20 MAY 1882, Page 5


THE papers are, on the whole, right in disregarding the etiquette which protects the recent dispute in the Re- form Club from public discussion. That dispute may have such political consequences, that no etiquette not clearly dic- tated by gentlemanly feeling ought to stand in the way of its thorough comprehension. The vote taken in the Club on Thursday was, in fact, the culmination of a quarrel between two couches sociales which has been raging for a long time within the Liberal Party, and which must be settled, if the party is to remain united. The real question at issue was whether per- sons who have become important in politics, but who are not known to the aristocratic section of the Liberals, or not liked by them, shall be admitted into Political Clubs and the like assem- blages, in complete equality with other members, or shall be left to work for the party outside. The subject came up through the rejection at the recent ballot of two important provincial poli- ticians, who were black-balled, partly on social grounds, partly to give a snub to Mr. Chamberlain, who had supported them, and who was considered by the Whigs and Moderate Liberals to possess already far too much influence in the councils of the Party. The effect of that rejection was at once felt to be that no Radical, however prominent, could be sure of election to the Reforna Club, unless he were specially popular in society, or was himself a man with claims to birth and position. The very object of a Political Club would be sacrificed, in order that no one not socially acceptable should ever be admitted. The chiefs of the Liberal party, who understand quite well that with the new suffrage a new couche sociale must be admitted to power, and that the reformed county suffrage must make men powerful and pro- minent who will be most distasteful to the old Whig families, recognised the full meaning of the rejection, and made a great effort to prevent exclusiveness growing into a system fatal to the political purpose of the Club. Lord Hart- ington himself, the natural head of the Whigs, and recognised everywhere as the second personage in the Administration, moved a resolution that for two years to come the right of election should be transferred to the General Com- mittee, which he evidently thought would feel the effect of political considerations much more than the general body of Club members. Lord Waveney took the lead in resistance to this proposal, and issued a circular, published, in the Standard, the general drift of which may be gathered from the sentence that " great benefit has resulted from the exclusion by the ballot of persons who might seek to gain credit and character for themselves by being members, without conducing either to the credit or character of the Club." In other words, Lord Waveney thought the Committee would admit politicians of influence who were not, in the judgement of the older members, quite " clubbable men," and refused to entrust them with any such power. This expression of social feeling, for it is not argument, prevailed. The vote was the heaviest ever thrown in the Club, and Lord Hartington was beaten by 382 to 361.

The vote was a great misfortune, not in itself, for even if it breaks up the Reform Club, a new social centre for politicians will rapidly form round the seceders, but because it shows that the Whigs, and Moderates, and Liberals who subordinate Liberalism to half-unconscious caste-feeling, still misinterpret the movement of the time. They think they can prevent the new men coming into power, or influencing society when they are in power; whereas all they can do is to destroy their own power of influencing the men. The class of politician supposed to be represented by Mr. Chamberlain—we do not mean him individually—the men who have more purpose than light, who can administer strongly rather than foresee, who intend democracy to be a reality, and to govern through the people as well as for them, who are not frightened by the idea of caucuses, and think a pl6biscite has a moral as well as a political force, are as certain of power with our new institutions, as if they had framed them themselves, instead of accepting them at Tory hands. Whatever their faults,—and, though we are democrats, we do not sym- pathise with many of their ideas, particularly in the de- partment where theology and politics meet,—they, with their strength and their limitations, their wonderful insight into things near, and wonderful blindness for things afar off, represent the people of England ; and the people was in 1867, though it hardly knows it yet, made Sovereign. These men will have power for good or evil, and the older depositaries of power must either recognise it, admit them, and so influence and refine them, or push them away, to go on alone in their own path. The effect of the former course will be, no doubt, to make their work, which is to introduce more equality into English life, much easier, and this Lord Waveney would regard as bad ; but the effect of the latter will be nothing better than the exclusion of the refined classes, as in America, from serious political influence. The Reform Club cannot hinder Mr. Chamberlain's friends from be- coming powerful, by excluding them from its walls. All it can do is to make it certain that, as far as the Club is concerned, they shall not be influenced by those mem- bers who think themselves, with some truth, the depositaries of valuable and civilised traditions. Such an attempt is per- fectly unobjectionable, so far as the Reform is a mere Club, limited to gentlemen with an interest in politics; but so far as it is an organisation, intended either to guide or to assist a party, it is perfectly foolish. It is an attempt to refuse to absorb in the ,general party ranks the representatives of the strongest section, and as useless and unwise as would be an effort to confine the suffrage to University graduates. Lord Waveney himself, as an old and experienced politician, must know per- fectly well, that even if all the Whigs and Moderates and cultivated Liberals were united—which, fortunately, they are not—they could accomplish nothing ; that the army through which they must work is Radical, and that if his friends will not lead, the army will go forward of itself without them ; yet, in obedience to a mere instinct of caste, he passes on the representatives of that army an affront which, if they were the kind of men he thinks them, they would never forgive. They will forgive it, because they know where power lies, or will lie ; but they resent the silent contest now going on everywhere, in the nomination of candidates as well as election to Clubs, and their resentment deepens an estrangement which, if it lasted, would leave the upper classes stranded and powerless. It will not last, because, as men may see from Lord llartington's action, the English upper class, like every other class in this country, has political sense ; but the longer it lasts the greater will be the chance of mischief, and especially of that great social mischief,—a separa- tion of politicians into castes. The Brahmins of India were wiser. Abating no jot of their half-insane pretensions, they admitted every class, down to the very aborigines, into Hindooism ; and to the soldiery, originally low-born, they gave the right of wearing the sacred thread, which marked them, too, as in some sense divine.

No folly can be worse than such an explosion of caste-feeling in a Political Club, and we believe Lord Hartington'a expedient for remedying it was, on the whole, the wisest. As the great London Clubs are now organised, a Committee is almost sure to be wiser than the whole body. Formerly, when such a Club contained three hundred members, all of whom knew each other and belonged to the same class, the Club opinion which grew up was likely to have some wisdom in it of the restraining kind. Members would act upon their sense of what was wise as well as of what was pleasant, and no indi- vidual was indifferent to the general feeling, or entirely ex- empted from deference to the recognised chiefs of the great parties. Now, however, that such Clubs contain vast crowds of men, segregated by all manner of causes from each other, opinion has little influence, cabals become frequent, and the individual is sure that his action will be unnoticed in the mass. Members even form groups for the purpose of black- balling, merely to clear the lists. It becomes as essential to delegate all tasks requiring judgment or forbearance to a Committee, as to delegate the control of Parliament to a Cabinet ; and as politics now stand, the election of mem- bers requires such judgment, if the majority are not to exclude men who, on political grounds, ought to be welcomed with a certain eagerness. A Committee is almost certain in such cases to see further than its electors, and the transfer of power was therefore decidedly expedient. In resisting it, Lord Waveney subjected the Cabinet to the Members, and in fact, took the very course which he in politics deprecates, that of overriding trained and responsible judgments by an appeal to a mob-vote.