MEMBERS OUT OF PARLIAMENT.
ANYONE who doubts the extreme importance of leader- ship in English politics, who clings to the theory that
individuals have little power over the progress of affairs, should read the speeches delivered by Members during the past fortnight. They are not attractive reading, particularly in the very discreditable summaries now published in London, summaries which are almost libels, so completely do the summarists miss or distort the speakers' points ; but they are all marked by one common character, and that is indefinite- ness. In the absence of utterances from recognised leaders, the rank and file seem afraid not only to express distinct opinions, but even to form them. Both parties perceive pretty clearly that the weak place in Mr. Gladstone's armour is his administrative work, and while Tories strive to deepen the im- pression of failure, Liberals strive to efface it by recounting triumphs, but neither of them can free themselves from a bewil- dering vagueness. Mr. Lefevre,it is true, made atReading a really brilliant defence for the Admiralty, but it must have been lost upon hie audience, and never reached London in any complete form ; and other members less familiar with detail are reduced to the vaguest generalities. Nearly every Tory asserts off- hand that the Admiralty is inefficient, but carefully avoids
suggesting the policy he would prefer to the one pursued, while nearly every Liberal roundly avers that the Fleet is
splendid, without giving the slightest hint of his grounds for that belief. All Tories profess to be humiliated at the result of the American arbitrations, but not one of them suggests a more expedient course than arbitration, or even ventures on the simple proposition that negotiation is more prudent than perpetual "reference."
Most Liberals defend the Washington Treaty, but they all do it from the high-philanthropic point of view, which is not their point of view at all, and sedulously abstain from the concrete and statesmanlike arguments which might be adduced in favour of that unpopular arrangement. As for foreign politics outside the United . States, the huge questions now agitating all Europe and discussed wherever men assemble, no one ventures to say one word even of the explanatory kind. The Member does not know what his chiefs think, and is not going to put himself in the wrong. Time was when every Member who opened his mouth would have said a word on tbe situation in France,—a situation which fascinates most thoughtful men ; on the action of Germany in Alsace ; on the strange change which is passing over the relations between the Papacy and the Governments of the world ; would have spoken out frankly all that was in him to say ; but now the electors must inform themselves on all such subjects as they can. The reticence is scarcely less marked upon legislative topics. There is a vague idea abroad
that Mr. Gladstone is going to do something very considerable about the "land," and as land interests everybody, every- body says something on the subject, but everybody is care- fully indistinct. The Attorney-General declares broadly that subjects like primogeniture, mortmain, and entail must shortly be "touched," but does not give a hint of the result which in his judgment it would be well to seek. Sir John Pa.kington, Sir J. D. Acland, and one or two other of the larger squires, appear to speculate on some measure con- ceding tenant-right, and are in principle favourable to such a change, but neither of them say definitely what they would like. Sir J. Pakington, who on this subject, as on education, is almost a Liberal, is palpably afraid to be clear, and keeps repeating that he is not hunting for popularity, but, on the whole, thinks the tenant's position could be improved. Sir J. D. Acland, in a speech brimful of that individual kindli- ness and sympathy which give him his influence in Devon, makes all manner of liberal suggestions—one of them we cannot but think dangerously liberal, compensation for good culti- vation—but winds up with a strong wish that the matter should be left to private contract. Sir L. Palk, a representative man in his way, 'Says nearly the same thing, only adding his apprehension that any concession to tenants beyond that of property in improvements would do more harm than good. As to the much greater question shadowed out by Sir J. Coleridge, the tenure of land as property, none of all the squires have anything to say, not even a few words to mark whether they would or would not approve the complete en- franchisement of the soil. The patient reader may wade through some twenty speeches, without gathering an idea whether squires would promote or oppose measures for making land as saleable as Consols. They are nearly as indefinite upon the labourer dispute. Almost all profess to wish the labourer well, almost all denounce itinerant agitators, quite forgetting that Mr. Arch's right to speak is as good as their own, and almost all talk platitudes about the value of good-feeling ; but for a clear sentence as to what arrangement they would like to see in force, we look in vain. Nobody that we know of looks for legislative action about the labourer ; but if his position and claims are worth discussing at all, they are worth discussing in a way which shall leave some idea as to the speaker's inner meaning. If he had his own way, what would he have? We suspect that as far as the County Members are concerned, they are to a considerable extent with the labourers—for example, Mr. Gerard Sturt, with all his pleasant phrases for the farmers, intends most unmistakably to limit their power of eviction by keeping his cottages—but they are afraid of the farmers, not as tenants, but as voters at the coming election, a fear which we can scarcely doubt produces another marked reticence in their speeches, the absence of any reference to household suffrage in the counties. They are most of them deeply committed on that subject, which promised two years ago to be a Tory cry ; but they are aware that since the labourer displayed a will of his own, the farmers' opinion as to his eligibility for the suffrage has been utterly revolutionised, and that the change, if carried at all, will be carried in their despite. So the squires are silent, and for aught that appears, no one so much as thinks of County reform in any shape. No one talks of franchises, no one can even be persuaded to speak frankly on the nearest of all reforms, the change impending in county government. There is not, perhaps, a Member of Parliament outside the great boroughs who does not grow hot as he thinks of the first measure to which the Government stands pledged, and there is not one of them all who helps to form opinion about it, who even performs the natural task of showing the electors the good side of the existing rdgime, its marvellous cheapness, cheapness quite unrivalled under any organisation on the Continent or in America. No, the leaders have not spoken ; the Members do not know, though they suspect, what is to be proposed ; they are not sure what the farmers will approve or disapprove, and so they remain silent, or abuse the Government for all manner of past measures, which neverthe- less they would not retract, or defend them for financial schemes, which nevertheless they only half approve.
This want of moral courage and mental self-reliance pro- duces at least two results which are decidedly bad. One is, that opinion during the Recess scarcely matures at all, or matures only upon subjects which interest the journalists, not always the subjects which interest the country. The electors obtain neither guidance nor information, and either forget questions which, thus forgotten, when revived come on them as surprises, or puzzle them out for themselves as they best can, arriving often at the most wrongheaded conclusions. That is happening, we are told, at this moment with regard both to the Education Act and the Sanitary Law, on both of which the ratepayers, unguided and untaught, with no clear view of the policy of the chiefs on either side, are lashing themselves into a temper of furious parsimony which may yet undo half the results of the statesmen's weary labour. The County Members, perhaps, may not care about that ; but the same thing will happen about questions for which they do care, say tenure, and we need not tell them what it takes to remove a prejudice resulting from discussion from an Englishman's mind. He intends to be fair, and will wait for discussion ; but when he has discussed and remains unconvinced, he is apt to be the most obstinate of all created beings. A second result is that the Cabinet is left almost entirely without light from below, to judge for itself what the people desire, and to act without full information as to the resistance it may have to encounter. The effect of that ignorance, which was manifested several times last Session, is that the Minister prepares his Bill in vacuo, makes it a great deal more complete than an illogical people will bear, and then has to pare it down till he hardly retains any interest in its success. Mr. Goschen's County Bill, for example, was defeated, or rather trodden under, just in that way. He, of all men, had no intention of proposing a " revolutionary " measure, and was probably astonished to find that a Bill which to him seemed most moderate though complete, seemed to the squires a revolution which they would be injudicious even to discuss, and excited the journals which represent their feeling to a white-lipped rage. It may be advisable for Ministers to keep theirgreat measures secret till they are rea,dy to defend them in the House, and certainly the practice increases the dramatic effect of politics, but their reticence is not binding on private Members, who, knowing as they do what kind of question will be afloat, might at least tell their constituents how far they are impressed by the necessity of action. At all events, if they will not, if they will neither inform the Government, nor instruct the people, nor mature their own opinions, let them not growl, when the Session comes, that "they are asked to vote a needless revolution once a year."