TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE CABAL AGAINST MR. BALFOITR.
ALETTER signed "Loyal Tory" which we publish in another column draws attention to a new danger to the unfortunate Unionist Party. As if a vital difference on a great and far-reaching question did not supply enough embarrassment, it appears that there is now a movement on the part of a section of Tariff Reformers to depose the leader of the party, and, this though they do not seem to have any one to suggest who is in the least competent to fill his place. Mr. Balfour's extraordinary capacity as a Leader of Opposition, and his willingness to devote time and energy in the fullest measure to the work of leadership, are to count for nothing. He is to be got rid of because he is not willing to prostrate himself sufficiently low before the idol of Tariff Reform, and. to express with sufficient humility of language his belief, not only that Tariff Reform is the only true faith, but that no one who does not hold it in its entirety can be allowed any place in the Unionist Party. When we say that the movement on foot is for the purpose of depriving Mr. Balfour of the leadership, we are aware, of course, that the direct and specific demand is not actually for deposition. This, how- ever, is only a matter of form. Since those who are conducting the attack on Mr. Balfour make conditions which it is impossible for a self-respecting man situated as Mr. Balfour is, and holding the views which he holds, to accept, the demand is in effect a demand for deposition. Mr. Balfour has never shown himself an irritable or " touchy " leader. In fact, many people think that he has gone a great deal too far in allowing latitude to his followers, and that the party has had too little leadership and too little discipline at his bands. At the same time, he is a man sensitive in the matter of personal honour, and though he may have shown, and may show again, weakness in resisting pressure put upon him by his friends, and by those who have maintained at any rate an outward display of loyalty towards him, we feel convinced that be will .never yield to a policy of open browbeating and insolent coercion by avowed enemies.
. That it would be impossible for Mr. Balfour to yield to the pressure which is being brought to bear upon him can be shown by a reference to the current number of the National Review. The editor in the "Episodes of the Month," after declaring that he has not the faintest idea where Mr. Balfour's sympathies on the Fiscal question," if he has any," really lie, goes on to declare that "so long as our leader refuses to speak in language understanded of the people, so long will his Party remain a discredited and impotent Opposition. No cause has ever been carried to a triumphant conclusion in a democracy by a perplexed politician whose perplexity excites doubt, hesitation and pain' in others." The editor continues :— "We have frequently, but unsuccessfully, suggested that Mr. Balfour should resolve the painful problem which is paralysing his Party by answering certain elementary questions which go to the root of the whole question, and if the National Union Conference succeeds in getting these questions answered, it will not have met in vain ; but if it adjourns in a fiscal fog the last state of Unionism will be worse than the first state, and the set- back to Tariff Reform by an evasive demonstration in the city of Birmingham, which is the Mecca of the movement, will be incal- culable. We hope that there may be sufficiently good men and true on the spot to prevent such a misfortune. We decline to believe that any section of Birmingham Unionists will be so recreant to Mr. Chamberlain's great policy as to connive at another mystification. The questions that require an answer may be thus expressed: (1) Are you in favour of a general tariff on foreign manufactured goods, and is the Unionist Party pledged to impose such a tariff on its return to power? (2) Are you in favour of developing the food supplies within the British Empire by the policy of Imperial Preference, which involves slight duties on wheat, and probably on meat coming from outside the Empire, though it does not involve any increase in the cost of living, as present food duties could be corre- spondingly reduced ? Is the Unionist Party pledged to a policy of mutual preference on its return to power?"
No one can read this passage without noting the suggestion that there should virtually be an anti- Balfour demonstration at the National Union Con- ference at Birmingham in the second week of November, and that those concerned therein should insist upon Mr. Balfour not leaanig in the way which he thinks right, but in the way which they think right. The "good men and true on the spot" are to prevent such a mis- fortune as Mr. Balfour steering the ship in his own way. Further, Birmingham Unionists are to be led by an appeal to their loyalty to Mr. Chamberlain into making a clear protest against the Balfourian policy. This in itself would be a serious enough act of revolt; but, as the quotation we have just given shows, the National Review goes a good deal further. Certain elementary questions—the inference being, of course, that if he will not answer those questions he is incapable of leading the party—are set forth by the National Review, and to these a plain answer is to be obtained. If, as we believe, and as many of Mr. Balfour's most loyal supporters believe, he went as far as it was possible for him to go in the " Valentine " letter, he certainly will refuse to answer questions put to him with such insulting vehemence and under such humiliating conditions.
Though we do not consider it possible that Mr. Balfour will tamely submit to be browbeaten by the extreme Tariff Reformers, we cannot help feeling that there is a certain risk of his thinking it sufficient to pass over their attacks upon him with contemptuous silence. If he does adopt this attitude, he will be guilty of a capital error. The leader of a powerful and united party may feel himself so strong as to be a little indifferent to matters of discipline. A leader in Mr. Balfour's position cannot afford to show such negligence. The weaker the party and the greater the dangers that surround it, the more absolutely necessary is it that the leader should be obeyed, and that his followers should be taught the duty and the necessity of loyalty. In the circumstances, then, it would be ruin for Mr. Balfour to ignore the spirit of mutiny which has arisen among a section of his so-called followers. He must face the situation boldly, and tell his party as a whole that unless he is accorded a more loyal support than be has received of late he will resign his office. Indeed, we are not sure that the better course would not be actually to tender his resignation at the Birmingham Conference. If he did that he would soon make his present critics and opponents realise how essential he is to his party, and how impossible they would find it to get on without him. We venture to say that a week after Mr. Balfour's resignation the Tariff Reformers would be on their knees to him imploring him to take up the party leadership again and on his own terms. Mr. Balfour might then be able to lay down conditions which would preserve him from such humiliations as those to which he is at present exposed.
It needs no exercise of the prophetic art to feel sure that the Tariff Reformers dare not accept Mr. Balfour's resignation, but must reappoint him on his own terms. All, except a few absolute fanatics to whom Protection is a kind of religion, know that it is impossible to suggest a leader who would be in the least competent to take over the control of the party. Imagine the result of Mr. Austen Chamberlain attempting the task,—even if he were willing to supplant his old chief. Take, again, the proposal that Mr. Bonar Law should be the chief of the Unionist Party. Can any one who knows the Unionist Party in the House of Commons or in the country believe such a leadership practicable ? The names of Mr. Wyndham and Mr. Alfred Lyttelton have only to be mentioned to be dismissed. The only Member of the House of Commons who can be seriously considered for the post is Mr. Walter Long. He, no doubt, is a man of capacity and shrewdness, and has of late greatly improved his position in Parliament. It is, however, quite safe to say of him that he would be the last man to consent to the ousting of Mr. Balfour, even if the Tariff Reformers were prepared to accept a man who, though he is a con- vinced Protectionist, is credited with being far-seeing enough and statesmanlike enough to be anxious for the reunion of the party upon the basis of an inquiry by a. Royal Commission.
In truth, Mr. Balfour, if he will only realise it, and will only act upon the knowledge, has the game in his hands. The Unionist Party, even though it is as entirely Tariff Reform in complexion as the Tariff Reformers profess to believe—in our opinion, a most doubtful proposition-- cannot possibly get on without Mr. Balfour. He is indis- pensable to them, and they must accept his leadership on whatever terms he chooses to impose. The proffer of his resignation will bring them to heel the moment it is made. But it will do more than this. If made with proper firmness, it will have the effect of rallying to Mr. Balfour a great deal of the support which he lost owing to his former waverings, doubts, and hesitations. The Tapers and Tadpoles do not, of course, like an independent leader ; but the best section of the Unionist Party are essentially men of independence of character, and if they saw Mr. Balfour freeing himself from the narrower and more fanatical influences in the party there would, we are certain, be an immense revulsion of feeling in his favour. "He has shown himself a man, and no matter whether we agree with him in every detail, what we want just now is a man whom we can follow in loyalty and security." That is the kind of feeling which would run throughout the party ; nay, more, it would run throughout the country. It must never be forgotten that if the Unionist Party is to return to power, it must be through winning back the million or so of voters who at the last Election transferred their allegiance from the Unionist to the Liberal Party. These men, for a variety of reasons which we cannot enter upon here, are already strongly inclined to such a retransfer. What keeps them back, and what will keep them back, is the weakness and distraction of the Unionist Party, and the adherence of that party to its wild schemes of taxation. If, however, some indication were given that the Unionist Party was likely to return to its old position—the position which it held before 1903—and that Mr. Balfour was willing to head such a return and to reassert his claim to lead the wider, more moderate, and more reflective section of British opinion, the accession of strength to the party would be enormous, and would grow from year to year. As long as Mr. Balfour is regarded, as unhappily he is now regarded, as the tool, though no doubt the unwilling tool, of the Tariff Reform Party, neither he nor the party he leads can hope to regain the confidence and support of what Lord Goschen once called the "balancing elector," —that is, the man who does not vote on strict party lines, but throws his weight on what he holds to be the safer and saner side at the moment of a General Election.