‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The discussion here is a further reaction to the Liberal loss in the Liverpool by-election. In the lead up to the 1880 general election, this editorial urges the Liberals to put forward a strong message and provide an alternative to the failed and costly foreign policy of the incumbent Conservatives. As is often the case, the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ are revealing of the mindset of Scottish Liberals in this time before the growth of the Scottish home rule movement.

Sir,—I venture to say that the time has now come when our Liberal leaders ought not to rest contented with fault-finding. They should lay before the county a bold and sagacious—a Christian foreign policy. I do not think that when Sir Stafford Northcote tells us that he is about twenty millions behind, the country will be greatly surprised. The Government will say that one month of European war would have cost far more. They will plead that they have preserved peace to England, and that in passing through a crisis so unexampled they have done well to increase the efficiency of our forces. They will urge that Russia, by stirring up mischief in the East, had to be met; that the Afghan war, vexing and costly as it is, was needful to show Asiatic Princes how vain a thing it is to oppose the power of England, and how dangerous to coquet with our enemies. In the interests of 200,000,000 of Indian peoples it was needful, at all costs, to show our power when it was defied. Future peace, civilisation, and prosperity to a fourth of the human race depend on the unquestioned stability of the British power in India. So the Government will reason. The men in Liverpool and in Southwark are undoubtedly influenced by these considerations. Admitting the mistakes of the Government, they see no alternative policy offered by the Opposition. They hear only that England is wrong—always in the wrong; but this they hear from men who never yet had a good word to say for any war except the cruel and bloody civil war of America.

Mr Gladstone alone, of all our leaders, took a great and statesmanlike view of the duty of Britain. He did not rest with fault-finding. He proposed a great, wise, and glorious policy. He advised Parliament to fulfil its duties. By the Treaty of Paris, which cost our country so dear, Turkey was bound to set justly to the races subject to her sway. Notoriously she had violated that Treaty by unheard of misrule and villainous injustice. Mr Gladstone called upon the British Power to assert itself, to do its duty. He proposed to sail the fleet to Constantinople to demand the enforcement to the Treaty of Paris. He asked Europe to vindicate the European Treaty, and to call the Pachas [Pashas] to justice on pain of dismissing them out of Europe bag and baggage. The Tories nobody expected to support a policy like this; it was in favour of freedom and liberty. But, sir, I say the responsibility of refusing to adopt this policy rests on the Liberal party itself. Lord Derby, of course, would neither take the responsibility of signing the Berlin Memorandum nor of proposing any other basis of European concert. The Manchester men, as usual, declared we were islanders, and that our business was to spin our cotton and keep our shops. Mr Gladstone, great heroic statesman as he is, stood alone! We see now that if his advice had been followed Russian anxiety for the liberty of the Slav would have been relieved; the nationalities in the east of Europe would have, under the magic touch of British influence, sprung into vigorous life; Russian schemes would have been utterly thwarted; and Turkish Pachas for ever rendered powerless. Not a drop of blood would have been shed, and England would have earned the gratitude of the world. Mr Gladstone’s advice was not followed. The Tories saw their chance. They appealed to the bastard patriotism of the county, they paraded Imperialism, and pandered to Jingoism. Again and again has this section of the Liberal party flung the affairs of the county into the hands of the Tories. Sir, I want a Liberal foreign policy worthy of Oliver Cromwell. I wish Mr Gladstone, with his just pride in the moral and material greatness of England, to sway its power. He inherits from Sir Robert Peel the great tradition that the first consideration for a British statesman is not what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the interests of England—this is the constant cry of the Manchester school. Mr Gladstone’s policy is grander than all this. His first question is not what are the rights nor what are the interests. He asks, first of all, chief of all, what are the duties of England?

This country of ours is no little island in the Northern Seas. Britain is a world-wide Power, and has great duties, from which, if she shrink, she shrinks at her peril. Let the Liberal party cease to prate of peace, when there should be no peace. Let them learn to be led by the greatest statesman Britain ever saw. Let little budding Cabinet Ministers learn their true position. This country will never submit to see the great power and just influence which she ought to wield frittered away. Let us cease to prate of non-intervention. Our duties constantly call upon us to intervene; England is too great to be neutral. To listen to these wiseacres ever throws the power of England into the wrong scale. If the Liberals wish to govern England they must declare for a great, bold foreign policy. They must go at all costs where our duties clearly lead us, and follow Mr Gladstone loyally when he asks them, if need be, to declare war to maintain treaties which have cost England her precious treasure and more precious lives. The Liberal party must not allow the Tories to appeal to false patriotism. They must meet this trick by boldly appealing to the loyalty of all good men, to the eternal principles of justice, and ask England, in case of need, to assert her power on behalf of liberty when duty clearly bids her.

A Christian Democrat.

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