11 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 7


together Tariff Reformer and hesitating Free-trader in an unnatural alliance is getting very frayed and thin. The fates sometimes select unexpected agents, and in this case they chose Lord Londonderry as their re- luctant emissary. Whatever his weight in the councils of the nation, his party loyalty and the reality of his Conservatism are undoubted. Hitherto he has been regarded as a genuine, if timid, Free-trader, who had fallen under the spell of Mr. Balfour's comforting assur- ances. But, speaking at Sunderland last week, Lord Londonderry repudiated Tariff Reform in Mr. Chamber- lain's sense, and declared his conviction that we had heard too much about that distressful question, and that it would be well if it could be allowed to sink into the back- ground. He seems also to have hinted at some sympathy with the Free-fooders, by which we suppose he meant those Free-trade Unionists who are equally opposed to Chamberlainism and Mr. Balfour's compromise. Such, at any rate, was the sense in which the stalwarts of the other side understood him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on Thursday week, read him a sharp lesson on party loyalty ; and Mr. Chamberlain, speaking at Birmingham the following night, repeated the reprimand, with additions of his own. " He has continually boasted of his loyalty to Mr. Balfour. And yet we find him supporting the Free-fooders, who are the bitterest enemies of that policy, and apparently desiring that the policy itself should be put into the background where it may be forgotten altogether by his Lordship, and where he may no longer be required to make up his mind on a question which his chief tells us is in the foreground of the constructive policy of the Unionist party." To this Lord Londonderry has replied by a hasty explanation. He had never said he was a Free-fooder ; on the contrary, he had said that he was equally opposed to Free-fooders and Tariff Reformers, and " followed Mr. Balfour's policy implicitly." And so he returns to the state of suspended conviction which seems to be the rule in the Cabinet, finding his sole hope in the infallibility of his leader.

It does not matter greatly what Lord Londonderry said, but Mr. Chamberlain's comments on his supposed confession of faith are worth attention. He, at any rate, has never been guilty of sphinx-like utterances. If his policy seems to many to lack logical cohesion, its main features are at least unmistakable. He asks for power to retaliate and protect, and, incidentally, to consolidate the Empire on a new fiscal basis. He is con- vinced of the rightness of his cause; he believes also that he has a majority hidden somewhere in the country, which only wants a sufficient number 'of rousing speeches to be transformed into a fighting force. But when he began his campaign two years ago he saw that he needed one further condition for success,—a party organisation behind him. The good seed must also be given time to spring up before there could be any talk of harvesting. He therefore agreed to what he calls a " self-denying ordi- nance." The words " Tariff Reform " were never to be breathed in the House of Commons, though they echoed through the length and breadth of the land. The Prime Minister had officially blessed him, the party organisation was falling into his bands, the Cabinet was committed to his creed ; there would be no harm in 'waiting a little and making sure of his ground. So, we must assume, Mr. Chamberlain argued ; but events have upset his calculations. The enemy, in the shape of Mr. Asquith and others, came by night and sowed tares among his wheat. By-election after by-election went against the Government, and the distressing thing was that the winning cry seemed to be that very Free-trade he had started out to overthrow. The Prime Minister's assurances were capable of many meanings, and weak-kneed Unionists chose the meaning less favourable to himself, and had actually the temerity to hint that he and his leader were in disagreement. The " self-denying ordinance " played havoc with party discipline and party pride, until it began to look as if that party organisation for which he had sacrificed so much was to be a very worthless asset when he got it. Small wonder that Mr. Chamberlain is angry. " I think that now we ought to regain our freedom as soon as we can I do not like running away from our political adversaries, and I am perfectly prepared to join issue with them at the earliest possible moment. Why should any of us fear an appeal to the country ? " That is a note we know. An old campaigner is getting ready for a fight to a finish. The time for silence and com- promises is wearing past, and we look forward to the result as hopefully as Mr. Chamberlain.

So far we agree with him that the sooner the thing is brought to an issue the better. We believe that history is repeating itself, that he is following in Mr. Gladstone's steps, and that Protection under all its aliases will be rejected by the country as uncompromisingly as was Home-rule ten years ago. But it is as important for him as for us that the present uncertainty should end. What we do not understand is the figure of Mr. Balfour holding his umbrella over all these motley disputants. We have Lord Londonderry proclaiming his hostility to Tariff Reform, and being pulled up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; we have Lord Hugh Cecil in Tuesday's Times making admirable fun of Mr. Chamberlain's tactics ; and yet they are all in some mysterious way under the same protecting shade. At sixes and sevens among themselves, they agree only in appealing to the Prime Minister as the authority for all their contradictory creeds. Mr. Balfour has said so many things that it is easy for half-hearted people to find a text somewhere in his speeches ; but Mr. Chamberlain is a practical man, and is therefore likely to select the least dubious of the oracles. His particular oracle is contained in a speech made towards the close of last Session. " Fiscal Reform," said Mr. Balfour on that occasion, " stands in the forefront of our constructive policy." Now the significance of this depends wholly upon the meaning we give to the words " Fiscal Reform." They may mean anything or nothing, —Chamberlainism, or the mildest academic discussion which would alienate no one, because it would mean nothing to anybody. Yet, when read in the light of the whole controversy, and of Mr. Balfour's actions, they have only one natural meaning, and we think that Mr. Chamberlain is justified in so interpreting them. The Free-traders who cling to the belief that the Prime Minister is at heart one of them are compelled to give an arbitrary significance to words, and to neglect wholly the deeds which are their most luminous commentary. Clearly both parties cannot be satisfied, and if one is to be sacrificed it must be the Free-traders. If Mr. Balfour repudiated Mr. Chamberlain, there would be good ground for an accusation of bad faith ; but if he disappoints Lord Hugh Cecil, he may defend himself on the ground of his henchman's persistent blindness.

It is a melancholy business to watch the degeneration of a great party, and our only comfort is that the thing is nearing its end. Sharp surgery is waiting for the maleficent growth. After Mr. Chamberlain's speech it is unlikely that his followers will sit quiet under a much longer postponement of the Dissolution. We have no doubt that Mr. Balfour, if he pleases, will avoid committing himself next week at Newcastle in spite of the events of last week and the various inducements to indis- cretion which are there awaiting him. He has avoided more artful traps before, and he can readily do it again. Lord Londonderry and Mr. Chamberlain will continue to hug their respective convictions a little longer. But we do not see how a General Election can be postponed beyond the early spring. It may come just before the Session, or it may come in the opening weeks. The only motive for delay which seems possible to us is the desire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have the credit of what may be a good Budget ; but we can hardly think that this reason will hold good against the general restlessness of the party. The Government have no single excuse in foreign or colonial policy to justify a clinging to office in the face of such a feeling, and the talk of a coming Redistribution Bill is admitted even by their supporters to be the merest farce.