12 AUGUST 1905, Page 6


Tuesday denouncing the Government was an able one, but it naturally expresses rather the views of the " intellectuals " than of the average British elector. The latter—who, and not the intellectual man, has the next Election in his pocket— has conceived a disgust of this Government for several reasons, some of which are apt to escape notice. He is, in the first place, disappointed in Mr. Balfour. We may philosophise about the Constitution as much as we like, but Cromwell's description of the government for which Englishmen wish—namely, that of "Parliament and a person "—remains substantially true. The average elector looks to a Peel, or a Gladstone, or a Lord Salisbury to govern him, or at all events to take the lead in governing him, and, except accidentally, thinks but little about their colleagues. Just at present, indeed, be could, if suddenly questioned, hardly name the rest of the Cabinet. If he trusts the Prime Minister, the Cabinet may consist of " dittos " ; if he does not trust him, he always in a very short time overthrows the Government. The Lord Liverpool method of governing was only possible in a House of nominees. The elector thought when Lord Salis- bury resigned that he had found the Prime Minister he wanted—that is, the efficient man who could give a strong lead to the people, and at the same time keep the cumbrous machinery of Parliament in good working order—and it is because he is disenchanted, as well as because he is determined to maintain the policy and practice of Free- trade, that he is announcing upon every opportunity his determination to try an alternative Administration. Mr. Balfour remains what he has always been, a thoughtful man with large views upon the few subjects which interest him, a charming orator who inspires almost any emotion he pleases except conviction, a most agreeable colleague, and a most dexterous manager of the House of Commons ; but he is not the leader that the average elector expected him to be. He may govern within the Cabinet, though that is not the popular impression, but in the country he does not lead. Whether he despises the House of Com- mons or not—and for ourselves we think that most improbable—it is in the House that his strength is dis- played and that he produces, well—majorities ; but the power of leading is not in him. Though he is not exactly " sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," he probably on every question sees too much of both sides, or rather of all sides, to have strong convictions ; and like most men of that temperament when placed in great positions, he trusts too exclusively to his skill in "manage- ment," which sometimes in unlucky hours becomes pure dodging. His adroitness has no limit, and rouses even opponents to angry admiration ; but adroitness is a weapon for Courts, not for democratic States. Democracies • want to be told what they are to do, or to see things done, and neither of those desires is gratified by Mr. Balfour. When Mr. Chamberlain broke up the Unionist party by his Protectionist campaign the average elector was strongly moved. He did not understand fully any of the proposals • except that corn was to be taxed, but he did understand that a grand policy, sanctified to his mind by the teaching of Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Bright, and justified by sixty years of comparative prosperity, was to be reversed in an uncertain hope of more employment and higher wages, and he looked to the Prime Minister to say in brief and clear language whether the proposals were just • and wise. Mr. Balfour refused to give him any distinct guidance at all. He would not say plainly whether Mr. Chamberlain's policy, which was unmistakable, was his own policy also, but after sentences which, for all their graceful form, were irresolute, or con- veyed approval in a manner which confused men's minds, he was understood to whisper, like Mr. Brooke in " Middlemarch " : "I looked into it myself at one time, and you must not go too far." That kept his party together in the House ; but in the country it produced no feeling except a sort of despair at the blunder which had been made in choosing so vague a leader. Though monthii have elapsed during which he has been besought for explanations, he has adhered to that policy of indistinct- ness in words, though, as we have repeatedly shown, not in deeds, till the public, always eager for guidance, has been ready in its irritation to say : "Do good or do evil, but do somewhat that we may know that ye are "—leaders... — Convinced that guidance would be refused him, the average elector sank back with a sigh of disappointment ; and as he could not remove the Ministry, he watched eagerly to see if it would do anything that would remove the painful impression. It has done nothing except keep the peace and improve the Navy, and neither of these things has been carried fully to its credit. The country always expects the Navy to be improved ; and as regards foreign policy, the Prime Minister considers that the first condition of success is that the House of Commons shall not be permitted to discuss it. He has given no lead, except by conduct which might be the result of wisdom or of timidity—we ourselves hold by the nobler explanation— and again the elector was disappointed at its absence. He was relieved to find that there was no war, but he would like to have been told in unmistakable terms why there ought not to have been one. Seeing that danger threatened from many quarters,- he hoped when a great critic of military affairs was appointed Secretary for War that the Army would be made effective, but found that the Army, with Mr. Balfour's full consent, had only been made discontented, and that the citizen force upon which he desired to rely as a national reserve was discouraged, if not contemned. Lord Roberts has smashed all belief in the reconstruction of the Army. A fiasco so damaging, Mr. Balfour's advocates will contend, was the fault of Mr. Arnold-Forster, if of anybody ; but in so contending they miss the great fact of our present Constitution, that every success or failure goes to the credit or the debit of the Prime Minister of the time. If, says the average elector, Lord Lansdowne's good management as displayed in the creation of the entente cordiale is to be credited to the Prime Minister, the failure of Mr. Arnold-Forster must be placed to his debit on the other side of the account. (It is, of course, only Mr. Balfour's ill-fortune that the commonalty regard the entente cordiale as the work, not of any Minister, but of the King.) It is the same with the management of all business. The Session has been sterile. Nothing of any importance can get through the House of Commons.; sixteen Bills, some of them quite valuable, have been sent down from the House of Lords, and have never received the honour of one moment's attention. That is all,' says Mr. Balfour, the fault of the Opposition, or of the House of Commons itself, which encourages desultory talk.' Nonsense,' replies the elector, you pass votes for millions when you wish ; you get through the Houses measures like the Aliens Bill, the Unemployed Bill, and the Scottish Churches Bill, not to mention the thousand extravagances which in every direction are checking the revival of prosperity. You can do what you please in spite of the talk ; and if you cannot, it is on your shoulders, in our view, that the responsibility of making the House of Commons efficient rests. You have failed us, though we liked you, and therefore, although this is , a day, as we dimly perceive, of second-rate alternatives, we shall try an alternative sooner than allow you to remain.' That, in part sound and in part unjust, is, we are con- vinced, the instinctive and final judgment of that enor- mous mass of vague opinion which in this country rules affairs.

We have used the word " unjust " because we believe the elector to be greatly influenced by a feeling which is certainly not wholly just. He is much more irritated, as we conceive, by a partly accidental circumstance which has attended this Administration, but is not caused by it, than either publicists or politicians have yet realised. The cycle is one of those cycles in which the chasm between rich and poor has been made painfully manifest. Incomes have increased on all sides; but the fortunes made have been first of all those of men whose wealth excites a feeling not so much of envy, of which the English are incapable, as of annoyed amazement. As usual at such times, the follies of the rich, follies which to-day include a meaningless extravagance like that of the old Roman rich, have been more than ordinarily in evidence, and an impression has grown up that the Government consider too lovingly the interests of the rich. Their bias, people say, is towards the capitalist. That accusation is, we think, on the whole unjust, certainly unjust if Mr. Austen Chamberlain's Budget may be taken as any guide. His oppression, if he has oppressed, has been on the comfortable classes, though of course, as he and his colleagues desire Protection, they in fact, though we admit not consciously, desire to promote the interests of the few instead of those of the many. That the impression exists, however, is certain— it will be realised by any one who listens to the talk of the workshop or the train—and its effect is to remove in the minds of the electors many of the objections to trying an alternative Government.