TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CABINET.
THERE is, we are told, one sound reason for delay in re- constructing the Cabinet. The new strength, if imported at all, must be imported from the Commons, and in the Com- mons it is very inconvenient to be appointed to office three months before the date of re-election. One's friends intrigue against one so, competitors have so much time to prepare, little stories can be circulated with such assiduity, and local discontents can be fanned into so very fierce a flame. Mem- bers, even when their seats are very "safe," dislike facing a political day of judgment twice in a single year, and dislike it most of all when an election practically lasts three months. Parliament will scarcely assemble more than a week before its usual date, the first Thursday in February, and no new writs can be issued until the Speaker has been elected. Every Minister cannot sit for a pocket borough, and even a county seat, when it lies in Ireland, is not so absolutely secure that three months' skilful employment of hell fire might not make it a little precarious. This really is an argument for delay, one which Mr. Brand would probably pronounce to be the argument, and which his chief, who understands the hustings better than the House of Commons, is certain to respect. It does not convince us, who believe that men are governed in a great degree by their imaginations, and know how dislike to an inefficient Cabinet grows into dislike towards its chiefs ; but the real heads of the party think it sufficient, and their followers must perforce abide by their decision. It is a hard one for the new men, if any are to be accepted, for they must begin to study their offices just as they begin to teach in public, but there is practically no appeal. It is not the public who elect any but the very greatest Ministers, and if Earl Russell decides that strength is valuable only at the moment of exertion, that muscles are only useful when there is something to lift, there is nothing for his supporters but reluctantly to submit.
He should, however, distinctly announce that the submis- sion is but temporary, for the country at present only under- stands that Lord Palmerston's Government is to go on without Lord Palmerston. It cannot go on, and even to threaten to make the experiment is a serious injury to the Liberal cause. It enables every half-hearted Liberal to prepare for a decent desertion to the opposite camp, irritates the moderate Radicals, who think they are about to be thrown over, and inspires in the immense body of the constituency who are of no political opinions that doubt which is begotten of the impression of coming defeat. The vice of Englishmen is to believe, honestly believe, that success is the test of right, and the quiet people who see very clearly that a Cabinet without Commons cannot succeed begin at once to believe that it also ought not to stand. Earl Russell, it is very probable, does not perceive this danger. The Palmerston Government was strong, nothing is changed except the Premiership, and is not that entre nous a change for the better / He does not feel that the popular element is represented only by one man, that with that single exception the Government will be a Government composed of the old Whig connection, and the clibris—debris verymuch sifted too— of the Peelite party, that regiment of officers without either men or sergeants. To him that is but the natural order of things. When land will grow wheat, why plant turnips / If the sons-in-law of Whig houses are eligible, why import new men ? Simply because of the first maxim of English agri- culture—that a succession of white crops exhausts the soil, be it never so potently manured. The late Cabinets have all been white crops, and the constituencies are looking, as farmers say, sadly " out of heart." The Times is not often a perfect representative of Liberal feeling, and its utterances during the past week have been unusually hard to read, but Earl Russell may rely on it that the great journal is right upon one point, that if he will not appeal for strength to the people, the people will not support him. They want to see their representatives in the Government, with real influence on it, and Sir George Grey and Sir Charles Wood, Mr. Cardwell and Mr. Cowper and Sir Robert Peel are not those representatives. Mr. Bass says they are, and as Mr. Bass says also that he is the head of the most successful business in the kingdom, his optimism is pardonable, but then everybody does not enjoy the profits of unlimited Bass. The regime of exclusiveness cannot last, and the Cabinet, as it stands, is ultra-exclusive. But for the presence of one man of genius substantial power would be as completely transferred to the Peers as if the Reform Bill had never been passed, the House of Commons as much deprived of direct control over the Government as it was in the dark ages of Pitt's first administration. It is a mistake to shift deputations too often on to the shoulders of under secretaries, though deputations, as Sir Robert Peer said, seldom advance the machine, but to treat the House of Com- mons like a deputation of vestrymen is intolerable. There are decencies in politics as in life, and if all power is, to be confined to a caste, let its absolutism be at least veiled under some decorous appearance of deference towards the country itself. We do not want to exclude the caste either- from power or from a very large proportionate share of power, for we know well the strength which aristocratic bone lends to the fleshy substance of an English administration. Poli- ticians must accept facts, and in English politics genuine- Liberals, those who care for principles more than for men,. must accept the aristocratic influence as an essential datum. But it is not to be the sole datum, to the exclusion of every- other. The business of the caste, as no man knows better than the Premier who believes in the principles of 1688, is to lead, not to exclude the Commons, and the present Cabinet will not lead and does exclude them. The Whigs are strong- only when they can make a hearty alliance with the people, and this time the bond of that alliance must be men as well as. measures. The new Whigs are not going to see all ecclesias- tical questions left to statesmen who think that in religion, as. in politics, expediency is identical with truth, corrected only by men who, earnest enough, are earnest against the cause in which the laity believe. Nor will they bear to see the neces- sary reform of the suffrage postponed or defeated by a blind adherence to the divine right of the greengrocers, or the alliance of the future rendered impossible by the unchecked sway of men who in their hearts believe that America can no more sympathize with England than a Bermondsey vestry with Brookes's. Without their representatives in the Cabinet the- Government cannot rely on their adhesion, and that adhesion,. as we believe we can show, is essential to strength.
It is not the Tories alone with whom the new Government will have to contend. If it were, Mr. Bass's burst of Great- British oratory might be a sufficient encouragement to the doubtful. The Whig men are confessedly more competent than the Tory men to meet the needs of the hour, and if it were a question between Lord Malmesbury and Lord Clarendon there would be little to fear. But the real danger is not of the Tories, but of the growth of a third party, which calling itself constitutional, shall adopt the policy of resistance to progress, and the cry of Administrative Reform. The Tories could support that, and half the exclusive Whigs, terms could be made with the Irish, and the country conciliated by a real improvement in departmental organization. There are reforms. to be made in every branch of the public service, from the organization of the army to the re-organization of London, —reforms which the Liberals could achieve, but which their Whig leaders postpone, and which would be easiest to a Cabinet supported by both sides. Such a party is certain to spring up if the Reform Bill is defeated, certain to rule the reaction which would follow the acceptance of that measure, and may if the Government is weak anticipate either accept- ance or rejection. It has a natural leader in Lord Stanley, it will have a special following in the representatives of the menaced boroughs, and it may, if the country is once suffered, to become distrustful of the Liberal Cabinet, be en rapport with the public mind. Englishmen when puzzled by the failure of ideas are very apt to fall back temporarily upon those projects which are certainly possible, to con- sole themselves for inability to do justice to India by giving India railways. Whether naval supremacy is good. or not, cheap dockyards are certainly good ; if the fran- chise ought not to be reduced, municipal arrangements can be reformed ; the right or wrong of a war may be doubtful, but about a well-disciplined army there can be no doubt. The Third Party could give all those things, might, if it gave them liberally, carry on the interregnum for years, or until the pub- lic, awaking suddenly to the conviction that man does not live by bread alone, and has something to do besides perpetually strengthening his muscles, roughly swept it away. A regime with material prosperity for its avowed and sole end never lasts long in England, but it may last long enough to destroy a golden opportunity, and allow the water to accumulate for want of the sluice till the rush so often prophesied will be at last at hand. A strong Government is absolutely needed to make the coming Reform Bill moderate, to give us peace with-
out too much concession, to face the shower of ecclesiastical questions which has been threatening for three years, and to prevent the domination of the " practical " men who by post- poning all questions except the one of machinery would allow every torrent to swell into a river. And no strong Liberal Government can be formed without a wider base.