THE FATE OF THE MINORITIES.
[To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
Sin,—It is still possible, I presume, that the parties to the Redistribution compact may substitute, by mutual consent, some form of proportional representation for single-seat constituencies; and before the question is finally disposed of, I wish to suggest a reason for doing so, which seems to have escaped debate.
The new voters may, and I think will, from the beginning, or speedily, come to have a new and distinct policy,—new and separate aims of their own. If so, it seems to me that it will be impossible to avoid unfairness, on one side or the other, without proportional representation.
In any constituency where the new electors constitute a majority, the voters now on the roll may be outvoted and
swamped as effectually as the white electors in some of the
Southern States of America were swamped by the negro vote. On the other hand, if they are in a minority, you do nothing for them by giving them votes, if the votes cannot ensure them repre sentatives in the House of Commons. In what respect would a minority, habitually and hopelessly outvoted at the hustings, be better off than a minority altogether denied the franchise ? It is not votes, but representatives, that constitute political power; and votes which do not result in the ekction of Members to Parliament are practically worthless.
Single-seat constituencies are surely a clumsy and uncertain remedy for this wrong,—a device which may or may not answer the proposed purpose. If the thing is to be done, why not apply the adequate remedy ? Why not give to each class of electors the amount of political power they are entitled by their numbers to enjoy. so far as electoral machinery can attain this end ?
I do not think the common objection to the representation of minorities would have many backers worth counting but for its vehement advocacy by Mr. Bright. He it is who has furnished whatever moral or political sanction it can claim. But against Mr. Bright Liberals may safely place Mr. Mill (who bears the same relation to the great Parliamentary orator as an authority on questions of political philosophy that Burke bears to Fox), and Mr. Mill contended that the representation of minorities was not only an intrinsically just, but an essentially democratic, measure. It is difficult to conceive a more unassailable proposition in political ethics than that Parliament should represent not the majority of the nation, but the entire nation; not fiveand fifty men out of every hundred, but the entire hundred.
People smile now-a-days at Lord Eldon fifty years ago insisting on the wisdom and justice of leaving Liverpool and Manchester without representatives. But was it more intrinsically unjust than the modern contention that all the representatives of these towns should be chosen by the majority of the electors, while the minority, however numerous or intelligent, might, and probably would, get none at all ?
The rationale of this proposition quite escapes my comprehension. If it be right that the majority in a city should monopolise political power, is it not equally right that they should monopolise the Municipality and the School Board, or have the exclusive enjoyment of the water supply and the telegraph ? If not, why not? If the Blues, who are thirty thousand to five-and-twenty thousand Yellows, are justly entitled to select all the Members of Parliament, why may they not equally seize upon all the institutions which are of common right ? If there be a moral distinction, I repeat that it escapes my apprehension.
"The majority must govern." Doubtless ; but the minority are entitled to be fully represented in the Council that advises the Government. The mass of electors scarcely detect the fallacy that lies under this plausible phrase ; but if the case were made their own, the practice which it covers would scarcely commend itself to their favour. If wages were distributed in a factory, or rations in a ship, all to the majority and none to the minority, they would not like it; but how would it be more unfair than what is proposed ? It may be doubted if any class have more need to insist on proportional repre sentation than artisans. The experience of two Parliaments goes to show that,' between the influence of wealth and the effects of personal and trade jealousy, they can rarely elect their .candidate. With proportional representation in any shape it would probably be different. And the practice would bring the kindred gain of inexpensive elections, by greatly diminishing the probability of a contest. But what class it will serve is a question with which I am not concerned. I wish to regard it from the standpoint of fair-play and common-sense. I supported it in two hemispheres, under widely different circumstances, from the same motive that influences me now, a persuasion that it is just and reasonable. When it was debated in Parliament in connection with the Reform Act of 1867, it found friends and
opponents among both parties. I am little disposed ware in verba ntag is( ; but I am pleased to find my convictions on this question supported by the manly sense and independent judgment of the late PoSttnaster-General. Mr. Fawcett regarded
the rejection of proportional representation from a scheme of electoral reform as nothing short of establishing tyranny in lieu of justice. In the debate in question he said :—
" Ho looked upon a pure democracy as one where every person had an (qua] opportunity of exercising political influence and political power ; and he did not look upon a society as being a true democracy, but, on the contrary, as an unfortunate oligarchy, if the majority had the power of exercising its will by trampling upon the minority, and of exercising its power unchecked, unrestrained, and unchallenged by the opinions or votes of the minority."
When Lord John Russell originally submitted the principle to Parliament, he warned the House that under the existing system the minority felt itself "disfranchised and degraded ;" and this sentiment is not likely to be less acute if the majority consist of men admitted to the franchise only a day, and the minority of those who exercised it up to that time. The unfair distribution of political power was the scandal of England between the first French Revolution and the first Reform Bill. It fostered habitual discontent and sedition among large masses of the population ; among a few it begot desperate conspiracies to murder Ministers and overthrow the State. Iu the better time we have reached, statesmen would be more worthily employed in effacing the inequalities which still remain than in creating new ones, which assuredly will contain seeds of future discontent and disaster. And the two millions and a half of new electors admittel for the first time to the supreme right of citizens ought not either to be tricked out of the power you appear to bestow on them, or to be made the means of inflicting a similar wrong on existing electors. But how this default is
to be avoided without some species of proportional representation, is not easily discerned.—I am, Sir, &c.,
Cinziez, Nice, Decenzber 27th, 1884. C. Gays N DUFFY.
[Sir Charles Gavan Duffy seems to have read none of the recent literature of this subject, or he would know that we, for instance, who agree with his principles, disagree utterly with his conclusion, for reasons which he does not even refer to,— namely, that voters could not and would not use so complex a plan as Mr. Hare's so as to give it real political efficiency, or so as to secure it any real popular confidence. Their second, third, and further alternative votes would represent, not political convictions, but all sorts of irrelevant personal complacencies.— En. Spectator.]