7 MARCH 1896, Page 8


-ONE cannot conceive a more pathetic situation than that of sincere and earnest Gladstonians engaged in listen- rig to or reading Lord Rosebery's speech at the Eighty Club. It was enough to make them cry with vexation. Here was their leader making a set, speech on a set occasion to the fighting force of the party,—to the young men of .:Eght and leading, whose business it is to kindle their torches at the central flame, and carry the sacred fire throughout the length and breadth of the country. Con- sider what the leader might and ought to have said on such an occasion, and what he did say. Surely a real leader of men would have thought out and spoken out some definite scheme of policy, some clear line of action, and have told. his followers, These are our principles, these are the plans of reform which we want to see carried, and in this sign we will conquer and win the gratitude of our countrymen.' A political leader in opposition need not, of course, spin new Newcastle programmes, or invent a bill-of-fare to suit all palates ; but he must, if he is going to win, show his followers what are the points on which they must fix their attention, and where their efforts are to be directed. But Lord Rosebery did nothing of the kind. He did not tell his supporters that they would pound on against the legislative claims of the House of Lords, that they would pull down what his lieu- tenants call "the inequitable privileges of the Estab- lished Church," or that they should carry Home-rule. Nor, again, did he take up such a principle as that of universal suffrage and declare that he would not rest till it was accomplished. We do not of course want these things, and we do not believe that the country wants them, but then Lord Rosebery and his friends are under- stood to think our opinions erroneous. Our contention is that in not taking up and dealing with these capital questions he showed in an extraordinary degree his in- capacity for leadership. It would have been better for his party if he had given them up boldly, and had described them as no longer part of their policy, than that he should have left them, as he did, severely alone.

Instead of dealing with any of the great problems of politics and pointing out how his party should treat them, Lord Rosebery confined himself either to the merest and vaguest generalities, or else to making good after-dinner speech points as regards the conduct of the Government. The hungry sheep of the Eighty Club looked up, but to say that they were not fed is to give an altogether inadequate account of the way in which they were treated. They had a considerable number of Dead Sea apples thrown before them, but when they tried to eat them the fatal and perfidious fruit turned to dust and ashes. Consider, again, for a moment the condition of the earnest and sincere Gladstonian, eager to see his party once more armed with power and influence, confronted by Lord Rosebery's speech. The passage about the need for con- centration, no doubt, opened most promisingly. Every one sees the need for concentration, and when Lord Rosebery mentioned the word his audience doubtless believed that they were at last to be given their marching orders. Alas for them ! they received no such cheering command. Apparently Lord Rosebery thinks that con- centration is a purely self-contained act, and that it requires no object. He does not seem to realise that you must have something definite to concentrate on or about, and that general advice to concentrate is about the most worthless and futile that could possibly be given. Imagine the result if Moltke, instead of ordering his forces to concentrate on Sedan or Metz or Paris, had told them vaguely to concentrate in the abstract. If Lord Rosebery had told his followers to concentrate upon Home-rule, or the veto of the House of Lords, or the Church Establishment, or the suffrage, or even on these subjects in combination, he would have played the leader's part. As it was, his words whistled idly over his hearers' heads, while the speaker perhaps hugged to his bosom the futile consolation that, as he had not said what they were to concentrate upon, every one would imagine that it was his own particular fad which was to be singled out for honour, and so every one would be pleased. If that, as we expect, was the thought in Lord Rosebery's mind, it affords a most signal proof of his incapacity for leadersLip. Generals do not inspire confidence by giving orders waich conciliate their troops, but by those which make their men believe that, whether the process will or will not be individually pleasant, the Army, as a whole, is going to win. After Lord Rosebery had made, and then missed, his opportunity by speaking of concentration without following it up, he went on to address his followers in a way which it is unpleasant even for an opponent to criticise. We do not believe in Lord Rose- bery as a statesman, though we fully recognise the amiability of his character and the charming sense of humour which he possesses, and we are therefore, as a rule, not displeased to see him lead his unfortunate regi- ments to defeat. Still, Lord Rosebery is the head of a great party in the State,—a party with splendid tradi- tions, and one which has attached to it many men of ability and high character. Under these circumstances, it must be painful to any Englishman to see Lord Rosebery using language in regard to the conduct of his political opponents which can only be described as paltry. It is hysterical schoolgirls, not great statesmen, who say that they have been unscrupulously misrepresented by their enemies, and that the people who were so cruel and wicked will be sorry for it some day. We are not exaggerating. Just listen to Lord Rosebery's very words. They have in them a sort of sob of wounded feelings. "If the late Government fell from one main cause more than another, it was from the perpetual and unscrupulous mis- representation of which it was the object. I do not fear the verdict of history on that Government Misrepresen- tation so shallow, so vehement, so ill-informed, cannot long leave its mark. It brings its own Nemesis with it. I await the coming of that Nemesis with a serene confidence, —the more serene because I begin to see the shadow of its approach." From his wail over "unscrupulous mis- representation" Lord Rosebery passed to an attack on the Government. A great deal of this was no doubt very clever and to the point, but it was extraordinarily inadequate to the occasion. Just imagine Mr. Gladstone labouring such points as the fact that the Times did not notice the Lichfield election in its leader, that a Mr. Kemp had first said he would join the Carlton Club and then that he would not, that Mr. Gerald Balfour had hurt the feelings of the Liberal Unionist Members, and that an anonymous gentleman, perhaps from Birmingham, had written an angry letter in a local paper. Even when Lord Rosebery at last came to foreign politics his words had little weight. He made a great deal of rapier-play, but the only sub- stantial thing in this part of his speech was the remark that he and his colleagues had been pronounced unfit at the General Election, and therefore could not be expected to suggest an alternative policy as part of their criticism of the Government's action.

We feel no enmity towards Lord Rosebery. If his " rock-bed " political views were to be laid bare we should probably agree heartily with most of them, for it is difficult to believe that the leader of the Opposition is really in sympathy with the Newcastle programme, and we do not doubt his ability, his know- ledge, or his want of prejudice. Again, we feel sure that his intentions are patriotic, and that he sincerely wishes to do his best for the country. Lastly, we are naturally not anxious to see the command of the Home-rule party pass into stronger and abler hands. But though, on these grounds, we might not desire to see the question of Lord Rosebery's leadership raised, we cannot help fceling that that question will have to be faced in the near future. Looking at our political condition from the wider point of view, it seems to us most important that the Opposition should be led, and wisely led. At present it is drifting, while a very pleasant and good-tempered, if somewhat nervous, gentleman in a pilot's jacket is chaffing the rival boat, and at the same time going through a whole series of make-believe movements with a tiller from which the rudder has broken away. The ship has no course marked out for her, the compass is smashed, the crew are at "sixes and sevens," and the officers, though they keep up a semblance of order, are in a state of suppressed mutiny. Though they may hail the bystanders on shore with a show of courage, they confide to each other in whispers that the pilot, though a good fellow, is not the man to keep the ship off the rocks, and that their only chance is to get him to let some one else mend the steering-gear, and put the ship on a definite course. Unquestionably, till this is done the condition of the Gladstonian ship will be a source of danger to herself and to the navigation in general. But if she were to break up, John Bull would have no second ship for use while the Unionist boat was being re- fitted. It is an unpleasant thing to say, but look at the matter how you will, Lord Rosebery must be pronounced unfit to act as leader for the Gladstonian party. His last speech is another proof of this, and the sooner he and his followers realise the fact and act upon it the better for themselves and the country.