WHAT surprises us most in the most effective form given to the Conservative statesmanship of the day is not merely the great deficiency, but we must even say the total absence, of that statesmanlike prudence which in the old days used to be thought the alpha, if not the omega, of Conservative poliey. Sir Stafford Northcote, no doubt, still retains that prudence ; but instead of winning confidence by it, he apparently only loses the influence he had. The truth we suppose to be that in the effort to adapt Tory views to Democratic tastes, the regard for prudence as one of the first requisites for statesmanship, has almost disappeared. This week we have had two long and very clever Tory speeches,—one from Lord Salisbury, the recognised head of the Conservative party and leader of the majority in the House of Lords, the other from the recognised candidate for the post of leader in the Commons, Lord Randolph Churchill. Both speeches are rash and violent almost to political lunacy ; but the odd thing is that the Tory leader, and leader of the majority in the Lords is, on the present occasion, far more rash and violent than even the younger aspirant to leadership in the Commons. The notion of sobriety as one of the chief constituents of Conservatism has almost vanished from politics. Indeed, it is no longer Conservatism which professes to appeal to the constituencies against Liberalism, but Toryism ; and one of the most distinctive marks of the new Toryism appears to be rashness mingled with violence. Possibly the Tory leaders may think that a great Democracy loves to be impressed, and that only rash and violent language will deeply impress it.
Whatever the explanation, it would be hard to discover within the records of recent political oratory a speech so rash and violent, as well as so marvellously clever,—so clever that the cleverness brings out the rashness and violence into the most ostentatious prominence,—as Lord Salisbury's speech of Tuesday last at Hackney. He commenced it by quoting a really remarkable Welsh proverb, intended to encourage his followers to turn their many reverses into a great triumph, to this effect :—" Failures are the pillars of success." But surely that proverb speaks the truth only for those who learn and profit by their failures, who learn from them the source of their own weakness, and profit by them in that they discover and apply some cure for that weakness. And such failures as Lord Salisbury's might perhaps have been for him too the pillars of success if they had taught him to avoid the sort of blunders—the disposition to hector in foreign policy, and the disposition to indulge his fierce political animosities in home policy,—by which, both in office and in Opposition, he has always been distinguished. But Lord Salisbury's failures seem to have confirmed him in his worst political excesses, instead of to have cured him of them. We do not remember from him, even in the days when he boasted that it was England's habit to seize a new "place of arms" in every critical foreign crisis, a speech so utterly disqualifying for Ministerial responsibility as the speech at Hackney last Tuesday. In it he declares that it does not much matter whether Russia intended to break faith with us or not. If she did not intend to break faith, and broke it under stress of sheer necessity,
• she is bankrupt in the qualities which alone nations can trust, and should be treated as a bankrupt. If she intended to break faith, she is a swindler, and should be treated as a swindler. Such is the happy alternative suggested at a most critical moment in the foreign affairs of the country. Now, suppose that Lord Salisbury and Lord Randolph Churchill should between them succeed in turning out the Government,—Lord Randolph Churchill proposes to do so by stopping the supplies, —and that Lord Salisbury formed a Government in the place of Mr. Gladstone's, what could prevent war? With the English party in power that has publicly required Russia to choose between the ro'le of a moral bankrupt and the role of a moral swindler, is it for a moment possible to conceive that the violence of the military party in Russia could be any longer restrained, and that Russia would go on conducting negotiations with the inventor of this fascinating political dilemma? Or take a smaller point in Lord Salisbury's speech. He bitterly denounced the evacuation of Candahar, —though the preparations for that evacuation were, we believe, made by the Government of which he was a member, and before the results of the elections of 1880 were known— and held that Candahar ought to have been retained, whether the Afghans liked it or not. His main point is that Afghan likings or dialikings have nothing to do with our policy. "Do not despise the alliance of the Ameer," he says," it is quite right to cherish it ; and you can cherish it in no more effective fashion than by making him feel that you are strong enough to do without it." In other words, our policy in Afghanistan should over-ride peremptorily the wishes of the people and of their ruler,—should indeed, if necessary, defy those wishes. The whole tone of this part of Lord Salisbury's speech was one of scorn for Afghanistan. His old idea of the clay-pot between two iron-pots was evidently uppermost in his mind. If the Ameer does as he is bid, well and good. If not, he must be made to do as he is bid. So that if Lord Salisbury returned to power, the first thing we should expect would be a war with Russia, and the next thing the desertion of the Afghans to the Russian side. He announces, and announces ostentatiously beforehand, that he would give Russia the advantage of the option between being treated as a moral bankrupt and being treated as a moral swindler, while he would give the Ameer of Afghanistan no option at all, but make him feel that he must absolutely accommodate his wishes to ours.
Again, can anything be less prudent in the old Conservative sense, than the utter scorn with which Lora Salisbury treats his opponents ? The Liberal Cabinet, he says, may move in the right direction ; but if it does, it moves in the right direction, just as a drunken man moves who knocks his head against every lamp-post and tumbles from side to side from sheer incapacity to direct his own movements. His proof is that it changes its resolves according as the difficulties it has to meet, vary. As Lord Granville once put it, when a man takes out an umbrella, he puts it up when a shower comes on, and closes it again when the sun breaks out. But Lord Salisbury regards such conduct as the conduct of a drunken man, who if he were sober would either carry the umbrella shut through the rain, or open under the blue sky. However, it is not the particular criticism that strikes us as imprudent, but the "superfluity of naughtiness" with which Lord Salisbury's scorn is emphasised. Is it really a feature of Tory policy to make your enemies feel that you regard them as fools or idiots, instead of as men who have had, and have, the confidence of the English people in a much larger measure than the Tory leaders ? It is surely a blunder, and a bad blunder, to shower such virulent contempt on those who have the evident respect of multitudes. It never was, and never will be, the way to make converts, to begin by assuring those whom you aspire to convert that they have hitherto been the dupes of fools and idiots. We need not say that Lord Randolph Churchill scrupulously follows his leader in both his blunders. His attack on Russia is only less virulent than Lord Salisbury's, while his attack on the Liberal Cabinet is not less virulent. Perhaps, sitting as he does in the House of Commons, and knowing something of the difficulty of persuading a Democracy to believe in men of little character and no disinterestedness, he is somewhat less confident in his invective than his leader, and betrays misgivings which Lord Salisbury does not share. But Lord Randolph Churchill, nevertheless, made of his speech at Paddington one long scream of defiance against Russia and of contempt for the Government. That is not the way to win adhesion. Lord Randolph Churchill should know that whatever success a common scold may have in keeping friends at a distance, it is very seldom his good-fortune to win over enemies or convince opponents.