17 APRIL 1880, Page 5


ONE of the most solid reasons for satisfaction with the results of the Elections is the magnitude of the victory in the Counties, which has been a surprise to both parties. Many observers believed that a Liberal success in Scotland, Ireland, and the English boroughs was a certainty, and Mr. Adam assured his chiefs that the majority would not be less than forty without Home-rulers, but no one expected to carry off forty-five county seats. The boldest doubted if the dis- like of Jingoism had penetrated to the counties, and feared that the farmers it particular would shrink from an extension of the

county franchise. The seats have, however, been carried, and had Liberal candidates been only a little more confident, and a little more ready to encounter the shameful expense of county contests, the list of Liberal county victories might have been considerably extended. As it is, however, one of the greatest misfortunes which could befall English politics, a marked line of cleavage between the county and the town, has been avoided, and of the 219 county seats of the United Kingdom, 94 arc represented by men who, however widely they may differ, at all events are not Conservative. The result is due, we believe, in great measure to three causes, all of them of the most hopeful kind. The Nonconformists of the counties, who are everywhere more numerous than is supposed, and who in Wales probably predominate, have satisfied themselves, after six years' ex- perience, that they cannot endure Tory government; that whatever their grievances from Liberals, real or imaginary, they can expect only a bare toleration from the other side. They cannot obtain from them even a reasonable Burial Bill. Their vote in the counties was probably never so heavy before, and it was given almost exclusively to the Liberals. Then the Election, with its immense issues, which all leaders at least clearly perceived, really brought out the voters, and in counties, as in towns, the poll has never been so nearly exhaustive of all voting strength. We should have hailed that feature in the Election, even if the result had been the other way, holding nothing so fatal to the future of Liberalism as indifference ; but to see that the " indifferents," or "moderates," or waverers," or whatever they may be called, are, when fairly roused by experience, Liberals at heart, is matter of profound satisfaction. It is a complete answer to the old, half-hearted argument that it is useless to stir the counties, that the prejudice against Liberalism is too strong, and that it is better to concentrate effort on the boroughs. There is no such prejudice, as this Election shows, which cannot be overcome, and no such solid majority for Conservatism as to make disregard of county opinion either expedient or justifiable. And the third cause of the revulsion is the pleasantest of all. When every allowance has been made for the vote of the Nonconformists, for a contest which called out Liberals who avoid voting, and for the unusual exertions of the great Liberal families—who were fairly frightened at the course which Lord Beaconsfield was pur- suing—there remains a body of returns which can only be accounted for by believing that a great change has passed over the opinion of the farmers. They have lost their old conviction that the Tories are necessarily the farmers' friends, and stimulated, no doubt, by a series of bad years, are willing either to try the Liberals, or to send up candidates of their own. They begin to see—as the Scotch farmers have long seen—that their old party will never will- ingly do what they want, never give tenants full security for their money, or alter the law of distraint, which so injures their credit with bankers ; or place the government of the counties in their hands, through municipal institutions as strong as those of the cities. They have had six years' experience of a Cabinet of Tory squires, possessed of absolute power, and they have obtained nothing except a trifling decrease of rates. They see that if they are to obtain large rural reforms, they must ally them- selves with the classes which live by the land, but do not occupy it, and they withdraw therefore their natural opposi- tion to the extension of the county franchise. Above all, they see that the Liberal promise to enfranchise the soil has a direct meaning for them,—that it will extinguish, for one thing, poverty-stricken landlords—and that if they would see a real alteration for the better in their position, they must support free-trade in land. We have, of course, no means under the Ballot of stating how many tenant-farmers have given effect to these convictions, secret voting concealing the opinion of classes, as well as of individuals, but one single fact demonstrates the change past all doubt or question. More than sixty friends of the Farmers' Alliance have been re- turned to Parliament, and the Chairman of that associa- tion, though not at first supported by Woburn, was returned at the head of the poll for such a county as Bedfordshire. As that association is pledged to the fullest measure of County Reform, the fact would be con- clusive, even without the teaching to be derived from contests like that in East Essex, a most Conservative district, where the farmers selected a Liberal of the most determined kind, and in spite of the resolute opposition of the squirearchy nearly carried him in. Say that the supporters of Mr. Page Wood liked him personally, and it is still true that in an acceptable candidate Liberalism is no final disqualification. That there are many counties to which the change has not spread is doubtless true, but if the Liberals keep their promises an advance will be made every year, till the tenant-farmers will at last reoccupy their natural position, gliding into line behind the leaders who think it time that feudalism should die,—that the old feeling that the owner of the soil is ex- clusively to rule the counties, is the true enemy with which they have to contend.

We trust, and this time we believe, that the Liberal leaders will lay this feature of the Election to heart. For nearly twenty years we have been preaching, sometimes, no doubt, out of season, that the Liberals disregarded rural opinion and even rural interests in the most impolitic way, that they did not study the farmer's case sufficiently, and that they were foolishly prejudiced against his prejudices ; and have predicted that if they ever regarded the counties as they regard the great towns, they would find in them a large body of genuinely Liberal opinion. It was not, however, till this last Parliament that the Liberal leaders were convinced that a change must be made, and expressed upon county government, the county franchise, and the tenure ideas with which a Liberal Farmers' Alliance could heartily sympathise. They stand pledged now, however, and we hope next year to see a complete series of Land Bills, making all land saleable ; a Bill establishing tenant-right as defined in the Agricultural Hold- ings Act ; and a Bill creating County Councils with the ,powers of Municipal corporations,—with real powers, that is, of local self-government, sufficient to give tenant-farmers new opportunities of entering into and succeeding in muni- cipal life. It may be possible, too, to give that thorough attention to the question of rates which has never yet been given, though " rates " now involve taxation equal to more than a third of the whole taxation of the country. The details, however, are not the point. What is required is that a Liberal Cabinet, while keeping its distinct pledges as to the franchise, tenure, and county ,government, should dis- play a sincere readiness to examine rural grievances, even though its members may be convinced beforehand that many of them are unreal. There never was, it may be said, any unreadiness to inquire, and the defence may be true, but there was very great unreadiness to give the courteous and labouring attention which was given to almost every other subject. It was the old story of the foreign policy over again. The Liberals were right upon their foreign policy, but, as Mr. Grant Duff has said, they took no pains to show that they were so. They were as anxious for rural as for urban prosperity, but they did not make the effort to make their anxiety patent to the world. The farmers, for instance, are, we believe, all wrong about the rates ; but an immense trade, the largest in the country, complaining loudly of its special and direct taxation, is entitled to the utmost consideration, and the most careful exposition as to the point at which it is in the wrong. This Election, however, will mend -matters, and make the Liberal farmer a very important factor in general politics. It is not only for the sake of the party, but for the sake of the good government of the country, which in Birming- ham and Worcestershire is governed on two different principles, that we hail the accession of a solid body of rural voters to the coming Administration.