THE CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP.
WHEN the Conservative Party in the country cry out for more violent and more exciting leaders, are they really aware what the genius of their party is? Of course, they can easily get more violent and more exciting leaders, if they want them. There is nothing that we know of to prevent their being led by Lord Randolph Churchill himself, if they would prefer it. It is true that never in this century, except amongst a few disloyal Irishmen, has language so scurrilous been used by any politician as the language of Lord Randolph Churchill. But then, if the Conservative party in the country regard scur- rilous language as a useful tonic to the apathy of Conser- vatives, that need not prevent their hoisting him into the place of Sir S. Northcote, and getting all the advantage of his unques- tionable genius for vituperation. Only, if they get the advantage of it, they must not shrink from the disadvantage too. And it is for them to consider what the disadvantages are. Now, who are the Conservatives, if they are not the cautious party,—the party that, by its nature and essence, shrinks from violent measures ; the party that, by its nature and essence,
eschews extravagant language ; the party that, by its nature and essence, loves to rebuke rashness and to deprecate excess ? Can this party be expected to follow Lord Randolph Churchill, or even Lord Salisbury, into the virulence of vituperation and the policy of sensationalism, with anything like unanimity and confidence Will the suburban villa-residents, for instance, who rallied with such unexpected ardour to the Conservative cause in 1874, vote for rash measures, and violent men who cannot even carry the Conservative Peers with them ? Will the canny and cautious persons who dread Mr. Chamberlain, as they dreaded M. Gambetta, or any other revolutionary politician, choose to follow a leader who, if not to be called revolutionary, is at least so reactionary as to be a probable cause of revolutions,—a leader who, instead of putting on the drag like Sir Stafford Northcote, wants to turn the horses round and drive them back again, in the neighbourhood of a precipice where every one sees that it is unsafe to turn ? If the English middle-class distrusted M. Gambetta, they dis- trusted the Government of Combat and M. de Fourtou even more ; and they will not vote for a Tory leader who gives them the impression that he may risk a return to the old tactics of a privileged aristocracy by re-establishing a Pro- tective tariff, and by diverting attention from home affairs with the help of a meddlesome and irritating foreign policy. It seems almost useless to point out to Mr. Howorth, and men who sympathise with Mr. Howorth in asking for Lord Salisbury's leadership, that it was Lord Salisbury who twice attempted, and attempted in vain, to make the Peers declare war upon the House of Commons, when the prudence of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon and his colleagues foiled him in his design. Is it reasonable to suppose that the country party in general would march unanimously under the leadership which the very Peers themselves have had the courage to disown ? The truth is that the Tories want to have the double advantage of satisfying at once the cautious and timid Conservatives of England, and of satisfying the expectations of the passionate and virulent Tories. To some extent, Lord Beaconsfield, with his curious genius for mystification, was able to appeal to these exactly opposite cravings. But what Lord Beaconsfield could do, no one at present is able to do. Lord Salisbury is the last man to do anything of the kind. When he has tried to mystify, he has only succeeded in exciting a profound distrust. When he hectors in the fashion most characteristic of him, he alienates every timid Conservative soul in the Three Kingdoms. The Con- servatives may rest assured that however little they may be satisfied with Sir Stafford Northcote, they will be making the worst blunder which it would be possible for them to make, if they exchange Sir Stafford Northcote for Lord Salisbury. Under Sir Stafford Northcote, they may be in danger of losing heart. Under Lord Salisbury, they would never have any heart to lose. He would alienate the true Conservatives at every turn • he would affront the sober-minded at every step ; he would bewilder the timid and make their heads swim with every pronouncement he gave forth. The Con- servatives would hardly be made more ridiculous in their own sight, if they accepted the leadership of a light-headed fire- brand like Lord Randolph Churchill, than they would soon become, if they allowed Lord Salisbury to undertake seriously the making good of that " ricketty " parapet of the Constitu- tion,—the authority of the House of Lords.
But it may be said,—Why should the Conservatives be limited to this Hobson's choice between a leader who leads them to decimation in political Balaklava Charges, and a leader who shows so little fight as Sir Stafford Northcote ? Well, we can only reply that the Hobson's choice is there. Who else is there whom it would be possible to place effectually in a position from which Sir Stafford Northcote had been dethroned ? Possibly Colonel Stanley, perhaps Mr. Stanhope, might make a leader as safe as Sir Stafford Northcote, and even, by rare good fortune, a little more determined. But even if it turned out that it was so,—and it is a most doubtful question,—would the operation bring anything like the advantage which would compensate for the angry feelings stirred up by so invidious and dangerous an operation ? When, in the present century, has a leader been displaced, except in the natural way by a change of policy which has alienated a large portion of his party, or by a series of events which has rendered it easier for the Queen to form a Government by entrusting the lead to a new leader ? Sir Robert Peel was displaced from the lead of the Conserva- tive Party by his own act in repealing the Corn Laws. Lord John Russell was displaced from the lead of his party only because the Queen found it easier, after a considerable lapse of years, and after both Lord John Russell and Lord Palmer- ston had served under Lord Aberdeen, to fotm a Liberal Government under Lord Palmerston, than she found it to form one under Lord John Russell. But we know of no instance in our recent Parliamentary history where it was found possible to throw off an old party leader and substitute a new one, simply be- cause the former had failed to satisfy the expectations of a cer- tain number of his followers, whether in the House of Commons or in the country. As a matter of fact, it seems to us abundantly evident that Sir Stafford Northcote has the con- fidence of the great majority of his followers in the House of Commons, and that any attempt to dislodge him would be followed by a complete break-up of a party which is already disunited enough. But even if that were otherwise, even if there were a specific change which, if it came about naturally, would be to the advantage of the party, we do not believe that it could be brought about artificially by a political revolt against the actual leader, without consequences which would be much more mischievous to the unity of the party than a little long-suffering and fortitude. It is too much the custom to assume that if a leader for the time-being does not satisfy all the wants of his followers, it is a mighty grievance, which justifies a continual fretting and fuming among the fol- lowers. Now, is there any justice in this feeling ? Political parties ought to know, if they do not know, that it is no trifling service that is rendered to them by the leader who, through long seasons of anxiety and agitation, takes upon himself gratuitously the very arduous and respon- sible work of giving something like unity and personality to the cravings of an otherwise disjointed and fragmentary mass of public opinion. We always admitted that Mr. Disraeli had earned the right to decide for his party what they ought to do, by the great services which he rendered Session after Session to them in this fashion. We hold that Sir Stafford Northcote has earned the same right now, and we by no means admit that a section of the party has any just ground for disowning that right, simply because their judgment does not happen to agree with his as to the best manner of perform- ing his duties. But the truth is that, fret as they may, the discontented Conservatives who cry out for more sensa- tional leading, can do nothing effectual unless, on the one hand, they can so far disgust Sir Stafford North- cote with his position as to induce him to resign it ; or, on the other hand, they can so far disgust the party with his leadership as to induce them to manifest their feel- ings by openly deserting him at the poll. And whichever course they might take, they could only succeed by first inflict- ing a heavy disaster on the Tory organisation. If they carried matters so far as to compel Sir Stafford Northcote to resign, they would create a deep feeling of resentment in the minds of his many friends, which for a long time to come would paralyse the new leader. If, on the other hand, they succeeded in showing at the polls that the party had no confidence in its existing leaders, they would achieve their reconstruction only by first achieving their own ruin. And except by these two courses there is no way of throwing off their existing leader. As we happen to believe, moreover, that Sir Stafford Northcote is decidedly the best leader whom the resources of their party can provide, we would counsel the Conservatives in all honesty —though they may not give us credit for that honesty—to fight as heartily as they can for the deader whom they have got, and to indulge in no more idle cabals against him. Those cabals can weaken him only by weakening themselves; and can dethrone him only by inflicting a grave disaster upon their cause.