TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LORD ROSEBERY'S POLITICAL SEDATIVE.
TiORD ROSEBERY, in his first speech to the Glad- stonian party as their leader, told them that while Mr. Gladstone had the great gift of saying very cautious things in a very bold way, it was his habit rather to say very bold things in a very cautious way. As yet, how- ever, we cannot see that he says very bold things at all. Nor even as regards actions and not words, does it seem to be specially bold to bold by the revolutionary changes of his colleagues' proposing, of which he tries so earnestly to soften the significance. In his speech to the City Club on Tuesday, his words were " softer than butter ; " but nobody could justly assert that there was "war in his heart." On the contrary, he seemed to proclaim his loving kindness to all parties, and without minimising in any degree the stringency of the programme to which he is committed, to represent it as the most amiable and harmless in the world. He was the bland physician assuring his patients, — the Liberal Unionists,— that nothing could be more natural than their apprehensions, except, indeed, that nothing could be more groundless. He soothed the rank-and-file of the Liberal Unionists by declaring that when Mr. Gladstone piled up the Home- rule Bill of 1886, on the great County Franchise Act of 1885, it was too much for moderate reformers to bear. Moreover, there was no attempt to consult their feelings in the mode of doing these things. Now, however, they had got a leader at the head who would not need- lessly shock their nerves, who would make as light of his revolutionary changes as possible. As for the Irish ques- tion, the common-sense of the nation was going to settle it, and who could feel alarmed at anything that should be done by the common-sense of such a nation as ours ? And when the Irish question was settled, then there would be nothing but a policy of cautious reconstruction to devise, and that under a Minister who would never make light of the greatness of the Empire. There was no danger of his hauling down the national flag. His deep and tender regard for the greatness of the British name, and for the aspirations of the imperial spirit, is well known, and has been amply verified, why not then trust him to recon- struct the Liberal policy safely, after all these natural but needless alarms ? When the good sense of the nation had dealt with the Irish question, the Moderates might heave a sigh of relief and have perfect confidence in him that he would give them no needless shocks. He had a fatherly feeling for the Dissentient Liberals of the City Liberal Club over which he presided, and would see that their nerves were not unnecessarily jarred. The business of the future was not destructive but recon- structive, and reconstruction could hardly, he implied, be placed in gentler and more tender hands.
That was Lord Rosebery's contention, but we must say that in his tender regard for the feelings of jarred and shrinking Moderates, Lord Rosebery glossed over a good deal of that austere work to which he is pledged. In the first place, if " the good sense of the nation " insists, as it probably will, on keeping the Union of Great Britain and Ireland just where it is, he glozed over the fact that the Rosebery Administration cannot stay in office,—that it will have to retire. That means that he and his col- leagues cannot be allowed to defer to "the good sense of the nation," if it decides against them, in fact that they will then be bound to fight for the bad sense of the nation and not for its good sense,—which is not very reassuring. In the next place, even apart from the Irish question, the work of destruction is not by any means over. Lord Rosebery's party is pledged to encourage Home-rule for Scotland and Wales, as well as to Disestablishment in both Wales and Scotland, and he will hardly be allowed to stop short even at these great destructive acts. If he succeeds in them, Disestablishment in England will come next, and he will find his party melting away behind him if he does not show favour, and very marked favour, to that policy also. i Then there is the mending or ending of the House of Lords, the payment of Members of the House of Com- mons, the settling of a minimum wage for labour, and the graduation of taxation so as to equalise wealth, besides a multitude of other proposals, all of which involve at least as much destruction as reconstruction, and in none of which the tender regard which Lord Rosebery no doubt feels for the greatness of the Empire will in any way soften the shock to which the moderates of the old Liberalism will be exposed. Lord Rosebery's glozing over of those shocks is not at all likely to attenuate their force and danger when they come. The party which he leads has only just begun its work. And that work will not be at all less destructive for having at its head a statesman whose words are softer than butter, even though he himself may to some extent sympathise with the dismay of the moderates at the rising storm which he is wholly impotent to control. We are glad to know that Lord Rosebery's bias is on the patriotic side, that he is not a cosmopolitan, but a national statesman. Still, though that may cover a multitude of sins, it will not make revolution less revolutionary, or the razing to the ground of great historical institutions less menacing. Lord Rose- bery will not easily make a " Cave of harmony," as he calls it, alike of those who enjoy the prospect of all this uprooting of great traditions, and of those who dread this abrupt and violent breaking with the past.
Perhaps it may be said that Lord Rosebery's object in beckoning back the Liberal Unionists with so graceful a gesture, is to fortify his party against the policy which threatens changes so drastic and alarming,—that Lord Rosebery wishes to have his hands strengthened for raising up barriers against the rising tide of democratic innovation. But if so, Lord Rosebery should frankly say so, and specify more particularly what are the democratic innovations which he disapproves and will resist. But of this be breathes not a word ; and as he has warned us that, unlike Mr. Gladstone, he disguises audacity of intention under caution of speech, where his predecessor disguised caution of intention under audacity of speech, we are bound to interpret his soft words as meaning less, and not more, than they appear to promise. He invites both sections of the Liberal party to play at the game of " follow-my-leader," a game which, instead of depre- ciating its want of independence and originality, he highly approves for its practical wisdom. But in politics, men are fools if they follow their leader without clearly under.. standing where they are to be led. And still more foolish are they, if they follow a leader who is more audacious than his words express, without any questioning of his. cautious words. We do not think that Lord Rosebery will excite much confidence in the hearts of those who disapprove his Irish policy by the elaborately sedative character of his speech. A political syrup to be truly sedative should not be confined to mere words. Lord Rosebery should let those who distrust the large revolutionary programme of his party know exactly where his own sympathies stop, if they do not go the whole way with that party. If he has. no more to say than that he will reconstruct with a view to the greatness of the Empire, he might almost as well be altogether silent. For the very point on which Liberal Unionists differ from him, is as to the tendency of the modern Democratic policy to disintegrate a nation which has been welded together by great institutions that it is now proposed to uproot, and by a great Parliament that it is now proposed to deprive of half its authority, and to ring round with a Saturnian system of interfering planetary legislatures.