Harry Quelch December 1910

The Election and its Lessons

Source: Social Democrat,Vol. XIV, No. 12, December 15, 1910, pp.529-534;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

No one has yet been able to satisfactorily explain why the General Election of December, 1910, should have taken place at all. We have heard a great deal about the great "Constitutional issue," and all demo­crats - Socialist or other - have been adjured to vote Liberal as the only means of preserving our democratic institutions against the arrogant claims of the Peers. We have been appealed to to "trust Asquith," to give him such a majority as would enable him to once for all crush the power of the peers and the landlords, and to make the will of the people, "as represented by the House of Commons," supreme. As Asquith himself put it, in a message to a Liberal candidate, "The attempts of the peers and Tories to hamper the House of Com­mons in working for the good of the people must be finally and decisively repelled."

The picture of the House of Commons - plutocrats, placemen, landlords, lawyers, and prospective peers - scorning delights and living laborious days "in working for the good of the people" is enough to raise the proverbial laugh on the face of the most sedate and sober grimalkin. It is just one of the stale old japes which come so pat to the Liberal politician, which he knows to be ridiculous humbug; but for which, nevertheless, he always finds ready acceptance on the part of the credulous followers of his party.

It is true that the people never seem to tire of all this transparent sham and humbug; but there is no explanation why it should have been resorted to just now; or why the General Election, which affords the occasion for all these furious alarums and excursions, should not have been deferred at any rate for another six months. It is said that a mandate had to be asked for on the one issue - the Veto of the House of Lords. But the opinion of the country had already been given on that question - according to the Liberal Press - with sufficient definiteness last January. Over and over again we were told that, diverse as might be the opinions represented in the composite majority supporting the Government on any other subject, it was a solid, definite, united majority against the Lords.

The Irishmen, we were told, could not, with a good grace, swallow the Budget, and the Labourists were not too well pleased with the Government on account of their neglect of the unemployed question. But Labourists and Nationalists were entirely at one with the Radicals in their opposition to the House of Lords, and would, as one man, have supported the most drastic proposals the Government could have brought forward for dealing with that institution. Why, then, did the Government not bring forward their reform proposals? For it must not be forgotten that, despite their fulminations against the House of Lords, the Liberals are as completely committed to a "reform" of that House - and not its abolition - as are the Tories. Indeed, so slight is the difference between the two front benches on this point that they could actually meet in Conference for some months to discuss the possibility of coming to an arrangement. And nobody knows, even now, why such an arrangement was not come to.

Apart from an arrangement the Government, had it really meant business, would have pressed its own proposals forward. It is idle to pretend that 'the Government majority was inadequate. It was precisely on this question, and this question alone, that the Government had, as we have seen, a solid working majority. That the Irishmen held the whip hand over them may be admitted, without admitting that the Irishmen wished to force a dissolution. On the contrary. The real reason for the hostility of the Irishmen to the House of Lords and for supporting the Government was that they believe the Veto of the House of Lords bars the road to Home Rule. They, certainly, must have desired that the question of the Lords should have been effectively dealt with before another appeal to the country was made. This last appeal, therefore, can scarcely be said to have been due to the Irishmen, or to their desire for a mandate to the Government from the constituencies in favour of Home Rule. There was only one question before the country, we have been repeatedly told, and that was the House of Lords' Veto. Every vote given to the Liberals was a vote given against the Lords; every vote given against the Liberals was a vote in favour of the maintenance of the Veto. That, at any rate, was the "cry" with which the Liberals went to the country; a cry of which, in one form or another, they have made use for at least a generation; and it is idle to pretend now that the dissolution was forced upon them on any other ground. Less even than the Irishmen can the Labourists be held responsible for the dissolution. They, at any rate, were prepared to make any sacrifice in order to defer an appeal to the country. Therefore, we are still left wondering why Asquith dis­solved Parliament instead of tackling the task he had been, according to the claims of his supporters, set to do. The only explanation which suggests itself is that he was "as much in earnest as ever he was"; that the task was not to his liking, that he had no stomach for the fight, and that he hoped for and anticipated precisely the result which the election promises - such a meagre majority as will enable him to once more repudiate his pledges, and absolve him from any drastic action against the Peers.

There has never been any reason to believe in the reality of the Liberal attack upon the Peers, and the dissolution has but afforded another manifestation of the hollow mockery of the whole wretched business.

It has been nothing but a sham fight; the fight be­tween Liberals and Tories never is or can be anything but a sham fight. That is the first, the old lesson, to be learnt from this election. That is not to suggest, for a moment, that all Liberals are hypocrites and liars, or that there are no honourable men among them. On the contrary, there is little doubt that the majority of the members of the Liberal Party are honourable men - according to the bourgeois code of honour - and quite as good personally as the members of any other political party. That, however, does not alter the fact that the Liberal Party is as much an "organised hypo­crisy" as the Tory Party ever was; that it exists as an instrument for maintaining and promoting the interests of the plutocracy just as much as ever the Tory Party does, and that when Liberals pretend they are "for the people and against the Peers," and that they desire the freedom of the House of Commons from the control of the Lords in order to "work for the good of the people," they are indulging in as arrant a piece of hum­bug and hypocrisy as was ever perpetrated.

"But see what they promise," we are told. , Exactly. They are given to making promises, and it would be too much to say that they never fulfil their promises. But when they do, as a rule they "keep the word of promise to the ear" only to "break it to the hope," as witness their double-dealing over South African slavery, and their miserable blackleg Labour Exchanges.

"But they couldn't do any better," we are told. Exactly, again. We never suggested that they could. It is not for their performance we blame them - or the lack of it. It is for their promises, and for their hypocritical pretences by which they have deluded the people. But, above all, we blame the people, the credulous Radicals (who really do want something done), and even Socialists, who persist in pinning their faith to those who have deluded and betrayed them over and over again, and who, as they should know by this time, cannot possibly accomplish that which Radicals and Socialists alike wish to see achieved.

That is the next and the most important lesson to be learnt from this election - that we must absolutely destroy this pathetic faith in the Liberal Party and in Liberal promises before any further progress can be made. In this election we have seen avowed Socialists elected with large majorities - where there was no Liberal opposition. On the other hand, Socialists fighting against both Liberal and Tory have, in every case, been overwhelmingly defeated, and this where Socialist propaganda has been most vigorous and effective, and where Socialist organisation is strongest.

These facts prove two things - that it is not the principles or opinions of the Socialists which cause their defeat, and that the specious professions and hypocritical promises of the Liberals have their effect in winning Socialist support and gaining Socialist votes. Tories and Liberals understand each other perfectly well. They play into each other's hands very nicely. The Tories used to call Chamberlain Jack Cade; now they call Lloyd George a Socialist. That suits their book exactly, because many Socialists are bluffed by that make-believe fighting. "Lloyd George must be on our side," they say, "see how the landlords and Tories attack him!" And it is all part of the game. And as long as that game goes on and is played successfully, there is little prospect of any real progress.

The emancipation of the workers must be the work of the working class themselves, and as an instrument to that end we need an independent working-class party, inspired with Socialist ideals. The chief obstacle to the creation of that instrument is the Liberal Party, as this election has once more demonstrated. So long as this is the case our efforts, politically, must be directed to getting that buffer Party out of the way. There is no reason whatever why a Socialist should vote Liberal. All their promises are fly-blown and worth­less. Even if fulfilled they would mean nothing for us. They do not even propose, now, to abolish the Lords' Veto, only to limit it, and to follow that with "reform" which will make the Lords, as an instru­ment of reaction, stronger than ever. Their political reform proposals, until they include Proportional Repre­sentation, or at least the Second Ballot, are of no value to us, and there is every reason to suppose that the Tories would outbid them, as they have already done with the Referendum. On the other hand, by voting for the Tories we could get the buffer party out of the way, and thus get a chance to organise the Socialist forces as a political instrument. That was the lead given by the Social-Democratic Party Executive, and it had notable results in several instances in losing seats to some of the worst Liberal bounders. Had it been universally followed there are a score or so of constitu­encies now held by Liberals which would have been lost to them, and a clear opening made for their capture by Social-Democrats for revolutionary Social-Demo­cracy.