Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) - Chapter LIV

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Chapter LIV. What will the Liberals Do?

Joseph Crowther, Esq. J.P. (Chairman of the Colne Valley Liberals)

In answer to this I cannot tell. Let us be just, but when office is in view one cannot be too careful. Human weakness is so great, passions so strong, and failings so numerous, that it makes it very difficult to find a right solution to the perplexing question before us. The past fifteen years has been a long sojourn in the wilderness. Has the experience taught a lesson, brought common-sense, and will it have shown them that the nation is greater than a party and its existence of vastly more importance to the citizens? Further, it should have taught the lesson that however eminent the man he must not take upon himself the position of dictator, or, without consulting any of the followers, enter into arrangements diametrically opposed to those which he has been preaching. Abject adherence would be simply hollow mockery, outraging common decency, and it is a grand reflection that this country has always found men to resist this, and in the nick of time just come on to the stage to save the piece. England is great, glorious, and free, and may she ever be is the song of all true patriots. When danger threatens, defenders arise, and when trouble comes helpers have been near. Will the Liberal party rise to the occasion? We cannot tell; it is very problematical. The past is not very assuring. The weakness of Mr. Campbell-Bannerman is such that, while he is a well-meaning man, with a laudable desire to serve his country, he lacks firmness, which undermines all his efforts. Unfortunately, he is not Mr. Gladstone, and his past does not inspire hope. When Minister for War he so neglected his duties that there was no cordite, and the Government was justly turned out. When our soldiers were undergoing their sufferings in South Africa, spilling their blood like water, he showed not sufficient appreciation, but said things which will never be forgotten. But, then, the narrow doors of his little conventicle are not wide enough to admit the stalwart Britisher. The miserable little squabbles that have arisen under his reign are of no more merit than that of Mrs. Jones, who is offended because Mrs. Smith has been put over her head at the quarterly tea meeting at the little Zion Chapel over the way. No; this kind of thing is too small to govern a nation of our magnitude. The greater England requires length and breadth. Our sons and daughters at home and over the sea are too numerous for a petty policy of this kind. Something will have to be done to bind the colonies more closely and to make the people more happy and prosperous at home: to fill the United Kingdom with gladness, more interesting, more confident, and more joyful. Who shall do it? Perhaps Lord Rosebery from the Liberal side is most likely. He has large and generous sympathies, eloquent and able; but has he staying power, and will he keep up to the high standard to which he now and again attains, or will he fall away again, and once more bow to the worshippers in the little conventicle? If left alone, and would only follow his own lofty ideals, he would lead a willing following, and together they would govern well in the interests of the greater nation, no descending to the lower plane just to get into office. That will not do at this crisis. Strong men are wanted, not passive registers; the Little England has happily gone for ever. Lord Rosebery would be satisfactory if he were only a little more determined. So many changes come over the spirit of his dreams. Quite recently, at Burnley, he said that Free Trade was not in the Sermon on the Mount, and now no one knows where he is, unless it be that he slid down an inclined plane. Still, he is a noble patriot. Mr. Asquith is able enough, but cold and unsympathetic; Sir William Harcourt (now unfortunately dead) is out of the question; and honest John Morley is too much of a litterateur. Lord Spencer might knit the units for a time and make a possible Government but would this meet with the present-day wants; would it be strong enough to cope with the present difficulties and effect those reforms necessary to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number? It seems very doubtful, and when the Labour party has been dealt with, I will try to outline a National party which would do the work satisfactorily. That is, in the humble opinion of the writer, who, unfortunately, can give no guarantee.

Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden

Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) - Chapter LIV


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