14 FEBRUARY 1880, Page 4


1%TR. ADAM is quite right in saying that it is of no use to in talk of moral victories, where we have had political defeats. And we certainly concur with Mr. Rathbone in the feeling of profound mortification which he expressed on Friday week, at the failure of the Liberals to carry the day in Liver- pool, after so hard-fought and well-fought a contest. Indeed, the Tories have not only won the day, but probably won more in the popular effect of the election than their victory, rightly appreciated, would imply. It is always true in matters affect- ing multitudes of rough opinions, that nothing succeeds like success. The main result is seized, without the finer conditions which tell more particularly what it means, and what it does not mean ; and of course, it is taken to mean more, and therefore eventually does mean more, than it would mean for those who weighed accurately all the moral causes at work, and understood it truly as the sum-total of their efficiency. It is not, then, in the least because we wish to ignore the misfortune of the Liberal defeat,—on the contrary, we wish to have it fully and adequately appreciated,—that we propose to point out, to those who look at it from a larger point of view, as an index to the judgment of the country at large, what the Liverpool election may be fairly taken to mean, and what it cannot be interpreted to mean, except by those who completely ignore the parallel facts by the aid of which alone its signi- ficance can be understood.

In the first place, then, it does not mean that the Tories have gained in Liverpool, but that they have lost ground, as com- pared with the last general election, in 1874. At that time, Lord Sandon polled 20,206 votes, and Mr. Rathbone only 16,706, majority 3,500, or 17 per cent. of the total Tory vote. Last week, Mr. Whitley polled 26,106 votes ; Lord Ramsay, 23,885 ; majority, 2,221, or 81 per cent. of the total Tory vote. In other words, the Tories got a very much smaller majority on a very much larger total vote, and their proportionate majority was about half what it was in 1874. To get anything like the present result for the Liberals, it is necessary to go back to 1868, when, as last week, the poll turned very much on Irish questions ; the constituency having been placarded with green placards, containing an Irish harp and a very strong appeal to Irish Catholic feeling, which, of course, produced its regular result in a passionately Orange reaction, like that of last week. In 1868, in a very much smaller constituency, Mr. Graves, the highest Tory candidate, polled 16,766 votes, against 15,337 votes given for Mr. Rathbone, majority 1,429, a proportionate majority, a trifle, but a mere trifle, greater than that of Mr. Whitley last week. In other words, the vote of Liverpool, in 1880, is almost exactly what the vote of Liverpool, under precisely similar circumstances, was in 1868. If the rest of the country votes in 1880 precisely as it voted in 1868, the Liberals may be well content. The rule of the Tories will be at an end.

But though, from this point of view, the election may be regarded as no bad omen for the general election, it would be a mistake to consider it from this point of view only. Many of the best judges in Liverpool believe that the election turned very little on the foreign policy of the Government, and that if an Irish colour had not been given to the election by the importance attached to the dispute about Home-rule, the election would have ended decisively in favour of the Liberals. This may be so, or it may not. It is one of the great difficulties which make the interpretation of popular elections so hazardous and dubious a matter, that we can never know for certain how much the electorate were influenced by any one matter in making up their minds to vote. But it is undoubtedly a matter for satisfaction, so far as it goes, that there is great reason to doubt whether the advance made by Lord Ramsay towards the Home-rulers did him more harm or good at the poll. No one will ever know the truth. It may be, of course, that without it he would have been in a much smaller minority than he was. It may also be that without it, the Irish electors would have voted very much as they did, while a very much smaller Orange-Conservative vote would have been thrown against him. But however this may be, the broad fact remains that whatever effect the concession to the Home-rulers really had, it had not the desired effect ; it did not win him the election. And, of course, this will produce an effect, and we hope a very wholesome effect, on the Liberal candidatures of the future. Liberals will at least be dis- couraged from making ostentatious concessions to the Home- rulers. They will be more likely for the future to act on their personal convictions. They will say to themselves, "At any rate, Lord Ramsay's solid Home-rule vote did not win him his election. It may be, it lost, him his election. But even if it did not, even if it did him good so far as it went, it did not go far enough to render it worth while to make the concession. If I am to be beaten, I may as well be beaten for saying exactly what I think, as for straining a point in a direction I think dangerous. Therefore, on the whole, I will go no further in Irish politics than I think really just." This is just the one gleam of comfort to be got out of the Liverpool election. It will tend to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, of those who would otherwise have been likely to concede to the Irish repealers more than is consistent with the welfare of the United Kingdom. But it is hardly possible to consider the Liverpool election as an isolated fact. Place it in connection with the Sheffield election and we observe that in both cases the phenomena are somewhat similar. In both cases, there is visible reaction against the popular opinion of 1874. In neither case does the re- action go quite so far as to bring us back to the condition of popular opinion in 1868. At Liverpool, it goes almost up to that. limit, but not quite. In Sheffield, the reaction, though it gained us the seat, which it did not in Liverpool, stopped a good deal short of the point reached in 1868. For this, no doubt, there were special local reasons. Mr. Roebuck, in 1868, had just been placing himself in captious and arrogant conflict with the artisans, who command the vast majority of votes in Sheffield ; and, therefore, his popularity was, for the time, at its lowest ebb. But, allowing fully for this disturbing cause, we think we may say that while it is clear that the opinion of the public is swinging back towards what it was in 1868, it has not yet quite swung back. The present reaction against the Tories is not yet so decided as was the reaction against the Liberals in 1874. And we believe the reason to be that the least in- telligent section of the voters is still, in every class, slightly fascinated by the Jingo policy of the Government, slightly disposed to apologise for, and excuse, that public arrogance of tone, those high-handed gestures of command which conceal thorough weakness of resolve, by which the Government have distinguished themselves ever since 1875. The eyes of the country are being slowly opened to the mixture of bounce and bathos in their foreign policy, to that overweening desire to appear strong without strength, to profit to the utmost in the eyes of the English people by the force of other nations and the fears of other nations, without giving the credit where it is really due, which has marked the policy of this Government from the beginning to the end. Thas though the change is coming fast, it is not yet fully come. The Jingo feeling still survives, though it is dying away. And this, therefore, is the inference we would have the whole Liberal party draw,—that unremitting work is still needful to convert the country to a saner mind, and that it will not aid, but in- jure, that process, to yield to special combinations like those of the Home-rulers more than that full justice which, in the deliberate judgment of English and Scotch electors, is abso- lutely consistent with the welfare of the United Kingdom.