TOPICS OF THE DAY
THE COURSE OF THE CABINET.
THE Government is perfectly justified in retaining office, JL but its justification does not prove that we shall have a good Reform Bill. Small as the majority was, it was still a majority, and as Lord Melbourne said, when taunted with a majority of one, " Well, the Opposition haven't even that." As Mr. Bouverie told the Tories on Monday, it is not wise for them to take power with the question of Reform unsettled, and the Third Party seems still far from a thorough organiza- tion. There is a good deal of the polypus still about it—too much stomach, and too little power of active movement. Even if it had attained a higher stage of development the decision would still have rested with Her Majesty's advisers, who until formally beaten have a right to decide whether they will or will not surrender the initiative of affairs. They have decided in the negative, and setting aside the somewhat technical plea put in by Mr. Gladstone, they are on general considerations wise. The country trusts them on the whole in all other -matters of policy much more than it does their opponents, and they axe, if they please, at least as competent to intro- duce a sound Reform Bill as either of their rivals. There is no reason for hopelessness if only they can be taught what the country really desires, and already they show some signs of readiness to listen to reason. The Redistribution Bill is to be produced as a substantive measure, instead of a mere manifesto, and to advance pari passu with the Franchise Bill, the Scotch and Irish Bills are prepared, and on Monday we shall be in presence of a measure which bears to a law at all events the relation which a federal union bears to a nationality. It is all bits, but they all cohere. The idea of coaxing Parliament into taking its treacle by giving the brim- stone first has been abandoned, and all the mess is to be taken at once, though in alternate mouthfuls. It remains only to see that the physic exhibited is based on an accurate diagnosis, and of this the country has as yet no sufficient guarantee. It rather expects somehow that the plan of re- distribution will be a very able one. There is something of a budget about any such plan, and if Mr. Gladstone were to make budgets in his sleep they would be better than those of any possible rival. It is quite possible that the measure may content the Liberals, whose primary notion is to bring repre- sentation into closer accord with fact, and yet not disgust the Tories, whose latent idea is that representation must not destroy the aristocratic theory. If the rising cities are represented a little more, and the decaying villages a little less, and most of the suburbs are declared urban, and either the counties or the great intellectual centres, for there is the point of compromise, get some at all events of the spoil, the Tories will probably swallow the tonic without too many wry faces. Of course proportion is everything in such cases, and a blun- der of ounces for scruples may make wholesome physic poisonous, but still the doctor is able, and the mixture may be all right. But then the perfection of the pill does not prove the equal perfection of the draught, or, to quit a simile very apt but a little unsavoury, a good Redistribution Bill does not prove that a bad Franchise Bill is good. The Government organs want to argue, that because Manchester ought to have more power than Harwich, and gets more power, therefore a 71. suffrage will operate in Reading just as it will operate in Leeds, but that is a gross non sequitur. The principle that the people are only to be ad- mitted within the pale of the Constitution by a blank reduction in the rental demanded as qualification, a reduction irrespec- tive of circumstances, will be unaffected by redistribution, and will lead inevitably within the next thirty years to government by numbers. This is the point upon which we are afraid both of Government and the Tories. The Government are very likely to fight as hard as they can for their Ti. simple, although it will ruin Reading, while it greatly improves Rochdale ; and the Tories are almost sure to insist on an equally indiscriminating but higher test. The first plan makes the Bill bad by en- suring uniform suffrage in the end, and the second makes it bad by omitting the one essential point in any Reform, the admission of working men to their fair share of direct and visible power. An 81. suffrage—if Mr. Walpole fights, as it is probable he will, for that limit--would be worse than use- less. The physical force of the country is outside the Con- stitution, and has, when all the argument is done and all the chatter is over, to be taken inside. That is inevitable, if the Constitution is to be safe, to be poised on its base instead of its apex, and the 8/. franchise does not secure that result. It only makes it a little more certain that the rush,. when it comes, will be irresistible, that in the next Parliament a new agitation will commence, strengthened by all the votes. between 81 and 101., undiminished by any feeling of grati- tude, unaffected by any sense of content. Even the 71. fran- chise, though immensely better than 8/., does not do enough in that direction by half. It does not admit all the ate of the masses, those who are educated and rendered independent by living the vivid life of great cities amid the competition of endless conflicting interests. If it were possible to drive anything into Tories by argument, they could surely see that if the masses of the great cities were heartily satisfied with their place in the Constitution, revolution would have no lever, no army, no body of followers strong enough to coerce the educated class. And household suffrage in the great cities would produce just that state of feeling, as it has produced it in the eight boroughs where it exists. Of all the great cities in England London is least hearty in desiring Reform, because no reform could in the least change the position of London. The people there return the members by what is in practice a mass vote from everybody who pays rates. But no, the Tories are as bad as the Radicals, and instead of contenting the great cities where the workmen have every temptation to use their franchise freely, they insist either that the object of the Bill shall be frus- trated by excluding all but an infinitesimal selection of work- men, or that a considerable number shall be admitted everywhere.. They ensure the ultimate triumph of democracy, rather than let in the only multitude whose content would protect them. against Democrats, and who have a distinct moral right to be contented.
We do trust some member will at least have the nerve to compel the House to come to a decision upon this point. Sir Bulwer Lytton, for example, said this was his ideal, and it is quite open to him to move that reduction shall apply only to such and such boroughs, selecting those with, say, over 50,000 people. He would find more support behind him than he thinks, and could he only offer the fair price—the household limit, instead of rental—might even be supported from the Radical benches. The ten-pounders in the small towns would be exceedingly grateful, the workmen would obtain at once a direct and appreciable weight in Par - liament, a weight, for example, greater than that of all Ireland, while the danger of government by mere numbers, and numbers dwelling in cities only, would be finally averted. No Parliament which had once experienced the strength that must come from a thorough and just repre- sentation of the whole nation would ever surrender a prin- ciple so essential to its vitality. It would as soon adopt Mahometanism in preference to Christianity. The just pro- portion of workmen might hereafter become a question, and indeed must, for the labourers cannot be excluded for ever, but the chain of precedent would be broken, and the fixed idea would be, not the representation of noses, but of the nation as. a living and complex unity. This, apart from party clamour, is, we take it, the ruling idea both of Conservative and Moderate Liberals, and it is this which, despite Mr. Gladstone's concessions, still remains in danger. We are to have the whole Bill at once, but there is as yet no proof that the whole Bill will be a good one, and, unless it is good, nothing is gained. by passing it except a momentary peace, and still less enduring relief from the weariness of argument. That weariness is beginning already to tell heavily, and weariness is always in favour of those who must advance, namely, the Government, which is pledged to carry a Reform. The discussion is becoming a bore, but that is all the more reason why we should not accept a Bill which opens the way for its incessant renewal. The Government have already learnt much by the great divi- sion, and if they will learn but one thing more, that blank re- duction must, in some way or other, be modified till we are protected from numerical rule, they may solve the problem amid universal support. If not, they will yet discover that the victory of Friday, such as it was, was but a barren triumph.