, the obstinate jealousy felt by the House of the great class who ask most reasonably for their share in the representation. If Parliament is unreasonably -distrusted by the working class, does it not much more than reciprocate that unreasonable distrust ? Did not the cheers with which Mr. Lowe's cynicisms on the working class were received prove that Parliament does not look upon them as comprehended in its true constituencies, and fears, above all things, to be compelled to consult their wishes as it is com- pelled to consult the wishes of the other great interests of the -country ? This repellent attitude, which Mr. Lowe and the -House of Commons assume towards the unrepresented class,— is in fact the true index of the deficiencies of Parliament. How can an assembly be otherwise than a very imperfect machine for the legislative work of a great nation, which is either in secret or open war with the numerical majority of that nation ? Such an assembly cannot wield the power and influence of the whole nation. How could Mr. Lowe himself, were he to -become Prime Minister,—the elect of Parliament,—expect to Acommand either abroad or at home the sort of influence due
to the organ of a Parliament in which every powerful section of the nation was fully represented ? He would practically represent not the power and will of the middle class plus the power and will of the working class,—but the power and will of a portion of the middle class minus the power and will of the whole working class reinforced by a large sec- tion of the middle class ;—and if that is not a negative quantity, and a pretty large one too, it is only because we still respect our Parliamentary machinery so much that we should all support, as against any violent combination, the man whom Parliamentary processes had brought to the top, in spite of our deeply rooted dislike of his views and dis- trust of his policy. Mr. Lowe is really doing all in his power to foster that very scornful and repellent feeling between Parliament and the class demanding admission into the representative system, which is the chief evil to be reme- died.
We call this reciprocal repulsion between Parliament and the working class the chief evil to be remedied, because it is in truth the source of all the others. But we do not at all mean that the only evil is thus abstract, and that it does not take the form of special legislative and administrative de- ficiencies. On the contrary, this attitude of dislike towards the labouring class, this tendency to insist specially on their ignorance, their corruption, their hot-headedness, their drunk- enness, and so forth, has very naturally led to a contemptuous view of the interests of the working class as compared with those of many other classes. Compare the time, energy, and vehemence devoted to stamping out the cattle plague, to the time and energy devoted to more crying, and quite as con- spicuous, evils — the overcrowding and under-housing of London, and the treatment of the poor in the workhouses and workhouse hospitals. Does Mr. Lowe suppose that, with a strong working-class representation, these matters would have received the transient and inefficient notice they have received from the House of Commons ? Compare the time devoted to discussing military officers' questions, to the time devoted to discussing questions affecting the welfare and treatment of the rank and file of the Army. Can Mr. Lowe con- ceive Parliament creating a really popular Army,—an Army in which the common soldier had a fair chance of rising above the heads of the commissioned officers,—with our pre- sent House of Commons ? Can Mr. Lowe imagine that our pre- sent defective educational system would ever be changed for one thinking more of the interests of the taught than of the clergy and Dissenting ministers who superintend the teaching, with an unchanged House of Commons ? Is not the tone of Parlia- ment, whenever combinations and strikes are mentioned, strongly capitalist When Mr. Hughes last session explained the economical views current in the Trades' Unions, and Mr. Doulton replied with some not very successful sneers, in the true spirit of the British capitalist, was not it evident that Parliament shared the contempt which that gentleman ex- pressed for the erroneous political economy of the masses ? The simple truth is, that there is little or no proportion between the respect and the attention with which Parliament treats middle- class interests and views, and the respect and attention with which it treats working-class interests and views. When, during the American Civil War, Mr. Baring rose in the name of London commerce to protest against the irritating tone we were adopting towards the North, the check to the passions of the House, Confederate as it was, was electric. But when Mr. Forster or Mr. Bright protested in the name of the labouring class, the sympathies of whom were entirely with the North, the effect produced was merely a stimulus to the previous sentiment of aversion.
In one word, the jealous aversion to a popular Reform which the House has lately shown, and which Mr. Lowe does all in his power to foster, is the evil which urgently demands a remedy. And the more of this temper is shown, the more sweeping the Reform when it comes is likely to be. Indeed, if Mr. Lowe prophesies long enough in his new Laocoon strain, even though ho continue to be supported, as at Mer- chant Taylors' School, by his two political children in the spirit, Vice-Chancellor Malins and Chief Justice Bovill,—the latter of whom broke the rale on which Sir A. Cockburn dis- missed Mr. Beales,—he may possibly irritate that very mild democratic spirit which at present only complains of its exclu- sion, into some of the venom which is usually ascribed to what is called the " hydra-headed " people, and into sending forth against Mr. Lowe and his political family an emissary such as is said to have crushed his prototype.