What is the Liberal Policy?
SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN IN THE WORLD TO-DAY
In few and concise terms the new British Premier sets forth the policy of his Government. Freedom, he maintains, is its keynote—freedom in all things that affect the life of the people. His frank statement of policy will win for Sir Henry the esteem of all British people.
WHAT is the Liberal policy? Our very name gives the answer. We stand for liberty. Our policy is the policy of freedom in all things that effect the life of the people, freedom of conscience, freedom of trade, internal and external; freedom of industry, of combination and co-operation; from class ascenddency, from injurious privileges and monopolies; freedom for each man to make the best use of the powers and faculties implanted in him; and with the view of securing and guarding these and other interests, freedom of Parliament, for all to elect to the governing body of the nation the representatives of their own choice. That is the Liberal policy.
Set against it in contrast the policy of the past government during the last nine years! It was a policy of exaltation of the executive power and depression of the representatives of the people, a policy of high expenditure, of great military establishments, a policy of favoritism toward privileged classes and interests.
Mr. Balfour says we have no program, but only a policy of negations. Even if that were the case, the rectification of the mischief of the last ten years is a pretty good program of itself. But I do not regard as a nega-
tion the endeavor to place the system of national education on a permanent basis of public control and management. Nor do I regard as a policy of negation the abolition of tests or the removal of schools from the sphere of sectarian strife, which is incompatible with secular efficiency. I do not regard as negation the attempt to which we are committed to reassert the control of the community over the liquor traffic, which control Mr. Balfour went far to stultify by that most pernicious and shameless measure for 'converting an annual license into a permanent freehold.
Again, is economy a negation? I will answer that by another question. Is the raging torrent of expenditure of the last ten years a constructive policy If not—if it represents, as indeed it does, a diversion of wealth from useful and profitable channels to channels which are useless, unprofitable and mischievous—then a policy which seeks to recover some of these wasted millions for the community is not a policy of negation. That, now we are in power, will be our aim.
The difficulties before the Liberal government are threefold. In the first place, there is the multiplicity of the subjects to be dealt with; in the
second place, there is the condition of the national finance; and in the third place, there is the reawakening activity of the House of Lords. This last is a gigantic problem and the first thing to do is to strengthen the people’s House; then you can try conclusions with the other.
There is a cardinal, abiding, necessary difference between the Liberal party and our opponents which is as a chasm yawning between us athwart almost every public question. Where the interest of classes, or of individuals, of what galls itself society, or of the Church, or of a branch of the public service, comes in conflict with the public interest, we will, with firmness and generosity, but without fear or scruple, stand by and uphold the public interest and make it supreme. Survey the whole field of Liberal deeds and doctrines, all the achievements of the past, as well as the ambitious of the future, you will find this to be universally true.
It may accurately be said that there is practically but one great impediment in the way of a sweeping improvement which would elevate the physical and moral welfare of the people. This is the interest, and the overdue regard the interest, of the landowner, and the political and social influence that he and his class can exercise. Let the value of land be assessed independently of the buildings upon it, and1 upon such valution let contributions be made to those public services which create the value.
What is our rating system. It is a tax upon industry and labor, upon enterprise, upon improvement; it is a tax which is the direct cause of much suffering and overcrowding in the towns. Overcrowding is not a symp-
tom only, but a cause of poverty, because it demoralizes its victims and forces them to find relief in excesses. By throwing the taxes on site values, communities which have created these values will be set free, free in the sense that they can expand, free to direct their own destinies.
Foremost among our domestic duties is the succor of the masses who are in poverty. If it can be shown that poverty, whether it be material poverty or poverty of physique and of energy, is associated with economic conditions which, though supported by the laws of the country, are nevertheless contrary to economic laws and considerations and to public policy, the State can intervene without fear of doing harm. Is there any lack of such conditions among us? I fear not. The country is still largely governed by castes, and it has to compete with nations which have shaken off feudal ways and privileges which we continue to tolerate.
It can not be too often repeated and enforced that the way to go to work to organize the home market is not the crude and unequal and exploded method of setting up tariffs. It is to raise the standard of living, abolishing those centres of stagnant misery which are a disgrace to our name, and when once the home market is so organized the demand for labor will be larger and more sustained, and more capable of ensuring itself against fluctuation.
The wisest course is to attack these bad conditions boldly and fearlessly, to abolish them, or, if we can not do that, to modify them; deal rigorously with vested interests and monopolies which cause public injury or stand in the way of improvement; enlarge the powers of local authorities, read-
just our taxing system, and so alter our land laws as to increase the supply of houses and of available land in town and country alike ; equalize burdens local as well as imperial; give— as far as laws and customs can give it, give a chance to every man.
Give every man a chance; those are the lines of progress and development. It is along those lines that lies the path of prosperity, happiness and strength. There lies the true wisdom, and not false, sham wisdom; true patriotism, and not tinsel patriotism ; true imperialism, and not treacherous imperialism.
I am not prepared to erase from the tablets of my creed any principle, or measure, or proposal, or ideal, or aspiration of Liberalism. First of all the whole range of reforms which seem to be necessary in order to simplify and complete our electoral and legislative machinery is the simplification of registration. The abolition of the plural vote, the reduction of electoral expenses, the removal of every bar to the free choice of electors, and above all, the adjustment of the relations between the two houses of Parliament, are changes which the workingman ought to claim as his birthright. It is these that will give him the power to obtain, with the consent and co-operation of other classes of the community, changes which he especially desires and demands, without waiting upon the condescending benevolence or the grudging necessities of the hereditary House. We have long been anxious that the representation of the people of this country should be as full, as real and as simple as possible; that the workman who follows his work and changes his house should not be hustled and chivied out of his vote.
The condemnation of the Education Act, as ignoring popular rights, as excluding from their proper share of influence the parent and the taxpayer, the two classes most concerned, and as writing upon the door of entry to a great and honorable and beneficent profession a sectarian test —that is a standing condemnation which time can never wither. It must be put an end to as soon as possible, and the public, whose money is taken, and who as patriots and as parents are intensely interested in the character and quality and nature of the education given to children at the most receptive period of their lives, must have the command in this matter, and not any self-constituted body of managers, or an^y man, whether he be parson or layman.
One of the first things we have got to do—the most urgent, but no easy thing—is to repair as far as posible the damage that the Licensing Act has done. The first is to restore the local licensing authority to the full powers and discretion originally possessed. and to extend those powers considerably; the best and the supreme judges are the inhabitants of a district whose daily lives . are affected by the liquor traffic. That is the cardinal principle to bear in mind. The next thing is to impose a limit of time to the artificial provisions of the Act. Those two things of themselves will be of great difficulty to carry through any House of Commons, and the House of Lords perhaps still more. But it is one of the first things wTe have got to do.
Another great object will be to improve our land system and our agricultural conditions so as to keep more men on the soil and take others back to it. It is not in our colonies only,
and our dependencies across the seas, that we have a great estate to develop; we have, it here under our eyes. Let us try the experiment of getting the people on the soil and encouraging them to engage all their energies in its improvement. We must try to get rid of anything that hinders the development of agriculture, restrictions that we have outgrown and habits that belong to a patriarchal state of things.
There is a general awakening and broadening of view on this subject. There is a growing belief in co-operative methods, both in purchase, transit, dairying, and in the application of scientific processes, in the adoption of what may be called a forward policy to meet the changes and surmount the difficulties which time has brought with it. If our system of tenure in this country hinders this development and cramps in any way the freedom of the cultivator, then such changes must be made in our system as shall give the requisite security and independence to the cultivator, and enable him, to the great benefit not only of himself, but of his landowner and the nation at large, to take full advantage of the new methods. These are the general lines on which legislation will have to move forward to bring our agricultural system into harmony with the latest methods, in whose adoption lie our best hopes of agricultural prosperity. These are the ways to encouragt enterprise and good farming, to bring labor and capital both in larger quantities to be applied to the land, and to build up a healthy rural population.
I hold that there are three main divisions of operation for the amelioration of the condition of the rural population. First of all, it is
necessary to provide healthy, comfortable homes in the country. Secondly, there is the furnishing to the laborer in the country the opportunity of a career, so that by industry and intelligence he may raise himself. Third, there should be freedom in that career.
I stand by my ideal and I object to that of the past government as to the armaments which we need. The difference between us is crucial and fundamental. I claim that we are not called upon to vie, and it would be the height of folly for us to attempt to vie, with our great military continental neighbors. We do not want 70,-
000 men to launch upon Europe. I am iht roughly opposed to the whole idea.
1 am opposed to it on strategical grounds; I am opposed to it as a conception of international relations, and provocative of unnecessary friction and of war. I remember what a witty Frenchman once said of the Kingdom of Prussia—that Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country. I don’t want such conditions to be realized, oc even approached in England. I do not want to see a military England, still less a military Scotland, or Wales, saturated with military ideas, regarding military glory, military aptitude, military interests as the great thing in life.
It is necessary for our position, for the nature and character of the Empire, for our immense trade, as well as for the protection of our shores, that we have a very strong navy, having the full command of the sea. But the increase of our navy estimates has been ninety per cent since 1895. Is this race forced upon us by the ambitions and actions of other powers, or is it in any degree our ambitions,
our actions that are forcing it upon them? There used to be a standard that we should have as many ships as any other two powers, but last year France, Germany and Russia combined spent £32,000,000, and in this year we are spending £34,500,000, so that we are exceeding the expenditure of the three powers. This may be proved to be necessary, but one would think that so great an increase of navy estimates would be accompanied by a corresponding diminution of army estimates, because if we have command of the seas, our shores are therefore all but absolutely safe and there would seem to be surely room for a large reduction in army expenditure.
The navy is not only our first line of defense, it is our second and third as well. But there is another line of defense, which comes before the army and navy, and that is “friendly relations with other countries.” Would to heaven that Great Britain, in the years to come, might regain something of its old fame, when it stood among the nations for the belief that rightdoing and honest-dealing are the surest tower of strength, and that no object to be sought by human statesmanship transcends in importance the cultivation of relations of mutual confidence and respect between the families of mankind.
The insane race and rivalry of armaments does not conduce to the strengthening of these friendly relations. The authoritative unanimous voice and opinion and direction of all the great powers of the world demanded at the Hague their limitation for the material and moral welfare of humanity. Overtures to fihis effect have been made and rejected. Let
us make them again and again until we succeed. I can not express my views on this more forcibly than by quoting the solemn warning and advice of Lord Salisbury, in November, 1897: “The one hope that we have
to prevent this competition from ending in a terrible effort of mutual destruction, which will be fatal to Christian civilization, is that the powers may gradually be brought to act together in a friendly spirit on all subjects of difference that may arise, until at last they shall be welded together in some international constitution which shall give to the world, as a result of their great strength, a long spell of unfettered commerce, prosperous trade and continued peace.” A great step was accomplished for civilization and humanity when a shrine was set up consecrated to the common interests, common conscience and the common purposes of the human race.
The question of the better government of Ireland directly and imperatively concerns both parties. The principle of self-government, the principle that the elective element shall be the governing element in Ireland, remains, in my view, the only principle consonant with our constitutional habits and practice, and above all, the only principle that will ever work. I am for adopting such methods and such a plan as may appear most likely to bring a successful issue to this principle and the policy arising from it. For twenty years of effort and sacrifice the Liberal party, amid misrepresentation and vinification, has contended for the cause of good government in Ireland, and as time and circumstances allow we will prosecute the same beneficent' cause, not without hope that both parties in the State,
as the goal to be reached becomes better realized, will unite in a sustained effort to attain it.
Freedom is our keynote. Freedom and equality. And if it be the lot of the Liberal government to give the country ten years, or five years, of Liberal administration, let them not be years of compromising or of temporizing, but let them be years of resolute action. Then at the end of that time —so many of us as shall
survive to see it—we may not have created a new heaven and a new earth, but we shall be able to point to burdens removed, to liberties extended, to opportunities equalized, to the resources of our country more fully developed, comfort better diffused, independence encouraged, and ,by these peaceful and quiet methods an accretion of strength given to the Empire through the happiness and welfare of our people.