TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE VOTE OF CENSURE.
TT was hardly possible for the Government to have arrived at any decision except that which they have actually arrived at,—to remain at their posts. Even if there were any precedent for resigning with a majority of fourteen,—and we believe that there is none,—there is certainly no precedent for resigning with a majority of fourteen against a minority composed like that of last week. Some forty Members of the minority certainly passed no opinion on the Egyptian policy of the Government, though they passed a censure on the Government itself. So little, indeed, can the Parnellite Members be accepted as having given any serious vote on the Egyptian policy which they proposed to condemn, that within a few minutes they turned round and joined with Mr. John Morley in voting a direct censure on the policy which they had supported in the previous division. It is impossible to take such votes seriously. They should be struck-off the computation altogether ; for it is quite certain that they would be just as available to turn-out any Government which might have taken the place of Mr. Gladstone's, as they were to turn-out Mr. Gladstone's. The Parnellite vote should be accepted by both parties as constituting " a tendency not ourselves which makes for" instability. It would be thrown against Sir Stafford Northcote as readily as against Mr. Gladstone, and against a Coalition Government such as has been sometimes imagined, under the leadership (suppose) of Mr. Goschen, as readily as against Sir Stafford Northcote. The fact is, the Parnellite vote is not one on which any conceivable Government could count, unless indeed there should arise one ready to propose Home-rule and a Federal system and all the rest of the impossible nonsense which, for the present, Mr. Parnell is believed to favour ; and even then we should find that the Parnellites were ready to formulate new demands. But as the forty Parnellites would simply try to upset any and every Government we could create, we ought to count-out their votes altogether on party issues, and reckon them as non-existent. Now, if the Parnellite votes are extinguished and not reckoned for either party, the Government would have had a majority of fifty-four, a very sufficient majority for the purposes of administrative strength, and one so large as to render it quite impossible for the supporters of the Vote of Censure to command the confidence of the present Parliament, if they had taken office, and had taken it as they must have done without any kind of right to count on the adhesion of the Parnellite Party. If, with the chance support of the Parnellites, and no administrative odium to bear, Sir Stafford Northcote and his colleagues were in a minority of fourteen, they would, when in office and with all the administrative odium that belongs to office, have usually been in a minority of ninety-four, for the Parnellite vote would then have swung round to the other side
and been cast against them. This being so, it would obviously have been the greatest possible dereliction of duty on the part of the Government had they tried to shakeoff the burden of official responsibility. There was no Government possible which would have commanded anything like the same popular confidence. Had they retired, they would have retired in favour of men who would have commanded no confidence at all. And as at present a Dissolution is out of the question, there was positively no alternative for them but to remain where they were. Any other course would have been a breach of trust with the people, and a breach of trust at a very critical moment in the administration of British affairs.
For all the evidence goes to show that if the constituencies are disposed to blame the Government at all, which is by no means certain, they are disposed to blame them rather for the g•Dncessions they make in the direction of Sir Stafford Northcote's view, than for not going far enough in the direction of that view. From Mr. John Morley's followers must be deducted, of course, the Parnellites, who, having done all they could to censure the Government for not moving in one direction, then did all they could to censure the Government for not moving in the opposite direction. But after we have deducted the Parnellite vote from Mr. John Morley's following, there remain more than seventy Members, representing large constituencies, who desire to see the Government retire as soon as possible from Egypt, and who doubtless stand for a much more considerable popular force on that side of the Issue than their mere numbers would suggest. If the people at large incline at all to blame the Government, they incline to blame it for doing too much in the Soudan, not for doing too little. And if they are disinclined to blame the Government, it is because they feel the utmost confidence in Mr. Gladstone's strong desire to disengage us as soon as may be from the complications of our position, not because they regard him as likely to go further than he need in undertaking superfluous enterprises there. They trust him because he withdrew from Afghanistan when he might have made excuses for staying there ; they trust him because he made peace with the Boers when to make peace with the Boers brought all sorts of calumnies on England ; because they feel persuaded that a Government which did both these things would not do more than is requisite to fulfil our obligations in Egypt and the Soudan. Suppose for a moment that a Government could have been formed with Mr. Goschen as its exponent in the House of Commons, then so far as we can judge, the country would have had no confidence in it at all, and would have clamoured loudly for a Dissolution. Whatever may be the doubts in the popular mind, they are not doubts tending in the direction of a Salisbury or even of a Goschen policy.
The real loss of the Liberal party consisted in the desertion 'of twelve nominal Liberals, counting for twenty-four in a division, and the absence of fourteen more. We cannot say that in these desertions and abstentions there is any sign of change of public opinion at all, and our readers will agree with us when we name the deserters and the absentees. Of Mr. Goschen 'and Mr. Forster we need not speak. Their views are in no respect new ; and we know, by the way in which the Liberal constituents of Mr. Forster have criticised his vote, and Mr. Goschen's would-be Liberal constituents at Edinburgh have condemned his, that in their case at least it is no shifting of public opinion to which we must look to explain their course. Then there are, besides Mr. Cowen, who almost always votes with the Tories on foreign policy, the three Messrs. Fitzwilliam who have never been trustworthy Liberals at all, and Mr. Albert Grey, who appears to regard public opinion as determined by the views of Lord Grey on all subjects on which the Northumberland miners have not the strongest possible convictions of their own. Add Mr. Courtauld, Mr. Creyke, Mr. audits, Mr. Laing, and Mr. Nicholson, all of them, with two exceptions, namely, York (which is both shifty and fickle) and the Orkneys, representing constituencies which are to disappear before the next general election, and it will be admitted, we think; that we have here no measure of public opinion at all. Amongst the fourteen who stayed away, a few were kept away by unavoidable causes ; while Lord Stafford, who represents Sutherlandshire, and Lord Colin Campbell, who represents Argyllshire, are hardly to be regarded as representing an independent opinion. Amongst the remainder, we find the representatives of Hythe, of Wallingford, of Wareham, and of the county of Waterford, which, in the first three cases, are doomed constituencies • while the last is probably very unlikely to return the same Member again, and certainly would not object to his even voting against the Government, much less staying away on any or every occasion when he pleases to do so. There remain Mr. MacCullagh Torrens, Mr. Muntz, and Mr. Storey, who represent large constituencies, but who have repeatedly deserted Government before,—the first, because Finsbury, like the Tower Hamlets, is of very uncertain politics ; the second because he is very unlikely to stand again, and would be returned for Birmingham, if he were returned, from old associations and without regard to politics ; and the third probably because he agrees so decidedly with Mr. John Morley (with whom he voted), that he did not care to support the Government even against Sir Stafford Northcote. The conclusion we come to, then, is that having regard to the number of constituencies now practically disfranchised, and the deadweight of the Parnellite party, which shifts from aide to side, as the ship labours in the sea, like the wheat in the hold of a corn-ship, the divisions yesterday week did not indicate any change of public opinion favourable to the policy of the Conservatives, and did indicate that the Government expresses what we may call the high-tide line of a forward policy in Egypt. If this country eventually governs Egypt—as we sincerely hope, for the sake of Egypt, she may—it will be, not for love of a spirited foreign policy in England, but because this nation, after trying every device it can, consistently with obvious duty, to evade the task, finds reluctantly that it cannot be evaded. That being so, to have deserted their posts would have been on the part of the Government a thoroughly craven course,—a course which Mr. Gladstone would be the last man in the world to propose, to follows or to excuse.