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Conservative vote has increased in numbers. What is more than this, the Conservatives would unquestionably have commanded an absolute and decisive majority in the new Parliament if they had been willing to subordinate the interests of the country to party considerations. It is as certain as any hypothetical event can ever be, that if the Conservatives had chosen to contest the seats held by Unionist Liberals, the latter would in a large majority of cases have been compelled to retire in favour of the Conservative candidates, who, as a rule, would have proved successful. It is certain also that in a very large number of the seats carried by Ministerialists, in which the contest lay between them and Conservative candidates, the result would have been different if the malcontent Liberals, instead of simply staying away from the polls, had given their votes to the Conservatives. The country, to speak the plain truth, has declared for the Conservatives.

There is no good whatever in shirking facts; and the plain fact is that from Lord Hartington downwards the Liberal Unionists who have been returned to Parliament number more Conservatives than Liberals in the majorities to which they owe their election. They are, to speak the truth, Liberals who were returned by Conservative votes, and who cannot hope to be returned again unless they retain the confidence of their Conservative supporters. There is nothing in this of which the Liberal Unionists have any cause to be ashamed; the only reproach to which they have laid themselves open is that of not fully realising the true character of their election.

It is obvious to any one who is prepared to look facts in the face that the Liberal Unionists have no chance of forming a party of their own. The British public, as I wrote in my last article, likes clear colours and has no taste for neutral tints. A number of Liberal members of the late Parliament, who had voted against the Home Rule Bill, retained their seats because they were supported by the Conservative vote. But the number of cases in which a Liberal Unionist who had not sat in the last Parliament secured his election might be counted on the fingers of two hands. The defeat of Mr. Goschen and Sir George Trevelyan, two of the most conspicuous of the Liberal seceders, was doubtless due in the main to local and personal causes. But still, neither of these mishaps could have occurred if the cause they represented had commended itself strongly to popular favour. The people of England may be--and I believe are-Unionists to the backbone; but they attach very little importance to the question whether the defence of the Union is or is not conjoined with a particular shade of Liberalism. What they want is to see the Union upheld; and the political instinct which is so largely diffused amidst Englishmen teaches them that the party most likely to put down all attempts to dismember the Empire are the Conservatives. If the Union is to be maintained it is--as things are not the Unionist Liberals, but the Conservatives who have got to do the work. This is the bottom fact of the whole political situation.

I dwell upon these considerations not from any wish to disparage the services of a body of men for whom personally I have the highest respect, and whose political opinions are very much in accordance with my own, but because I wish to point out to my Liberal Unionist friends what in my judgment is the course recommended to them alike by interest, by good faith, and by duty. Before these lines appear in print Lord Salisbury will in all likelihood have formed his Government. It may be taken for granted that previous to forming it he will endeavour to secure the active collaboration of the Unionist Liberals. It would be idle to speculate here upon what precise response will be made to his overtures. Nor is it of much use to lay down any law as to the conditions under which a coalition might or might not be formed with advantage. All these are points on which speculation is, for my present purpose, either too early or too late. It is, however, possible to express a very definite opinion as to the spirit in which the overtures to which I allude should be received. That spirit, if I am right, should be a cordial and sincere desire to meet the Conservatives half-way.

In order to make my meaning clear, it is necessary to recall the general character of the crisis with which Liberal Unionists and Conservatives are now called to deal. The facts stand thus: The repeal of the Union has been demanded by an overwhelming majority of the Irish representatives. This demand has been endorsed by the acknowledged leader of the Liberal party, and at his solicitation has been accepted by the bulk of the party. Home Rule for Ireland is now part and parcel of the programme of the Liberals, and will continue to be so as long as the policy of the party is dictated by Mr. Gladstone. It is idle to ignore the fact that the Home Rule agitation occupies a very different and a far more formidable position than that which it occupied only six months ago. For the first time since the Act of Union a proposal for the repeal of that fundamental law has been seriously discussed in Parliament, and carried through its preliminary stages with the sanction and support of an English Ministry. The proposal has been defeated in Parliament and rejected by the country. But it is not dead for all that. We shall hear of Home Rule again—we shall hear of it very shortly; and Mr. Gladstone may safely be relied upon not to let the agitation die out for want of sustenance. I need hardly say that I do not share the opinion of Mr. Gladstone's statesmanship entertained by his partisans; but it would be absurd to dispute either his activity as a political leader, his personal popularity with large masses of his fellow-countrymen, or his singular astuteness as a master of Parliamentary tactics. We may take it for certain that we shall hear no more for the present of Mr. Gladstone's desire for rest, or of his intention to devote himself to loftier and more congenial pursuits than those of politics. Mr. Gladstone, to speak the truth, stands irrevocably committed to the principle of Home Rule, and he must either redeem the pledges he has given to his Irish allies, or submit to have his public career as a statesman brought to a close with a colossal and ignominious failure. The latter alternative is one which, to do him justice, he will never accept save under absolute compulsion. We have got, therefore, to reckon with the fact that the agitation for Home Rule will be resumed forthwith, and resumed, too, under Mr. Gladstone's leadership, and with the active support of the great mass of the Liberal party. This is the danger we have got to meet. In the face of such a peril we have now to consider what are the resources which lie at the disposal of the supporters of the Union.

First and foremost, then, we have the staunch and united support of the great Conservative party, numbering as it does now not far short of a majority of the whole House of Commons, and commanding, if the Parnellites are left out of account, an overwhelming majority in the representation of Great Britain. Secondly, we have the Unionist Liberals, who, notwithstanding Mr. Gladstone's vaticinations, have returned to the new Parliament not far short of the number they mustered in the old. If the Unionist Liberals consent to co-operate loyally with the Conservatives, then, in as far as Parliament is concerned, all agitation for Home Rule is doomed to certain failure. Whether this co-operation can best be given in the form of an actual coalition or of independent support, is a question of detail. The allimportant thing is that the Liberal Unionists should make up their minds to the fact that their first and paramount duty is to keep Mr. Gladstone and the Liberals out of office so long as they remain committed to Home Rule. They can do this easily if they consent to vote with Lord Salisbury on any question which might imperil the fate of the Conservative Government. They may remain Unionist Liberals if they like; but if the Union is to be preserved from future attacks they must be Unionists first and Liberals afterwards.

In speaking of the policy which the Unionist Liberals should pursue, it must be understood that I am alluding to the section of the party represented by Lord Hartington, not to that represented by Mr. Chamberlain. The two sections occupy very different positions. Mr. Chamberlain is beyond all question the future leader of the Radical party. By his bold and high-minded refusal to tamper with the integrity of the Union for the sake of a passing party advantage, he has earned the confidence of the general public, without which no party leader can ever hope to attain high rank in English politics. But he remains for all that a Radical politician, with aims, ideas, and aspirations all of which, whether right or wrong, are in distinct opposition to the views of government held by the Conservatives and the Whigs. Even with regard to Home Rule Mr. Chamberlain, though he scouted Mr. Gladstone's crude and illogical proposals, is prepared to make concessions which the supporters of the Union would regard with dismay. The time must come—and probably at no remote date—when Mr. Chamberlain will return to the Liberal fold, and return, too, with increased authority and a larger following. For this the Unionists must be prepared. Mr. Chamberlain's assistance is welcome, as long as it lasts. Of its essence, however, this assistance is merely transitory, and all idea of Mr. Chamberlain's ever joining or actively supporting a Conservative Ministry is utterly beyond the question. Indeed the one forcible argument in favour of Liberal Unionists remaining outside the Salisbury Government is, that any distinct coalition would probably drive Mr. Chamberlain and his Radical adherents to take up a position of covert if not of open hostility.

It is to Lord Hartington and his followers that the Conservatives must look for the support of which they stand in need. Of the seventy odd Unionist Liberals, fifty at least acknowledge Lord Hartington as their leader. If the Conservatives can rely upon these fifty votes in case of need we may hope to have for the next few years a strong, stable, and solid Government, powerful enough to uphold the Union against all attacks from within and from without. The Conservatives have close upon three hundred and twenty votes of their own.

If they can count on fifty Liberal Unionist votes on any critical division, they will have a majority of seventy as against any possible coalition of Gladstonians, Parnellites, and independent Radicals. The only question is whether Lord Hartington and his followers are sufficiently alive to the gravity of the crisis to realise the fact that the practical maintenance of a Unionist Government in power is more important than the vindication of their abstract title to the name of Liberals.

I have heard that on some occasion when a youthful member of Parliament informed Lord Palmerston that he should always support his Government when they were in the right, the old Premier answered, “My dear sir, that is not at all what we want. Everybody will support us when we are in the right; what we need are friends who will support us when we are in the wrong. In the answer, cynical as it may seem, there is a substratum of sober truth. Under our system of party government no ministry can hold its own unless its supporters will stretch a point in case of need to help it over a difficulty. Questions must arise in every administration where the measures and policy of the Government are not in absolute accord with the ideas, or even the convictions, of a large section of its supporters. These supporters have then got to determine for themselves whether the divergence is great enough to justify them in upsetting a ministry of which in the main they approve; if they cannot answer this question in the affirmative they are bound to vote in favour of the Government and against their individual opinion. To do this is not pleasant even for the nominal and avowed supporters of a Government. It is still less pleasant for unavowed and independent supporters who are nominally attached to another party. Yet unless the Unionist Liberals are ready to vote for the Conservatives whenever the Ministry are threatened by a Liberal coalition, irrespective of the question whether the point at issue is one on which they are in complete agreement with the Conservatives, their support is not of the kind which a Government requires. Of course it must be understood that the Conservative Government will avoid, as far as possible, the introduction of all measures that are likely to prove distasteful to the Unionist Liberals. But still points will infallibly arise on which the Conservatives and the Unionist Liberals are not in accord; and no powerful Unionist Government is possible unless on these points the latter in case of necessity are prepared to give way to the former. In other words, the Unionist Liberals must make it their first aim and object to keep Mr. Gladstone out of office, and in order to do this they must do their utmost to keep the Conservatives in office.

It may be said that if the Unionist Liberals are always to vote with the Conservatives on every question which might give rise to a ministerial crisis, they had better join the Conservative administration. As this is exactly my own opinion, I should find it hard to gainsay the force of the above argument. Still it must fairly be allowed that there are many considerations with regard to the future which militate against the immediate formation of a coalition ministry. The question is one which Lord Hartington and his followers must, and will, decide for themselves. All I contend for is that whether they actually join the Conservative Government or not, they must give this Government, as long as it remains the champion of the Union, the same support as they would under other circumstances have accorded to a Liberal Government of which they were not actually members. If they fail to do this they will stultify themselves and undo the work which they have made such sacrifices to accomplish. The sole justification of the Liberal secession lies in the fact that Lord Hartington and his colleagues honestly believed that the policy proposed by Mr. Gladstone was fatal to the Union, and that the maintenance of the Union was more important than the maintenance of the Liberal party in office. If the Unionist Liberals did not believe this, their secession was simply factious: if they did believe this, and do believe it still, they are bound to keep the Conservatives in office in order to keep Mr. Gladstone out of office. From this dilemma there is no escape.

Of all the characters mentioned in the Gospels, the one who has been held up to the most persistent obloquy is that of the man who put his hand to the plough and then turned back. Nor is this reprobation unreasonable. There is no

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