TOPICS OF THE DAY.
SLACK UNIONISM. THERE is an article in last week's Guardian from which we differ about as widely as it is possible to differ from any article written on the basis of an evidently sincere Unionist conviction. It seems to us to betray a discourage- ment for which there is no sort of ground, and very little excuse; to credit the Unionist cause with very much less than its just and genuine strength of principle ; and to predict a return to the old lines of party division which is at once highly improbable and highly undesirable. The dis- couragement with which our contemporary credits the leaders of the Unionist Party appears to us to exist quite as much, probably more, in the Gladstonian ranks than it does amongst the friends of the Government. Both parties are no doubt, for the moment, a little sick of politics, and naturally anxious for rest. The Unionists are annoyed at not having passed the Irish Land- Purchase Bill in the dreary Session which has recently ended, though they feel no doubt of their power to pass it in the Session which will begin in November. But the Gladstonians are, we believe, much more dis- couraged by their distinct perception that " Home-rule for Ireland " is anything but a telling electioneering cry in England and Wales, and by the double necessity, as they deem it, for finding more tempting promises with which to fascinate the electors, and for postponing yet longer the disclosure, or (it may well be) the con- struction, of their plan for keeping the Irish Members at Westminster without alienating the English and Scotch Members by heaping unjust political privileges on the already over-represented Irish party,—a plan for the frank disclosure of which the constituencies, both Gladstonian and Unionist, cry out in vain. The Unionists have at least this in their favour, that everybody knows their policy, and that there are no new difficulties to be sprung upon them in relation to that policy. The Gladstonians know that the constituencies in Great Britain are sick of the Irish issue, and yet that the Irish issue must necessarily take precedence in their programme of every other ; and they know, too, that whenever they come to real business, they must take a new departure, which will seem to reasonable men in Great Britain more unjustifiably and unreasonably biassed towards Irish claims than ever. They are aware that the cry of " Justice to Ireland " has been a little overdone, and yet they are perfectly aware that what they must propose after their promise to retain the Irish Members at Westminster, will look a great deal more like " Injustice to Great Britain" than anything for which as yet they have ventured to become responsible. So far as there is discouragement in dealing with the conduct of the next political campaign, there is, we believe, a great deal more, and a great deal better founded, dis- couragement on the Gladstonian side than on the Unionist. The Gladstonians have nothing to encourage them but the by-elections, of which they are quite aware that they have already made too much. The Conservatives and Liberal Unionists have the comfort of knowing that whether Mr. Gladstone conceals his new proposals to the last moment, or discloses them before long, either course must tell seriously against him. The constituencies do not like to be kept in the dark on a constitutional proposal of the greatest weight and magnitude. But still less will they like any proposal which can be made on the new basis, since it must either propose to unsettle the Constitution very much more gravely than it would have been unsettled by Mr. Gladstone's former proposal, or else (which is more probable) it must accumulate on the Irish Members, already unduly influential in Parliament, a preponderating political influence to which they have no manner of claim, and which would be most injurious, not only to Great Britain, but to Ireland herself.
But not only is the Guardian wrong in the tone of discouragement in which it speaks of the immediate Unionist prospect, but it is still more wrong in regarding as it does the contract between the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists as a mere temporary treaty of alliance made for a special purpose, which is likely to expire as soon as that purpose is answered. We believe that it is nothing of the kind, and that, though it might have been this or little more than this if Mr. Gladstone had conducted his cause in a totally different spirit, without deferring to the lawlessness of the National League and the selfishness of the Parnellite Party, he has practically transformed the Home-rule policy into a Jacobin policy, which makes the cause of local self- government a mere excuse for the tyranny of local jealousies and the vindictiveness of local passions. His pleas for " Boycotting," his excuses for the " Plan of Campaign," his attacks upon the Irish police and the Irish Resident Magistrates, have really transformed the whole policy of the situation, and glorified the Unionist cause by distinguishing it as a cause not only repre- senting a wise and prudent dread of rash constitu- tional innovation, but as the cause of law and order,. of impartial justice, and of steady resistance to con- spiracy and crime. " That there will ultimately be a redistribution of parties," says the Guardian, " which will restore the old division into two, we do not doubt_ But such a redistribution cannot come yet, for the very good reason that it will not go on the existing political lines. The question of Home-rule . does not supply any lasting basis for such a redistribution. It has no necessary or exclusive connection with either of the traditional English parties. If Ireland were disposed. of, some Home-rulers might become Conservatives, and some Unionists might rejoin the Radicals. The new parties. will be the natural expression of new ideas upon social and economical legislation, and so long as Ireland con- tinues to stop the way, there is not likely to be much opportunity for those new ideas to take shape." We have seldom felt profounder surprise than this passage caused us.. It might have been so unquestionably,—if Mr. Gladstone had carefully kept his policy distinct from that of the Parnellite Party, and had not lent a virtual sanction ter every unscrupulous attack on property, law, and order, which the Parnellites have devised and justified. But,. as a matter of fact, " the new ideas upon social and economical legislation " which the Parnellites have taken tp, have all been more or less avowedly approved by the Gladstonians. The justification of resistance to all evictions,. however reasonable the terms imposed by the landlord, and however wilful the resistance of the tenant, has elevated a certain wild and lawless agrarianism into a sort of principle of the Gladstonian Party. The enthu- siasm for local government lends itself only too easily to an eager vindication of local self-will, and Mr. Gladstone has so treated the issues arising in Irish politics, that his abstract principle is absolutely merged in his apology for the methods by which the Par- nellites have sought to enforce the local principle. We- have the best proof of this in the manner in which the Gladstonians have taken up the cause of the Welsh re- sistance to the payment of tithes. Whether tithes be rightly or wrongly applied to the endowment of the Church in Wales, they are universally admitted to be public pro- perty, not private property, and the resistance to them is really resistance, not to the Established Church in Wales, but to the rights of the State over individual taxpayers. When the Gladstonians began to shield the farmers who resisted the fulfilment of this contract on the empty excuse that they do not approve of the mode in which the State at present appropriates the tithe, they gave the clearest possible indication that the shield they have held over "Boycotting" and the " Plan of Campaign" in Ireland had identified them with a Jacobin policy even in Great Britain. We entirely believe that Home-rule,—not perhaps in the abstract, but as it has been actually interpreted by Mr. Gladstone and his lieutenants,—has identified the Home-rulers with new ideas not only on "social and economical legislation," but on the nature of social order and the principles of social government, —ideas which will render it simply impossible for any section of the Unionist Party to co-operate with them while such notions are retained. The differences between Conservatives and Liberal Unionists (already greatly reduced. by the wish of the Conservatives them- selves to go as far as they possibly can go in winning the new constituencies in the counties) have become almost in- visible, when compared. with the differences which divide the party of law and order, from the party which makes liberty the cloak for popular tyranny and popular license.
But do we, then, advocate what is called the policy of fusion,—the merging of the Liberal Unionists in the Con- servative Party ? That seems to us a mere question of political prudence, not a question of principle at all. If the effect of such a merging would be, as we think it might be, to give the impression that the Unionists are much less earestly popular in their principles than they really are, we should deprecate such a fusion. We greatly fear that the party when fused would be less progressive than the two parties acting as allies necessarily will be, and would there- fore, of course, be less popular. That we should greatly regret. We do not think that any party can now afford to neglect popular ideas, and we do not believe that any party can do so, without shrinking into insignificance. But if the perfectly sound notion that popular progress depends quite as much on a strong State and a strict enforcement of the law, as on a willingness to enlarge continually the range of popular rights and to take new measures for securing the welfare of the people, does not inspire the party of order with a too great tendency towards repression, we should not object to a fusion, if we could be sure that by fusion the cause of Union and of ordered liberty would be the better advanced.