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THE CLOSURE AND COMMON-SENSE.
OBSTRUCTION has triumphed: mischief in the future. They the Education Bill is withdrawn : are ominous, I fear, of inevitable and the Opposition are now in the change. This is not the time at seventh heaven of joy and exulta- which the nature of these changes tion. It is idle to minimise the could be discussed, even if they fact. But if the party in power could now be adumbrated.” That rightly appreciate its character, we are probably on the eve of some they may gain more by the lesson great change, some “ bloodless which it teaches than they can lose revolution,” in our parliamentary by the blow which it inflicts. system, has long been our opinion, That the most powerful Ministry and every session of Parliament of modern times should be com- seems to bring it nearer and nearer. pelled to abandon the most import- But at present we are concerned ant measure of the session, after only with the immediate evil now the second reading had been carried before us, the rise and progress of by a majority of nearly three hun- obstruction, and the remedies for dred, is so utterly inconsistent with which it calls. We do not acquit both the theory and the practice of the Government of all blame for parliamentary government as to the fate of the Education Bill. Mr point to the existence of some Balfour went at length into the latent disorder in the system, which nature of the “miscalculation” to if not promptly removed may lead which he pleads guilty; but he to its rapid dissolution. We spoke showed to the satisfaction of all in our last number of obstruction reasonable men that it was due as a serious danger. But it is only to a misconception of the rather the disease of which ob- character of his opponents. He struction is the symptom that we did not anticipate from them a have to dread, the parliamentary method and degree of opposition decay so eloquently referred to setting at defiance all the comity by Mr Balfour in the concluding of party warfare, and, as Mr words of his speech last Monday Chamberlain says, "absolutely unweek,-words which abundantly paralleled in history”; and seems justify all that we have been say- to bave expected them to act as ing in these columns for many if they were gentlemen first and months past with regard to the members of Opposition afterwards. inevitable consequences of conduc- Experience should have taught him ting the Opposition in the House better, and let us hope that the error of Commons on the principle now will not be repeated. There may sanctioned by its leaders. “I have been some little contributory deeply regret the evidence of negligence on the part of the Govparliamentary decay which last ernment. But it is but a feather week especially, but in some in the scale compared with the respects all the events of this real cause of the disaster.
We session, have begun to show. To are sorry to see the repetition those who love our traditions, of such scandalous misstatements to those who are careful of our on this subject as have appeared fame, these incidents portend great in organs of the press which we had hoped were superior to all elementary stage, and one of the personal motives. The failure of chief promoters of its growth has the bill is hardly due at all to been Sir W. Harcourt himself. causes over which Mr Balfour had He points to his own use of it in any control, unless he had chosen 1894 as furnishing an example for to adopt the plan of closure by com- all future Governments. It is very partments. It is futile to deny likely that it may do so, but not so palpable a fact as that the pres- in the sense intended by Sir W. ent state of business is due to the Harcourt. His employment of it persistent obstruction of the Radi- at all events was such as to drive cal party, who themselves admit the Opposition out of the House, that as they have begun so they and to produce what had not been intend to go on. They make open known for near a century, "a secesboast of the obstructive debates sion”; nor should we be at all surwhich it will be in their power to prised if the session of 1894 came raise on a multiplicity of questions hereafter to be regarded as an at every stage of the Ministerial epoch in the history of the closure, business, and they are now, un- from which dates its practical recfortunately, in a position to take ognition as part of the ordinary advantage of their own wrong, and machinery of parliamentary proceto attribute to the incompetence of dure. Sir William Harcourt is Ministers what is exclusively due horrified at the idea of it becomto their own deliberate violation ing "an ordinary diet.” But we of the spirit of parliamentary rather think that when the Muse government.
of history comes to deal with this The scruples of the Government topic, she will name Sir William on the subject of the closure are the chef who first surfeited to be respected, but we think Parliament with this dainty dish. they are misplaced. And, in- But though both sides may try to deed, it is high time that the shut their eyes to the real state of whole question was set in its pro- the case, and though the party in per light before the people, and Opposition have been delivered of that the country at large began a good deal of virtuous indignation to realise the conditions under at the tyrannical conduct of the which, in the absence of any such Government, that is no reason wby changes as Mr Balfour contem- the public should either delude plates, parliamentary government themselves or help others to keep seems likely to be conducted. At- up the delusion. A new agent has tempts are still made to repre- been introduced into our system of sent the closure as a measure of parliamentary debate, from which exceptional stringency, to be kept it is highly improbable that it will in reserve for occasions of extra- ever be expelled, or even kept ordinary urgency,
a last resort within such limits as the immediin extreme case,” to borrow the ate sufferers from it naturally wish words of Sir William Harcourt: to see observed. and it is of course very natural These just now happen to be that such should be the theory of the very men to whom we are inthe Opposition. But as we hope debted for the necessity of this presently to show, it does not corre- innovation. It has its origin in spond with facts. The closure has the theory of divine right adopted now advanced far beyond that very by the Liberal party within the
last thirty years. The term has eight years was completely effaced. been used of late by both Mr Bal- But the Gladstonian party then, four and Lord Salisbury ; but we as afterwards, would not accept ourselves called attention to this the verdict of the country. They curious revival of an ultra-Tory declared that the majority was doctrine by the extreme Liberal not a genuine majority: that they party at å much earlier period. themselves had been cheated out The doctrine first began to sprout of office, with much more to the after the Reform Bill of 1832. same effect; and on the strength The Conservative reaction of 1841 of this assumption conceived themnipped it for a time; but it was selves at liberty to treat the Connot killed, and after 1846 began servatives as usurpers, or rather to grow again more steadily than us filibusters, outside the pale of ever. Successive Conservative fail
legitimate party warfare. The ures-in 1852, in 1857, in 1865, temper thus generated has never and in 1868—to obtain a majority cooled. Obstruction was its natuat the polling - booths naturally ral offspring; and though in the confirmed it, till on Mr Glad- scenes which now daily pass before stone's accession to office in the us we are apt to forget the extreme last-mentioned year it had come violence of the opposition offered to be generally believed that the to Lord Beaconsfield, the seeds Liberals were in the right, and were then sown of all that has that a strong Conservative Gov- happened since: a new system of ernment in the House of Commons tactics was inaugurated, to which would never again be seen. The even Fox and Bolingbroke in their doctrine of divine right was now most malignant and intemperate therefore fully developed. The moments would have scorned to people, we were told, had declared stoop. over and over again that they Obstruction, then, was the inevwould have nothing to say to the itable result of the conviction thus Conservatives. The Liberals, of deeply implanted in the Liberal course, were only too ready to be- mind that they were the natural lieve the flattering tale. The Con- inheritors of political power in this servatives had reduced the Fran- country, and that no quarter was chise, and, if that move didn't to be shown to those who enanswer, was it likely that any- deavoured to rob them of it. thing else would ever have the From men who go into Opposition desired effect? No! the people with these feelings strong upon saw through them. The Liberals them what else is to be expected ? clearly had Providence on their “No faith is to be kept with side, and an indefeasible title to heretics”-a doctrine wrongly asthe government of the country, cribed to the Roman Church-may with all the good things apper-rightly be imputed to the modern taining to it.
Radical. There was a lull in the Mr Gladstone fell—we need not system no doubt during the earlier repeat a thrice-told tale—and only part of Lord Salisbury's former five years after the political ex- Administration. The dismembertinction of his rivals had been con- ment of the Liberal party by Mr fidently predicted, they were seated Gladstone's adoption of Home in power with a compact majority Rule was too complete to admit of fifty, and the reproach of twenty- of any energy being displayed by
the section of it which remained of the British people condemned; in Opposition, during the first and when, being in Opposition, he dark days of its humiliation and lent himself to a species of obdespair. The shock was too great. struction of which the sole object Both leaders and followers were was to prevent measures from being stunned by it. They lay like the carried of which a still larger mafallen angels : and even when jority approved, he was doing they began to bestir themselves, more than any one statesman of their hopes lay rather in sowing the day to saddle the House of dissension between the Liberal Commons with an institution which Unionists and Conservatives than would have shocked Sir Robert in discomfiting the Government. Peel and Lord John Russell, but When, however, they found that which now seems to have become the union was invulnerable, they necessary to the transaction of returned to their old tactics; and ordinary business. It being the we must all remember the pertina- avowed aim of the Opposition cious obstruction which prevented to bar all legislation whatsoever, Lord Salisbury's Administration for fear it should redound to from completing their scheme of the credit of their rivals, new local government. Obstruction methods must be admitted for had now taken its place among coping with this new development the regular recognised methods of of the party system. And as the party warfare.
Radical Opposition, true to their On what might have happened if theory of divine right, seem likely the Separatists had returned to to continue these tactics whenever power in 1892 with a majority of they are not in office, the only way eighty or a hundred it is useless to which has yet been devised of speculate. What did happen was carrying on the work of the Govthat they came back with so small ernment in the teeth of such a a majority, and introduced meas- determination must be accepted ures of such profound constitu- not only as permanent but as tional importance, that they were normal. At all events, the remedy driven to the use of the closure must be kept in use as long as the as “an article of ordinary diet.” disease lasts, and this is likely to They fought with Home Rule or be long enough. Disestablishment in one hand and This is the situation which we the closure in the other. And have to face; and the solemn though the Education Bill is not warnings which have been adnaturally so contentious a measure dressed to the present Governas either Home Rule or Welsh ment on the subject by some who Disestablishment, the Opposition profess to be their friends only themselves have made it so, as show a total want of power to they have done also the Ag- appreciate it. It is useless to ricultural Rating Bill, describ- mince matters. The war between ing it as a “fiscal revolution.” the Government and the OpposiSir William Harcourt, whatever tion is war to the knife, and if he may say, cannot shuffle off the the one party chooses to push responsibility for having riveted matters to extremity, so must the the closure upon Parliament. other. Ministers are told that When, being in office, he used it they must be careful how they to carry measures which a majority use closure by compartments now,
VOL. CLX.-NO. DCCCCLXIX.