Imatges de pÓgina
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personal benefits to some particular class of the community. One man, for example, will advocate universal old-age pensions at sixtyfive, in a scheme which necessitates the immediate discovery of some twenty-seven millions a year additional revenue. Another, noting that many men are now out of work before this age-limit is reached, and seeing no particular reason why he should not go 'one better, ' suggests that the pension should commence at sixty. And so the Trades Union Congress endorses a scheme which sends up the required expenditure to something over forty millions, cheerfully announcing, through the declaration of its President, that the finding of the money required was not its work but the work of the Government. But

Why stick at sixty?' is the evident opinion of others who see no reason why this process of reduction should not be indefinitely continued. And so the Labour candidate at Huddersfield offers to a gratified electorate pensions for all at the age of forty-five, a benefit requiring indeed nothing more than a hundred and fifty millions, or not quite so much as the present total national expenditure. He is probably, in moments of reflection, astonished at his own moderation; and we may look to see in the future the age limit still further reduced by those who can find no reason why they should not suggest to the working classes that they, at least, are prepared to stick at nothing in effort towards their welfare.

This particular kind of exuberance, however, is merely an accompaniment of novelty and inexperience : the advocacy of a party 'still affected by the youthful dream that men on earth can have their own way.' In the case of a Labour party its opinions and its policies are of far less importance than its existence and its enthusiasm. It does not stand for an intellectual system. It makes manifest an emotional upheaval. To-day the appeal is to the highest and lowest instincts. It evokes a response from the forces of idleness and greed, mingled with a passion of disinterested service. Its adherents are enlisted under a variety of impulse. At the centre is a fighting body of economic Socialists, who are inspired by the great hope, as others at intervals have been inspired for centuries, that at last the secret has been found which will roll away the old ills of humanity, and produce a new earth, if not a new heaven. They have something of the fervour as well as something of the intolerance of the adherents of a new religion. They support many rival weekly journals, which devote half their

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the world outside and the other half to attacks upon each other; producing upon the reader the same sense of desolation as that excited by a study of the newspapers more definitely accepted as “religious. But surrounding this centre of rather rigid economic doctrine there exist less relentless affirmations of intellectual or emotional revolt; which finally shade off into a vague discontent with present conditions and a hope for better times' in the future. There is a humanitarian zeal which sees, as if for the first time and with eyes suddenly opened, the sufferings and inequalities of poverty set in the heart of great wealth, and cries. out against a system which thus tolerates, seemingly in contentment, things intolerable. Some are impelled by the appeal to class sentiment, urging that the working people should be represented by a working man' or that Trades Unionism should support a Trades Unionist. Some are inspired by that deep-seated resentment of the worker against the manufacturer which in former days was the strength of Tory Democracy, and led so many to vote for any candidate in preference to their own employer. And beyond all these there is the special desire for special reforms : of the middle-aged workman who sees old age advancing, and is terrified by the prospect of penury there opened ; of the weekly wage-earner never secure in work beyond the week end, always confronted with the prospect of immersion in the hell of unemployment'; of all, to whom religion is becoming but a vague dream of an almost unimaginable heaven, for a better time on earth. It is the cosmopolitan demand of the new race which is the creation of modern mechanical industry. It is a demand even more vocal in times of prosperity than in the coming of the lean years. It sees enormous wealth accumulating outside its rather squalid conditions, in whose pleasant amenities it has no part or share. It finds in its stunted existence a denial of leisure, of a surplus income for accumulation, of beauty, and tranquillity, and many of life's good things which it is desiring in some half-conscious fashion even when it seems scarcely to recognise its definite discontents.

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The greatest minds of the past have always recognised that with the fading of supernatural encouragements from the ideals of the common people the demand for betterment and social equality would become fiercely impatient. “Society,' said Napoleon, when he was establishing the Concordat in France,

cannot exist without inequality of material wealth, and this inequality cannot exist without religion. When a man is dying of hunger beside another who is surfeited with superfluities, it is impossible for him to patiently bear this difference if there is not an authority to say to him.God wills it so. There must be poor and rich in this world, but later in Eternity things will be arranged otherwise.

That eternity is vanishing below the horizon. That authority no longer speaks with unchallenged assertion. In Europe, in England, in America that'impossibility of patience ' is becoming the dominating influence in the political changes of a new century.

Such of the spirit and temper of a new party. What of the old ? The Government, I think, stands if anything in a stronger position to-day than two years ago. Undoubtedly it has been assisted by very favourable external changes; two years of unprecedented prosperity at home, two years abroad of almost unprecedented peace.

In such circumstances numbers of decent citizens, not eager political partisans, are prepared to acquiesce in an administration which if it fails to excite any passionate enthusiasm, yet inspires a wide measure of general confidence. It has certainly given an impression of energy and an impression of efficiency. The languid air of rather bored indifference, which came to be accepted as the tone of its predecessors in office, was perhaps a more exciting cause of exasperation amongst the plain business men than even the eccentricities of fiscal ‘tactics' or the bankruptcy of social legislation. Mr. Balfour is probably as hard-working and enthusiastic as any previous Prime Minister. But he succeeded in conveying to the electorate the impression of a mind superior to and detached from the common work of the world ; interested in ingenious problems of dialectic, but scorning to read the newspapers, and gazing on the squalid realities of the competitive struggle with some bewilderment and some disdain. The present Government has gained the character of a body of men, not all endowed with conspicuous qualities of intellect and inspiration, but all familiar with the common life and its needs, living amongst the people and in touch with their interests, exceedingly anxious to do the right thing in the most effective fashion. Two years ago the country was very much in doubt concerning the Prime Minister, and sceptical of the capacities of many of his colleagues. To-day Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman has attained a position which even the most contemptuous of his opponents is compelled to acknowledge as unique, incontestable, if also (as it remains to many of them) inexplicable. Almost every member of his Cabinet—an administration extraordinarily rich in varied personality–has revealed some unexpected quality of tenacity or inspiration. Some, who find legislating difficult, are excellent in administration; those who possess no great stores of knowledge reveal a quick and lively intelligence ; some who have only average intellect possess a more than average effervescence ; those who are not men of genius are often picturesque. It would be difficult to convey to the outsider the domination which this group of men to-day exercises in the House of Commons. Opposite is little but desolation. Bebind is a docility as agreeable as it was unexpected. Two years ago the huge mountain of new Liberal and Radical members represented a force which impressed as much foreboding as enthusiasm. Ministers addressed their supporters behind them with diffidence and elaborate compliment; fearful every moment of some explosion which might upset all their best-laid schemes. To-day they find that multitude well under control, with revolt, where it occasionally splutters forth, random and disorganised and severely discountenanced ; finding satisfaction in amiable deputations to an amiable Prime Minister for any discontent which might otherwise be deflected down more dangerous channels. And the Opposition has become so shrunken in capacity and broken in spirit as to represent little but a name. A party, however small, which could allow the Government to harvest its programme last August of more than forty Bills, by methods which, however desirable under the circumstances, rendered Parliamentary discussion frankly farcical, is a party which has become, not only discomfited, but temporarily annihilated. Every Bill, as fought last summer, was practically a dialogue between Mr. Balfour and the minister in charge. The occasional plunges of other members of the front bench into the struggle occupied, indeed, a certain section of Parliamentary time, but contributed little to Parliamentary enlightenment. Much of Mr. Balfour's opposition to the new Committee system appears reasonable when it is recognised that he could not attend all the Committees simultaneously; and the experience of Tory polemic and tactic at such Committees in the absence of its leader might be held more than to justify those preliminary forebodings. If to-morrow the two parties were to coalesce into a new 'Government of All the Talents' selected impartially from men of all political opinion, it is doubtful if more than one or two of the Opposition at most, in addition to Mr. Balfour, could justify their displacement of members of the present Cabinet. For the moment, indeed, the party system lies in hopeless ruin, and no alternative Government appears upon the political arena.

The Government is so strong in individual excellence and so popular in the House of Commons that one sometimes wonders whether it may not last for a generation, like the thirty years' Whig domination of the Mid-Victorian age. Yet, like many of those admirable but uninspiring administrations, it has somehow failed to excite any large and kindling devotion in the country, or to associate itself hitherto with any large and kindling measure ensuring it a high position in the future history of reform. It jogs along easily, doing the work of the world. It makes unexpected blunders and attains unexpected recoveries. No one desires its destruction, but no one would greatly regret its departure. Political devotees, indeed, will applaud orthodox political sentiment with some appearance of fervour. But if advocates and adversaries were allowed alternate pleadings before an audience of 'mugwumps' (the plain, dull, honest men who ultimately decide elections) I believe such a company would be as astonished at the virulence of the one as at the enthusiasm of the other. It came into power with an unparalleled majority, and in that violent birth of a

it excited hopes perhaps extravagant, but not inexplicable in view of the greatness of the beginnings. It came into power as the product of a party which for a decade had sunk low in the public esteem and at one time was spat upon in the streets as a party of disloyalists and traitors; and in consequence it excited fears amongst those to whom its acceptance in the country meant the coming of the twilight of the gods. And the hopes have been dupes, if the fears have been liars. Its reputation is established to-day, as of a company of plain, common-sense, sober, efficient persons, who are set on the maintenance of present conditions, with some willingness to accept lesser schemes of reform. It appears specially anxious to promote legislation which will obviously benefit one section of the community without exciting compensating anger in any other; a class of legislation, indeed, which all the world has been seeking for a considerable number of centuries. It seems inclined to attempt to placate the reforming spirit with tentative and limited advances down paths where substantial progress (as it thinks) would excite a fury of opposition. There is danger that in such policies it may arouse most of the fury without stimulating any corresponding enthusiasm. It is essentially a Government of compromise. That, indeed, is a tautology. Every Government is of necessity a Government of compromise. But it is also a Government of transition; occupying a position between two worlds, one dead, the other but with difficulty coming to birth. There is danger that it may find itself reckoned in history as a Government of the Great Cautious; the Government of Lost Opportunities.

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It was pressed for a clear and intelligible vindication of the Trades Union position. It offered instead a compromise which collapsed into nothingness in twenty-four hours. It has bought off unemployed legislation with an annual grant of 200,0001., or less than one hundredth of the annual Poor Law expenditure. It has dealt with underfed children by giving the municipalities permission to deal with themat their own expense. It was pressed for Home Rule, and it offered instead an Irish Councils Bill; which (had it survived more than one week) would have excited all the animosities of the ‘ Ascendancy' and none of the gratitude of the Nationalist' parties. Challenged by rural depopulation, it offers to Scotland a large and far-reaching measure of democratic agrarian reform which is promptly rejected by the landed interest concentrated in the House of Lords. It offers to England a measure which with all its deficiencies still remains as the greatest measure of social advance it has hitherto accomplished. But it is a measure which puts the economic fate of the peasant in the hand of the very class which has been exasperated by his political uprising--the class of feudal owners and their dependent farmers which hitherto has revealed no exuberant desire for establishing the rural labourers in a position of freedom and independence. The land hunger revealed to-day by incontestable evidence as so real a force may indeed break through all the complicated machinery which is now thrust between the people and the land. But if that machinery proves in open opposition or (what is more likely and far more dangerous) dilatory, timid, and limited in operation, the latest (and the last) opportunities for the preservation of some remnant of free prosperous life in rural England will have been offered, and offered in vain.

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