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position that Mr. Chamberlain will find it somewhat difficult to induce the country to acoept. Even Mr. Gladstone, as we know, failed signally on the one occasion on which he made an appeal to the mercenary instincts of the electors, and in matters of finance Mr. Chamberlain's warmest admirer will admit that he is not Mr. Gladstone. Still, the fact remains that we seem to be entering upon a new phase of the great controversy, a phase in which our unbridled expenditure and the trade depression so largely due to the losses of the South African war will be claimed as assets by the fiscal reformers. It is not impossible that one of the consequences of this change of tactics will be an earlier dissolution than many seem to anticipate.
Rumour-one must again apologise for referring to so very doubtful an authority-has for months past informed the world that Mr. Chamberlain does not look for a Ministerial victory at the next General Election. In this instance the rumour is not, I believe, unfounded. What Mr. Chamberlain anticipates is a Liberal majority of somewhat uncertain extent. The Opposition is then to come into power, and is to remain in office for a very limited period, not exceeding two years. This is the forecast of one who is both a shrewd judge and a pronounced adversary of the Liberal party. This being the case, it cannot be presumptuous to deal with the prospects of Liberalism, more especially since, during the last month, some light has been thrown upon those prospects by Lord Rosebery's speech at the Queen's Hall. I need not discuss that speech at length. Whatever else may be said about it, it was at least the speech of one who, whatever may be the number of his followers, undoubtedly spoke as a leader. His survey of the general situation was wide and luminous, and even those Liberals who have the least sympathy with his opinions upon some subjects would be very ill-advised if they failed to benefit by it, and by the general tenor of the advice which he gave them. But the great merit of Lord Rosebery's declaration was the emphasis with which it drew attention to that which is, after all, the crux of the situation, so far as Liberalism is concerned. The party must, before long, make its great appeal to the electors. It has enough, and more than enough, in the Ministerial blunders of the last nine years upon which to found its claim to a vote of confidence from the public. The old khaki cry is dead ; how completely dead it is was proved by the Market Harborough election, in which a typical representative of those whom their opponents were wont to describe as pro-Boers secured a much larger majority than any Liberal had ever before obtained in the constituency. But if this cry is dead, another, and a still more formidable one, remains. What is to be the policy of a Liberal Government, supposing one to be formed as the result of the General Election, with regard to Ireland ? Upon some points there need be no hesitation in answering this question. Administrative reform, sorely needed in all parts of the United Kingdom, is nowhere needed so urgently as in Ireland. Upon that point the Liberal party in all its branches is united. The sympathetic treatment of all reasonable Irish demands with a view to giving the country, so far as justice permits, the government which it desires, and without which it will never be content, is another question upon which there is but one opinion in the ranks of Liberalism. But are the Liberals, if they should return to power, to take up the thread broken in 1894, and to seek to revive that Home Rule legislation which they pursued with so much ardour, and at so great a cost to themselves, during the latest years of the Gladstonian régime? This was really the question discussed briefly but clearly by Lord Rosebery in the Queen's Hall speech. There is no need to say how he dealt with it. He declared plainly that the next Parliament, if it had a Liberal majority, neither could nor would deal with the question of Home Rule. His views are those which I feel convinced are held by the overwhelming majority of Liberals, certainly by all who care to look the facts in the face. We cannot revive the passionate pilgrimage of the years between 1885 and 1894; and if we could, there is no reason to suppose that public opinion in Great Britain has changed to such an extent as to support a renewed Home Rule policy, or that the House of Lords has repented of its rejection of Mr. Gladstone's scheme. To seek to revive that scheme under present conditions would be an act of suicide on the part of the Liberal leaders. They have work of their own to do for Great Britain and the Empire as a whole, more important and more pressing than anything they can hope to do in the next Parliament for Ireland. Mr. Birrell, who, as President of the National Liberal Federation, speaks with authority, has been almost as emphatic in proclaiming this truth as Lord Rosebery himself. The misfortune is that there are still many Liberals who, if they could, would revive the ten-year-old shibboleth, and seek to burden themselves with it, to the detriment of their party and their cause. For those who feel so strongly on this subject that they insist upon being Home Rulers and nothing else, one can only feel sincere respect, even though their worldly wisdom may not be very obvious. But the Home Rule cry has other supporters, who regard it as being not so much the embodiment of a sacred principle as an instrument for electioneering purposes. They believe but faintly in the possibility of securing & Liberal majority in the next Parliament without the help of the Irish, and it is their desire to secure the Irish vote that makes them stick to Home Rule. Naturally, they are furious against Lord Rosebery for his distinct refusal to countenance the idea of an alliance between British Liberals and Irish Nationalists, or the formation of a Ministry which would depend for its existence upon the support of the latter. This, as I have said, is the crux of the question with which the Liberal leaders and the Liberal party have now to deal. To me it seems that Lord Rosebery spoke both as a statesman and a patriot. It would be impossible for the Liberal party to do the work which now lies before it, work dealing more particularly with free trade, education, and licensing reform, if it could only carry out its policy by the aid of the Irish members; whilst no position could be more intolerable or more humiliating for any English Ministry than that of having to rely upon an Irish alliance, unless it were in a Parliament elected ad hoc for the purpose of dealing with the Irish question. All this is so obvious that it seems to be a truism, and yet it is a truism upon which depends the future of Liberalism in the next House of Commons. To play with the question in any way, or to try to evade it by means of soothing commonplaces which deceive nobody, would be to betray the interests not merely of the party, but of the country. The greatest misfortune that could happen to the nation as the result of the next General Election would be a condition of things in which the Irish members would hold the balance of power. Lord Rosebery's purpose at the Queen's Hall was to point to the existence of this danger, and to warn his fellow Liberals against those who would lightly expose themselves to it. He deserves the thanks not only of Liberals but of the whole country for the courage with which he has spoken the truth on a delicate and serious question, without stopping to consider the misconceptions to which such plainspeaking was certain to subject him.
The Prime Minister referred at least once during last month to the alleged lists— alternative lists,' I think he called them—of the next Administration which are popularly supposed to be enshrined in the cabinets of certain prominent members of the Opposition. Personally, I know nothing even as to the existence of these lists ; but I do know that a great many people believe that they are actually in being, and they undoubtedly form a topic which seems to interest all classes of politicians. The forming of imaginary Cabinets is always a fascinating amusement, especially to those who are not too far off the sacred circle to feel a personal interest in the game. But in the case of the next Liberal Government so much depends upon the choice of Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary that, until the allotment of these posts has been definitely settled, no good can be done by speculation as to minor appointments. That there are alternative Governments ready to step into the shoes of Mr. Balfour and his colleagues in the present Ministry is certain ; and Liberals, at all events, believe universally that no new Government, whatever might be its general character, could possibly be worse than the present one, or could blunder so conspicuously and so constantly as the oft-transformed Cabinet of 1895 has done. But what is to be the special brand of Liberalism that the next Ministry will represent? There are writers in the Press and a few speakers on the platform who insist that it must be openly and strenuously anti-Imperialist in tone, and must renounce not only the jingoism of the khaki days, but the 'sane Imperialism' of the Liberal League. There are others who hold that even the least infusion of the 'Little England' spirit into the new Government would certainly discredit it, and probably bring about its destruction well within the brief term of life which Mr. Chamberlain and his friends have assigned to it. The truth, of course, lies between these two extremes. The policy of ostracism for which a few extreme Radical writers, possessed of greater fluency than influence, are always clamouring, is one that under present conditions the Liberal party is certainly not in a position to adopt. The next Ministry will contain the representatives of all the sections into which the Opposition has been split during its long years of wandering in the wilderness. But its predominating character can only be decided when it is known who is to be at its head, who is to hold the Foreign Secretaryship, and what is to be its attitude towards the Irish question. Until these points have been settled—and they can hardly be settled before the General Election has taken place—it is sheer waste of time to speculate on the contents of those mysterious lists to which Mr. Balfour referred. The only point that emerges clearly from the turbid sea of speculation is the fact that, upon whomsoever the duty of forming the next Liberal Administration may fall, there is no one who is likely to envy him his task.
The question of the Army and the defensive forces of the country has been very much in men's minds during the month. The Report of the Royal Commission upon the Volunteers, with its rather crude conclusion in favour of conscription, startled everybody, and apparently was most startling to those who in the Press and in Parliament have long been dallying with the subject in an amateurish fashion. Seldom has a document of this importance been received with such general and outspoken condemnation. A couple of days sufficed to establish the fact that, at the present moment, the nation will not stand the idea of conscription at any price. The Report of the Commission was blown into the air by a gust of almost universal indignation, and Ministers made haste to declare that they had no intention of acting upon its proposals. If, as seems by no means improbable, the Report was in the nature of a ballon d'essai, sent up on behalf of the Ministry, it undoubtedly served its purpose, and for some time to come we are little likely to hear anything further on the subject of compulsory military service. But there are some who suggested from the first that, in procuring this declaration of opinion from the Royal Commission, Ministers were not so much trying to ascertain the true views of the public with regard to conscription, as seeking to furnish themselves with a weapon by means of which they could induce the House of Commons to accept fresh proposals of theirs on the subject of the Army. It is unfortunately evident that the present condition of the Army is deplorably bad. Between the havoc wrought by the war and the still greater mischief caused by Mr. Brodrick's
alteration of the terms of enlistment, the ranks of our regiments are being quickly depleted, and it is impossible to find recruits to take the places of the men who insist upon returning to civil life. The subject is not one upon which I wish to dwell. Probably the less it is discussed in public the better. But it is known only too well that we are within a few months of a crisis in the history of our Army such as we have never had to face before. Ministers seem to have one remedy, and one only, for this deplorable state of things. It is the old remedy of increased expenditure. With the Report of the Volunteer Commission in their hands, they can go to Parliament and say, 'Here is a proposal for conscription ; but you will not even look at it; that being the case you must face the only alternative, and provide sufficient money to enable us to compete successfully for our recruits in the
open labour market.' Such, at least, is the explanation which some give of the origin of this very remarkable Report.
But, in the meantime, what of that great scheme of War Office reform which was to give us the efficiency in military administration that we need so badly ? Everybody rejoiced at the business-like promptitude with which Mr. Arnold-Forster, after his installation in office, brought the Esher Committee into existence, and we rejoiced even more gladly when that body turned out its sweeping scheme of reforms with such unexampled celerity. But months have elapsed since the historic documents revolutionising our system of Army administration were given to the world ; it is even months since we were practically assured by the Secretary for War that the scheme had been adopted and was in process of being put in force. Where is it now? Many wild rumours are current as to its fate, but they are not rumours that one need pause to examine here. One thing, however, has happened during the past month that is distinctly ominous. It was announced that on the 16th of May Mr. ArnoldForster would take the House of Commons into his confidence, and make his eagerly-expected statement with regard to the position of his great scheme. The spirit of the reformers rose at this announcement, and the prophets of evil, who had been trading on the rumours to which I have referred, were correspondingly depressed. But alas ! on the eve of the date mentioned the Prime Minister, in an apologetic statement worded so curiously that it could not have failed to create suspicion in the minds of those who heard it, intimated that a mistake had been made a mistake the sole responsibility for which rested with himself—and that Mr. Arnold-Forster would not be in a position to make his promised speech on the day fixed. Then, indeed, did the flood of rumour that had been gathering so long burst all bounds, sweeping everything before it. Not merely the loss of the EsherClarke scheme, but even the downfall of the Ministry itself, were declared by the quidnuncs to be impending; and tales of a prolonged fight within the Cabinet, waged with a desperate resolution worthy of