‘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? Continue reading “‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)”

‘The Liverpool Election’ by A Christian Democrat (14 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 reaction to John (Lord) Ramsay, 13th Earl of Dalhousie’s loss in the Liverpool by-election. An important marker in the lead up to the 1880 general election, this loss to the Conservatives was a time to reflect on how the Liberal message and election strategy should be refined. Ramsay would become the third MP for Liverpool in the general election. As an aside, reading this it is worth considering just how far Scottish liberals were enthralled by aristocracy. Lord Ramsay seems to represent a convergence of this deference to nobility and patriotic desire for Scots to thrive in England.

Sir,—We must learn wisdom from the loss of this test election. I wish our leaders not to underrate the nature of our defeat; it is serious, and likely to do much harm to the Liberal cause. For one thing, it fixes this Government in office for a whole long year. Had Lord Ramsay won, the Liberals might justly have forced the Government to appeal to the county. No better candidate could have been chosen. Lord Ramsay is a sailor, a man of real capacity, understands politics from person study, is a keen Liberal from genuine conviction, and speaks with the eloquence in which sincere, clear, and earnest principle ever finds expression. If with such a candidate we have lost this great battle, with whom shall we ever gain? I trace our defeat to three causes, and if I am right the sooner all Liberals attend to the them the better.

First, Lord Ramsay seemed to concede to the Irishmen something which he at first refused. It was one thing to take up a clear, just, firm position from the first, quite another thing to seem to give way to catch the Home Rule vote. I think every Liberal candidate should insist on a full inquiry into the whole subject of government in Ireland. Statesmen may be well informed, but the new electorate is very ill informed in reference to Ireland. What were the Brehon Laws? What was the state of Ireland beyond the Pale? How did Irishmen govern themselves? Was Spencer right in his policy and in his reasons for refusing leases? Do our present electors know the exhaustive and invaluable report of Sir William Petty, the first real disclosure of the true condition of the land question? Have the men who must decide upon a policy which will affect the happiness of millions ever studied the careful and statesmanlike account of land tenure by Arthur Young? I am quite sure that even many candidates for Parliament have not read the report of the Devon Commission, nor the sagacious letters of our own James Caird. I fear, sir, we forget that in Ireland the great majority of the people depend entirely on farming; that the vast majority of farms are under fifty acres; that almost all the buildings, all the drains, and indeed everything has been done by the tenants, and that these tenants are all liable to removal at one year’s notice. The money now lent by Sir Stafford Northcote will, I fear, create great heart-burnings. The farmers will wish to have the spending of this money. They will think it should be lent to them, so as to increase their hold on the land. The proprietors may spend it, and raise the rents, and give no more security to the tenant. I have only named these authorities on the land question. As a Liberal desiring to be just I could not give an intelligent vote on Irish questions till we have a new inquiry. I do not believe in doles of charity. Let us reach the causes of the poverty and cure the disease. The Irish education question, too, and indeed a whole hose of Irish questions, press for solution. Do Scotchmen know what the penal laws in Ireland were? Sir, when I see the people of Ireland in their ignorance and poverty my heart burns with indignation at the wicked laws we made to prevent them from being educated. Do Scotchmen know that we deliberately killed the Irish woollen trade, and forced the Irish people to abandon commerce and trust to the potato? I wish to know what Irishmen who understand their own county want. I wish to know what they mean by Home Rule, and I would have every Liberal to announce his desire—nay, his determination—to have a full, exhaustive inquiry, not to gain the few votes of the Irish, but because intelligent legislation is impossible till we are full informed as to what we are legislating about. I do not believe what the Irish vote is of the least value to any candidate. There are even in Liverpool more English dock labourers and voters of the residuum than there are Irish voters. To a man these will vote against any one who speaks a kind word for the Irish. These men hate the Irish, who come over in thousands and compete with them in the labour market. Lord Ramsay’s apparent concession was ill-timed and cost him dear. Let future Liberal candidates he warned, let them go for a full inquiry into the whole question of Irish Government at the very first, because this is just a wise course in itself, and let Irishmen appeal to our sense of justice, and, if they are wise, never threaten a candidate; for the moment a concession seems to be made to gain their votes, far more is lost than their numbers can make up. Continue reading “‘The Liverpool Election’ by A Christian Democrat (14 February, 1880)”