3 APRIL 1880, Page 9


IF Earl Grey had written the letter which appeared in the London newspapers last Wednesday with a view of announcing his conversion to the Conservative party, it would hardly have called for comment. The charges which he brings against the Opposition are those with which we have for some time past been familiar, and it is not wonderful that a Liberal here and there should have been convinced by them. But Earl Grey writes as a Liberal, not as a Conservative, and he is apparently scarcely better pleased than we are with the policy of the present Government. It is the Old Whig creed, he says, that he continues to hold ; and this Old Whig creed has taught him that the foreign policy of the present Government "has been unwise and mischievous, that they have sadly mis- managed the affairs of South Africa, and that

the administration of the Government has not, on the whole, shown the judgment and energy we should have desired." It seems, however, that Earl Grey is not of opinion that in the present election it is mainly the foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield's Government that is on its trial. That indeed is the issue as stated by the Government themselves, that is the issue as stated by the Liberal party, that is the issue as understood by the whole of Europe. But it is not the issue as it appears to Earl Grey. He alone of articulate- speaking men is more afraid of what a Liberal. Government may be expected to do at home, than of what it may be ex- pected to do abroad. His letter is a long one, but there is not one word in it which bears upon foreign affairs—except the single phrase in which he says that the foreign policy of the present Government, the foundation of their whole claim to the confidence of their countrymen—has been "unwise and mis- chievous." The entire space is taken up with predictions of the terrible things which will happen in England and Ireland if a Liberal Administration, which "would necessarily act under the guidance of Mr. Gladstone," should unfortunately take office. The special dangers which he anticipates from such an administration are want of careful deliberation in bringing forward reforms, and want of resolution in dealing with agitation in Ireland. Want of care in the preparation of measures, strikes us as a quaint charge to bring against Mr. Gladstone. Whatever else may be said against the Irish Church Act or the Irish Land Act, we should have thought that neither measure could by possibility be regarded as "crude or ill-considered." Yet this is by implication what Earl Grey calls them. He cannot wish for the success of the Liberal candidates in North Northumberland, because Mr. Gladstone has been making speeches "suggested by crude and ill-considered ideas," and because what Mr. Gladstone was when he was formerly in office that he is still. What evidences of "firmness and judgment in the administration of Irish affairs" Earl Grey has detected in the present Cabinet, do not appear. We should have thought that Mr. James Lowther's whole attitude towards Irish affairs was the very reverse of judicious. As to the supposed inability of the Liberal leaders to put down dangerous agitation, it is borne out by nothing that we know of in the past history of the Liberal party. The complaint most often brought against the Liberals by Irishmen is that when in office they are no better than the Conservatives, that they subordinate their political convictions to national sentiment, and govern Ireland by sheer force. The truth is, that Earl Grey's imagination has run away with him. Neither Mr. Gladstone, nor Lord Granville, nor Lord Hartington is any more likely to deal lightly by sedition than Lord Beaconsfield or Sir Stafford Northcote. None of them,

indeed, will do anything at once so weak and so boastful as the arrest of three agitators whose insignificance is such, that even political martyrdom has failed to keep their names before the public. But they may be trusted not to trifle with such agreeable little sentiments as that which lately escaped Mr. Biggar, and, in selecting an object for prosecution, not to choose the most insignificant they can find. In every other respect we believe that the Liberal policy towards Ireland will be at least as decided as the Conservative policy has been, or is likely to be. That the Liberals are prepared to legislate for the

benefit of Ireland will make them more, not less, determined to put down that disaffection which is the worst foe that remedial legislation can encounter.

Earl Grey belongs to a class which, fortunately for the con- duct of public affairs, is not a very large one. He is a very able man, he desires to be a very independent man, and his only notion of showing both his ability and his independence is to take up a position differing from that of everybody else. Most men of ability find themselves, perhaps, in this position, at one period or other in their life-time. The peculiarity of Earl Grey's character is, that he is not happy unless he is actually occupying it. It is not enough for him that he feels independent ; he must give external evidence of it at the same time, and the only external evidence that carries conviction to his own mind is being obviously unlike other people. Earl Grey has completely succeeded in bringing this about. He is obviously unlike other people. There are abundance of Conservatives who desire the success of the Conservative candidates for North Northumberland. There may be "moderate Liberals" who wish the same thing. But no one of them, be he Conservative or Liberal, wishes it for the same reasons as Earl Grey. No one else is of opinion that the management of foreign affairs at a most critical moment may be safely left in the hands of men whose foreign policy has been unwise and mischievous, because a change of Government would do away with the hope of securing a firm administra- tion in Ireland. Lord Grey has never realised that necessity of political life in England which was very well described by a very moderate Liberal indeed, in a letter in the Pall Mall Gazette of Wednesday. "So long as we are governed by party," says this writer, "an Englishman who means to take his citizenship seriously must, as a rule, act with his party, or not at all." This is precisely the condition which Earl Grey seems never to have realised. He has proclaimed his own opinion upon every point as it has arisen, with as much freedom as though there was no such thing as party. There is no objection to a politician pursuing this line, if he does not mind seeing his influence dwindle down to nothing in the process. But if he does pursue it, he will not have taken his citizenship seriously. He will not have weighed the disadvantages of isolation against the charms of independence. He will not have remembered that political power can only be gained by union among politicians, and that union among politicians can only be secured by mutual concessions on the part of those who wish to act together.

No doubt there is a difficulty in drawing the line between the independence which leads a man to separate himself from his party when he thinks his party is in the wrong, and that independence which is never happy unless it is divided by an evident gulf from those who call themselves by the same name. If it were necessary to suggest a test by which to distinguish them, we are inclined to think it should be looked for in a want of desire to make the isolation public. With Earl Grey's opinion of a Liberal Administration, it is plainly im-

possible that he should desire the success of the Liberal candidates for North Northumberland. But a more reason-

able independence than his would have realised how impossible all party action becomes, if in the very crisis of a most critical election a Liberal is to preach the duty of

voting for the Conservative candidates, while maintaining in the same breath his own pretensions to Liberalism. It is not Earl Grey's view that surprises us, it is the obligation that he apparently felt weighing on him of giving that view to the world. He must know that if politicians generally were to follow his example, the result would be political anarchy. Every man's hand would be against

his neighbour ; no one would be able to distinguish friend from foe ; and troops wearing the same uniform, and

marching under the same standard, would be firing indis-

criminately at one another. Where such consequences as these would flow naturally from any general adoption of Earl Grey's principles, it is not unreasonable to think that he would have

done better to practise them at home, without preaching them abroad.