28 SEPTEMBER 1867, Page 7


WE noticed a fortnight ago with approbation the germs of a movement among the working-classes for introduc- ing into the Reformed Parliament a certain number of direct representatives of Labour, and in commenting on the contem- plated action of the United Trades in Birmingham and other populous boroughs in this direction, we recapitulated the arguments which have been urged so frequently in favour of -the infusion of an element representing labour into the House of Commons. We did not anticipate that the views which we put forward would meet with anything like universal accept- ance; we did not certainly expect that the Times or the Satur- day Review would have endorsed them, but we had, at least, thought it improbable that the wisest and most thoughtful organ of advanced Liberal opinion would have challenged' them. We had even supposed that those arguments had been implicitly adopted as a part of the Radical creed, as tenets which both Mr. Mill and Mr. Bright would be among the fore- most to urge. It cannot be forgotten that upon the necessity of admitting the workmen to political power and to an equit- able share in the government of the country Mr. Gladstone's most powerful appeals for a widened suffrage had been distinctly grounded. Nor was it only on the Liberal side of the House of Commons that a desire had been re- peatedly expressed during the Reform debates of 1866 and 1867 to leaven the aristocratic character of Parliament with a proletarian element, drawn, indeed, with care and discrimina- tion from the elite of the operatives, but still out of question inspired thoroughly by the opinions and feelings of that class. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has, perhaps with no great sincerity, avowed his wish, at all events, to see the experiment tried ; Lord Lytton, when he was in the Lower House, advo- cated it with his accustomed florid fervour. In fact, we might have been justified in taking it for granted that, among distinguished politicians of all shades of belief, there was as nearly as possible a consensus of opinion in favour of the expected introduction of artizans into the House. We have seen with much surprise, and no little regret, that our con- temporary the Daily News has, in the most emphatic lan- guage, expressed its disapproval of the scheme. The Daily News has usually maintained Liberal principles with an ritnount of courage, and honesty, and intelligence, not too dommon in journalism ; even in its mistakes, we are bound to say, it has for the most erred through excess of gener- ous popular sympathies ; its influence on Liberal thought must be considerable, and in proportion to its high cha- racter and its deserved authority, we must deplore the tone which it has taken on this most important question, whether it is desirable that working-men shall not only exer- cise the power of voting for the new Parliament, but shall Send representatives of their own to sit there. Without any reasonable ground, on the face of its own statement, for oppos- ing a result of Reform which we regard as one of the most essential to a just development of the Constitution, our liberal and enlightened contemporary suddenly surrenders itself to the seductions of Philistinism, and reiterates worn-out insinuations

against the political fitness of the workmen, and superfine theories of parliamentary capacity, which, if pushed to their logical consequence, would exalt oligarchy into the highest type of government.

The Daily News, setting out with the declaration that it would "be sorry to discourage anywisely directed effort to return work- ing-men to Parliament," arrives, at the end of a paragraph, at

the apparently contradictory conclusion that any such effort "would probably produce only disappointment both to [the

working-men] themselves and their supporters." It is not our business to try to reconcile these propositions. The latter is evidently the one which the Daily News is most solicitous to urge. The artizans, argues out contemporary, would not be most fitly represented by "men taken from the factory and

the workshop . . . such men would be likely to form a special class in Parliament . . . on general questions they would exert neither authority nor power . . . their influence on the House

would, of necessity, be a class. influence ;" and hence, on questions of policy not directly affecting labour, they would be helpless and useless members of the Legislature. These are the main objections advanced against the claims of work- ing-men to have some share in representing their fellows. It is certainly added that there are social disabilities which it

would be equally difficult for the workmen to overcome. When we dealt with this subject before, we did not ignore these, though we strongly held that they might be got rid of by the exercise of discrimination on the part of the artisan voters.

The Daily News, however, insists upon them very vehemently, and puts them in their most offensive form. The working-

men, it protests, "Unaccustomed to the dialect of Parliament, and with neither the education nor the training which would enable them to hold their own against the tacticians and

debaters of the House, would stand, in every respect, at a

special disadvantage." This is a summary, we think, complete and impartial, of the case against the working-men. We have given it, for the most part, in the words of our contemporary, and every one can form his own judgment of its coherence and logical force.

The Daily .News in this argument proceeds upon two assumptions, alike unfounded and mischievous. It argues, in

the first place, on the assumption that the workmen by voting for a workman would preclude themselves from exercising their franchise for any other purpose,—at least, this is what we

take to be the drift of the somewhat obscure observations-

on the necessity of the labouring class choosing " power " rather than "representation." Of course, this reasoning is the merest beating of the air. No one supposes that the workmen of Birmingham, for example, by putting in a repre- sentative of their own would be bound or compelled in any way to stand on one side, while Mr. Bright was supplanted by some Tory or Indifferentist. The election of some two dozen

artizans throughout England will not surely monopolize all the political-energy which has been created in the working

class by the Household Suffrage Bill. The mere necessity of paying the artisan members will of course confine their numbers, at least for the present, within very narrow limits. The danger, then, that the course which the Trades are pre- pared to adopt in Birmingham and elsewhere, will prevent the working-classes from "taking their place in the ranks of potitical parties" is altogether chimerical. Nor is it less foolish to assume that the House of Commons is that Walhalla of " statesmen " and " tacticians " and " debaters " which our contemporary seems to consider it. We should think that any one who has spent even a single evening in the gallery of the House must have been disenchanted of such a transcendental ideal. It is hardly too much to say that among the whole number of members, six hundred, at least, are the tamest political sheep that ever followed the bell- wethers of the Treasury ; that the odd fifty-eight in- clude all statesmen, tacticians, and debaters who ever pass mediocrity. Will the workmen, it is asked, be heard with consideration on foreign politics, or Irish reforms, or other great questions of general policy ? We are not so sure that they will not, but suppose even they are not, what then? Is the ordinary comfortable, heavy, capitalist member listened to with much attention on these subjects ? So little &alias has he, that he never attempts to speak on them, and is com- monly content with giving his quiet vote as Mr. Glyn or Colonel Taylor bids him, unless he is stirred to break silence by danger to something where his treasure is and his heart also, by some Railways' Act, or Companies' Act, or by debates about the rate of discount. In fact, as we should have thought our contemporary was well enough aware, the House of

Commons to a great extent is, and to a much greater extent ought to be, a place where talk is subordinated to work. It is necessary that the great leaders shall be accomplished debaters and skilful tacticians, but it would be as useless to desire a Parliament made up of these, as an army in which everybody, from the field-marshal to the drummer, should be a Sherman or a Von Moltke. We should indeed be delighted to find among the artisan members,—nor is it at all out of the range of possibility,—a Bright or a Cobden, a Cobbett or a Hume ; but we shall be content with a result much more attainable than this. We shall be satisfied if the members returned by the workmen are characterized by plain common sense, knowledge of the wants of their fellows, directness of dealing, and sufficient keenness to see through the intrigues by which they will unquestionably at the first be assailed. We are not much afraid about their being unaccustomed to "the dialect of Parliament," though, as we have urged before, it will be necessary for the artisans to • choose with some regard to the fitness of their representa- tives to mix with educated men. The Daily News, how- ever, makes far too much of this objection. On its theory, one would be inclined to think that every M.P. must be, if not a philosopher, at least a wrangler or a "double first ;" if not a Mill, at all events a Cranborne. But neither the constitu- encies nor the House have yet grown so fastidious, and will not become, we venture to predict, more delicate under Household Suffrage. There is enough of ignorance, of ill-breeding, of coarseness in the existing Parliament to appal the Daily News, if it believes that every member must be at once a Chatham and a Chesterfield ; and the worst is, that we get no compensa- tion for these disagreeable things, for the men whom they most infect are the factitious Radicals with whom our contemporary would fill the House, middle-class devotees of a working-class treed which they do not believe in, or adequately comprehend. To keep up this bad school of political thought,—though we abuse the word "thought" by thus using a policy which, we fear, can only spring from the dominance of that class preju- dice which the Daily News condemns. Is it not ridiculous to denounce the admission of the workmen to Parliament as a class measure, and to see nothing but what is just and fitting in their exclusion I If it is no objection to any Member that he has a factory, or a big shop, or a ship-yard, the objection that he is an artisan is a class-objection. The Daily News is really arguing in favour of a bran new class-distinction, in- stead of for the obliteration of all class-distinctions.