THE BISHOPS AND THE WELSH CHURCH. T HE meeting at Grosvenor
House on Monday was of much greater importance than may at once appear.
• Probably the first thought of some friends of the Church was that it was useless, and of others that it might prove mischievous. What is to be gained, it may be asked, by leading a series of forlorn hopes against safe Radical seats ? Nothing that we can do will materially change the representation of Wales. After much money has been spent and much labour undergone we shall be just where we are now. Or rather, it may be said, we shall be in a worse plight than we are in now. We shall have shown our weakness. We shall have defied the enemy to no purpose. We shall have converted inaction into defeat. If, as we believe is the case, these objections have no foundation ; if the object which those who organised the meeting have made their own is one which will well repay any efforts made to secure it ; if at the worst we can lose nothing by making the attempt and at the best may hope to gain much, it will be useful to set out the reasons which give the proposed crusade a very strong claim on the friends of the Church.
In the first place, then, before men can fight well they must learn the art of fighting. We cannot say with any certainty what the strength of a. political party in a con- stituency is, until it has been thoroughly organised, and it is impossible to organise a political party if it is never led out to battle. Say that 25 per cent, of a given con- stituency are opposed to Disestablishment. If, on the one hand, every man in this minority is known and can be counted on, that minority becomes at once the nucleus of an effective propaganda. The party gets known not merely as something existing and working elsewhere, but as something existing and working in that particular district. Politics at once gain a local interest which they have hitherto lacked. Contests are in the air, and both sides are busy in preparing for them. It may be objected that if 75 per cent. of these preparations are on the wrong side, the right side is none the better for their being made. This argument overlooks the part that custom and chance play in political combinations. Many men belong to one party because they have never had the case for the opposite party before them. In a constituency where there is no contest, an elector never has to make up his mind. He calls himself to-day what he called himself ten years ago. But if at each successive election he is canvassed by rival candidates, he is naturally led to listen to their argumentr. He may, of course, be only confirmed in his original faith, but he may also be led to change it. In the great majority of Welsh constituencies, the Church cannot be worse off than she is. Now she is a silent minority. What the Duke of Westminster's Committee seeks to do is to make her a vocal minority. There is not the least chance that the change will mean a loss of friends. No Welshman who is her friend now will cease to be her friend because she has become more active in her own cause. But it may easily be a gain of friends. The men who are opposed to her by habit rather than by conviction—and where there have been no contests it is impossible to say of how-many this is true—may be won over to her side. And then, besides the victories over custom, there are the victories to which chance ministers. A young man's politics are not unfrequently determined by the accident of there being a place and work waiting for him in one party rather than in the other. He would like to be a Liberal worker in a small way, but if he cannot be that, he would like next best to be a Conservative worker. It is a common state of mind where religious work is concerned. The Church Army, for example, is constantly appealing for the means of employing more officers, on the ground that if work is not found for all the young men that apply for it, they will become Dissenters in order to get work among them. It is probably quite as common where political work is concerned. Convinced Liberalism, a convinced Conserva- tism, is far less often met with than a general desire to take an active share in any political fight that may turn up. Where there are no contests, this desire cannot be gratified, and those who feel it drift off into other lines of interest. We should expect,therefore,that the kind of action the Duke of Westminster's Committee propose to take would disclose sources of strength and possibilities of growth of which thefriends of the Church might make good use. The gain might not be great, could hardly indeed be great, but then it would be all gain. It is better that there should be an active party. however small, working against Disestablishment in every Welsh constituency, than that there should be no body working on that side, for in Wales absolute inaction means not peaceable possession, but hopeless surrender. What can be worse— what is more likely to give an impression of irresistible strength on the part of the enemy—than the unopposed return of one supporter of Disestablishment after another? If we fight, we at least have the unexpected on our side. Nothing that the experiment can reveal can be more disastrous than what is revealed by our unwillingness to try the experiment. The difficulty of making the choice between fighting and waiting ought not to exist for men who know that while waiting cannot possibly bring them anything, there is always an off-chance that some good thing may come of fighting.
So far, we have been arguing in favour of the policy which would have us prepared to seize anything that the chapter of accidents may contain. There is another argument in favour of the Committee's policy which is independent of any possibility whatever, and will hold good even though all this fighting and the organisation which makes fighting possible did not win a single vote. The want of a religious census keeps us in ignorance of the numerical strength which the Church in Wales possesses. We are familiar with the use to which Nonconformists are accustomed to turn their ignorance. They proclaim themselves to be the Welsh people, kept out of its rights by a handful of degenerate supporters of an alien Church. It is a preposterous contention to come from men to whose opposition the absence of a religious census is due, but of this inconsistency they make no account. They will not allow the Church to show, by natural and trustworthy testimony, how many friends she has ; and then they make capital of the fact that no such testimony is forthcoming.
One result of the determination to run a candidate opposed to Disestablishment for every Welsh seat, will be to supply in some degree the want of a religious census. We should at least know how many active supporters the Church has in each constituency. In many cases, no doubt the minority would, be very much smaller than we could wish it to be. But in every case there would be a minority, and when nothing is certainly known, and. the worst confidently asserted., it is something to establish even this. It is possible moreover, that the aggregate of these minorities would be considerably beyond expectation. There may be more electors than we suspect, who, from having no oppor- tunity of giving a vote, have thought it a needless defiance of local opinion to say on which side they would give it if they had such an opportunity. There may be others who, though they would be very unwilling to incur un- popularity by saying that they wish the Church to remain established, would be quite ready to give a secret vote in favour of a candidate who undertook to say this for them. It is constantly forgotten that, though the ballot was adopted as a security against pressure from above, it is equally effectual as a security against pressure from below. It protects the weak from the crowd as well as from the individual tyrant. If we may judge from the engaging way in which Mr. Gee and. his friends express themselves about the Church, we can readily imagine that it needs considerable courage to oppose them openly. This is just one of the cases which the ballot meets, and in which it is most productive of surprises. It is quite on the cards that in some of the constituencies where unopposed Radicalism has the greatest reputation for strength, it may be shown by experiment to have unlooked-for sources of weakness.
Here, therefore, are two advantages, one possible and one certain, which will follow from the policy of the Committee, supposing that they are put in a position to carry it out completely. We shall possibly increase our fighting strength in the Welsh con- stituencies ; we shall certainly show our opponents what strength we really have. Each of these ends is well worth working hard for, and one—if not both —is certainly within our reach. The only thing wanted by way of preliminary, is money. Men will pay their own Election expenses when they have a fair chance of winning. Men will come forward as candidates when there is no such chance, provided that some one else pays their Election expenses. But few men will come forward to fight a hope- less battle and pky the costs out of their own pockets. It is to meet this difficulty that the Grosvenor House Fund has been started, and it will speak ill for the zeal, alike of Churchmen and. Conservatives, if the sum wanted—X20,000 we believe will be enough—to contest every Welsh seat at the next Election, is not easily and promptly provided.