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THE COMING POLITICAL CAMPAIGN.
HE year 1860 opens, as many a troubled year has opened before it, in a dull and heavy calm. It is not the bright calm of confidence and assured peace; it is more like the oppressive and foreboding stillness which navigators tell us is always met with in the exact centre of a storm. There is no actual disturbance in existence, and no immediate prognostic of disturbance to be seen. The French press is unwontedly polite; Europe is about to be broken up and recast by one of those Congresses which are supposed to herald an era of tranquillity; and the China expedition gives into our hands some ten thousand French troops as a bail for the Emperor's good conduct which it would be very easy to estreat. But yet nobody feels secure. The abundance of capital and the caution of trade, the readiness with which rifle corps are springing into existence in every small locality, the apparent recklessness with which Government are spending in arsenals and dockyards, in spite of the horror-struck protests of their Chancellor of the Exchequer, show that all Englishmen, whatever their class, and whatever their information, are agreed in foreboding a year of anxiety and peril. It is no causeless panic that has suggested this prudential policy, so unanimous and so well sustained. The French dockyards still ring with an unceasing activity, which, if it be not aimed at us, is a purposeless drain of money from a treasury in which it never overflows. The causes in which English politicians have for many years traced the embers of a conflagration that may at any time envelop Europe are acting as vigorously as ever. The Lombard war of last spring, bloody and costly as it was, did very little towards uprooting the germs of disorder which have borne so much foul fruit both in Italy and France. Napoleon is still driven by the exigencies of despotic institutions and a military throne to find
in foreign war distraction for his burdened citizens, and employment for his overbearing soldiery. And no Catholic sovereign has yet plucked up courage to do more than whisper in unofficial pamphlets the stern necessity, which one day or other the Catholic powers must confront, of cutting away the gangrene of priestly domination in contact with which every semblance of Italian freedom, however fair, must inevitably rot away. Whatever cause there was a year or six months ago for apprehending a war, in which England should be involved, exists undiminished now.
In the presence of such a prospect, it may seem a mockery to talk of a political campaign. That the men out of whom our rulers must be chosen should be struggling fiercely for a grasp at the rudder, on the steady and skilful handling of which our safety will depend, would startle us as absolute infatuation if long habituation to the selfishness of politicians had not blunted our perceptions. Unhappily there is a probability that the contest will not only be animated but close. And it is when the conflict is most animated, and the race for power closest, that the peculiar weakness of our parliamentary government comes
To judge by the practical result, one would imagine that our constitution had been constructed on the principle that its rulers are the chief enemy a nation has to fear. For the last two hundred years the terrors of Star-chamber and ship-money have never departed from the mind of the British legislator; and, consequently, our political institutions form a labyrinth of checks and guarantees which are an admirable security against tyranny, and almost against any government at all. With an order-loving people no system could be devised more favourable to internal peace and progress, or to the development of industry and trade. So long as the condition of the world is such that a nation's foes are only those of its own household, so long the polity of England is the envy of enslaved nations, and a model for those that are making their way to freedom. But its efficiency is more doubtful when the adversaries are no longer domestic, and misgovernment ceases to be the principal danger. The multiplicity of counsel, the tentative and oscillating policy, which are almost a condition of freedom in domestic administration, become positively fatal in the face of a foreign foe. There is a time for checks and a time for abstaining from checks; and it has been no unreasoning instinct which has frequently induced free nations to lay aside their representative institutions in moments of national danger. In England we have passed through but one great period of peril since the
royal authority has declined, and on that occasion the supremacy of the dominant party was so complete that there was no danger of a halting or mutilated policy. During the whole of the great revolutionary war, the opposition, for all purposes of effective conflict or control, can scarcely be said to have existed. The nation was thoroughly united in their determination to resist Napoleon, and they loyally supported the party and the statesmen who were identified with that resistance. The unanimity of the people swept away the obstacles which free institutions are apt to raise in the way of a prompt executive and a systematic policy. Perhaps in the presence of another flotilla of Boulogne, a similar national enthusiasm would secure an equally energetic and untrammelled government. Until the time really does arrive, if ever it is to arrive, when our shores are actually menaced, it is impossible to measure all the vigour with which the nation will prepare for self-defence, or the results which that vigour shall achieve. But it is difficult to conceal from ourselves that there are grave elements of danger in the mutual attitude of our public men, and in the sustained factiousness of the sections of the House of Commons. That intriguing, capricious body is a very different assembly from the House of Commons of the days of Mr. Pitt. There is no single leader easily outstripping all competitors and enjoying the almost undivided confidence of the nation. There is no overwhelming party, loyally upholding the minister's authority, and giving the time and the forbearance necessary for the accomplishment of a far-reaching policy. Two bodies of statesmen sit opposite each other, divided by no difference of opinion, but only by the simple impossibility of their all sitting in cabinet at once. Two great parties, scarcely differing in numbers, neutralize each other's power, and leave the government of the country at the mercy of the few who have no sympathy with either, and who are willing to purchase their own special ends by a shameless auction of their votes. Such a state of things imparts an instability to the conduct of affairs which in critical times involves a fearful loss of power. The weakest hand can move a lever so nicely balanced. It is the saturnalia of disappointed place-hunters and crotchety malcontents. A few quondam subordinates shelved to make room for a coalition-a troop of the Pope's parliamentary guard acting under orders from Antonelli-a score of unscrupulous Radicals, who, having squeezed the Ministry dry, think it is high time to squeeze the opposition, may at any time throw the whole policy of England out of gear. Of course these petty sections are the king-makers of the moment only because the two great parties
choose to make them so. Of course their mercenary allegiance and constant intrigues would be powerless for harm, if the leaders of opposition were patriotic enough to decline caballing against the Government in critical times. But the art of leading an opposition patriotically, if indeed it ever existed, is one of the lost arts. Assuredly, it has not been re-discovered by Lord John Russell or Lord Palmerston, and still less by Mr. Disraeli.
Perhaps it is because he has been longer in opposition than any living statesman, but Mr. Disraeli's is the name which the mention of factious opposition calls up in most men's minds. To oppose the Government of the day under all circumstances and by all arts-to damage them in public opinion by throwing out their most useful measures--to discredit and to hamper them by a dexterous use of the embarrassments of diplomacy which close their mouths, and the accidents of war for which others are to blame,--has too frequently been his interpretation of the duties of an opposition. This policy, to say no worse of it, is a thorough anachronism. The day for bitter partisanship has gone by; the controversies of the moment are both less important and less envenomed than they were a generation or two ago; people no longer view a difference of opinion upon some questions as an excuse for prejudice and misconstruction upon all. There were days, and that not very long ago, when a friendship between two members of the rival parties was censured as a species of treachery, and when an intermarriage between a Whig and Tory family excited the same sort of horror on both sides that a New Englander would feel if his son married a quadroon. But all this extravagance of feeling has passed away. Divergent political convictions exercise no inHuence either on the formation of a dinner-party or the composition of a family tree. The only place where the bitterness remains unabated is the floor of the House of Commons. The tactics of the fiercest days of English partisanship are permitted and applauded in leaders whose differences of opinion it requires a political microscope to detect. Lord John frames his amendments as cunningly, Mr. Disraeli launches his invectives as ferociously, as if they were still Jacobites and Hanoverians fighting for the disposal of a throne. And, with the motives, they have also lost the excuse of the models whom they imitate. In any case, opposition partisanship is inexcusable enough in practised thinkers and highly-trusted men. However wide a difference of opinion may be, a man will hardly be justified at the bar of common sense for allowing that difference to colour his judgment of acts with which it has no connection. But an
opposition in the present day has not the excuse of partisanship. There is no difference of opinion to furnish a slender palliation for partisan animosity and misrepresentation. The two benches that face each other on each side of the table of the House of Commons believe in the same principles and are pledged to the same policy. The minutest study of the Statute Book would not enable an historical inquirer to discover that the Government which proposed the measures of 1858 was different from the Government which proposed the measures of 1857. No single question can be pointed out in which the expressed opinions of Mr. Disraeli, the leader of one party, are more conservative than the expressed opinions of Lord Palmerston, the leader of the other. If, therefore, each of these two parties makes it a rule to thwart and hamper the other when it is in office, to use every opportunity to impede its policy and put the worst colour upon its acts, they can make no pretence of being animated by any other motive than greediness of place.
Mr. Disraeli, to do him justice, does not pretend to differ from those whom he opposes. In his speech at Liverpool he boldly and plumply formulates the doctrine of unprincipled opposition:
'I maintain that it is an error, a pernicious error, to associate the existence in England of great parliamentary parties, solely with the existence of great political questions. Great political questions should be rare, and will be rare, in communities which enjoy so salutary a political state as, on the whole, England has long enjoyed. The duties of opposition are not merely to be confined to emergencies; they are duties which perpetually exist, and which ought to be constantly fulfilled. They are duties of vigilance and criticism, and it is only on great emergencies that the opposition is called on to propose and to initiate. I therefore hold that our duties, though there may not at the moment be questions which concern the principal institutions of the State, are still duties which are urgent, which cannot be neglected, and which must be fulfilled.'
Which, in plain language, comes to this: 'I may have no reason to complain of this Government, except that they turned me out of office. They may represent no principle, they may have adopted no policy, that I condemn. But, nevertheless, it is my intention to devise ingenious arguments against all their measures, and to plan cunning censures on all their acts. On every occasion I shall do my best to discredit, disunite, and defeat them; and though I do not now know whether their policy will be wise or foolish, I devote myself beforehand to the task of blackening it in the nation's eyes. And I expect you, the Conservatives of England, to register, to agitate, and to return members who will second me in these efforts: and if you are truly enthusiastic and energetic, I promise you as the reward of your labours--not the safety of any of your institutions, for none