THE POLITICAL SITUATION.
IT is satisfactory that Lord Hartington is to move the rejection of the Government of Ireland Bill, and to move it in the simplest form. In that way, at least, the situation will not be complicated, as it would be complicated were the discussion to be raised on any of those blots in the Bill at which Mr. Chamberlain's criticisms appear to be chiefly directed. We have one great danger before us, the danger that the Govern- ment of Ireland Bill may be both supported and opposed on so many different grounds, that if the Bill should be rejected, the country will still not know where it is standing, while even Unionists will hardly know who are their friends and who are their foes. We, for instance, are absolutely and ardently opposed -to the Government measure, opposed on principle ; opposed to it, because we believe that it will end in the misery of Ireland and the embarrassment of Great Britain ; opposed, because it ensures far more quarrels than it composes, and threatens a rude break in all the most significant threads of our national history. But utterly opposed as we are to the measure, and opposed to it on Lord Hartington's grounds, we do not scruple to say that we would rather see it passed in its original form than see it amended,—as the phrase is,—in the way proposed by many of our Radical friends. Take, for instance, the cry for retaining the Irish representatives in Westminster. What does that really mean? It means combining all the evils of the present system with all the evils of Mr. Gladstone's plan, and sowing the seeds of a great many new evils as well. As Mr. Morley very justly said at Glasgow yesterday week, if the British Parliament is to rediscuss all the controversies of the Irish Parliament,—first, the Irish Parliament will be irritated into artificial fury, and will feel that it has been cheated of its rights ; next, the British Parliament will be as much beset as ever with the Irish controversy ; and lastly, we shall be more likely than ever to bring upon us the deliberate obstruction of the Irish irreconcileables. The Congress of the United States would be simply helpless, if it were empowered to rediscuss all the controversies of the several States. Federalism is one system; National Union, such as ours is now, is another ; but they are totally different systems, and what the modern Radicals seem to wish for is a spurious system compounded of the two, without the merits of either, and with all the evils of both. As Mr. Gladstone most truly said in his great speech, the wit of man is quite unable to define in any clear way what, under such a system as ours, Is an Imperial question, and what is a local question. The local questions bear so directly on the Imperial questions, and the Imperial questions on the local, that it is simply hopeless to say off-hand what is Imperial and what is local ; and if the Imperial Parliament is not to meddle in affairs bansacted by the Local Parliaments, it will be necessary to prepare an elaborate Constitution, like the Constitution of the United States or that of the Dominion of Canada, to define very clearly whether the Imperial Parliament is to be responsible for everything that is not delegated, or whether the Local Parliaments are to be responsible for everything that is not reserved ; to define in the former case most elaborately and exhaustively what is delegated, and in the latter ease what is reserved ; to establish a Supreme Court to adjudicate on issues of disputed jurisdiction, and generally to exchange the Constitution of these Wands, as we have had it for centuries, for a system as elaborately thought out and as clearly defined in written documents as that of the United States. Now, do the Radicals seriously propose this ? We do not believe that it has even entered their heads. But they are launching out hastily into resolutions and proposals which, if they are not to lead to pure confusion and anarchy, really imply this. Nothing more intolerable than a half-considered compromise between the system of the United States and the Constitution of this county can easily be conceived. We are not very sanguine of cordiality between this country and Ireland at any early period under
any conceivable conjunction of circumstances. We believe that Mr. Gladstone's measure would plunge us into much worse quarrels than we have had lately. We believe that even Lord Hartington's policy would keep us in our present condition of deep mutual distrust, a condition by no means agreeable, even if it were not considerably aggravated. But of all the intolerable aggravations of which we can conceive, the very worst, in our opinion, would be the aggravation that must result from giving Ireland a Parliament of her own, and retaining in the present House of Commons the power of reviewing all that that Parliament might do, with the inten- tion of either upsetting or confirming it. Talk of reconciling Ireland! You would have as much chance of reconciling Ireland by a solution of that kind, as you would have of recon- ciling the Capulets to the Montagues, if a council containing all the members of both families had had the right of review- ing everything done in the private circle of either. A more inconceivable absurdity in the way of Constitutional device than the nostrum recently recommended to us, to pass Mr. Gladstone's Bill, simply retaining the Irish Mem- bers in the House of Commons, and the veto of the Imperial Parliament over the acts of the Local Parliament, never yet suggested itself to the brain of a modern Sieyes. We do not see,—we cannot even conceive,—how Mr. Glad- stone's proposal is to be developed in any direction except that of Separation. But Separation itself, disastrous as it would be to Ireland, and oppressively unjust as it would be to large portions and large classes in Ireland, would never bring upon Great Britain one tithe of the mischief and confusion which would result from adopting a raw and unworkable compromise between the British and the Federal system. Moreover, under Mr. Gladstone's plan, there is at least no premium on localism. The Irish, if they are to have a separate Legislature, are to pay a high price for it,—namely, the loss of representation in the Imperial Legislature. But this hybrid Imperialism, or hybrid Federalism, whichever you like to call it, would be a direct premium on extending the degenerative process to Scotland and Wales, and, as Mr. Gladstone says, "some portions of England." Can any human imagination realise the wilderness of quarrels in which we should be involved, if we had a Supreme Parliament at Westminster fully representing all three Kingdoms, and, say, seven Local Parliaments,—a Scotch, an Irish, a Welsh, a North English, an East Anglian, a London, and a South English Parliament,—all free to pass their own local measures, all being subject to review in the Parliament at Westminster, where there would not be time to settle one-tenth part of the furious quarrels which would, under such circumstances, arise between the central and the local Parliaments ? Such a system, —and it is to that, if to anything, that the raw Radicalism of the day seems to point,—would indeed be a political witches' cauldron such as positively stupefies the imagination of a sober politician.
Let us hope, then, in all seriousness, that the right will be between Lord Hartington and Mr. Gladstone, between an honest attempt to govern the whole of the United Kingdom seriously and sympathetically from Westminster,—not, of course, with- out the help of decentralisation in all truly local business, such as Municipal Councils and Quarter Sessions now transact,—and Mr. Gladstone's proposal to sever Ireland for the present from the British system, and to leave it, as far as possible, to itself. We are profoundly convinced that that proposal will, if carried out, be fatal to Ireland and dangerous to the United Kingdom. But it is at least the proposal of a statesman who has a specific idea in his head. So far as we can judge, the other proposals, which go farther in the direction of federalism with- out enacting federalism, are the proposals of politicians who have not in the least thought out their own meaning, and who have no notion at all of the inextricable and hopeless confusion into which their raw enthusiasm would plunge us.