Have the leaders confidence, or have they ceased to believe in themselves by believing in others? Such a nebulous state of mind is not conducive to a strong Government. It is told of a lawyer who, in conducting a case, quoted many sorts of laws, read twenty pages of senseless judicial Latin, and then proposed to the judges to throw dice, and if the numbers proved odd the defendant should be right, if even, the plaintiff. Has it come to this with a great party, for so long the pride and strength of the English nation, made possible by the great Lord Beaconsfield, and from whose brilliance and success it took prestige and high degree. Derby did much, but Lord Salisbury did more, by consolidating and joining the older and better Liberals who would not go in for Home Rule at the bidding of one of the greatest statesmen of modern times. Altogether these things made the Tory party strong up to this year, when, as with all human things, time brought about a change. Success was not to be for ever. Personal ambitions run high. There were those out who wanted to be in — young, pushful men who had not the patience to wait. They would assert themselves and show the world how much greater they were than other men, and if they were only at the head of affairs how much greater the nation’s happiness and prosperity would lie. Besides, with this, was a notion in the minds of the young bloods of the party that they were strong enough to do without the Liberal Unionists. Mr. Winston Churchill begun it, with the Becketts, Lord Hugh Cecil, and others, in the early part of this year. In varying forms, adopting other means, have they kept it up, and this in spite of the older and wiser heads. There was bound to be “an emeute” sooner or later, and at last it has come with a vengeance, to disturb every home, upset every hope, and maybe dismember the Empire, if certain politicians get into power and join the Irish and others to belittle everything dear to an Englishman who aspires to strengthen, and not weaken, the nation.
It is a poor return for the work and struggles of the last fifteen years. How from this can one hope much of the Tory party? Well, Mr. Balfour is honest, true, resourceful, and endowed with great ability, a suavity of manner highly captivating, but at times seems indolent and does not know what to do; if left to himself would have great difficulty to hold on his way. True, he has surrounded himself with a lot of promising young men, who will learn much and be to reckon with in future — a strong point of advantage which will tell in the long run. But suppose the Unionist party is broken, with no chance to piece up, how is he to withstand the attacks from without and within and carry on a strong Government beset on every side with vanity and vexation?
Many of the great problems have been settled; great and good work has been done; but what of the future? You cannot stand still. What are your prospects, and what is your programme? I fear but very meagre, and that a good strong dose of “wandering in the wilderness” will be the price which will have to be paid for the lamentable upheaval in the Government. The Prime Minister is not to blame; he has been the victim of unfortunate circumstances which he has been unable to control. Should Mr. Chamberlain win and come back, there may be some chance; but this is more than one can hope for. So that the future is very uncertain, and as one is not seeking a safe side, or sitting on the fence to see which way the oat jumps, or afraid of hard work, all that is wanted is: Which is the best way for the individual and the nation? Just now it is most difficult to say. In the next chapter I will consider what the Liberals are prepared to do, and see if they have something better to offer besides enter upon this ready-made road to office by the miserable Unionists’ differences, which have been a curse, and the forerunner of the destruction of the great Unionist party.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden