28 JANUARY 1882, Page 5


BELIEVING the ultimate triumph of Liberalism to be as certain as the victory of good over evil, we are never concerned to deny or extenuate temporary disasters, and we

think the Liberal defeat in the North Riding a very con- siderable one. It is true, no vote has been lost. It is true, Mr. Rowlandson, who fought his battle with admirable pluck, temper, and forbearance, and was publicly complimented by his opponent on his "chivalrous behaviour," had a very uphill battle to fight. He does not belong to any of the great

families who have so long divided the representation of the North Riding, and though many of the old gentry, like the Howards and the Milbanks, adhered to their colours, and gave him gallant support, many more resented his candi- dature as a kind of impudent revolt. The landlords are never

tired of preaching that their interests and those of their tenants are identical, but they do not like to see tenants carry seats, always previously "arranged for" by a combination among their own order. They at heart despise tenants, socially, even more than professional politicians, and when tenants pre- sume to be candidates, a fierce class-pride is evoked, which induces those landlords with whom social status ranks before political good to throw their whole hearts into the contest. This is especially the case when agrarian questions come to the front, and the landowners see their ascendancy threatened, not only for a particular election, but for ever. That is the true explanation of the Whig defections in the North Riding, which of themselves, covering, as they did, tens of thousands of acres, would account for the whole of Mr. Dawnay's majority. The landlords bring into such a struggle not only much traditional influence, but much direct power, for the ballot, which is such a protection in cities, can- not, in thinly settled rural districts, where the farmhouses are as scattered as the churches, and the farmers are unaccustomed to combine, prevent land agents from asking how the tenants voted, and remembering any refusal to reply against them. The " distress " which has in the South made the tenants masters of the situation has been scarcely felt in Yorkshire, while the attachment of the farmers to their holdings is sin- gularly strong. Nevertheless, after making these allowances, the fact remains that the farmers of the North Riding could have given the Liberals a majority, had they chosen, and that they did not give them one. They went to the poll in thousands to vote for a man who is opposed to most of their claims, who, after coquetting about compulsory compensation for im- provements, sent such a reply to Thirsk that the Chairman of the Conservative Association there, Mr. Bamlett, voted against him ; who, in returning thanks, pointedly declared that he had been elected on old party lines, and not on any new issue ; who pledged himself to a five-shilling corn duty ; and who, above all, had Mr. James Lowther, a virulent Tory of the extreme "rights of property" kind, as his chief spokesman and political mentor. The farmers of the Riding are shrewd men, who, at all events, know their own opinions ; and it follows that a majority of them either do not care for agrarian reform, in- cluding tenant-right, the enfranchisement of the soil, and self- government in the counties, or do not see that it is only from the Liberals that agrarian reform will ever be obtained. The Tories, whatever their professions, are landlords in feeling, to a man. That is a great disappointment, and one which will materially influence the immediate course of politics. Had the North Riding been carried by Mr. Rowlandson, the tenant- farmers everywhere would have claimed their natural right to • half the county seats, and the urban Liberals would have been at last convinced that the interests of the party, as well as of the country, require that agrarian reform should be the first question to be considered. As it is, the result encourages the Tories to hope that if they can force a dissolution, they may recover the counties ; it inspirits them to resist the transfer of the government of rural districts to electoral bodies ; and it assures them, in their own minds, against the vengeance of rural electors for unfolding openly, as they are now all doing, the banner of Obstruction. The farmers, they will think, do not object to see all progress stopped, all legislation prohibited, and the Parliament reduced to a quarrelsome, but totally power- less, and therefore useless assembly. The bad section of the Houses, the united factions of the Parnellites and the "Wood- stocks," will feel their moral strength indefinitely increased. That they can win, we do not believe. But they can and will make the next Session one of the most tumultuous, and pos- sibly one of the most infructuous, in our history. Fortunately, the worse their attitude, the more the determination of the Liberals to reinvigorate Parliament will be hardened. The majority will not long consent, as Sir W. Harcourt said, to see the minority protract the voting until there is no election.

We trust, and fully believe, that the Government will go forward on their adopted course all the more zealously for this rebuff. Although most unfortunate in its imme- diate consequences, the defeat is not one of the kind which makes victors secure. The majority is little more than two per cent. of the electors who went to the poll. In a by-election, without long canvassing, with land- lord influence strained against him, a tenant-farmer, who was at once a determined Liberal and a stout agrarian reformer, brought 7,749 electors to the poll, the majority of whom must have been directly interested in the land. As the Times, which would, we fear, have welcomed a great landlord victory, has frankly acknowledged, that is not the kind of defeat which discourages. Next time, when the reform in county government is fairly before the people as a measure, and not as a promise, the defeat may be made a victory, for it is only by degrees that any class unaccustomed to notice from above wakes up to the perception that reform in its interests is at last approaching. There is no ground for fear, even should the Peers, by throwing out the County Reform Bill, force a Dissolution with the present suffrage; but it will be well for the Cabinet to consider whether the extension of household suffrage to the counties should be much longer postponed. The farmers will feel much more free when behind them marches a new body of voters, to whom the landlords can do nothing, and among whom they cannot distinguish individual tenants. The conversion of the farmers themselves to their natural allegiance to Liberalism, is, of course, the hope, as we hold it to be the first duty, of the Liberal Party ; but that prospect in no way impairs the claim of the thousands who are now deprived of their light to a voice in the Government of the country by their mere geographical position. That is an unsound system which leaves a huge territory like the North Riding to decide which course public affairs shall take, by a majority so small that the balance of power may have been held by the tenants on a single great estate. Bribery may be put down by law, but intimidation, and the" influence" which is in practice indistinguishable from it, will only be suppressed when the multitude of voters makes it as useless as it is immoral for an individual to coerce the votes of his dependants. If free voters prefer Toryism, let Toryism rule, but let us at least be certain that we are governed by men who are acting on their opinions, and not their fears. If the defeat in the North Riding does not diminish the zeal of ruling Liberals for county reform, and does quicken it, however slightly, for a juster suffrage in counties, the disappointment—which we desire to acknowledge, and not to extenuate—will not have been without some compensations. A Session may be made more intolerable. but England will be better governed.