THE GUESSES ABOUT THE ELECTIONS. T HE politicians, and especially those
politicians who delight in repeating " private information," are amusing themselves greatly with speculating on the result of, the elections, the total result being a delightful muddle of reported prophecies. They find themselves listened to attentively, for all mankind is interested in the most important Election of our time; but the listeners do not go away greatly enlightened. The guesses are so very wide of each other. One man pins his faith to Mr. Glad- stone, no doubt an " old Parliamentary hand " and a shrewd judge of the electoral mind, and consequently believes that the struggle is " a walk-over," that " the prairie will catch fire," and that the majority for Home-rule will exceed a hundred. As Mr. Gladstone has at least twice misappre- hended the electors, his authority, though weighty, is not infallible, more especially as this time he cannot know some of the heaviest factors in the problem. Another man takes an opinion attributed truly or falsely to Lord Cross, and because Lord Cross " really understands the voters," is convinced that 1886 has returned, and that the Unionists may not only preserve but even increase their majority. A third talker has faith in Mr. Stead, because he " goes into detail," and thinks, because that acute observer has been studying the by-elections, that the majority for Mr. Gladstone will be precisely ninety-four. Those are ex- treme views, and of course there are many who reject extreme views, merely because they are such, and " try, Sir, to get a little closer to the facts." They quote this man and that man known to be " shrewd," or " experienced," or on the political committee of some prominent club, and " venture to predict " that the majority will not exceed twenty on one side or the other, the " balance of chances being with Mr. Gladstone,' —a prophecy which sounds moderate and sensible, but is just as much a guess as any other. Cataclysms are in- frequent, but they occur, and there is no more reason for the unknown quantity being a small one, than there is for its reaching a high figure. If, indeed, the by-elections are a sound guide, there will be a great Gladstonian victory; while if the voters who opposed Home-rule in 1886 have retained their opinions, as their Members have done, then a Unionist victory is clearly on the cards ; but where is the evidence for either assumption ? By-elections furnish most treacherous data, while the stability or instability of opinions among millions of men intent mainly on earning a living, is a thing which can be known with any approach to accuracy only by the higher powers. Finally, there are the men who say that democracies always change, but change in a slow way, that the impulse of 1886 has not spent its force, and that, although the Unionists will lose, they will retain a majority of about half the original magnitude in the present Parliament. That is said to be the opinion of a very great politician indeed, and is founded on evidence which, though not expressible in figures, has ' often proved unexpectedly accurate. We have no prophecy to offer, believing that in pro- portion to the greatness of a crisis is the tendency of the ballot to keep its secret ; or, in other words, that when men's minds are strongly excited, the unexpected fre- quently occurs. All that we feel certain about is that a great revulsion of feeling in favour of the Unionists has occurred within the past three months, and that the effect of the uprising of Ulster has been considerable ; but whether this revulsion has extended beyond the " classes," or whether the average voter yet perceives that there are two nations in Ireland, we do not profess to know. One other thing we see very clearly, and that is the way in which Mr. Balfour's name is received at every Unionist meeting ; but then, so was Mr. Gladstone's name in every Radical meeting before the Election of 1886. It seems to us more profitable, if we are to join in the sport of guessing, to speculate on what will happen or may happen in certain contingencies, one of which may be accepted as, humanly speaking, inevitable. If, for instance, the Unionists retain their majority, or any majority above forty, they must go on governing very much as they have been doing ; while their opponents, released from Mr. Gladstone's authority, will relegate Home-rule to a place among counsels of perfection, and endeavour to frame a new programme, probably of the semi-socialistic kind, which will at first reduce them almost to anarchy. Their very leaders are not agreed about those things, and anybody who believes that the followers are unanimous, has never heard their opinions when it was safe to utter them, or attended to the " qualifications" with which many of them accompany their promises. The Liberal Party cannot die in this country, or fail to find competent leaders ; but if it sustains a great defeat in July, we should predict for it, if Mr. Gladstone withdraws, a period of unusual confusion, such as falls on a Church when two ten- dencies affecting its inner creed suddenly acquire new strength. On the other hand, if the Gladstonians sweep the field, we shall undoubtedly have a Home-rule Bill, and as undoubtedly it will be a strong one, a majority sufficient to enable the leaders to disregard the Irish secession not being hoped for even by the most sanguine of that side. The crucial question, then, will be at first, how far the doubtful Home-rulers, and the Whigs still attached to Mr. Gladstone, will bear a " strong " Bill, and on what point they will come into collision with their chief, who, as late events have proved, has acquired no habit of giving way. They may, however, of course hold themselves pledged to a person and not to a measure, and then, after a fierce battle, probably in autumn, Mr. Gladstone being disin- clined to long delays, some Home-rule Bill will be sent up to the Lords, perhaps to be rejected, perhaps to be recast, perhaps to be accepted on conditions, such as a " reference " to the popular vote.
If either party wins triumphantly, there is a prospect of some sort before us ; but suppose, what is not outside possibility, that neither party does win in a large way, what will happen then ? A " tie " would be a. sort of joke, though a grim one, and with far-reaching conse- quences, producing, as we presume it would, a revision of the franchise made with the consent of both Front Benches, and based upon some as yet undiscussed compromise. Such a result is not likely to occur ; but if it did happen, or very nearly happen, it is difficult to think of any other road out of the political deadlock. Neither party would like it, Mr. Gladstone in particular regretting the loss of time ; but still, the Queen's Government must be carried on, and where is another road ? The Unionists cannot compromise about Home-rule and live, nor can the Glad- stonians " shed " the Irish and continue a party ; and a Coalition Ministry of Affairs would mean Mr. Gladstone's retirement from political life. Things so dramatic as a tie rarely happen, of course, but a majority of twenty on one side or the other is quite probable ; and how would the position then stand ? The Unionists probably could get on even with such a majority, because the one peremptory clause in their political programme is good executive government, because the House would recoil from another Dissolution, and because there is always in every Opposition a proportion of Members who are at heart content to wait, and who would, therefore, find excuses for not voting. Government with a small majority would be difficult, but not actually impossible. Attendance would be very oppressive, and " shindies " very frequent ; but still, the executive machine could be kept working for a time. On the other hand, with a similar majority of twenty, Mr. Gladstone would be practically paralysed. No Bill like the Home-rule Bill could be got through the Commons with such a force, for there is no group on the Unionist side which on that subject would listen to compromise, and the Lords would throw out any Bill passed by such a majority with light hearts. We do not feel at all sure that the " Registration Question," as it is called, would not push itself in front; and that opens up an endless vista of delays, dissolutions, and possible changes of opinion. The Irish Party would be frantic, and the mastery would be absolutely in their hands, for they would only have to retreat to Ireland for a Session to leave the Conservatives supreme. Nothing in politics goes quite as it is expected to go, and England has escaped, and will escape yet, from many an " insoluble " difficulty.; but with a minute majority for Mr. Gladstone, there should be much consti- tutional trouble ahead. If Mr. Gladstone were younger, the difficulty would be less ; but he very naturally wishes- to see his policy in action at once, and neither can nor will at heart approve any device involving long delays. People talk, we think, of small majorities too lightly, and without thought of consequences which, though not so- grave as the concession of Home-rule, might yet be very grave. After all, the Duke of Wellington expressed the central thought of politics when he said that the Queen's Government must be carried on.