William Morris. Commonweal 1885

On the Eve of the Elections

Source: “On the Eve of the Elections Commonweal, Vol I, No. 11, December 1885, pp. 101;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

By the time this paper is published, the country will be in the thick of the elections; indeed it may be possible to get some idea by that time as to their possible result, but it must be admitted that before the first few come off, any prophesy on this can be little more than mere guessing.

It seems to me, however, that one may set aside the chance of an actual Tory majority, and that the chances lie between a Liberal majority large enough to swamp the united (?) Tories and Parnellites and a majority too small to carry the Liberal party through in the teeth of such a combination.

We Socialists, I think, need not be over anxious as to which of these events will take place. In the first case of an overwhelming Liberal majority, the Parliament will certainly be one of inaction; although the Parnellites will not have it all their own way, yet they will be strong enough to hamper the Government terribly if they do not give way to their demands. Apart from the Irish Question, it will be the aim of the Government not to stir anything which might divide the Party; some slight and ‘safe’ concessions will probably be made to the demand for Social Reform, and for the rest as near nothing as may be. A Great Whig Liberal majority will exhibit to the eyes of those that can see, more clearly than ever heretofore, ‘the Representatives of the People’ engaged in their natural function of holding together with as little change as possible the mass of suffering, injustice and chicanery which is dignified with the name of Orderly Society.

Whether the Radicals revolt and break up the party or not in this case, the spectacle of the incompetence of Parliament for anything except repression, will be advantageous to the cause of Revolution; but in the other case of the Tories and Parnellites together outnumbering the Liberals, though the consequences may not be more disruptive of Parliamentary government, they will probably be more dramatic. For not only will some attempt at the solution of the Irish Question be forced on Parliament, but also the Radicals will most likely be driven into forming a separate party, and the Great Moderate Party, upon whose advent I have speculated before, and which I believe will be the final enemy of Revolution, will be definitely formed. Perhaps some of our Radical friends will be surprised when they see who will adhere to it amongst those whom they have considered their own special champions.

Meantime something may be learnt from all the late speech-making and maundering, besides what has been already noted in these columns. And first it must surely strike a Socialist (or indeed anybody else) how strong the tendency is, in our representative system, towards personal government.

What hopes, for example, were hung on Mr Gladstone’s appearance! How he was not only to undo the harm done by Mr Chamberlain’s impatience (save the mark) but also to give spirit and meaning to the whole Liberal attack. There was the man; we were all to wait for him: then we should see!

Well, now the oracle has spoken what has it said? Commonplace and twaddle enough; that we expect as a matter of necessity, just as the ancients expected the verse of the Delphic oracle. What else? An indefinite and indeed oracular bid for the Irish support, received by Mr Parnell with solemn, one would almost think ironical courtesy and an awkward request to state more definitely what concessions to Home Rulers Mr Gladstone would be prepared to make.

And next? A declaration against the disestablishment of the churches, English and Scotch; a declaration made necessary in a sense by the obvious dissatisfaction of the Moderate Party, but which taking into consideration the tone of the speech in which it was made, must show clearly to all not blinded by party tactics that Mr Gladstone has ratted to the Conservatives. Nevertheless, if one is to believe the Liberal and Radical papers, Mr Gladstone is still the trusted leader of the Party of Progress. Little as a socialist can sympathize with the hopes of the so-called Radicals, one cannot help hoping, however, for the sake of manliness, that there is some muttered protest in the Radical ranks; but if there is it is inarticulate.

And to think that persons apparently reasonable, should accept as a proposition having any reason in it that the matter of disestablishment has not yet been long enough before the nation to be made a matter of Parliamentary discussion. Surely when the great Liberal leader said that, a twitch, that might have grown into a sardonic smile but for special self-command, must have come into the solemn mask which has so long been shown to the public.

Worthy people of England, that are so proud of your Representative Government, take note once more how the Parliamentary Machine has been once again used, as it always will be, to sweep aside inconvenient questions. To check all aspirations towards progress; never to pass any law, however much desired by everybody, till the whole country has grown sick and tired of the subject; and then only to pass half of it, so that it becomes worse than useless — that is, it seems, the business of your Representative Parliament that governs you. When will you learn to do your own business yourselves?