Page images

which of the lot managed to secure special attention to his own claims. The distribution of honours was arranged in the closet and by back-stairs influence. It was not a matter placarded in the Market Place; or a commodity of which the value was inflated by the methods of a Publicity Department. His Grace, or the Most Noble Marquess-even the least august and most newly created Baron-all were men of recognised social importance, and all commanded independent sources of political influence. Except to their own little clique, it mattered little if the manquvres by which they sought recognition were somewhat discreditable. For good or ill, there was not really much to choose between the varying recipients of royal favour in an aristocratic age.

But the matter becomes very different in the atmosphere of an avowedly democratic society. The opportunities for corruption are far more numerous. Its dangers are vastly enhanced, and the poison of its baleful influence diffuses itself far more widely and with more subtle effect. It is this which arouses the national instinct of indignation at recent episodes, and makes it vitally important for public credit that degrading scandals, which publish themselves from the housetop, invade every part of public life, and taint the very foundations of society, should be ruthlessly stamped out.

Whatever the advantages of democratic government, there are certainly some palpable evils which are inseparable from it. Even its best friends cannot shut their eyes to its extravagant cost; and that cost shows itself nowhere more markedly than in the lavish expenditure necessary for party organisation under a democratic system. We read of the enormous sums which in the old and profligate days were spent upon a Yorkshire or a Westminster election : and we complacently pride ourselves upon the more economical scale enforced by Bribery and Corruption Acts, but we forget that these instances of lavish expenditure in a past generation were incurred in a few instances, by a few owners of vast estates and by a handful of City capitalists. We forget that expenditure on a far larger scale has to be faced nowadays in manipulating the vast hordes of what are almost universal suffrage constituencies, and that

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the expenditure cannot be confined to a few constituin de encies, but must cover every corner of the land and cair every class in the community. To accomplish this reVin quires resources compared with which the expenditure

of a Lowther, a Russell, or a Whitbread, in the old days,
was insignificant. An ever-increasing army of organisers

must be recruited, trained, equipped, paid, and lavishly of me

rewarded. What can be more obvious than that the peader

spoils must be the prize of the victors, and that amongst
these spoils the easiest, and perhaps the richest, is that
which is to be obtained by lavish draughts from the
Fountain of Honour? The resources required for the
proper organisation of a Party Campaign have been
reckoned at 4,000,0001., and it is certain that the esti-
mate must constantly increase. How can the Party
Treasury be kept up to the mark unless every device
for raising funds is resorted to ? The distribution of
honours is an easily tapped fountain; it must needs flow
freely, and the thirst for its waters, even when they have
grown somewhat turbid and polluted, shows no signs of
being assuaged. But the nation has to remember that
the cistern is, after all, a part of its own property: and
that each debasing of the standard, by tainting of its
waters, inflicts a grievous and permanent injury upon its
available assets. It does well to be angry with those
who, though bound to guard, are unscrupulous enough
to pollute the spring.

Let us see what were the special circumstances that gave rise to the exceptional energy with which the

widespread indignation against a national trust grossly *** betrayed, was recently expressed. The complaint was

by no means new. From time to time during recent years, there has been stern and outspoken criticism, not only of the lavishness with which Honours have been distributed, but of the conspicuous lack of dis

crimination in the selection of the recipients. Such petit criticism has often been justified in the past : and the i records of no party are above reproach, or impervious App to drastic criticism. But, in spite of the severity of the * criticism, the evils grew rather than were abated. The

latest list of Honours was, to say the least, an exaggerahe tion of evils that had already been denounced. In its dhe length, it was ridiculous. Honours become purposeless Vol. 238.--No. 473.

2 B


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

when they are so multiplied as to cease to constitute a distinction. But, regardless of all warnings, the Prime Minister again issued an absurdly long list of Peers and Baronets, and the recipients of these hereditary distinctions were accompanied by a vast army of Knights

, and of those whose merits-undetected by the mass of their fellow-citizens-were nevertheless deemed worthy of minor honours-modest, indeed, but none the less useful as aids to self-complacency, as conferring some social distinction in a petty circle, and as instruments of profitable advertisement. To create new Peers, however deserving, at the rate of one every fortnight, is bad business, even if it did not at the same time help to disturb the equipoise of political influence, by the waterlogging of one branch of the legislature.

Not by its length only, however, was the list faulty. It was at the same time remarkable, above its predecessors, for a singular lack of personal distinction. Of the Peers and Baronets, included in the last creation, it is the plain truth, that hardly one approached to even moderate eminence in any line of life. That several of them were, in their own small circle, recognised as meritorious personages, we would be the last to deny; but respectable mediocrity is an inadequate passport to the distinction of hereditary rank, whether such rank does or does not confer upon its holders hereditary legislative functions. Our new rulers may entertain political views adverse to a Second Chamber. If so, let them seek the triumph of these views by open political combat. Let them pause before they steal a march, and compass the destruction of one House of Parliament by infecting it with the poison of mediocrity, for their own degraded purposes.

The vice of excess in numbers, and deficiency in conspicuous merits, did not stand alone. It appears that, in one case at least, an unedifying record of citizenship was added to the lack of outstanding talent or public service, and further criticism was only assuaged by & renunciation which was more creditable to him who made it, than to those who had placed him in an unenviable position. Rumours, which all were convinced rested upon solid grounds, but of which none found it easy to adduce specific proof, were freely bandied about. Monetary inducements were openly alleged, and in the

current gossip of the day were confidently accepted as true, but they continued to be met by formal and official contradiction, which obtained somewhat hesitating credit because all know how easily such transactions may be concealed. At this moment, he would be a bold man who would venture on the task of proving a case of specific money consideration before a Court of Law. None the less, he would be a singularly credulous man who would accept to the full the guarded official denials.

The case stands thus, to put it quite plainly. We know, by patent and incontrovertible evidence, that in the composition of these Honour Lists, conspicuous eminence counts for little or nothing. If we refuse to accept this view, we must conclude that those responsible for the lists are suffering a want of judgment and knowledge of men amounting to fatuity. We are confronted, secondly, by the demonstrated fact that at least one instance of scandalous error, tending to the degradation of public life, was so clearly proved as to lead to the abandonment of an Honour conferred in the name of His Majesty, and at first accepted-an incident which we are inclined to think has no precedent. Lastly, we all implicitly believe that money considerations have played a large part in this conferment of Honours; and we await only the opportunity of full judicial investigation, which has so far been refused, in order openly to reject the formal official denials which alone have been vouchsafed to

We know that these money considerations must necessarily play a large part. It would be more satisfactory to know what are their limitations, than to be asked to accept an unqualified denial of their existence.

We have already spoken of the enormous demand made upon financial resources by the organisation of a purely democratic electorate. Such an electorate is open to manipulation by skilful hands : but these hands must be furnished with ample machinery. If it is fully efficient, such machinery is capable of exerting an influence, baneful indeed, but irresistible in its power. Private judgment must be swamped : individual opinion must be taught that it counts for little. The fate of the nation will be decided by mighty currents of prejudice or enthusiasm, easily stirred and fostered by the deft hand of the cunning electioneer, and utterly heedless of


any appeals to cautious consideration. Above all, the agency which will tell most in dealing with these tides of popular impulse is the Democratic Press. The party manager must have that agency at his command. It can be bought, and when bought can be maintained, only at a tremendous cost: and it is the necessity of meeting this cost which constitutes one of the chief corrupting tendencies of democratic Government. An independent press is the best bulwark against this threatening danger. Is there not evidence in recent Honour Lists, that this independence may be sapped, and that the support of the Press may be purchased by the degradation of those Honours, by which, in theory, a grateful monarch seeks to discriminate, and to reward, the most meritorious amongst his subjects? In old days the Minister had his little band of loyal pamphleteers. They often wielded potent pens, and did yeoman service for their patrons, but their influence was, after all, confided to the comparatively small ranks of those who read and who talked serious politics. For the hour, they were the heroes of the Coffee-house, or the Toast of the October Club: and then they were forgotten; and some pretty piece of official patronage amply rewarded them for their strenuous swash-buckling. Nowadays they would have died millionaires : would have figured in Honours Lists: and would have founded a line of hereditary legislators. We hold that the emergence of Press agents from that anonymity which was once their pride, is an injury to the best interests of the Press itself; and that the lavish rewarding of such service, by conspicuous prominence in the Honour Lists, is an innovation for which the nation will have no reason to thank Mr Lloyd George. The Press should be the mirror of the nation's life, and the reflexion of its best thought. If it seeks to dominate that life by direct political intervention, and to figure largely in the public eye by prominent place, and by the tinsel ornaments of honours which the public is shrewd enough to appraise at their due valuation—then it is resting upon insecure foundations, and will most surely lose that influence which it has abused.

We hold, then, that the nation has been rightly stirred to anger by the suspicion that a wrong use has been made, for political purposes, of the Royal Prerogative,

« PreviousContinue »