MESSRS. BARING AND BUXTON ON REFORM.
MR. C. BUXTON and Mr. T. Baring are just now on a very important point, representative men. Mr. Buxton represents the courage of the thinking class on the subject of Reform, and Mr. Baring the cowardice of the thinking class on that subject; Mr. Buxton the state of mind which faces- the true difficulty, and tries to overcome it ; Mr. Baring the state of mind which has an obscure but uneasy sense of the difficulty, and which therefore ignores it, and substitutes in its place a shadow which it is easy enough to dispel.
Mr. Buxton says that the constituencies by which England is now in effect ruled have used their power well; that the right to power has not been forfeited by them, as it was by the oli- garchy which ruled before 1832, for their political corruption and abuses ; that there is no political pretext for merging their influence entirely in that of a perfectly new constituency; and that any mere extension of the Reform theory of 1832 down- wards must end, whatever it begins with, in depriving the present electoral constituencies of all practical power over the policy of this country, so far at least as their tone and temper in politics differ from the tone and temper of the millions not yet enfranchised. The case is very simple. No man who- finds his views already strongly represented in the Legislature cares much about his vote. He says to himself, ' I have not only one representative in the House of Commons, but on most points at least three hundred, and I care to vote only in cases where I may hope to add something to the triumph of an opinion which I think inadequately represented in the House of Commons, or likely to be suppressed there.' But this is not what the working classes say. They say what the middle-class said before them, that their views are not repre- sented in Parliament, that their special grievances are not adequately stated there, and that they cannot count ten, per- haps not five members, who on some of the points on which they feel most keenly will speak out their mind. Very well,' replies Mr. Buxton, and those of us who agree with him,—' then your mind is in tone and temper distinct from the mind of the present constituencies, and what you want is something different in effect from their representative assembly as now chosen, something that will not represent the middle-class view on many points, but that will refute the middle-class view. That shows no doubt that you are not fairly represented, but what do you want to have ?—the whole representation or only a portion ? A. clear voice and influence in the House of Commons, or the whole borough representa- tion at least, of the House of Commons ? Do you wish to oust the middle-class view, so far as it differs, as you say it does, in tone and temper from your own, or only to correct it by putting your own. view side by side with it ? If the former, you are unfair, and crying for the virtual disfranchisement of a class which, as you yourselves will admit, has ruled well and wisely for thirty years. If the latter, you are asking what we are as anxious to give as you to ask, if you will but agree to let us do it on a basis of clear principle, without conceding you a new argument and a new weapon for wrenching the whole power from our grasp after a few more decades.' Now what does Mr. Baring reply to this very moderate- statement of the case ? In fact nothing except the old story that anything which statesmen would think of proposing as. the next step in Reform,—say, Mr. Baines's Bill, or the measure of 1860, or any other practicable step,—would not in itself be a. revolutionary measure, but would only admit the Rite, the aris- tocracy, of the working class to the suffrage, who could not, even if they would, carry all the boroughs with them. There would be large numbers of the boroughs in which the influence of the present constituencies would still be paramount. According to Mr. Baines, only one-fourth of the new borough consti- tuencies would be of the working class, so that they could at most leaven the tone of Parliament, not revolutionize it. Who ever doubted it ? If Mr. Baines's Bill or the Bill of 1860 were all,—and led to nothing beyond itself,—the middle class would undoubtedly still elect the members in the smaller boroughs; though it would be a worse middle class, a middle class more mixed with corrupt elements neither belonging to the working class, nor to its own best ranks, but to the degraded part of itself; while the working class would assuredly not get more than its fair share of power in the large towns, if it got that. But who supposes that after two successive Reform Bills, both admitting the principle of a mere lowering of the franchise to a smaller property qualification, thore would be an end of all Re- form in the same sense ? Certainly neither Mr. Baring nor Mr. Baines, whose arguments are almost addressed to prove that the working classes, even if they were to be- come masters of the situation, are not to be feared. They could not be selfish in foreign policy, says Mr. Baring,—for look at their generous forbearance during the cotton distress, when they deprecated instead of advocating an interference that might have set the mills again at work. They would not be selfish in matters of taxation, for it is not they, but the wealthy class, who would have to bear the burden of the change, who shout for direct taxation and an end to Customs duties ;—an odd argument, by the way, to reason that those whose interest it is to take up a cry would not take it up because those whose interest it is not, have done so. In short Mr. Baring wants to persuade us that the change would in effect be alto- gether immaterial,—the mere substitution of a large class which is provident, thoughtful, and shrewd, for another smaller class, perhaps equally provident, thoughtful, and shrewd, but which appears to have at present somewhat exclusive privileges. Well, if the effect be really so entirely insignificant,—we should object to changing the cause. No sensible man cares for the voting power who finds his thoughts and interests already powerfully expressed by a hundred voices. If we have got a machine already which in fact produces the same article with say 400,000 borough voters, it is clearly childish to invent a new one which requires 800,000 or 900,000 borough voters to produce the same result. Unless you want to effect a real change, do not substitute a more troublesome for a less troublesome machinery. If the working class is virtually represented already, let us not seek to remedy a purely chimerical grievance.
But the truth is that the reformers who try to advocate this view do not believe in it themselves. They think, no doubt, as we do, that the highest section of the working class is as good as, perhaps better than, the section of small shopkeepers immediately above it in wealth, but they do not think that it is the same. They are compelled therefore to argue in the same breath on the double hypothesis that they are to have the whole power and that they are to have only a part, and to mix up the two ideas as much as possible. That they will have the whole power before another half-century is passed, if the principle of the Reform Act of 1832 without any qualification, is to be carried lower and lower in the social soale, is certain ; —that they will have only a part at the first step is equally certain ; and the democratic speakers are very clever in confounding the two classes of arguments. First they say with Mr. Baines, Don't be frightened at nothing, we propose to make the working classes only one-fourth of the borough constituencies;' then they add, with Mr. Baring, 'and see, too, what respectable views they have, even if they did sup- plant you altogether.' And what with shuffling now on to this foot of the argument, now on to that, it is not easy to bring them to any distinct issue. Thinking men are, however, well convinced that the next Reform Bill must decide the contro- versy between the representation of the whole national thought, and democracy, or the representation of one element alone which it contains. There is no such reason for ejecting the middle class from its electoral rights as there was for ejecting the oligarchy which abused those rights in 1832; and if it is done, or if the first step is taken towards doing it without reserving any principle which shall permanently secure them, we may conclude that it is in deference to that strange and causeless fatalism which seems to possess practical men with a reluctant conviction that democracy is the ' mani- fest destiny' towards which the Liberal party must be content to drift,—slowly if it can, rapidly if it must. There is one argument which now and then creeps into the speeches of those who take the line of Mr. Baines and Mr. Baring which has, we believe, in reality a more pernicious in- fluence than those which they put in the front of the battle. It is that the indirect influence which wealth and rank naturally secure in the representation of the nation should be set against the overwhelming influence of numbers. After all, it is argued, men of ample means and with the tastes and tone, and perhaps the prejudices of the wealthier classes, must in most cases be the organs through whom the working classes, even when numerically omnipotent, will be obliged to express their views, and that will so modify the spirit in which they are expressed as to secure more influence to the middle class indirectly than the working class secures by its power of monopolizing the nomination. We believe this to be partly true and partly false, but even so far as it is true to bear in the opposite direction to that in which it is urged. No doubt one of the earliest effects of a pure democracy, and—whenever a pure democracy should be really attained—not perhaps the worst effect, would be to secure the working classes the power of nominating mem- bers of their own class, by securing them the income from State resources necessary for poor men who give up their time for politics. If this were so, the argument, except so far as it rests on to corrupting influence of wealth and station, on which few would dare to urge it, would fall to the ground. But gent. ing that this were not to be so,—granting that the constituencies preferred to find men willing to give their time gratuitously to the nation, so long as they accepted their views from the electors, of what nature would be the indirect influence thus acquired over the course of politics ? We believe it would be far worse for the middle class than that more complete exclu- sion from electoral influence which pure democracy en- sures. Thinking men obliged to adopt, in order to obtain political influence at all, a creed which does not properly belong to them, will always do more harm than good to the views they would naturally prefer to represent, by the hesi- tating touches with which they timidly modify their assumed belief, in the interest of their more natural creed. Nowhere do we see this more curiously than in the forced Radicalism of such men as Mr. T. Baring himself. You can see perfectly well that he is not really satisfied with this proposed drifting to democracy,—that he wishes to see the working class repre- sented, but that he does not wish to see the class of opinions not generally entertained by the working class dispossessed of their influence. He tries to persuade himself that the only popular method for effecting the first purpose will not effect the second. But he oannot really convince himself that it will not. He, and all those who speak like him, express working- class views on Reform in the cautious tone and with the dubious accent of middle-class thinkers. In doing so they do infinitely more harm to the views they thus respectfully put aside than the democrats who, like Mr. George Wilson and his Manchester Reform -Union, blurt out at once their belief that the majority of hands ought to rule, not the majority of thoughts. The " moderate" adherent of democracy who says, "It is really not so dangerous as it is supposed to be," or, " I, for one, have great confidence in the working men of England," or, " What is the great difference after all between the artizans and the present constituencies ?" or who in any other amiable way blinks the questions and suggests quite another issue, is far more certain to prejudice the views he intuitively respects than the democrat who says out at once " A million men thinking the same monotonous thought ought to have ten times as much representative power as a hundred thousand men who have painfully formed an independent opinion on the subject ; and the interests of the former, all of the same kind, should have ten times as many exponents at the poll as the interests of the latter, however various, even though the result of that may be that the latter never get a real representation at all." Indirect representation means only the power to damage an opinion by showing your hankering after it without the right or power to support it. An aristocrat at heart who accepts a radical seat is infinitely more dangerous to his order than a thorough Liberal. And a middle-class Liberal, with opinions formed in the school say of Mr. Glad- stone or, to go out of the House, Mr. J. Stuart Mill, who should accept a nomination from a working-class constituency, will prejudice the views of his own class far more than the ablest supporter of the working-class type of Liberalism. Indirect influence is altogether an anomaly in a representative system. A member of Parliament must either have the right to advocate boldly or he had better let it altogether alone. To show leanings without daring to give votes injures instead of aiding the views to which the bias tends. If the middle class are to give up their direct representative rights altogether, let them not attempt to retain indirect representative influence. We believe in the working class as quite the equal of the present electoral class, and would far rather trust them with the whole power than attempt to refract it through a middle- class medium of expression. But we can see neither right nor destiny in enfranchising one class which may be expected to do well, at the expense of disfranchising another which is admitted to have done well.