6 MARCH 1880, Page 4


THAT the Government had hoped to pick a quarrel wita the Opposition on the question of Obstruction, and failed, was obvious to all careful observers of the House of Commons during the last fortnight. In the first place, the manner in which the Government declined to accept Mr. Plimsoll's apology as purging Mr. Plimsoll's offence, and insisted on dealing quite differently with a Liberal offence in this respect from the fashion in which they had dealt with the Lopes case, was evidently intentionally irritating. In the next place, when this move had inflamed party-blood a little, the mode in which they took Mr. Newdegate's proposal in relation to Obstruction out of his hands, and made their own suggestion, without calling the Front Opposition Bench Pinto counsel, was eminently aggressive. There had been, as the Times itself now virtually admits, no excuse for attaching any new importance to the subject this Session. "A more quiet and businesslike four weeks," wrote the Times, on

Thursday morning, "could hardly have passed" than the first four weeks of the Session. And that is the simple truth. There seems, indeed, great reason to believe that if Liverpool and Southwark had not supported the Government, and if the events of the former election had not suggested the idea that it would be a trump-card to play, to identify the Liberals with all the Irish vexations of the last few years, the Government would have left Mr. Newdegate to deal as he pleased with Obstruction, and rather preferred the part of moderator between the Irish and English Members. But so soon as the Government saw the capital to be made out of the cry that the Liberals were disposed to favour nostrums fatal to the strength and unity of the Empire, they began to pose as the party which adopted as its main idea a strong central policy, and which intended to assert the dignity of the Empire against all elements of anarchy or misrule. Mr. Plimsoll's fanaticism made him the first scapegoat of the new sensitiveness, the rather that the Liberals were bound, by all the precedents of Parliament, to deprecate any innovation in the direction of recording censures on Members who had frankly avowed and asked pardon for their fault. The next thing was to show that the Govern- ment could not trust the leaders of Opposition to advise with them on such a subject as Obstruction, implying, of course, that Obstruction bad the secret sympathy of these leaders. And the third step was the cavalier manner in which Sir Stafford Northcote proposed yesterday week to suspend the Standing Orders, in order to resume the debate on Obstruction, instead of appealing in the usual manner to private Members to withdraw those motions on going into Committee of Supply which would have had precedence over the adjourned debate. There was no doubt in the mind of anybody who saw that proceeding, and heard how Sir Stafford at first curtly disclaimed having made any appeal to Mr. O'Connor Power and those who came after him to give way, that the Government hoped to see the Liberal leaders irritated into ranging themselves more or less on the side of Obstruction. And later in the evening, the way in which the Home Secretary, when assenting to the adjourn- ment till Saturday, intimated that the country would regard the House as not being in earnest in its professed dislike of Obstruction, and that those who, pretending to wish to put it down, had really proceeded to draw red-herrings across the path of the Government, would be responsible for that impres- sion, was significant and bellicose in the extreme. No doubt the little trick failed. On the whole, it was impossible for the Government to conceal from itself that the Liberals were not only as much opposed to Obstruction as the Govern- ment itself, but that what Lord Hartington approved—though be declined to divide the House on his suggestions—would have been much more effective for its purpose than the pro- posals of the Government. But, though the ingenuity of the present leader of the House of Commons is not quite up to the mark necessary for so picking a quarrel as to put his opponents in the wrong before the country, and identify them with Irish Obstructionists, there is no sort of practical doubt that the attempt was made,—feebly made, of course, but so made as to be distinctly discerned by all vigilant Members of the House of Commons, and to warn the Liberals of the drift of the Government. Of course any appeal to the country which appeared to have been promoted or hastened by the appearance of alliance between the Liberals and the party of disintegration or Obstruction, would have heightened greatly the zeal of the Conservative party, and cooled that of any section of the Liberal party which should have been deceived into taking that view of the circumstances necessitating the appeal.

But though this feeble attempt to prejudice the Liberals has failed, we may take the attempt as showing that the Govern- ment are anticipating a speedy dissolution, and are anxious to assume a very high Imperial tone on the eve of dissolution. Had the mancenvre of the Government in any degree succeeded, we should have been able to count with some certainty on a dissolution before Whitsuntide, which even now we regard as probable. The promise to produce immediately the measure for the allotment of the six seats, the production of Mr. Cross's Water Bill, and the passing of this either belated or premature Standing Order for the suppression of Obstruction, all indicate the beginning of the end. In all pro- bability, before the final moment comes, we shall have a flourish in relation to our new Afghan policy, and then Lord Beaconsfield will go to the constituencies posing as the Prime Minister who has resisted the partition of Turkey in Europe, and brought about the partition, if not exactly of Russia in Asia, yet of the Asiatic State where Russian intrigue was sup- posed to be most dangerous.

Of course, it is still quite possible that the dissolu- tion will be delayed to the autumn, especially if no oppor- tune moment presents itself for connecting the Government pointedly, and in such a manner as to catch the popular obser- vation, with the cry of the integrity of the Empire at home and abroad. Perhaps, as we have already said, the opportunity may be presented by the publication of the new arrangements in Afghanistan, if these seem to be of a kind to reflect any species of distinction on the English Flag. Perhaps it may be presented by some decisive action against an Irish obstructionist. But this seems to us pretty certain, that the dissolution, when it comes, will be accompanied by a rallying-cry suggesting that the opponents of the Government are comparatively in- different to the strength and unity of the British Empire, and that the Government are jealous over this strength and unity with a patriotic jealousy at once proud and vigilant. If the Budget is not a very popular one,— which it can hardly be,—credit will be taken for having secured the interests of the Empire at a moment of great peril, at a comparatively trivial cost. And we may be sure that any occasion will be seized to give the coup de greice to this Parliament, which offers the prospect of appealing to the constituencies on any policy with a high-sounding imperial note in it, to which some im- portant section of the Liberal party has taken serious objection. Most likely the dissolution will not be very long delayed. Lord Beaconsfield is one who has noted accurately the curious ebb and flow of party opinion, and doubtless he was well pleased in the autumn to notice that the Liberal wave came too soon for the crisis it was to affect, and had ample time to subside be- fore it could influence the coming election. He will not, if he can help it, make the same mistake. He will not outstay the time when, in his opinion, the Liberal movement is growing less powerful, and the discouragement caused by the last elections is most marked.

In the meantime, the true policy of the Liberals is to avoid snares such as were lately spread for them in the debates on Privilege and Obstruction, but at the same time to keep steadily before the people their steady disapproval of a cheap and flashy policy, whether directed against external or internal foes. Ireland is no more to be reconciled by calling the Home- rulers disloyal and traitors to their Sovereign, as Lord Beacons- field suggested on the first night of the Session, than Russia is to be daunted by the remorseless crushing of Afghanistan. Both policies are policies of pretence, and: not policies worthy of a sober and self-respecting Govern- ment. You can only undermine the Home-rule movement in Ireland, by so remedying the evils of Ireland that the Irish Members would be the first to shrink from Home-rule. You can only consolidate our Empire in the East by subordinating the foreign policy of the Government of British India to the internal prosperity of Hindostan, and showing that we are not in so nervous a terror of foreign attack as to go half-way to invite and even facilitate that attack. Neither at home nor abroad is sensitiveness a sign of strength. The Liberals should take care, while heartily repudiating anything like in- difference to the unity and integrity of our Empire, either at home or abroad, to present themselves as the party which, having no misgiving on the subject, does not constantly take dangerous precautions tending to unsettle what they pro-

fess to secure, but trusts firmly to the old and well-tried policy of awaiting danger on the ground of experience, instead of fidgetting about the resources for meeting it,—and, by the accumulation of such resources, stimulating the very discontent and suspicion which it is most desirable to remove.