Imágenes de páginas

the Irish Land Act of 1887 to the Irish peasant, so that by a similar process of State assistance the artisan should be enabled to become the owner of his house. The Unionist Government conferred this "enormous, this unparalleled boon" upon the Irish; and why should it not be conferred upon the English by the same hands? On the third proposal-namely, old age pensioners -Mr Chamberlain only repeats what has been said several times by the Conservative leaders, by Lord Salisbury and Sir Michael Hicks-Beach-namely, that in the matter of outdoor relief we ought to distinguish between the thrifty and industrious poor, whose failure to provide for their old age has been due to no fault of their own, and the lazy loafer who has never done a good day's work in his life. Some reform of the Poor Law based on this distinction is likely to be among the first things undertaken by a Conservative Government. Of Mr Chamberlain's fourth article some restriction, namely, upon the influx into this country of pauper aliens-we are also warranted in saying that it is one which meets with the approval of the Conservative leaders. In regard to the hours of labour, which Mr Chamberlain would also include, there might be more difference of opinion. But it is a question on which the Destructives are quite as much divided as their opponents; and, what is more, it is one on which the working classes themselves are by no means unanimous. But the four measures we have already named will, we have good reason to believe, be taken into immediate consideration by the next Conservative Ministry. They will ensure compensation without litigation to every working man injured in his employer's service. They will secure him a

[ocr errors]

decent house, and help him to become the owner of it. They will provide for his old age by a better system than the workhouse; and they will relieve him from the competition of that crowd of foreign paupers whom we have no right to support while our own countrymen are starving.

We have quoted from this speech of Mr Chamberlain, not because we necessarily agree with everything contained in it, or believe that all his suggestions could be adopted adopted off-hand without mature consideration; nor yet because we suppose him to have exhausted the programme of social improvement to be expected from Conservatives: but because it points to a great truth, which all recent history illustrates-namely, that measures of this nature can only be carried out by a political party which considers the objects of them to be of primary importance in themselves, and does not subordinate them to political and ecclesiastical revolutions which must necessarily block the way for years.

Between 1874 and 1879 Lord Beaconsfield's Government passed fifteen measures for the amelioration of the labouring poor, and was publicly thanked for them by the labour representatives in the House of Commons. When Mr Gladstone came into power in 1880, the process stopped. When Lord Salisbury took office in 1886 it was renewed; and when Mr Gladstone returned again in 1892 it was again abandoned. Surely these facts, if no other, should come home to the minds and hearts of the working classes.

In referring to the probable policy of the next Conservative Administration, we are not speaking altogether without knowledge. In his own views in regard to Employers' Liability, Mr Chamberlain declares that he is already

assured of the support of the Conservative leaders. With regard to the dwellings of the poor, old age pensions, and alien paupers, proposals almost identical with those of Mr Chamberlain have been submitted to the Duke of Devonshire and Lord Salisbury, and by them approved. They will, in all probability, constitute the immediate business of the next Tory Government, and be to them what Home Rule was to Mr Gladstone. But the programme of social reform sanctioned by the leaders of the present Opposition extends considerably further than the measures above mentioned. Their attention will probably be directed to some important modifications in the present system of London municipal government, including, perhaps, the creation of several subordinate municipalities, possibly coextensive with the metropolitan boroughs, and expressly intended for the protection of local interests and local influence, now too often swamped in the London County Council. The Rotherhithe election and many other indications seem to show that London is ripe for such a change. Lord Salisbury and the Duke of Devonshire may be expected also to take up that longagitated and much-needed reform of local taxation, which shall compel personal property to bear its fair share of the local burdens. They will probably introduce measures for the equalisation of rates and the division of the cost of public improvements among the various interests concerned on fair and equitable terms, without extorting money beforehand for advantages which may never accrue.

Here, then, we have seven great measures of social and administrative reform which, if we are not mistaken, will form the programme of the next Conservative Cabinet:

Employers' Liability; Labourers' Dwellings; Reform of the Poor Law, so as to relieve outdoor relief from the various objections, both moral and economical, now attaching to it, combined with State assistance in aid of old age pensions; a check placed upon pauper immigrants, whose numbers would be largely increased by Home Rule; decentralisation of Metropolitan government; the equitable rating of personal property; and the readjustment of local burdens and local expenditure throughout the Metropolis. When do the working classes expect to get such measures as these from the Destructives,-men who live only for ruin and rapine, and who would scorn to devote whole sessions to measures of mere practical utility? Again we repeat, that if the Conservative leaders promise these things, they may be relied upon to do them. The Gladstonian leaders will promise anything they are asked to promise; but that is only carrying coals to Newcastle, already somewhat overstocked with Radical commodities. Nothing will come of that process while Home Rule and Disestablishment are alive. But the Conservatives will have their hands free to carry out these useful measures; and of their anxiety and their ability to do so they gave abundant proof when they were last in office. The people of this country have the choice before them. They know best whether the measures we have enumerated are what they want or not. The Conservative policy does not deal in blazing questions, food for Hyde Park demonstrations, and fustian rant. But if what the working man wants is plenty, comfort, and security, "to eat what he plants in safety under his own vine," this programme is the one that he will certainly prefer. It may be deficient in that healthy

hatred of all who are better off than himself, which is the whole duty of man in the Radical eye. It may be ignoble enough to seek rather to extinguish class animosities than to fan them. But it will make the British workman a happy man, which Home Rule, Disestablishment, death duties, and the like will never do. The Conservative leaders may well say to the English people in the words of Sir Robert Peel," Do not lightly refuse these offers." The merit of them is, that they are capable of being fulfilled at once. It is a cash transaction. Place the Conservatives in power, and the money will be told down. No waiting for something or somebody else, -till a church has been robbed here, or a senate sent adrift there. These social boons will be a first charge on the Conservative estate, and take precedence of everything else.

The Gladstonian party were obliged for very shame to complete the work of their predecessors in the matter of parish councils. But if we compare with the above the three distinctive notes of the Radical party at present, we shall see that the working man has very little reason to wish for its continuance in office. The ultimate object of Home Rule is the expropriation and consequent expatriation of the Irish aristocracy, a policy well worthy of the Destructive party. This means the disappearance from the island of the great mass of the Irish country gentlemen and noblemen, the closing of their country houses, and the abandonment of the soil to a population of squatters. The The English and and Scotch peasantry know very well what this would signify in Great Britain. They know well enough what a demand

for labour is created by the Hall, the Castle, or the Abbey, and what a number of people would be thrown out of work if they were closed. The same thing would happen in Ireland. The land could not support all the extra population thrown upon it; and what would be their natural resource? Why, England, to be sure, as she has always been. The Irish labourer would flock across the Channel in five times larger numbers than we have ever witnessed before, and pull down the price of labour in every town and village in the kingdom. What is the use of stopping pauper immigration in one direction, if we create a fresh stream of it in another?


But we are threatened with something still worse. What Home Rule would do for Ireland, it seems only too probable that democratic finance will do for England. It is impossible to read the speech of the Duke of Devonshire at Buxton on the 13th of June, without feeling that we are within sight of a social revolution, likely in the long-run to be scarcely less disastrous than the effects even of agricultural depression. Duke told his audience that if Sir William Harcourt's Budget passed in its present form, the long-standing relations between his own family and their friends, neighbours, and tenantry on the Yorkshire and Derbyshire estates must undergo a great change; that the sums annually expended by himself and his predecessors on local objects must be seriously curtailed, if not entirely withdrawn; that Chatsworth and Bolton must be shut up; and, in short, that all those things which, in the neighbourhood of a great landed proprietor, tend to beautify and enliven English country life, to

[merged small][ocr errors]

We say that this disastrous consummation is what we are threatened with. The Conservatives are doing their best to avert it; and the amendment to the 6th clause of the Budget proposed by Mr Balfour, and accepted by the Government, on the 15th of June, may perhaps go some way in that direction; and it still remains to be seen whether the hands of the House of Lords are so completely tied upon money bills as it has been customary to suppose. In a letter written by the Duke of Rutland to the editor of the 'Standard,' and published in that journal on the 14th of June, we are reminded of a statement made by Mr Gladstone in 1861-namely, that the House of Lords had never, so far as he knew, "surrendered the right of altering a bill, even though it touch a matter of finance." And Mr Gladstone went on to say: "If I might say for my own part, though anxious to vindicate the privileges of this House against the House of Lords where need may arise, yet I think the House of Lords is right and wise in avoiding any formal surrender of the power even of amendment in cases where it might think it justifiable even to amend a bill relating to finance." The public are greatly indebted to the Duke of Rutland for calling attention to this statement. But we have no intention of pursuing the subject any further. We only wished to point out, or to help others to point out, to the working classes

that the operation of Home Rule in Ireland, and of the new death duties in Great Britain, tend very much to the same end, and this an end which would be distinctly injurious to all the classes who live either by manual labour or local trade.

Now let us take the third leading note of the Government policy, Disestablishment. What can the working man ever hope to gain by that? Of course, if the tithes were taken from the Church and given to the landowner, the labourer might suppose that rents would be reduced and wages increased. But he ought to know by this time that any such settlement is impossible. The tithes would be devoted to public purposes, and neither the landlord nor the tenant would be a whit the better for it. The clergy would be all the poorer, while nobody else would be any the richer. The rector or vicar who had hitherto spent a large part of his income in charity would be unable to do so any longer, and the working man would have lost one benefactor without having gained another. The relief to the rates from a portion of the tithes being devoted to local purposes would be very trifling, and whatever it was it would not benefit those from whom no rates are collected. Add to this that, little or much, it would be expended on objects to which the labourer is totally indifferent; and we think we have said enough to show that he would be a loser rather than a gainer by the spoliation of the Church of England: for of course he must understand this, that the process, once begun in the Welsh bishoprics, would speedily be extended to the English.

Let him, then, place the two programmes side by side, and com

pare what he has to expect from the success of the Radicals with what he is likely to obtain by the success of the Conservatives, and we will cheerfully leave the issue to himself.

It seems to be assumed by a certain class of Radical declaimers that "the English democracy," as the phrase runs, is one homogeneous body, animated throughout by the same sentiments, and distinctly hostile to the existing order of society. Absurd as such a theory is, it is either held or assumed for party purposes by men of education and intelligence; though notably rather by men of the cloister and the gown, than by men of the world who know much about the country. Not long ago the head-master of one of our great public schools, writing a letter to the Times' on the subject of Disestablishment and the Welsh Church, declared the new democracy would rise in its wrath and sweep away the English Establishment as well, if the Church in Wales was still maintained. The silliness of this language is only equalled by the ignorance which it displays of the actual state of opinion. What and where is this new democracy which is to do these great things? Why, much more than half of it is decidedly Conservative; and its centres are our large towns. This is the new democracy, which returned a Conservative majority for Great Britain at the two last general elections, and has given no evidence of having changed its mind since. This democracy is composed of many different strata, and represents a wide variety of interests. It is no more unanimous or homogeneous than the bourgeoise or the aristocracy. To expect this new democracy, forsooth, to rise in its majesty as one

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

man to sweep away anything whatever, is one of the most ludicrous ideas that ever took possession of the brain of a flimsy pedant. The new democracy' are no more likely to combine for any one object than the whole nation is. But at present they have certainly a strong leaning in one direction, and that is towards Conservatism. Such nonsense as Dr Perceval's is all very well in the mouths of illiterate demagogues and tub orators. We may laugh at it in them. But scholars must blush to hear it uttered by a scholar.

Very erroneous ideas prevail about the English working classes, distinguishing them for the moment from the Scotch, by those who suppose it to be a law of nature that the toilers should be at war with the thinkers, and that every labouring man must be a Radical at heart. We have already noticed the evidence to the contrary supplied by the two last general elections, so persistently ignored by Radical theorists. But apart from that, why should the present generation of working men be necessarily hostile to Conservatism? Our towns and villages are divided into parties just as the whole nation is. In each there will be found a section of the inhabitants, sometimes a majority, sometimes only two or three individuals, discontented with what exists. As no human institution can ever be perfect, this is inevitable. It always has been so in the past, and always will be so in the future, however near we may approach to the golden age. But to confound this sporadic discontent, which springs up as naturally as weeds among the corn, with that widespread sense of injustice and oppression which constitutes a real danger to society, is to fall into a grave

« AnteriorContinuar »