Union of the Two Old Parties in Britain is Believed to be Inevitable — Will Unite to Fight Labor Party.
Will Tories and Liberals Unite ?
REVIEW OF REVIEWS
Union of the Two Old Parties in Britain is Believed to be Inevitable — Will Unite to Fight Labor Party.
DISCUSSING the trend of politics in Britain, J. B. Firth in the Fortnightly contends that the union of the Liberal and Conservative parties is inevitable. He believes that the two-party system is immutable and that the old established parties, who have never been far apart, except on issues which since the war have begun to seem trivial, will drift together to fight the Labor Party. What are Welsh Disestablishment and Education and such problems over which the two parties in times gone by rended each other, now that men are joining issue on such vital questions as the nationalization of industries and the division of wealth and earnings? The days ahead will try men’s souls and drive them into the camps where by their own interests they belong.
Mr. Firth writes:
The Labor Party is advancing swiftly, not only along the beaten constitutional path, but also along paths unbeaten and unconstitutional. Governments are threatened with compulsion by “industrial force,” unless within a given time they signify their conversion to a given policy which they have deliberately rejected. Jack Cade no longer approaches Parliament Square with a tatterdemalion escort and a humble petition of rights; the Right Hon. John Cade takes the Central Hall at Westminster for his headquarters and issues an ultimatum backed by the Triple Alliance of the most formidable Trade Unions in Great Britain. This is peaceful Revolution, infinitely more dangerous to the established order than the despairing risings of famished workmen which filled Sidmouth and Castlereagh with such terrors a hundred years ago. Obviously, it is not a favorable moment, therefore, for Conservative principles. Politicians must be men of their time, or they are doomed in advance to perpetual futility. Democracy is victorious. It must be the function of Conservatism to put, if possible, a bridle in Behemoth’s mouth, when Democracy seeks not the reform, but the overthrow of the existing system.
The Labor attack is being skilfully directed. No crusade is now preached against the Crown, or against Aristocracy and the House of Lords, or against the Church, or against Imperialism. It was in these directions that the old attacks used to be developed, but of late they have been discontinued. The Crown is beyond reach of the slanders of malevolence. The House of Lords, deprived of its veto, is no longer formidable, The Church was never more doubtful of the text of her message, if never more certain of the genuineness of her mission; even the Establishment excites nothing like the same hostility as it did fifty years ago, when it was the sworn enemy of Liberal reform. The survival of a few Bishops in a decaying House of Lords is no longer an active offence to a rationalistic electorate; indeed, the Bench of Bishops is probably more progressive in its outlook than the general body of the clergy, and if ever the Second Chamber question is raised in earnest, the prelates will fold their white wings and decorously withdraw. Imperialism, again, which mammon-worshipping Liberals detested and distrusted, is found to be quite compatible with democracy, and the new synonym for the British Empire is the British Commonwealth of Nations, of which the Crown is the golden link. How can British Labor denounce Imperialism, when the democracies of Australia, Canada and NewZealand accept their own interpretation of it without hurt to their vehement democratic prejudices?
It is not suggested that the British Labor Party frankly accepts these institutions as integral parts of the British Constitution. Its quiescence means that the P^ent moment is not deemed opportune for attack, and that better results are promised by a concentration of their energies in an attack upon property, upon the capitalistic system, and upon the bases of the existing order of society. This is a shrewd decision. The capitalistic system until comparatively recently has borne with terrible hardships upon the working classes. Throughout the Victorian era capital was cruelly unjust to “the laboring poor." But they are the “laboring poor” no longer; and they are the masters of their own fate. They hold m one hand political, and in the other industrial, power. They can, when they choose, capture the House of Commons and nominate the Government; they can dictate—and are dictating through their Unions the conditions of industry, and their leaders—brimful of self -
confidence and self-sufficiency and impatient of the remaining obstacles in their path—are bent upon taking the fullest advantage of instruments which have been thrust into their hands by the two historic political parties, as the result of their frantic bidding against one another for Labor support.
Mr. Lloyd George was right. Labor has been loudly declaring war on the capitalistic system ever since it established a separate party organization. Yet both the old parties clung to the delusion that they had only to find the right formula and Labor could be charmed once more to heel and help to swell the Radical or Conservative triumph.
Even now Liberals cannot believe that Labor will never again serve as their Left Wing. Mr. Asquith himself quite recently expressed the pious hope that Labor would in the future, as in the past, enjoy the hospitable shelter of the Liberal Party. He at any rate was magnanimously ready to forgive and forget, and promised that in the wide Liberal fold a warm place should be found for his old allies. It was very like some fallen favorite of the stage meeting his successful younger rival and offering him a minor part in the mysterious play which is to take the town by storm, but which the other knows will never be put on the boards. Mr. Asquith cannot forget the years from 1906 to 1914, when, though Labor was not in formal alliance with Liberalism, the understanding between them was complete, and its influence upon the domestic policy of the Liberal Government was great enough to place the Trade Unions above the law. That arrangement was entirely satisfactory to the Liberal chiefs and to the Radical Left, which is hardly less Socialistic than Labor itself; but Labor is now openly contemptuous of the snail-pace of Liberal progress, and, above all, its leaders are itching for power. But the average middle-class Liberal has little more sympathy with extreme Socialism than has the average Conservative. Marxism and Liberalism have nothing in common. The nationalization of industry is repugnant to the ideas in which Liberalism is rooted. The Liberal manufacturer of the North is still more than half inclined to echo—at least in the privacy of his counting-house—the words of Cobden that he would “rather live under the Dey of Algiers than under a Trade Union Committee,” and he hates, beyond words, the bureaucratic control which is inseparable from the nationalization of industry. The purely Nonconformist view of Marxism and Socialism must be very mixed, for Labor presents two
contradictory sides to the world. One is the Brotherhood side, which is engendered in Nonconformist chapels; the other is the street-corner side, which is aggressively freethinking and atheistic. The one is Rousseauism; the other Is sheer Jacobinism.
There is no effective place for a strong Liberal Party between a strong Labor Party and a strong Conservative Party, provided that the latter is sanely led and recognizes the necessity of moving with the times. No doubt the results for Liberalism at the last election were too bad to be true, like the results for Unionism in 1906. But, after all, what does official Liberalism stand for at this juncture apart from Free Trade in its old pedantic and pre-war interpretation? It is not sought to minimize the importance of the fiscal stumbling-block in the way of the formation of a strong united party out of the existing Coalition. No one will expect fanatical Free Traders, if they remain fanatical, to accept a policy of Protection, or even of fullblooded Tariff Reform. But, as matters stand, there is no likelihood of either, both being about as dead as pure Cobdenism, unless and until the Labor Party turns Protectionist, as it quite possibly may when it finds that to be the only means of maintaining its newly-won rates of wages and shorter hours. The concessions in fiscal matters which Coalition Liberals are asked to make to their colleagues are very small, and fiscal differences, therefore, need be no insuperable obstacle to closer political union, even though compromise means shedding a number of extreme Free Traders and the disgruntling of the extreme Protectionists. What else stands in the way? Certainly not Home Rule, because the cause of Unionism has been abandoned by Conservatives—sorrowfully, it is true, and against their deliberate judgment, but in recognition of the fact that three-quarters of the Irish people think that they would rather be badly governed by themselves than well governed by Great Britain. Imperial Defence? There is no difference on that head between the two parties in the Coalition, but there is the gravest difference between them and Labor and between them and most of the Independent Liberals. Education, again, used to be an acid test between Liberals and Unionists. But now most sensible people have progressed beyond the stage when they could be lashed into simulated fury over “right of entry” or the preposterous cry of “Rome on the Rates.” The greatest Education Bill of recent times has been passed without the religious question being raised at all. Nor need the Constitutional Question prove a serious obstacle. The day of the House of Lords is over. But the great majority of Coalition Liberals believe just as strongly as their Conservative colleagues that a Second Chamber is a necessary part of the British Constitution. Thus, whenever the House of Lords question is raised again, it can only be raised as a Second Chamber question, the necessity for which is common ground to both sections.
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