William Morris. Commonweal 1886

Our Representatives

Source: “Our Representatives” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 20, 29 May 1886, p.68;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The past week of parliamentary and party strife has been sufficiently barren of interest to the ordinary observer. No one has expected anything new to be said about the Home Rule Bill, and no one has been disappointed. The Disarming Bill was carried, as every one knew it would be, and the votes pro and con were very much what was expected. Accordingly, the thing which usually happens in a dull interval of an exciting period has happened now. People having few additional facts to go on have been turning guesses at facts into facts, and disputing about them as vigorously as if they had really happened.

As an addition to this amusement, a violent sham quarrel about nothing at all has been got up by the Pall Mall Gazette against Mr Chamberlain. That journal is almost entirely on Mr Chamberlain’s side in the Home Rule matter; it has been one of the most unsparing opponents of the Bill; and might have seen, if it did not, in Mr Chamberlain a thick and thin supporter of its favourite fad of imperial federation and the deification of the central parliament of the empire. But all this is not enough, and an attack must be made on him on grounds difficult enough for a simple person to see. Mr Chamberlain’s conduct in the Irish business is attackable enough from various sides; but that the most spiteful attack should come on him from a friend, or at least an ally, is quaint indeed. If it means anything more than a newspaper sensation, it must point to the utter want of faith in the Liberal-Radical party, whose leaders in the press and in Parliament are hitting out wildly in the hopes of attracting some applause somewhere from some section or other of that once respectable drilled phalanx.

Nor can Mr Chamberlain be congratulated on any success in keeping his temper. His attack on the meeting of the Liberal and Radical Council seems to show that their hint of censure has been taken as a deep cause of offence; though, perhaps, like the servant-maid in Dickens, he has only been ‘showing them what kind of a temper he keeps’ — a mode of striving for his own way familiar enough to the ex-master of the Caucus. For the rest, his appeal in his letter for political gratitude for past services, to shield him from censure on present blunders, would be feeble argument indeed if the rank and file had not got so used to leadership — by the nose.

Quarrelling among once allies has been diversified by a good deal of watering down of strong utterances against enemies when the latter have raised too much of a storm around the speech-makers. Lord Salisbury having put forward some alternative to Home Rule, found no difficulty in proclaiming the necessary Tory scheme of coercion, carried on, if necessary, to extermination of the rebellious race. But, frightened at the sound of his own words, he has tried to explain all that away into paternal government for Ireland, and the attainment for it of all the blessings ‘which in this island we have for a long time been privileged to enjoy’. We? Landlords and fundlords, it must be supposed, who indeed have had no bad time of it in Ireland either.

Of course there is nothing in this vague nonsense; but that his lordship thinks it necessary to explain away his tall talk does mean something: he is looking towards the Whigs and Whigizing of Radicals, it is but part of the same operation as the quarreling of the old allies — namely, the tendency for all reaction to run together into the Moderate Party. Sheer Toryism can now only work through hypocrisy — that is, Whiggery, alias dying Constitutionalism confronted with young Revolution.

Even the bold Major Saunderson was anxious to ‘explain’, much as if a man using the word ‘damned’ with reference to an adversary, were to point out that he did not intend a theological assertion. Lord R. Churchill, however, stood to his guns, and asserted the constitutionalism of rebellion in the teeth of the ‘sacro-sanctity of assemblies’ ingeniously enough, whatever may be said about his ingenuousness. Poor Constitutionalism! that has to be supplemented by Revolution!

The respectabilities that followed Lord R. Churchill — Gladstonite and other, including Mr Gladstone himself — did not accept this view of Constitutionalism; their respectability rang hollow enough since they were driven into using war-like metaphors in the usual unreal and meaningless manner; in spite of which all that was said made clear once more that brute force is the real cement of all sham society, and that it will breed force as a solvent of its tyranny. It is a pity indeed that such a discussion should have had no better occasion than the carrying on on one side of the old habit of refusing the Irish the rights of citizenship, and on the other an attempt to put the Irish landlords in the right, whatever means they may try for the upholding of their monstrous oppression.

The ‘negotiations’ for patching up that broken jug, the Liberal Party, and all the lies, half-lies, contradictions, evasions, and the rest of the brood of party tactics may be passed over in unrespectful silence. Thus the game of ‘representation’ goes on, and outside it the people live and die — live miserably and die before their time, and the veil of words, and sham intentions, and half intentions, and the self-interest of the rich now grown mild and fatherly — in words — dulls the sound of that

Lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning though the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil.

How long will it last? ‘Our time’ think our Representatives. Well, some of them are old men but some scarcely middle-aged, and ‘he who lives will see’.