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2. A Cross-Bench View. By the Rev. Canon Hensley Henson
The IMPOTENCE OF SOCIALISM: A Rejoinder. By H. W. Hoare
Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Manchester
AN IMPERIAL CONFERENCE OF THE CHURCH AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE.
By the Right Rev. Bishop Welldon.
The sensational election of two years ago was interpreted by many shrewd observers as the opening of a period in English politics of unusual interest and complexity. That interest and complexity has increased rather than diminished with the passing of the intervening time. How have the years treated the Government, then almost timidly coming to office after a decade of defeat ? and an Opposition, stunned by the force of overwhelming disaster, but still hardly able to regard a Liberal administration but as providing a little rest—an interregnum ? and the new forces outside the two historic parties, whose advent in the political arena would alone make this incident memorable ?
The Government in these two years has been subjected to every kind of criticism, obloquy, and abuse. The bulk of the respectable press of England and Scotland has been perpetually assailing it with an increasing ferocity; and the majority of those classes who are accustomed to think that they are controlling public opinion are filled with bitterness because it refuses to disappear. The casual stranger, visiting England as an alien and occupying himself with the pleasant amenities of London society and the opinion of the
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newspapers, would discover a consensus of condemnation which would convince him of a national disgust. One after another the great and established London newspapers, the weekly reviews, the special Church and Society journals, the organs of the provinces—in Leeds, in Birmingham, in Liverpool, in Edinburgh-would assure him that he was gazing upon a discredited administration, compassing the ruin of Britain. Making every allowance for the heightened and telling style of popular controversy and the exuberance which only finds vent in exaggeration, he would yet be driven to the conclusion that so great a smoke must signify at least some fire; that the people, repenting already of an act of passing madness, were only desirous of some opportunity for the defiant destruction of their present rulers.
Yet when he turns to the actual expression of opinion amongst the people' themselves he is suddenly confounded. It is the habit of every Government to lose by-elections. Majorities are effective not when they are hoarded but when they are wisely expended ; and in the transformation of political promises into political performances there must of necessity follow the falling away of those to whom performances are as disagreeable as promises are effective. Again, it is the habit of a certain type of mind blindly to vote against any Government which happens to be in power; whose grievance is often less with its rulers than with the limited conditions of all human endeavour. And, above all, when the majority of a party rises to such swollen, impossible dimensions as that of the Liberal party in the present Parliament, there is every influence at work to stimulate a crumbling away in the constituencies : a slackness on the part of the victors, a fierce energy on the part of the vanquished, a return of many who had abnormally forsaken their old allegiance and now are filled with horror at the ruin of their own invention. Certainly I expected with some confidence (and I was not alone in the prophecy) that the by-elections would show a continuous series of Opposition successes, indicating a reduction of the present majority, not into a minority, but into the normal healthy eighty or a hundred surplusage which is the natural condition of a great political victory.
But the result of these two years of elections has been in many respects more astonishing oven than the results of the great débâcle. More than fifty contests have been challenged, in remote regions of Scotland, in the populous northern cities, in the rural districts of the south. They have represented all classes and varieties of opinion. In such contests where the seat had remained Conservative in the General Election it has remained Conservative to-day. Often indeed the Tory majority has increased, thus revealing an 'irreducible minimum of Toryism in the country below which it seems unlikely to sink. Under certain conditions, however (which I shall refer to in a moment), under the furious impulse of a new enemy falling (88 it were) upon its flank, even that irreducible minimum' has been compelled to desperate struggle for bare existence. But where the Liberal won at the General Election the Liberal has won to-day; the swing of the pendulum shows no signs of its return. A Conservative slipped in at Cockermouth, in a minority of the total votes, through a division between Liberalism and Labour; and a Liberal was beaten at Brigg under such unfortunate local conditions (associated with the retirement of its former member) as made the contest hopeless from the beginning. Otherwise the tale is of maintenance and even (as in North-West Staffordshire) improvement on the General Election. All the hubbub of the newspapers and of Society, the violence of the Opposition platform, seems to pass altogether unnoticed amongst the masses of the people; who, gazing on these antics with something of the grave wonder of a child watching the fantastic attempts of would-be humorists to grimace and gibber before it in vain effort to amuse, only exhibit an indifference more baffling than open condemnation.
Here alone, then, there would appear to be some evidence of a changed world; of some slow, profound, and not yet entirely explicable shifting of the electorate away from allegiance to those who had for so long been master. Yet this is but half of the tale of marvel. For outside the Liberal party, and altogether independent of it, there has suddenly arisen a third applicant for the suffrages of the electors, whose advance into public favour has been headlong in its growth. It
appears to draw support from those who have formerly voted Tory, from those who have formerly voted Liberal, and from a third class of electors risen as if from the ground or fallen from the sky. It possesses a kind of inner core or secret power of enthusiasm which the older organisations are unable to assure. That enthusiasm fills its meetings with a passionate emotion, and enlists numbers of obscure men and women in disinterested service, and swings the whole affair forward with an energy and ardour adequate to the achievement of the impossible. It can now reckon upon substantial support, varying in quantity but of the same general texture, in any large industrial centre outside London. It arrives on the scene without previous preparation, it organises the apparatus of agitation, it flings up marquees for its meetings or holds perpetual argument in the open air, it adds a novel and fierce zest to the normal decorum of the by-election; before it has finished it has concentrated popular attention upon itself and stirred the whole city into tumult. It can poll nearly a third of the electorate against both the historic parties, as at Hull and Huddersfield. It can beat in fair fight both the historic parties, as at Jarrow or Colne Valley. It can assail even one of the scanty remnants of Tory strongholds, as at Kirkdale, and leave as a result the impression of the seat saved, though hardly, by the beating off of the attack at the eleventh hour. The older vision of a 'Labour Party' was, at tho best, but of a disturbing factor in a natural two-party system; with the fortunate possession of a few hundred votes in most industrial constituencies, able through such possession to extort promises of Labour legislation from both candidates, and actually to be allotted seats in the poorer regions of the big cities. The newer reality points to a Labour party as a third amongst three great political organisations, meeting its older rivals in equal contest in the industrial centres of England and Scotland. Public opinion (in a word) instead of shifting backward to the right has suddenly sprung forward to the creation of a new left.
The natural discontent with every Government in power will be harvested by those who demand, not a return to the old sobrieties, but an even more impulsive advance. Small wonder that the wiser minds who provide the intellectual vindication of the Tory position are gazing with disquietude towards the obscure wildernesses of the cities; seeing forces fermenting in those remote labyrinths which may render all their ideals sterile, and change profoundly the natural, pleasant conventions of alternate success and failure.
And the more the nature and condition of this new party is examined, the more significant become the facts of its progress. The Labour party has no programme. It has no striking magnetic personality amongst its leaders. It is often divided internally upon the simplest question of public policy. In its tiny collection of representatives in Parliament it possesses every variety of opinion, from the most conservative of Trades Unionists to the most revolutionary advocate of the collectivist ideal. It has no newspapers to advocate its cause ; and when it has intruded itself between both the recognised parties their organs vie with each other in assailing it with bitterness and fury. It fails at present to attract any large measure of support outside the artisan and labouring classes, and its agitation is regarded by the average middle-class ratepayer with a bewildered disgust. In the House of Commons its representatives, efficient, hard-working, and popular, have no claim to represent intellect or political sagacity adequate to the formation of a Government. Yet it advances in strength and confidence, like a wave of upheaval owning allegiance to no human volition. Tory Democracy has gone down and disappeared before it, and Liberal Democracy is haunted with the foreboding of a similar destruction.
Its methods and manipulations are as freely open to criticism as. they are freely criticised. 'Innocent of the inexorable test of responsibility,' says Professor Wendell of the French Socialists,' they display to an inspiring degree the infant virtues of the irresponsible.' The same verdict is true of their English colleagues. Lacking the security which comes from recognition as a serious competitor in the work of administration, the Labour party has been often lacking in the sobriety which such recognition alone can give. More especially is this the case in that less satisfactory type of democratic agitation, in which each party is endeavouring to outbid its rivals in promises of direct