TOPICS OF THE DAY.
MR. GLADSTONE'S POLITICAL METHODS. THE most curious feature in Mr. Gladstone's speeches at Manchester is the light they throw on the forma- tion of his political confession. -We say his " political confession" rather than his political conviction, because it is perfectly clear that they are far from identical. He is very fond of preaching " devolution," and it seems obvious that he approves it not only as the mode by which a supreme Parliament may best rid itself of difficult local tasks, but as the mode in which a statesman may best rid himself of the duty of making up his own mind as to the next step in statesmanship. He devolves, within certain limits, on a kind of constitutional calculating-machine the decision of what his political profession shall be. In his remarks on Tuesday on the unconscious influence exerted by the Liberal Unionists on the political development of the country, he almost confessed that he regretted the necessity which he seemed to think that their secession had produced for making his own political confession more Radical. He almost complained that the result of this secession had been to shift the " centre of gravity " of the Liberal Party towards the Radical wing. He said that that was a change which he himself regarded "with very mixed feelings." But it never seems to have occurred to him that he could do anything to prevent the political landslip which he regarded with these very mixed feelings. While he was supported by a number of Moderates as well as by a number of Radicals, his political confession was one thing ; now that he is supported by Radicals alone it is another thing. All this time he himself stands a mere spectator of the change, regarding it,—even though it is in his own profession of political purpose that the change is taking place,—" with very mixed feelings,"— which means, we suppose, that the slide in his political profession is not accompanied by any equally considerable slide in his personal convictions. He calculates the new conditions more as a, physicist calculates the motion of a sliding body down an inclined plane, than as a man states his reasons for a change of individual principle. The Moderates having left him, it became a part of the con- ditions of the problem to be solved that he should become less moderate. He heaves a mild sigh as he says that so it must be. The New Radicalism is to him a "land of regrets." But what can he do? To him profession and creed mean something slightly different. He must adapt his profession to the state of his party, but his heart is still more or less with his old creed. In 1885 he was opposed to the principle of " One man, one vote." Then he did not want to disfranchise at all, only to enfranchise. And even now perhaps he contemplates the necessity for giving in his adhesion to Mr. Morley's formula "with very mixed feelings." If he had only himself to consult, he would perhaps think and speak as he thought and spoke in 1885. But the political centre of gravity has shifted. He must follow the political centre of gravity, even though it be with reluctance ; and consequently we have his, we suppose, half- unwilling adhesion to the principle of " One man, one vote." When it was proposed before 1861 to take a religious census, and the Dissenters complained of the inquisition into their opinions, Sir Cornwall Lewis said, with the greatest naiveté, that there was no inquisition. The Government only proposed, he said, to inquire what the various inhabitants of England professed, not what they believed. Apparently Mr. Gladstone recognises the same distinction in relation to political opinion. He intimates that his heart is still more or less with the Moderates, but his profession must coincide with that of the Radicals, because the centre of gravity of the party has unfortunately shifted. He throws the responsibility on Lord Hartington. As the Moderates have left him, he cannot afford to be a Moderate any longer. One would have said that the more he regretted the loss of Moderates from among his supporters, the more emphatically he would have expressed his own wish for moderation, in order to compensate for that loss. But this is by no means Mr. Gladstone's view. He cannot remain perched up on high after his party has slipped to a lower level. However much he may regret it, he himself must slip with the landslip. If any one is responsible for the necessity, it is not he, but Lord Hartington, who has with- drawn the drag from the wheel ; and how can he help, when he has lost Lord Hartington, approximating in his pro- fession to the party of Mr. Labouchere ? If the ship fails' him, he must take to the boats ; if the boat goes down, he must cling to the raft. " One man, one vote," " Dis- establishment," &c., are the spars of which the raft is made- up; and the persons who are responsible for his clinging to, them are those who deprived him of the ship and boats, not the political necessity which made him seize the only refuge left him by the seceders.
Probably it is this peculiar view of the statesman's political profession as the creed to which he is (often regretfully) driven by the average level of political opinion, amongst his supporters, which seems to explain better than anything else Mr. Gladstone's sudden change of front in 1885. Mr. Parnell's Irish following suddenly mounted up. in the General Election of that year to eighty-five, and, to use his own phraseology, the "centre of gravity" of the Liberal Party necessarily moved at once in Mr. Parnell's. direction. Perhaps at that time he even looked upon that transition of the " centre of gravity " towards Home-rule with " very mixed feelings,"—though, if so, we fear that the mixed feelings have long ago given way to unmixed delight in Parnellism and all its works ; for the elan with which Mr. Gladstone echoes all its vagaries, disinters poor old Kinsella year after year, as a sort of avenging corpse to carry in the van of his army (like that of the English King in the invasion of Scotland), and boasts himself of the " Plan of Campaign," has in it no tincture even of regret. But this has been a work of time. In 1886 at least, there was still some trace of the " mixed feelings" with which he regarded the slip of the centre of gravity of his party towards Home-rule ; and we fear that in 1890 or 1891 there will no longer be any trace of the " mixed, feelings " with which he still regards the slip of the centre of gravity of the Liberal Party towards extreme Radicalism. Mr. Gladstone's political profession appears to be deter- mined by an external pressure which pushes it on in. advance of his political feelings ; but his feelings gradually accommodate themselves to the necessities of the case, and thence there soon results a beautiful harmony between what at first he had only accepted. regretfully, and his personal convictions. The great political landslip of 1885 has long ago become to him the most beneficent of catastrophes ;, and the shedding of the moderate section of his party, which for the present moves him to melancholy, will soon appear to him only a subject for congratulation.
But when Mr. Gladstone reproaches the Liberal Unionists with their steadfastness to their principles, and tells us that, but for them and their dourness, the Tories might by this time have been converted to Home-rule, he appears to ignore the fact that their political opinions are not formed precisely in the same way as his. They do not watch the movement of the centre of gravity of the party,. as evidenced by General Elections, and accommodate their views to the external change. They make up their minds as Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright used to do, on the general ground of principle and observation as to the best policy for the nation, and stick to that policy as long as there is any chance at all either of holding, or of reconverting, the nation to their convictions. That seems to us a much more statesmanlike course, and would continue to seem to us a. much more statesmanlike course even if it ultimately failed, than the one which Mr. Gladstone adopts of steering by what he deems the political exigencies of the ease, taking Parnellism to his heart when it increases its representatives from forty-five to eighty-five, and accepting Radicalism so soon as the centre of gravity of the Liberal Party has shifted in the direction of Mr. Labouchere. He has suggested that the Unionist Party should style itself the Anti-Irish Party.—with just as much and just as little appropriate- ness, by-the-way, as that with which his own party might style itself the Anti-English Party,—on the ground, we suppose, that it resists the doctrines of the majority of the Irish representatives. But that is importing into the views of his opponents his own peculiar conception of the right way of forming political convictions. They cannot be called anti-Irish if they think, as they do, that the greatest possible misfortune for Ireland would be to yield up Ireland to the control of the unprincipled party which now includes the majority of the Irish representatives. The Liberal Unionists are striving for the good of Ireland with at least as much zeal as they are striving for the safety of England. They happen to think that the temporary ascendency of mis- chievous views in Ireland must be judged precisely in the same way as the temporary ascendency of mischievous views in the Highlands of Scotland, and that it would be just as ruinous to give way to the policy of Mr. Parnell in the one region, as it would be to give way to the policy of Mr. Seymour Keay in the other. And they will hold to that view even if they are defeated at the General Election, just as they would,—and, we may even hope, as Mr. Glad- stone himself would,—if Mr. Seymour Keay's views were to prevail at the next General Election. Mr. Gladstone sees that, and is disposed to reproach them by anticipation with intending to obstruct the execution of the will of the nation. But he totally forgets that if his present policy of reticence is pursued up to the General Election, the people of this country will have had no opportunity of discussing the method by which he proposes to solve a problem that in 1886 he thought insoluble. It will be the positive duty of those who think his new proposals dangerous, to take the opinion of the people not only on the promise to give Home-rule to Ireland if it can be safely given, but on the great issue whether or not it can be safely given by the method (whatever it be) which he may propose. He declines to take the nation into his confidence on that most critical point,—a point on which the whole constitutional issue depends,—and yet he imputes obstructiveness to the Liberal Unionists becaus3 they declare that they will not allow the new pro- posals, be they what they may, to go unsifted and unjudged by the people at large. The truth is, that Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal Unionists differ more profoundly than he thinks. They differ not only on the question of Home- rule, but on the proper mode of forming political convic- tions. Mr. Gladstone thinks that political convictions, even on the greatest subjects, should be formed or abandoned, according as the scale of electoral opinion sways this way or that. The Liberal Unionists think that it is a duty to make up their own mind first, and not to change it, unless they can detect a flaw in their reasoning, even though the people declare against them, so long as there remains the least chance of bringing round the people to their opinion. Even if there be no such chance, they would prefer retiring into private life, to determining their views by such criteria as the evidence that the political centre of gravity of a party had swung forward or backward in the immediate past.