3 JANUARY 1880, Page 16


SM STAFFORD NORTHCOTE posed, at Exeter, before the Licensed Victuallers, as the statesman who is so uni- formly misunderstood, that he has become quite callous to being misunderstood. And then he gave them a good deal of sound advice, to which we have no objection to take. But why is Sir Stafford Northcote so often misunderstood ? Is it not that he provides, more carefully, perhaps, than any other Minister, occasions for being misunderstood ? He had identified himself, we may say ostentatiously, during the whole of that part of his political life which preceded this Government's advent to office, with a policy of reserve and tranquillity in India ; and has now had to defend, month after month, an Indian policy of more open aggression and aggrandisement than any policy sanctioned during this cen- tury. He had identified himself, during the whole of that part of his political life which preceded the advent of this Government to office, with a finance at once thrifty in ex- penditure and punctual in providing means ; and now he has had, year after year, to find excuses for a finance which is both wasteful in expenditure and behind-hand in pro- viding means. Again, in foreign politics, he had always been one of those who threw cold-water on pretentiousness and on alarmists ; while now, in almost every speech he makes, he has to excuse pretentiousness and justify the alarmists. No wonder he should be misunderstood. And we fear he is not going the way to prevent being misunderstood, by taking the chair at a Licensed Victuallers' anniversary, sound and true as is the speech he made to them. For it is hardly possible to doubt that such a step would not, in all probability, have been taken, nor such remarks made, had not the Licensed Victuallers shown only recently, in the Sheffield election, how useful their alliance is to the Government, and how desirable it is, from a political point of view, to pet this once "harassed interest." The motive for the Chancellor of the Exchequer's course will be found not in what he said, but in what he did not say,—his deep conviction that there is no interest which can be more easily kept true to the Conservative cause, and which can give him and his party more valuable help, so long as it remains true to it. It is the motive which you read between the lines of his speech, not the sentiments expressed in that speech, with which we find fault. Why should the leader of the House of Commons go out of his way to take the chair at a Licensed Victuallers' dinner ? Would he have done it for a great railway ? Would he have done it for the Co-operative Stores ? Would he have done it for the Linendrapers' Com- pany? Doubtless, his words were words of wisdom, but they would hardly have been spoken, if it had not been a point of great importance to keep the Licensed Victuallers true to the Tory cause. Now, we do think political competition for the allegiance of an extra-political body, whether by Liberals or Tories, a very dangerous and mischievous course. Even those extra-poli- tical bodies who, like the Teetotallers, think they have some- thing to fight for far above all political ends, do much harm,— though we cannot deny that on their own principles they are bound to do it,—by offering their allegiance to any party, Liberal or Tory, who will give them the largest instalment of what they want. Politics are degraded when any considerable section of society agree to form their political judgment not on the whole issue before the world, but on some private question which is really quite indifferent to that issue. ,Conceive this process extended, till out of every two electors one voted from private interest, and not from political conviction at all, and you would have a state of things in which the crotcheteers would hold the scales of the political world, and could place power in the hands of any party which, for reasons quite unconnected with the principles of that party, they chose to prefer. Nothing more danger- ous to the State can be imagined. And yet Sir Stafford Northcote does all in his power to promote this politi- cal organisation of private interests, when he takes pains, as leader of the Conservative party in the House of Commons, to keep the favour of that powerful body which so nearly won for the Tories the vote of Sheffield. No doubt it is very hard on Sir Stafford Northcote to be so frequently misunderstood, but we fear he goes the way to be misunderstood, and has only himself to blame for it. We hold that, though his speech to the Exeter Licensed Victuallers was excellent, he is doing a great injury to political life,—and we should say just the same thing of a Liberal leader,—by endeavouring to encourage these extra-political bodies to form alliances with special poli- tical parties, instead of exercising frankly their political judg- ment on the various general issues submitted to the country for its decision.