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That same 14th of July had been looked forward to by many persons as a day big with the fate of the Ministerial party. The new republic had announced, through its organs in the Press, the fact that several members of the Cabinet, including the Marquis of Lansdowne and Lord Selborne, had given their adhesion to its principles, and Free Traders not unnaturally asked if those who had remained faithful to their cause within the Ministerial ranks were going to stand this. Mr. Balfour has kept his party together and has succeeded in remaining in office by the adoption of two ingenious devices—first, the promulgation by himself of a policy so nebulous that nobody could really say what it meant; and, secondly, the declaration by his official spokesmen in the House of Commons that, whatever else they might think, Ministers were opposed to the taxing of food or raw materials. The Liberal-Unionist Council had, however, adopted a policy which included this desperate Protectionist device, and Lord Lansdowne and Lord Selborne had not only accepted official positions in its ranks with enthusiasm, but had conveyed to its members a warm message of sympathy from the Prime Minister himself. In other days, when British Governments were supposed not only to know, but to say what they meant, and when sitting on the fence was the last accomplishment which men would have thought of attributing to a Premier, the situation thus created would have been plain enough to everybody. It would have been accepted universally as proof that the Cabinet had been converted en masse to the policy of Mr. Chamberlain, and that henceforth Protection, unadulterated and unashamed, the avowed policy of the Ministerial party. But in these days, when we are invited by the tribune of Birmingham to think Imperially,' we seem at the same time to have been deprived of the power of thinking clearly, and the Ministerialists are apparently prepared to treat even the events of the 14th of July as though they were of no particular consequence, committing nobody to any definite policy. Even Mr. Chamberlain's speech on the evening of the fateful day does not seem to have advanced matters greatly. In the opinion of Liberals it was a speech full of acrimonious clap-trap, in which all the stale fallacies and exploded hypotheses of last year were repeated with magnificent audacity, and the attention of the speaker's audience was diverted from his weakness in argument by the bitterness of the invective launched against his Liberal and Free Trade opponents. Even the Conservative Press did not seem to be pleased with a rhetorical effort which did not carry the cause of the bread tax an inch further forward, whilst it is reported that the distinctly bellicose attitude of the new President of the Liberal-Unionist Council did not impress his followers as it might have been expected to do. Yet with one great achievement Mr. Chamberlain is to be credited. He has undoubtedly captured the party machine in both its branchesUnionist and purely Conservative—and there is nobody on this side
of the Atlantic who knows so well as he does how to work such a machine for the purpose of securing his own ends. Fortunately, however powerful machines may be, they have not in this country as yet taken the place of the electorate at large, and if one may judge by the bye-elections of last month, the member for West Birmingham is as far as ever from having made any impression upon the great mass of the electors. Still it would be a mistake for Free Traders to underrate the significance of what he has accomplished, thanks even more to the weakness of Mr. Balfour and his colleagues in the Cabinet than to his own energy and consummate ability. To all intents and purposes he has secured command of the official Party platform, and Sir Michael Hicks Beach and the other convinced Free Traders who have ‘let “I dare not " wait upon “I would,” ' have only themselves to thank if their position in their old party has now been made still more difficult than it was at midsummer last year. The leader of the Opposition has demanded a day for the discussion of a vote of censure on the Government, because of its share in the proceedings of the LiberalUnionist Council, and Mr. Balfour, with a curious disregard for established custom, has suggested that a day, or rather half a day, for the debate may be found in the first week in August. Possibly Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman might have been better advised if he had left Mr. Chamberlain and his new republic to the judgment of sensible Ministerialists. The time is evidently past when votes of censure are likely to bring about any serious change in the political situation, whilst the mortification of the free fooders' on the Conservative benches, who find themselves being swept against their own will towards the Niagara of fiscal reform, ought not to need to be stimulated by a Party debate and division. But in any case the internal condition of the Ministerial party has certainly not been improved by the proceedings of the reconstructed Liberal-Unionist Council.
So far as the Opposition is concerned there is comparatively little to record in connection with the story of last month. Once again, indeed, it has had to revise its opinion as to the probable date of the General Election, and, as it firmly believes, of its return to power. Last month Cabinet-making was the favourite amusement on both sides of the House of Commons as well as in the Press, and amusing to the verge of the grotesque were some of the attempts of our anonymous Warwicks. To-day the toys seem by common consent to have been put aside for a more convenient season, for Mr. Balfour sits tighter than ever on his precarious perch, and even the young lions of Radicalism begin to realise the absurdity of their attempts to puff their special favourites of the lobbies and the back benches into places in a Cabinet that is certainly not yet in process of formation. The only serious domestic event in the history of the Liberal party during the month is the attempt that is being made in some quarters to identify its policy and fortunes with those of Mr. Redmond and his party. It is even alleged by some ardent advocates of the Irish cause that Unionist Free Traders who are prepared to break away from the Ministerial party must not expect to be received into the Liberal ranks unless they are prepared to declare themselves Home Rulers. The notion is absurd from every point of view, and those who promulgate it are clearly incapable of seeing things as they are. Apart from the trifling fact that Mr. John Redmond has proclaimed a jehad against Lord Rosebery and the whole body of Liberal Imperialists, apart also from the circumstance that but for the consistent help which this gentleman has given the Government upon the very questions on which Liberals feel most strongly Mr. Balfour would have been defeated some time ago, we have to reckon with the undeniable fact that the next Parliament, with its assumed majority of Liberals, will have work cut out for it which it must undertake as soon as it gains power, and which will be enough and more than enough to occupy its whole life-time. The writers who announce that Home Rule must be the burning issue at the next General Election, and who condemn as opportunists those who think otherwise, are themselves the worst of all opportunists. For the sake of gaining the support of Mr. Redmond at the General Election they are prepared not only to repel the Unionist Free Traders who desire to join hands with them in the battle over the food tax, but to impose upon the neck of the next Liberal Government the intolerable and degrading yoke of an alliance with that Irish party which strenuously upholds the Education Act, approves of the Licensing Bill, and cares nothing about Free Trade. Opportunism of this narrow and mischievous character is happily repudiated by the common sense of mankind.
Mr. Arnold-Forster's statement on the subject of Army reform, which had been expected with great eagerness by the public at large, has not made the impression upon the country which was anticipated. This, however, is probably not the fault of the Secretary for War. The scheme which he propounded, when he was at last allowed to make his belated explanation to the House of Commons, was manifestly the result of a struggle in high quarters and a consequent compromise. Like all compromises, it is disappointing. It is not the far-reaching, comprehensive, and statesman-like scheme which Mr. Arnold-Forster's friends in both parties had hoped for. Broadly stated, the plan he now propounds is one for dividing the Army into two portions : one for service abroad, and the other for home defence. The Imperial service army is to consist of men enlisted for nine years, the home army of men enlisted for two. The home army is apparently to provide a reserve, akin to that which served us so well during the South African war. We are, however, left in the dark as to the attractions which are to be employed in order to induce men to enlist in either branch of the service. Nothing could have been more deplorable than the description given of the present state of the Army by the Secretary for War; but he has not shown us how, under a system of voluntary enlistment, that state is likely to improve, and the Government have resolutely set their face against anything in the nature of conscription or compulsory service. The scheme, therefore, seems to resolve itself into one for dividing the existing army into these two portions, and for reducing the numbers of the regular soldiers, the Militia, and the Volunteers. Mr. ArnoldForster did not hide the fact that there are differences of opinion in high quarters—presumably the Cabinet and the War Office-as to the merits of his proposals. For the present we know too little of the details of his plan to be able to discuss it intelligently; but it is distinctly disappointing to those of us who had hoped that under the new Secretary for War we might have seen the accomplishment of really great reform of our Army system. The fault is probably not Mr. Arnold-Forster's, who has had to face difficulties hardly to be exaggerated, but the result is none the less to be deplored.
One may pass over in silence such episodes of the month as the withdrawal of the Aliens Bill after it had failed to meet the severe and prolonged criticism to which it was subjected in the Grand Committee; the grave difference of opinion between Sir Charles Eliot, our late Resident in Uganda, and the Foreign Office, regarding which we are not yet in possession of Sir Charles Eliot's side of the case ; and the unfortunate action taken by Lord Dundonald after his dismissal from the command of the local forces in Canada. Far more important than any of the questions raised by these incidents have been those connected with the progress of the war in the Far East. So far as military operations are concerned we are still permitted to get nothing more than occasional glimpses of what is going on in Manchuria. The Japanese still exhibit an unrivalled skill in keeping the outside world in the dark whilst they are working out their own destiny on the field of battle. But we know enough to be aware that the course of events continues to be uniformly unfavourable to Russia. Great strategical advantages have been gained by the Japanese, both in the immediate neighbourhood of Port Arthur and further north in the peninsula, where the army of General Kuropatkin has clearly been placed in a position of grave peril. Great battles have been fought in which the advantage seems invariably to have rested with the Japanese, and in which the losses of the Russians, at least, have been terrible. But the ‘fog of war' still broods over the scene of the great campaign, and until it has lifted the criticisms of outsiders are futile. Of closer interest to ourselves has been the action of the Russians in the Red Sea, where a cruiser of theirs, which passed through the Dardanelles as a member of the volunteer fleet, and consequently a non-combatant, has not only stopped several mail steamers, English and German, but has actually seized one of the vessels of the P. and 0. fleet, the Malacca, on the pretext that it was carrying contraband of war. There is no question as to the right of a belligerent to search a neutral vessel, and to capture it, if there is fair reason to suppose that it is carrying contraband for the use of its enemy; but the question of the Dardanelles is one of extreme gravity, and if ships which are to all intents and purposes men-of-war, and which ostentatiously assume that character as soon as they reach open waters, are to be allowed by the Sultan free passage through the Straits, the Treaty of Paris is defied, and this country is placed in a serious predicament. Fortunately the firm attitude taken up by our own Government and the wise prudence shown by the authorities at St. Petersburg have sensibly abated the acuteness of a crisis which might readily have assumed a very serious character. But remembering our obligations under our treaty with Japan, it is impossible to doubt that a question of the greatest gravity has arisen, and that the British Government will be compelled to take decisive action in one direction or the other.
One non-political subject of great interest was raised during the month by the influential deputation which waited upon the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the purpose of enlisting their sympathy on behalf of the movement for obtaining a substantial grant from public funds for the old and new universities of the country. Sympathy with that movement everybody professes, for there is no one who pretends to deny the fact that the future of our country depends more largely upon the training of our children in the higher branches of scientific learning than even upon the maintenance of our Fleet and our Army. The Prime Minister himself declared, when receiving the deputation, that if he had been out of office he would have been one of its members. No promises were made by Ministers, but it may fairly be hoped that something was done to arouse public attention and enlist the practical sympathy of the Government in a movement which affects so closely the welfare of the community.