29 JULY 1905, Page 6

" W E pity the plumage, and forget the dying bird."

These words were originally applied to those who at the time of the French Revolution thought more of the sufferings of the Court and of the nobles than of France as a whole. They also apply, it seems to us, to those who at the present moment are bestowing their pity and sympathy on the Prime Minister and his Administration, forgetful of what is happening to the Unionist party. We may be sorry for the plumage, for the loss of personal dignity and of personal credit suffered by Mr. Balfour and the group of statesmen who surround him,—though we have opposed him and them so strongly, we are ourselves not indifferent to such considerations. At the same time, we cannot forget the dying bird,—the Unionist party. Most assuredly the Unionist party is perishing under the treatment it has received and is receiv- ing from Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain and those who support them. Every month that passes makes its condition worse. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say that if Mr. Balfour contrives by Parliamentary finesse, and because of the unwillingness of his supporters to face the painful but salutary operation of a Dissolution, to keep in power for another year, the Unionist party will by that time be well-nigh extinct. Mr. Chamberlain dealt the party a staggering blow in 1903, and since then Mr. Balfour's management a public affairs has rendered the situation daily worse and worse. His refusal to speak- out plainly on the Fiscal question, though allowing Mr. Chamberlain to assert openly that the Prime Minister is his ally, and the favours he has constantly bestowed on Mr Chamberlain and his henchmen, have permitted but one reasonable de- duction as to his attitude towards Free-trade.

Leaving, however, his surrender to Protection on one side, Mr. Balfour's administration has been ruinous to the Unionist party. It has left an impression of want of dignity and of candour in the general conduct of public affairs, and more especially in such matters as Irish ad- ministration and the problem of doing justice to England through Redistribution. There has been a consistent flavour of weakness and insincerity in most of the acts of the Govern- ment. As regards the Army, again, the effect produced on the public mind has been little short of disastrous. The Cabinet has allowed Mr. Arnold-Forster to have his own way at the War Office, with the result that the upper ranks of the Regular Army are distracted and discontented, the Militia is withering away under contumely and threats, while the Volunteers have only been saved from destruction by the unceasing efforts of the Press. It is simply the fact that if the news- papers of all shades of opinion had not taken up the defence of the Volunteers, and taken it up in a patriotic and non-partisan spirit, that redundancy of which Mr. Arnold-Forster has complained would have ceased alto- gether. The Volunteers would have been reduced far below the limit which he regards as the ideal, and which he has attempted to reach in so many indirect ways. There is, indeed, only one department in which the Government is not discredited, and that is the depart- ment of foreign affairs. Here, no doubt, they have done well, but it has been by following a policy which may truly be said to belong to the nation as a whole, and to rest upon a national aspiration,---the aspiration for an understanding with France and for a drawing together of the Liberal Powers in Europe, which are jointly menaced by the growth of militarism and autocracy.

No one who has watched with care the course of the by-elections, whatever his private views on political questions, and has not feared to face the truth, can have come to any other conclusion than that the present position of the Unionist party is one of disaster, and that its con- dition grows worse with time. A general view of the by- elections points to the fact that there will be a tremendous popular vote in favour of Free-trade and against Protection at the General Election, and that the Liberals will obtain a large majority over the Nationalists and Unionists combined. We do not pretend that exact prophecies on this subject based on by-elections are to be looked on as infallible. It is far safer, in our opinion, to note the general tendency than to aim at precise calculations. It may interest our readers, however, to have their attention directed to a scientific actuarial attempt to forecast the result of the next General Election based on the results of the by-elections. This forecast is set forth by a, writer who signs himself " Accountant " in the current issue of "Coming Men on Corning Questions," a series of political penny pamphlets published at 3 Whitefriars Street, London, and edited by Mr. Stead. According to "Accountant," the figures resulting from a calculation based on the by-elections from the end of the war till April, 1905, show that in the next House of Commons there will probably be only 207 Conservatives and Unionists, and that the Liberals and Labour party will have a majority of 90 above both Unionists and Nationalists combined. " Accountant " goes on to tell us that such a prediction must be admitted to stand in need of verification. Accordingly, he takes the five by-elections which have occurred since April down to the by-election at Carlisle, and applies to them the rule deduced from the elections held up till April. The by-elections up till April showed that on the average the Liberals polled thirty per cent. more votes than they did in 1900, and that the Unionists polled seven per cent. less. " Accountant " then applies this thirty per cent. and seven per cent. rule to the last five by-elections, and finds that they produce almost the results which were actually recorded at the recent polls. What makes this fact the more remarkable is that the percentages are applied, not to the figures of 1900, but to those of 1892. But if the percentages of a thirty per cent, increase of the Liberal vote and of a seven per cent, decrease in the Unionist vote were applied throughout the country to the figures of 1892, the Liberal majority would be far greater than 90 over the Unionists and Nationalists. There- fore " Accountant " claims that he has applied an un- necessarily severe test for the verification of his figures. In other words, he tells us that he has only assumed that the Liberals will do thirty per cent, better than their low- water mark in 1900, and the Unionists only seven per cent. less well than their high-water mark in 1900, though in reality be might have assumed, on the bases of the last five by-elections, that the calculation would be more favour- able to the Liberals. As we have said, we do not wish to attach undue importance to these prophecies, or to endorse unreservedly the system employed, but the figures are curious ; and we fully believe that " Accountant " will be proved right in his main assertion that the Unionists in the next Parliament will numerically take very much the position that the Liberals occupy in the present. The suspicion of Pro-Chamberlainism will, we believe, be found to have done for the Unionist party almost exactly what the suspicion of Pro-Boerism did for the Liberals in 1900.

As Unionists, though Free-traders, we should like to ask the ordinary party man—the man, that is, who has no very deep convictions on the Fiscal question, but who, above all things, desires that the Unionist party should be strong and powerful—whether he thinks that his leaders deserve well of the party for the way in which they have managed its affairs, and whether the action of Mr. Chamberlain in putting his money and theirs on Protection, and of Mr. Balfour in refusing to condemn such action, was either good business or good morals. Looked at from the party point of view, Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Balfour have been culpable in a high degree. They have ruined the. party, and left it naked and ashamed on the public highway,—the scorn and derision of the nation. Perhaps the most astonishing part of their performance is the celerity with which it has been carried out. It has taken only two years and a few months to destroy the strongest and soundest political organisation in the country. Under Lord Salisbury the Unionist party stood for a wise and sane Imperialism. It desired no wild-cat schemes for uniting the Empire, but looked to a quiet and steady development of the existing ties between the Mother-country and the Colonies. While sympathetic to the Colonies, it refused to force the pace or to hurry the nation into great changes. Again, in matters of finance the Unionist party represented wisdom and restraint, and was Conservative in the best sense. Finally, in matters of general home policy the Unionist party rejected such Socialistic schemes as that propounded by the present Government in their Unemployed Bill. In the last two years, however, these essential principles of Conservatism and Unionism have been thrown to the winds, and the policy of the party has zigzagged madly first in one direction and then in the other, without any serious and coherent intention behind it.

The problem of the future—the problem for those who care more for the dying bird than for the plumage—is to consider how the party may revert to the principles on which it was based during the time of Lord Salisbury's administration. In the first place, it is clear that if the party is ever again to take its true position in our public life, it must reject the intoxicating draughts offered from Birmingham, and reorganise itself on a Free-trade basis. Though it may have a few years hence a political flash-in-the-pan such as the Liberals enjoyed in 1892, it will, like them, not be restored to real vigour until either tacitly or openly it abandons Protection. The Liberals refused to abandon Home-rule, with the result that they were kept out of power for twenty years, though during that period they had some three years of office without power. Surely the Unionist party after the next General Election will see that it will be much better frankly to abandon Protection, and so to cut short the period of wandering in the wilder- ness which is the punishment of every political party that makes the basis of its policy principles which the country has determined to reject. The country will never pass Home-rule, and it will never pass Protection. These are fundamental truths to which the political parties in the State must reconcile themselves. Any party which neglects to do this is doomed to failure. The old difficulty of the Conservative party was the fact that it lay under the suspicion of being opposed to the interests of the poor. From a suspicion so damaging in a democratic State Lord Salisbury relieved it by patience, sincerity, and the sound- ness of his statesmanship. Mr. Chamberlain—Mr. Balfour abetting—by his championship of Protection and by identifying his policy with that of the Unionist party, has thrust it back under the old suspicion of being anti- popular. To rescue it from that suspicion and to restore the former position will be a difficult work, but in the interests of the country it must be attempted. Perhaps we shall be called Quixotic, but nevertheless we shall do our utmost to further the work. Who knows but that it may be crowned with success ? Harder things have been attempted and accomplished than even this.