SIR HENRY JAMES AT BURY.
SIR HENRY JAMES made at Bury on Wednesday a speech, directed in great measure against proportional representation, which will not, we think, be regarded by the public at large as it is regarded by Sir John Lubbock. At the Memorial Hall on Thursday Sir John Lubbock expressed the sense of relief with which he found that nothing more could be said against his scheme than had been said by Sir Henry James. Now, Sir Henry James did not even pretend to say all that could be said against it ; and in point of fact, he omitted some of the considerations which we have always regarded as most serious. But what he did say was so impressive, and to our mind so unanswerable, that even if no other objections could be urged against proportional representation, we believe that the country at large would treat Sir Henry James's speech as final. Sir Henry James's chief objection is that it must depend either on the returning officer or on chance, which ballot-papers shall be selected as those securing a seat for the most popular of all the candidates ; and that on this selection will necessarily depend who among the less popular candidates is to receive the overflow from the most popular candidate's ballots, and to be seated by the number of votes accruing from that source. Mr. Courtney replies, that after a good shuffling of the votingpapers the limits of discrepancy between all possible results will be extremely small ; and that, therefore, after you have shuffled well, you may leave this factor in the result to chance. But Sir H. James shows that you cannot properly do so ; nay, that if you do,you will gravely affect the confidence of the people in the declaration of the Returning-Officer ; and he quotes an instance out of his own observation, in which, after shuffling the ballot-papers and dividing them into three lots, the result of counting two out of the three lots gave one result,—the same in eachcase,—while the result of counting the third was so different that it turned the election against the candidate who bad obtained a considerable majority in the other two piles of ballotpapers. Well, if chance can play such a trick once, it can play it again ; and it is simply impossible that popular confidence in the system could survive the revelation even of one such accident. The very first condition of the power of Parliament is the confidence of the people in the fairness of the method by which Parliamentary representatives are elected. And how is it possible that a system could command that confidence which might be made to yield one result under one mode of counting, and a very different result indeed
under another and equally fair mode of counting ? Of course the people would say, and would say with truth, that such a system is a juggle which no one could understand. Sir Henry James did not mention what seems to us a still more fundamental objection, because even if all chance could be fairly and completely eliminated, that objection would still apply, namely, that English electors will always promise second or third alternative votes from motives which are not really political at all, and which do not represent in the least political convictions, but rather personal good-nature ; and that so we might easily have a very considerable number of Members of Parliament returned, not to express the political wishes of the people, but to express only their good-humoured readiness to please a candidate whom they regarded as comparatively unlikely to be returned. The secondbest or third-best candidate of an ordinary English elector would not unusually be a man in whom he felt no political confidence at all ; and yet such a man would constantly be returned to Parliament by the votes of those who had marked him second-best or third-best on their ballot-papers.
If Sir Henry James had but seen the result of the tufo meetings held by the Proportional Representation Society, in Greenwich and at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, on Wednesday and Thursday, he would, we think, hardly have formed so high an idea of the influence which this Society may exert in Parliament as he has done. In that case, however, we might not have had the powerful and convincing speech of Wednesday, and that would have been a great pity. But it is clear enough that the plan of proportional repiesentation is not achieving a success with the constituencies of England. At Greenwich on Wednesday an amendment to Sir John Lubbock's proposal was moved and seconded, to the effect that proportional representation is "un-English in its operation, uncertain in its results, and unnecessary for the purpose of securing a fair representation of the electorate," and was carried by a large majority against the conveners of the meeting. At the Memorial Hall, in Farringdon Street, on Thursday, the representatives of proportional representation— namely, Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Courtney—obtained a majority for their proposal ; but it was a majority of 51 votes against 20 in a small meeting which can hardly in any sense be called popular, and which was, of course, chiefly attended by those who had set their hearts on carrying the scheme. This is not the kind of result which suggests that a serious impression has been made on the people.
With one and only one of Sir Henry James's arguments on the subject of proportional representation we do not find ourselves in agreement. He objects to it on the ground that it would not give as much influence to those judicial voters who sometimes give their votes to the Liberals and sometimes to the Tories, according to the circumstances of the moment, as in the Attorney-General's opinion this important minority ought to have. Well, we cannot say that that strikes us as a just view. We do not hold these trimmers of the balance, to whose judgment the Attorney-General assigns so much weight, as at all necessarily trimmers in the ordinary sense. But we do regard them as in the main grumblers who find fault with any Government that is actually in power, not so much because it has fallen below its own standard as because it has made blunders,—which every Government that ever was in power has made, and must make. And we believe that these grumblers often turn the scales against a really good Government at the very moment when its work is becoming most fruitful of good, and when the Government is correcting the errors into which a certain inexperience has led it. Tho impartial grumblers against all Governments are not the men of steadiest and soberest judgment ; and, so far as that goes, we should be glad to see their influence rather attenuated than increased. But to attenuate it by so dangerous an experiment on representative institutions as the plan of proportional representation would be very much like the famous experiment of burning-down a village in order to get the luxury of roast. pork. To diminish the influence of the grumblers against all*Governments might be a good thing ; but it would not do to pay such a price for it as the revolution which Sir John Lubbock proposes in the representative institutions of the United Kingdom.