2 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 23


TOED CROMER took occasion on Monday to offer his A countrymen some very necessary advice. It was founded on what is still recognised as a sound maxim in business, and has until lately been supposed to be an equally sound maxim in international politics. Through- out his long career, he told the distinguished company assembled at the Guildhall to witness his admission to the freedom of the City, he has derived the utmost benefit from paying exclusive attention to his own business. For four•and-twenty years that business has been the creation and consolidation of Egyptian prosperity. Few people have now more than a vague recollection of the obstacles which at the beginning of this period Lord Cromer had to surmount. But from one, and that the most fatal of all, he has been in a great measure relieved. Prime Ministers have come and gone, but he has remained, and he has been allowed to carry out the policy with which he started. He might have found himself in a very different position. He might have been instructed to change the methods and objects of his administration with each change of Govern- ment at home. Had this been the case—and there has never been wanting a minority of Englishmen who would have welcomed a series of revolutions in Egyptian policy— Lord Cromer's position would have been made impossible. He might have stayed in Egypt, but he would have stayed there to no good purpose. He would have ceased to represent the British Government, and would have become the representative of this or that political party. But under Parliamentary government the policy of a party cannot be continuous. It must be interrupted, or run the risk of being interrupted, at every General Election. Lord Cromer might, of course, have regarded himself as simply the servant of each successive Foreign Secretary. But supposing that each new arrival at the Foreign Office had meant the introduction of a radical change in the conduct of Egyptian affairs, with what show of consistency or honesty could he have set himself to undo in one five years all that he had done in the previous five years ? The only way out of the difficulty would have been to appoint a new British Agent in Egypt whenever there was a new Secretary of State in Downing Street. Egypt would have been governed, not for her own good and in her own interest, but for the good and in the interest of the politicians in power at home. Egyptian affairs would have supplied occasions for Ministerial defeats or Opposition victories, or for elections in which not one elector in a thousand would have known on what issue he was voting.

From this disastrous state of things we have been saved by the tendency—happily, the growing tendency—to remove foreign affairs from the acute stage of party discussion. In France this end was attained for a long time by the continuous presence at the Foreign Office of the same Minister. Parties had their turn, minorities became majorities, but M. Delcasse held his post in one Govern- ment after another. In England we have discovered a better, because a surer, road to the same end. Our Foreign Minister has changed with each change of Government, but our foreign policy has remained the same. Lord Salisbury and Lord Granville, Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne, have entered office and left it, and Sir Edward Grey reigns in their stead, but successive Governments have steadily laboured. to carry out the same ideas. It is this that has made continuity of policy possible in Egypt, and thus secured the first condition of Egyptian prosperity. It might have been thought that, with the splendid results of Lord Cromer's policy full in view, and with the connexion between these results and the continuity of his purpose equally visible, there would have been no need for him to give his countrymen the advice contained in his speech at the Guildhall. It would have been enough for him to point to Egypt now and to Egypt a quarter of a century ago and to have left us to draw the moral for ourselves. But quite recently a new way of looking at foreign affairs, and at our own policy in regard to them, has appeared in this country, and appeared in a quarter in which it might have been thought least likely to find a footing. For more than two generations the permanent unknown quantity in our foreign policy was our relations with Russia. With other Powers our relations were sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile ; with Russia they were always more or less hostile. Now this condition of permanent illwill has come to an end. The Convention with France, which has taken a whole series of possible difficulties out of the way of both countries, and given our position in Egypt what is virtually equivalent to a European sanction, has been followed by a Convention with Russia. A settlement which British Governments have been dreaming of for more than half-a- century has actually been arranged. We are left at peace upon our Indian frontier, and if we have had to make some concessions in Persia, it has only been because there are two sides to every bargain, and something has always to be given in return for something got. That a few advocates of an extreme anti-Russian policy should have been willing to forego every conceivable advantage in Afghanistan, rather than yield a fraction of influence on the Persian Gulf, was only to be expected. The habits of a lifetime are not laid aside without annoyance and. difficulty. But it is not in this section of the public that the opposition to the Anglo-Russian Agreement has chiefly shown itself. The objection, strange to say, has come from the anti- militarist group, from the men whose desire for peace is not proof against their dislike of the Power with which until now we have been most likely to find ourselves at war. The Labour Party, or some of them, would have con- tentedly seen this risk prolonged, and possibly made permanent, rather than acquiesce in the establishment of better relations with a Government whose internal policy they dislike. So long as that internal policy remains unchanged, they wish to subject Russia to a species of diplomatic boycott. They do not stop to consider which party would be the worse sufferer by such a boycott. It is enough for them that Russia is badly governed, and so must be left to give us all the annoyance that can be caused by an unfriendly neighbour at any part of a long frontier line.

It is at this point that Lord Cromer comes in with his severe common-sense. Englishmen, he says, have the reputation of being very free with their advice to foreign countries. "Foreigners are apt to think that there are a good many affairs nearer home that might profitably occupy our attention," but notwithstanding this we have always some time and thought to spare for the affairs of our neighbours. Now, so long as this disposition goes no further than the Press no great harm is done. Englishmen are accustomed to speak their minds freely about what is going on abroad, and they do not limit their attention to matters with which they may be supposed. to have some acquaintance. Foreign Governments must know this pretty well by this time, and they have probably learned not to pay much atten- tion to it. But if this feeling were to be extended from newspaper articles or occasional speeches to the actual policy of Great Britain, if our Government were to be prevented from concluding advantageous Treaties because Englishmen do not like the domestic policy of the Power with whom the Agreement is to be made—and. there are certain politicians who would willingly push their convictions to this extreme—we should be applying to politics a rule which we never dream of applying to ordinary business. A firm does not refuse to make a contract with another firm because one of the partners is believed to have behaved harshly to a son who had run into debt, or another is suspected of not getting on well with his wife. These, we feel, are private and domestic matters with which traders are not concerned. Families must settle their own quarrels, and outsiders have neither the knowledge necessary for interfering wisely, nor the right to interfere at all. In the long run a nation has about as good a Government as it is fit for, and even if it has not, it is quite certain that we should meet with neither success nor gratitude if we tried to give it a better one. "The Russians," as Lord Cromer truly says, "must be left to work out their own political salvation." But that they are doing this after their own fashion is no reason for neglecting our own interests where they come in conflict with theirs. The "more conventional method of allowing British interests to form the basis of diplomatic action abroad, to the exclusion as far as possible of all extraneous and irrelevant matter," is still the only method which appeals to common- sense, and if we were to look at the question from a purely Russian point of view, we should arrive at an identical conclusion. Would the constitution of the Duma be made more democratic, or the action of the bureaucracy less harsh, by hostilities upon the Indo-Russian frontier? Is it not, more likely that the necessity of sending troops into the field and the patriotism evoked by a war with a European Power would only put the Russian revolution further off ? If the opponents of the Anglo-Russian Con- vention had had their way, no one would have been the better for their success except, it may be, the contractors for the supply of munitions of war in both countries. This is the success which we should have attained if we had elected. to mind other people's business instead of our own,—a success which would have been equally disastrous to ourselves and to those we imagined ourselves to be serving.