7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 5


SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE has been this week on a political pilgrimage to Glasgow. The primary object of his visit was to attend the first annual meeting of the "National Union of Conservative Associations,"—a kind of consolidated caucus, which it appears that the Scotch Tories have recently set up, and the first, and to our minds, the more interesting of his two speeches, was addressed on Wednesday afternoon to a select gathering of the " wirepullers," as they would be called by the Conservative Press, if they had the misfortune to be Birmingham Radicals, by whom the new institution is manipulated. To this company of the initiated Sir Staf- ford confided his theory of the Tory defeat at the polls in 1880, and his view of the methods by which the lost ground is to be recovered, and the future triumph of the party assured. There were three great factors, he says, in the last election,—the Midlothian speeches, the "great Birmingham caucus," and the activity of the late Mr. Adam. Inflammatory rhetoric, a " formidable engine" worked by "unscrupulous men," and the dexterous strategy of an accomplished Whip,—such were the forces which placed the Liberals in power. It is a curious proof of Sir S. North- cote's sincere belief in the truth of this singularly mechanical and puerile explanation of one of the greatest popular-move- ments of our time, that the whole gist of his advice to the Scotch Tories is that, without directly borrowing the wicked inventions of the enemy, they should hew out for themselves colourable imitations of the worst of them, which will be equally serviceable when the moment of conflict comes. "Our opponents," he says in effect, " succeeded, because they made free use of the caucus and the stump ; if we are to succeed, we must not shrink from the stump, and we must have, under another name, a full-blown caucus of our own." He regards Mr. Gladstone's election speeches with the most settled aversion, and virtuously remarks of the Midlothian campaign that it "was not conducted on the lines to which we have regard." But a few sentences later on, we find him laying the greatest stress on the importance of frequent " demonstrations and addresses," • and declaring the readiness and eagerness of the Conservative leaders to stump the country, as occasion requires. So, again, no vituperation is strong enough for the deserts of that terrible " engine," patented at Birmingham, and " worked upon a system which influences to a very large degree people who are ignorant, and induces them to uphold and support views which are altogether untrue." But what is Sir Stafford Northcote's remedy ? " What we want to see," he says, "is a well-constituted Association," which will "combine within itself many functions," and amongst others, it would seem, the functions of being the head and centre of a number of affiliated local organisations, of keeping up the machinery of registration, of collecting and circulating political information, of directing and supervising the aggressive efforts of the party,—of doing, in a word, all the dirty and disreputable and despotic things which make the name of the Birmingham Federation stink in the nostrils of every good Conservative. Sir S. Northcote, with his boundless faith in the infinite mischievousness of the enemy's caucus, naturally sees no limits to the beneficent activity of his own. There are, he tells us—and we can well believe it—questions upon which members of his party " have really never been

brought to think. Upon these questions, the Conservative Union will disseminate knowledge and promote discussion, and it will soon be found that those who are now a little back- ward " when they do debate and discuss, are undoubtedly very capable indeed of understanding and appreciating proportion- ately." But the main work of the new organisation will be the carrying on of, a gigantic propaganda among the electors, the great mass of whom, as Sir Stafford Northcote believes, are attached to neither side, swayed by the influence of the moment, and to be won over by those who ply most vigorously the party machinery. If Sir Stafford were anywhere near the truth in his concep- tion of the forces which really move the constituencies, his advice to the party managers would unquestionably be sound. But where, even in the records of American electioneering, is there to be found a more naked statement of the "machine theory " of politics ?

In his evening speech, Sir Stafford Northcote set himself a more difficult task. Whatever other people may say—an I the data for forming a trustworthy opinion are extremalf scanty—he evidently believes the war to be a really popular war. It has been carried through with a rapidity and a success which make the stock criticisms upon our adminis- trative shortcomings for once out of place. It has, moreover, so completely transformed the situation in the East, that the details of the wearisome and complicated diplomatic manoeuvring which preceded it have for a popular audience no more interest than so many chapters of Thucydides. In all these respects, it differs from the wars undertaken by the late Government, none of which, either in its inception or its progress, afforded an excuse for national enthusiasm, or secured even a momentary oblivion for the

errors of statesmanship which provoked it. Sir Stafford Northcote was thus in a peculiarly unfavourable position for hostile criticism. He roundly declared the war to be unneces-

sary, and therefore unjustifiable. But when he came to reason out the point, all that he had to say was this,— that Arabi might have been put down sooner and at a smaller cost, if the Government had shown the same firm- ness that the late Government showed in its dealings with Egypt in the days of Ismail. This is not an argument which is likely to have much weight with the electors, who know that it is out of Lord Salisbury's ill-advised arrange- ments in Egypt that all our recent troubles have sprung, and who cannot get Sir Stafford Northcote or any other Conserva- tive critic to tell them at what moment, and by what act, the overthrow of Arabi might have been bloodlessly achieved. The main interest, indeed, of this part of Sir S. Northcote's speech lies, not in the substance of his criticism, which was meagre and ineffective, but in its tone, which was definitely and resolutely hostile to the Government. It has been commonly said, during the past few weeks, that their success in Egypt has enormously strengthened the position of the Ministry at home from a party point of view, and some journalists have even gone so far as to assert that the victory of the Closure was won at Tel-el-Kebir. To us, on the contrary, it has always seemed more probable that, after the momentary glamour of Sir Garnet Wolseley's triumph had passed away, it would be found to have detached no Tory votes, and to have produced little, if any, change upon the distribution of party strength. Sir Stafford Northcote plainly does not apprehend any defection from his own ranks, and summons his followers to the approaching Parliamentary campaign in a tone of unwonted aggressiveness and animation. His denuncia- tion of the Irish policy of the Government could hardly have been bettered for fierce unreasonableness by Lord Salisbury himself. If outrages have diminished, the credit is due to the "strong, firm Act" of last Session, and not to the " flimsy " remedial measures which preceded it, and which were carried by the Government, not from any conviction of their justice, but in subservience to an agitation which they were too weak to resist. To inspirit them in the coming struggle, Sir Stafford Northcote presents his party with new colours and a now motto. "Freedom 1" is the simple devicewhich is henceforward to be inscribed on their banners, and freedom means "No Cloture," " No land commissions," and "No caucuses." We confess that Sir S. Northcote's new catchword does not seriously alarm us. Free . speech, with no limit to loquacity ; free contract, with no protection for the weak ; free opinion, with no power of organ- isation or collective action,—this does not appear to us to be a programme which will possess much attraction for the electors. Nor will it be much recommended by the practice of its authors, who already stand committed as a party to the Closure of debate by a two-thirds majority, who will be found before two years are over voting en anasse for the compulsory inser- tion of a compensation clause in all farming contracts, and who can see nothing but good in the action of a caucus, so long as it calls itself a Conservative Union, and not a Liberal Federation. But Sir Stafford Northcote's harangue certainly shows that Tel-el-Kebir has not dispirited the Tories, and that

they are not afraid to join battle with the Government which has conquered Arabi.