TOPICS OF THE DAY.
DISPOSITION OF PARTIES IN THE OPENING PARLIAMENT.
As the period for the opening of the new Parliament approaches, the activity of political parties begins to revive, at least in the conversational way ; and the moderate impatience to " know how we shall stand," which is felt by the general public according to its sympathies with the Right or Left of Mr. Speaker, is in some degree responded to by the staff of the two great sections of the political world. Thus, besides minor actors, we have Mr. Henley giving forth signs at Banbury in Oxfordshire, and no less a person than Lord John Russell himself giving forth at Perth.
Not that Mr. Henley made any revelation—exactly the reverse. His proposed statement of principles, and his allusion to "measures for the relief of the suffering classes," convey no information whatsoever. He repudiates class-legislation ; lie repudiates any attempt to restore Protection ; he says nothing of the "looming" measures. The principles he indicates by negatives,—by Lord Stanley's secession from the Whigs on the Appropriation-clause, by resistance to the Whigs in their approaches towards non- religious education, by the resistance to the repeal of the differ- ential duties on sugar. In a word, he discourses not of principles,
but tendencies ; and as those tendencies are all negative, and il- lustrated by the negational endeavours of the past, which were defeated, Mr. Henley's representation on behalf of his party amounts to declaring that it will do nothing in particular, but that it will not do several things begun or favoured by the Whigs. In default of any authentic declaration by a superior Minister, the public accepts Mr. Henley's effusion, provisionally, as a quasi- manifesto from the Treasury-bench.
The position which he indicates for the staff of the party of the
Right is one still more passive and sterile than that of the Whigs in their lowest decline ; and it is not difficult to foresee the effect. Those who have had expectations from theparty will be grievously disappointed. They would better like Sir Fitzroy Kelly's amusing assurance that they must rely on themselves, not on others, and least of all on her Majesty's Ministers. Mr. Henley's suggestion, that the Cabinet is to sit down and be a Whig Do-nothing Cabinet, only without Whig sympathies, will estrange all who sought some- thing positive. It will conciliate few of that timid order who prefer negative policy. The dogmatic support which used to be given to her Majesty's Government for the time being, as such, has gone out of fashion, with Toryism, Anti-Iacobinism, Anti- Gallicanism, and many other downright prejudices. Even the party of the status quo will not be content; since that party al- ways sympathizes with the men most habitually in office—men who used to consist, in olden time, of the Tories, but now of Whigs or " Liberals." The influential party of the status quo finds its relations, its methods, its professions, all put out of joint by the presence of strangers in office ; and it will not be caught by Mr. Henley's moderation. The neat amount of his speech may be summed up easily by saying that it will seriously dishearten his own side.
Lord John Russell's bold and inventive flight has had a very
opposite character and a very opposite effect ; though, like Mr. Henley, Lord John said almost nothing. But his seizing hold of the word "Democracy," which was thrown out to frighten him, and putting it as a cognizance in his cap, is the indication of a new course, in spirit, scope, and activity. It is true that Lord John, like Mr. Henley, promised no measures ; did not enunciate any principles; did not pledge himself to a single specific enterprise. It was an after-dinner effusion, an unbecoming of a convivial guest, a friendly review of things in general. But what did it stand as a sign for ? It signified the tendency of the leader of the Left to take the whole people, all classes, into his consideration ; it did not hint to them that he should not do, but that he should do; and that he should not be deterred by formidable epithets.
Its moral effect has been seen in the comfortable and emboldened
mien of the press devoted to the faith in Russell, and indeed be- yond that limitation. Liberals accept his manifesto, pledge or no pledge, as a symptom that he has recovered his political health; that he is once more bold John Russell; and above all, that his firm, when they again come in, mean to be active. Liberals eagerly hasten to the conclusion that their favourite is himself again, and that the old discredits of the sleepy Cabinet which last represented the Whig party are dissipated. The moral influence will extend yet further—indeed, has already shown signs of the further extension: recalled to a more active condition, the several sections of the Liberal party are calculating upon being severally stronger by a more re- ciprocal support from each other; and thus each section, hoping more for itself, owning a more goodhumoured disposition towards its neighbours, anticipates the renewed campaign with pleasure and hope. How far this feeling may be affected by the disson- ances of sectional views, it would be difficult if not impossible to estimate even in the roughest 'way. Mutual ignorances must pre- vent different classes, for some time, from coming to a complete understanding on practical points : the aristocratic reserves of one class, the hardheaded calculations of another, and the rough language of a third, are likely to keep up exaggerated mistrusts where a better knowledge would prove that, being reciprocally interpreted, men are pretty much alike, and mean pretty much the same, in all grades. At first, however, even the desire and expectation of union will to a certain extent make the union. If the effect of Mr. Henley's speech is disheartening to the last degree for his own people, that of Lord John's is at least proportionately encou- raging for his ; and the two armies will take their posts in order of battle with those different anticipations of victory and defeat which often have so large a share in the result.