SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE'S APOLOGIES.
THE Chancellor of the Exchequer at Birmingham and Wolver-
hampton was full of modesty. No one can charge him with feeling any approach to pride in the existence of the Conservative Government, or in any of its achievements. Like the housekeeper who took the line of impressing on her principal that she knew she cost him a great deal, and did not make a handsome appearance with it after all, in full reliance on his generous disposition to soften so painful a situation to her as much as possible, Sir Stafford Northcote, in several long speeches, incul- cates on the Conservatives of Warwickshire and Staffordshire that the Conservative Government has been very expensive, that it has not done all that might be wished with the money, that there is plenty of room for anxiety still, both political and financial, and plenty of exercise for the generosity and magnanimity of a confiding nation in extenuating its faults, and appreciating its good intentions. Perhaps it was the political atmosphere of Birmingham which first gave this highly apologetic tone to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's discourses. But if so, it was hardly good strategy. The tone of apology confirms hostile conviction, though it may disarm the gentle criticism of easy-going good- nature. If there be a chance for Conservatism at all in a place like Birmingham, it is not the apologetic Conservatism of Sir Stafford Northcote, but the brow-beating Nationalism of Captain Burnaby. Sir Stafford is too reasonable, too clear-sighted for the cause he languidly recommends. He sees its defects so clearly, that he has no chance of converting those who hear all their own thoughts confirmed from the candid breast of their opponent. Of course he explains how impossible it was to do better than the Conservatives have done, and how easy to do worse ; but after allowance has been made for the position of the speaker, it is very easy to transpose that opinion into the belief that it would have been easy to do better, and almost impossible to do worse, especially as Sir Stafford Northcote's pleas in extenuation are by no means robust. His speeches are the speeches of a Minister who is far from delighted with the policy of which he is trying to make the best. He admits that much national revenue has been lavishly expended, in a time when there is no margin of national prosperity ; he admits that the security gained by this lavish expenditure is very doubtful, and by no means to be implicitly counted on ; he admits that we have undertaken great things in Asia, which we may be quite unable to do ; he admits that in India we have been forced to support a policy which the wisest of our counsellors deprecated ; and yet he hopes to make converts, on the strength of his contention that in spite of all this the Government would have found it difficult to do better, and easy to do worse. Now, no one can deny that this is an ex- ceedingly moderate position to take up ; or that it is reducing the merits of the Government to very slender proportions, which it is not very easy for a great population to gauge. But this is not the way to win over enemies like those of Birmingham. Captain Burnaby knows his business better.
He has no misgivings about what the Government has done, or what it has left undone. It has done, he says, what the nation was proud of. It has left undone just those discreditable and anti-national acts which the Liberals would have approved. If it has increased the expenditure, it was in a grand national cause. If it has run great risks, it was to keep Great Britain an Empire, and to show its antagonism to the insular policy which the Liberals support. And by broad statements of this kind, Captain Burnaby is, at least, likely to unite the Tories of Birmingham, if not precisely to gain many deserters from the Liberals. Sir Stafford Northcote will do neither the one nor the other. He will a little dishearten the Tories by his evident consciousness of weakness. He will greatly confirm the Liberals by the magnitude of his candid admissions.
In the first place, Sir Stafford Northcote admits the increase of the Military and Naval Estimates over those of the previous Government by £1,700,000 a year, without any further justifi- cation than a policy of what the Tories call precaution, and what their adversaries regard as provocation ; and that that increase is entirely exclusive of the special Vote of Credit of the last Session,—the £6,000,000,—demanded, conceded, and spent to meet the consequences of a great crisis. Nay, he goes out of his way to compare the expenditure of 1878 with the heavy expenditure of the last year of the Crimean war, and to boast that though that was twenty-two years ago, we are only exceeding that war expenditure (in a year of peace) by about a million sterling, and that we can raise now without any burdensome taxation at all what we could raise then only by a very great effort. Well, that is all perfectly true, but, as Sir Stafford Northcote clearly sees, the contrast is,—we are only using the word he himself suggests,—a little "impudent." The true com- parison is not between the ease with which we do now what it required a great strain and self-sacrifice to do. in 1856, but between the policy of 1878 taken in relation to its cost, and the policy of 1870 taken in relation to its cost. It would' be easy to show that we raise indefinitely more by the spirit duties alone now, than many an English monarch got for all the purposes of his domestic and foreign policy combined, but no rational being would infer from that, that it is unreasonable to complain of the wasteful expenditure of the proceeds of our taxes. The larger your resources, the greater the temptation to waste, and the greater the danger of insufficient criticism of waste. It is precisely because we can now spend. £80,000,000 without pinching the taxpayers, whereas twenty- two years ago we could not spend it without pinching them very much, that the Government find it so easy to pay for the political fireworks and the political magic-lanthorn with which they so liberally amuse the people. Sir Stafford Northcote, we• may be sure, sees this as clearly as any one. And therefore to cover his case, he goes on to express a hope—not even so much as a con- viction—in his chief Birmingham speech, that we may have got as much by our precautionary expenditure and our purse of six millions, in the Treaty of Berlin, as we got by our great war, with all its burdens, in the Treaty of Paris. He says that those who were in power in 1856 " hoped and believed that the peace made in 1856 would settle the Eastern Question, and we now hope and believe that the settlement arrived at by the-
Treaty of Berlin will be at least as good, at least as permanent, and at least as satisfactory a settlement, as that which was arrived at by means of the Crimean war. And if it really should turn out to be the case that this country has been enabled to bring about a satisfactory settlement by that Treaty, without the expenditure of life which preceded the Treaty of 1856, and if, instead of having to raise the burdens of the people by large additions to the duties on the necessaries of life and to the Income-tax, we only have to trouble you with this little tax of 4d. on tobacco, I do not think a sufficient reason is afforded for declining to compare the condition of the country now with its condition a few years ago." That, like all Sir Stafford Northcote's conclusions, is exceedingly safe and moderate, not to say rather unmeaning. But how little deep conviction he has that the Treaty of 1878 will secure us the twenty years of truce which the Treaty of 1856 certainly secured, his language, both in relation to the Treaty of Berlin and in relation to the struggle in Afghanistan, conspicuously shows. With regard to the former, he insists on the reasons for " anxiety and watchfulness," lest the Treaty of
Berlin should not be carried out, even while he assures his audience that the reasons for anxiety are greatly exaggerated. None the less, he speaks almost tremulously of his hope that the other Powers of Europe will help us to insist that the Treaty provi- sions be carried out before next May expires. Nor is he content with this expression of anxiety. He goes on, in his reference to the Afghan trouble, to hint most emphatically the danger that this trouble may be intended to divert our attention, and may divert it, from our proper work, the execution of the Treaty of Berlin. His tone towards Russia, too, is more definitely hostile and sus- picious than it has ever yet been. He does not disguise his suspicion that the Afghan quarrel has been fomented on purpose to distract us from the effort to re-establish the Ottoman Empire, and he is most importunate with us that it should not have that effect. Well, all that does not look at all like confidence that we have achieved even a twenty years' truce. It looks very much like a very strong impression that we have secured no permanent truce at all. It looks very like a fear,—which seems to us a most natural and sensible fear,—that we have spent our precautionary £1,700,000 a year on Army and Navy, and our Vote of Credit of six millions, with the single certain result of having provoked and alarmed Russia, and without having secured for the collapsing Empire of the Sultan even a respectable chance of salvation. And that is precisely what, so far as we can judge from his tone, Sir Stafford Northcote really dreads in his inmost heart. He speaks just as if he saw the greatest probability of our having both an Afghan war on our hands, and serious disputes with Russia as to the execution of the Treaty of Berlin on our hands, before the next Session is over,—and of having nothing else to show, for all this expenditure and all this bounce. He speaks as if the prophetic language were ringing in his ears,—" The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
On the subject of Cyprus, too, Sir Stafford Northcote is as feebly apologetic as about the great expenditure and its results. The only thing he can think of to say is that he hopes we shall be able in Cyprus to set a good example to the Sultan of the best way to reform the administration of his Asiatic provinces. Well, if Sir Stafford Northcote seriously thinks that we are going to impress a great lesson on the Sultan by our administration of Cyprus, just as the good young men in Miss Edgeworth's tales used to impress a great lesson on the reck- less young men by the bright shining of their good example, he has a dimmer conception of the problem than we should have given him credit for. The Sultan cares just as much about what we may do in Cyprus as he cares about what we may do in Bir- mingham. To suppose that an Oriental despot, inheriting the tra- ditions of centuries of arbitrary rule and reckless luxury, really cares for successful administration, in the sense of a successful execution of a popular trust, is to suppose a miracle of the most astounding kind. What would the Sultan learn from the fact that the British Government, which shares none of his ideas and none of his aims, has made both ends meet in Cyprus, and has at the same time made the people happier ? He would not be even interested in the result. He wants to get the revenue to which he has been accustomed. He wants to reward the favourites to whom he has been accustomed. He wants to safeguard the ease and leisure, and the right of absolute volition, to which he has been accustomed. Without this, he does not care for rule. Without this, the restored prosperity of half a continent would not give him the slightest pleasure. It is as irrational to expect him to enter into our views, as it would be for him to expect us to enter into his views. No doubt he gives Sir Austen Layard the semblance of attention, while he hopes something from us, and perhaps fears a little. No doubt, too, he feels that semblance of attention to be the most odious of all the taxes on his time, and looks most eagerly for the chance of throwing it off for ever. To speak as if we were going to set a good example to the Sultan by making something of Cyprus, is to talk the language of political Philistines. Cyprus, no doubt, will gain by our government ;—that we have always recog- nised with pleasure. But as for the naughty boy whom we are to reform by setting before him the brilliant example of the good boy,—why, we shall only amuse him by the conceit and irrelevance of our self-complacency. As he does not happen to desire what we desire,—the proof that we, who do desire it, can achieve it, will not affect him at all, or only affect him with a slight sense of deeper contempt for our self- satisfied state of mind. Sir Stafford Northcote has certainly not succeeded in his apologies for the Government he represents, unless it be success to make that Government seem to Conser- vatives to be in very great need of apology, and to Liberals to be incapable of any apology which is worth the cultivated pains he has bestowed on it.