It is difficult at this time of day (January, 1901) to know where we are politically. Since 1888 we have been “all over the shop.” Then our great Mr. Gladstone went astray from the path direct into the wilderness, as many thought, to get the Irish vote, of which he was in great need. Up to this time he had been dead against Home Rule for Ireland, and many, like the writer, hung on his words at Leeds, when he said the laws of civilisation were not exhausted. How proud we were of this manly statement, and would have followed him to the ends of the earth on this straight line of policy! Judge, then, of our dismay when, without the least hint or ever consulting us, he asked us to vault clean over to what he had taught us not to believe. This made a breach which has never been healed, and opened flood-gates which have never been closed. That portion of the old Liberals who would not go or be thrown into the Parnellite juice have ever since had the full tide of Liberal political hate playing upon them from their old pals, and while regretting this very much, have been content to keep up a show of their own, and for propagandist purposes have allied themselves with the old Tories, who have been very loyal and true to all their obligations. When difficulties have arisen the settlement has always been of a give-and-take character, but, on the whole, leaning to the side of mercy, the greatness of the Empire, and generally, if not altogether, beneficent to mankind. Neither side could have its own way; something must and has been conceded from time to time by both parties, by which a reasonable modus operandi has been secured, which won the nation to steady progress, carried two great elections by large majorities, and occupied a most commanding influence in the world’s history. But where are we to-day, and what shall we do, is the question of the hour. We have two of our great leaders pulling with all their might in opposite directions — “Joey,” as lovingly called by his best friends, forwards and the noble Duke backwards. One says there is no chance for this country unless we alter our fiscal arrangement, and Devonshire almost swears he will not have it at any price. This is strange to me. Only a very short time ago, when presiding at a complimentary banquet (which I was at) to the hon. member for Birmingham at the Hotel Cecil, the Duke spoke most eloquently of the great service which the Colonial Secretary had rendered to the country by the unsurpassed grip and tenacity with which he had pulled through the unfortunate war, and more than any other Minister helped to weld the nation together in bonds of unity with the sons and daughters beyond the sea. But, alas! what now? We cannot go on this way and hold together much longer with such divergence of opinion between leaders. Very likely the Liberal Unionist organisation will go, and the members cast abroad, never to return to the old fold. Then where will they wander, like goosey goosey gander, up stairs and down stairs, and into what kind of a political chamber. There are three courses before us: the old Conservative party, the (what is called) pieced-up Liberal party, and the Independent Labour combination — which shall it be? Or is it possible for another, and a better still, a National party, which shall, as Lord Macaulay put it, only serve the State. Let us see.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden