5 DECEMBER 1885, Page 5


NO one can dispassionately study the returns from counties and boroughs in this election without perceiving that the Reform Bills of 1883 have introduced one remarkable change. That sectional distinction between town and country, which has lain at the root of much of our recent politics, has been swept away, in all probability not to reappear. The Liberals have not "swept the counties," as many of them expected to do ; and the Tories have not "captured the boroughs," as their less discreet journalists boast ; but never- theless a most important change has been effected. Broadly speaking, it has been shown that under the new suffrage there is no borough in England which it is hopeless for a Tory to contest, and no county which it is hopeless for a Liberal to attack. No borough will ever be more Liberal than Birming- ham, and no candidate can be more formidable than Mr. Bright; yet in Birmingham, and against Mr. Bright, Lord Randolph Churchill polled a vote so heavy, that a slight sway of opinion in his direction would have given him the seat. On the other hand, no county could appear more Tory than the Eddisbury Division of Cheshire, where the local aristocracy were led by Mr. H. J. Tollemache, representing a most popular family, which had on the great agrarian question expressed sympathy with the labourers' wishes, though not with compulsory plans for realising them ; or than the Wilton Division of Wiltshire, so long ruled in peace by the eldest branch of the Herberts ; or than the Hallamshire Division of Yorkshire, where the Fitz- williams imagined they reigned supreme. Yet Eddisbary was only saved to the Tories by a majority of 121, the total vote being 4,285 to 4,164; Wilton was carried by a revolt of the labourers against Mr. Sydney Herbert, and Mr. Fitzwilliam was rejected in Hallamshire on his own ground by a crushing vote. When Tories can carry all Manchester, and Liberals counties like Somerset and Wilts, it is evident that ancient distinctions have vanished, that the old fissure between town and country has been ffiled up, and that seats will fall to serviceable or popular candidates of either side irrespective of locality. The Tories, in other words, cease to be the country party, and the Liberals the urban party, and both must appeal in future to an undivided country in which city and village will henceforth interest both alike. We shall hear no more from politicians about the "bumpkins of the rural districts," or the "unwashed hordes of the smoky towns," but only about the people of England, without reference to their dwelling-places. Language, indeed, is changing already, and the admiration of Liberals for the " independence " of the " serfs " of the rural districts is only a trifle less comic and less encouraging to impartial observers than the assertion of Tories that all " the intelligence of the nation" is concentrated in the great towns. It is but yesterday that both parties talked habitually in a precisely opposite strain, and for once we welcome heartily a visible, almost a laughable, inconsistency.

We believe the change will be beneficial in the highest degree to both parties, which, founded as they are upon two contending tendencies in human nature—the disposition to rest and the disposition to discontent—will, under whatever names, continue to guide alternately the fortunes of the nation. The Tories have been inclined to rely far too much upon "the landed interest" and the magnates who have con- trolled it, to care far too much for privilege, and to regard

commerce and industry, with all their accompaniments, in a spirit far too closely approaching secret dislike. They have not been actually unfair to the towns, and they have been inclined to protect factory "hands ;" but they have left urban im- provement mainly to Liberals, have been jealous of municipal liberties, and have felt a sneaking kindness for fiscal plans to which the townsfolk were unalterably opposed. They would let citizens suffer a good deal if farmers thereby grew fat. They have not sympathised with the trader spirit, and have held aloof from the cities with a sentiment which, though never avowed, was in its essence almost contemptuous, as if the cities were necessarily nests of sedition, or—for in England we do not use hard words—centres of an over-busy, un-

reflective, disagreeably active life. At the same time they have fought for the interests of the country-side, which we quite admit need fighting for, with a certain spitefulness, —as if the villages were to gain something at the ex- pense of the towns, and as if it were a pleasure to townsmen that agriculture should not prosper. They have tried hard to secure exemptions for rural wealth, at the cost of urban wealth, and have granted the aid of State credit to agriculture in a way in which it has never been con- ceded to mercantile enterprise. Imagine a manufacturer drawing a State loan to impruve the drainage of his mills! With the Tory party relying for power upon the towns this spirit must decay, and with it much of the desire to maintain aris- tocratic privilege. The Conservatives must still wish to con- serve ; but the conservatism of a representative of Manchester and that of a long-descended proprietor are, and must be, two widely different things,—as different as the opinion of Sir J. Gonst from the opinion of Mr. Newdegate. On the other hand, the Liberals, resting, as in future they will rest, in a large degree upon the counties, must abandon their habit of neglecting rural wants, rural wishes, and rural grievances. Hitherto, as we have been pointing out for a quarter of a cen- tury, they have neglected them. It is they who have postponed that enfranchisement of the soil which ought to have imme- diately followed the adoption of Free-trade as the governing factor in our fiscal policy. It is they who, with their un- quailed ability in dealing with finance, have allowed "rates" —in other words, the whole system of taxation for municipal purposes—to remain in its present barbarous condition, under which the triple millionaire pays penny for penny exactly the same as the struggling doctor who lives opposite, and districts separated from each other by imaginary lines pay totally unlike rates for the same organisation and advantages. It is they who have allowed the squire- archy to settle tenure at their own pleasure, and have permitted the ploughman to remain the least independent and influential of all skilled labourers. And finally, it is they who, for half a century, during which the cities have enjoyed Municipal self-government, have left the counties without that inestimable advantage. It is futile to accuse the Tories, for power has been during the greater part of fifty years in Liberal hands, and they have not used it mainly because they have thought of themselves as the urban, and not as the English, party. They could have carried the reforms they now propose half a dozen times over, and they have passed them by, knowing them to be difficult, and only half sympathising with classes who at the polls gave them so little effective support, or gave it only when guided by the few great families which ever since the Re- volntion have thrown in their fortunes with the popular cause. These families were indifferent to county reform, and the body of Liberals were indifferent too, not even caring, in spite of Cobden's advice, to secure free-trade in land. That indifference will now finally psi away. For years to come, the Liberals must rely, as they did before the Reform Bill, upon the counties ; they see that they can win them ; and a large section of their best Members will sit for county seats. Under those circumstances, we may be certain that they will watch rural affairs, lament the decline of prosperity in rural districts, and so far as is humanly possible, will bestir them- selves for the removal of rural grievances, some of which, like the incidence of the total rural taxation, the railway rates on the carriage of farming materials, and the non- inclusion of country tramways in Highway Acts, are wretchedly real. The party, in fact, will be compelled to listen to all England, instead of urban England ; and will derive from that new necessity new width, new sympathy, and, as we hope, a certain number of new leaders. The Liberal country gentleman is at least the equal in intelligence of the manufacturer ; and, highly as we estimate Mr. Burt, we should expect even more from a peasant representa- tive of a county with a similar character. Dogmatism is the defect of the Liberal character, as narrowness is of the Tory character; and with the effacement of sectional lines, we expect to see both evils much diminished, just as we expect to see the preposterous prejudices still existing between North and South gradually fade away. Somerset and Yorkshire can- not vote alike as they are doing without at least some diminu- tion of the scorn in which Yorkshire holds Somerset, and. of the suspicion with which Somerset is apt to regard Yorkshire. The Reform Bills have materially increased the homogeneity of English politicians ; and in that increase abides at least a possibility of greater union, deeper wisdom, and more extended sympathies. Each party will henceforward represent English- men at large.