On reading over the report of the Colne Valley Liberal Association meeting, it was striking to find how alike each other’s proceedings are — almost the same identical men playing the leading parts to a good and deserving member. Decent fellows, every one of them, but with unthinking injury go on playing the old game of exalted notions of superiority over what they call their less favoured and demented Tory brethren in the Conservative camp, quietly and unconsciously dubbed, as if wickedness were their normal condition, and that a time had come when strong and sturdy men of Liberal principles and progressive ideas were required.
Being only a poor mortal, one had been taught to believe that these virtues had always been the sole rights of those who were so loudly beating the big drums at the show on Saturday, but it appears these wonderful attributes are wanted just now; more in particular to purge the country from the baneful influence of Toryism; to arrest retrogressive legislation: to prevent Chamberlain counter-acting the grave injury done to us, as it appeared to me, by growing and hostile tariffs of Europe and America; as if it would not be better to draw closer together that larger Britain (of which Englishmen are so proud) by more reciprocal relations of mutual benefit and goodwill.
How very poor the argument that when the election came round they were to have an increased majority, because the longer this wicked Government remained in office the more of their bad work they (the Liberals) would have to undo! Surely increased happiness would have been a better order, because the majority in the Colne Valley is safe enough.
Then there was that recreant Education Bill to be swept out of the Statute Book by one of the mighty swoops of one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the resolution. This gentleman knows what has been done for education by the denominations, and that at present, notwithstanding the large sums regularly expended, the Slaithwaite Church schools are £800 in debt, winch they will have to raise; while the heavy expenditure of School Boards have to be borne by the rates, to which denominational school supporters have had to pay their fair share, in addition to maintaining their own. Marsden has had more sense, as the chairman of the meeting knew, than to go in for an expensive School Board. It is not unreasonable, then, to ask from one so valiant that some sense of justice would have led him to observe one, if not more, of the ten commandments. Such is show No. 1, in all the blaze of noon, at Slaithwaite Feast, let us surmise, bidding the gay throng walk up, walk up, the performance having just begun. Make haste; don’t delay! We have been here before, but never had such talented performers or more variety to offer. Don’t miss it, please, or you may never have the opportunity again.
“Stop! stop!” says the showman from the other side of the fair, “not so fast, my good fellows. Come this way, and we will give you something better, cheaper, and far more lasting than a change of places; that is nothing less than the constitution of the showman’s life. Let this go, then all falls to perdition, and every chance of further prolonging the lives of these shows will be gone for ever, and there will be no other opportunity of preserving them for the benefit of posterity, individual claims, and party popularity.”
Say Mr. John Arthur Brooke (all classes will be glad to learn that this most useful man is out of danger) as the spokesman, supported by Mr. Hellawell (maybe), Mr. Waterhouse (quiet man), Mr. Kirk (so faithful), and a few friends from Saddleworth, nearly always the same men; in this matter just like the other side. Says Mr. Brooke at the top of his voice: “Don’t believe all they say. Walk up this way. Remember we are the great united party. We have kept the faith; we fear God and honour the King, uphold the nation and strengthen the borders, while the others would slack out and dismember the empire. Don’t believe a word they say. Come along to our show, and we will do you good. There are,” he continues, “two features in our past performances, Free Education and the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and in due time we will give you old-age pensions, when the money comes to hand to carry out this most desirable boon to the aged poor.” Going on, showman like: “They on the other side, with all their boasted superiority, have only given you the empty name of councillor for your urban districts and the chairman for the time being the doubtful honour of sitting on the county bench of magistrates.”
Now, my lads, it may be reasonably asked, What is all this to you? Is it worth walking all the way up to see such a poor entertainment? Is it any surprise that the bystanders get bewildered, hesitate, and say, with the American, “I have heard this before, and cannot be caught with such professions; I must have something more up-to-date”? It is, like the old Slaithwaite Feast, gone for ever, and he wanders off for things which he hopes will serve him better. This fact makes the rival show wonder what has come over the people that they do not, will not, walk up as in former days, do as they are told, pay their pennies, and say they like it. No; something else begins to attract. Patriotism is lost in the chaotic din of the shibboleth of a new faith. What is best for the nation may be lost sight of in the ugly rush to benefit the masses on the same lines the classes have unfortunately taught them. It would not matter much if the masses were likely to get the benefit. This is very doubtful, considering the means and proposals to be adopted to bring about the change, but the worst part is that this is the undesigned effect of the two shows in the Colne Valley. Some of the Co-op. men, with more than average selfishness, are talking of having a member of their own. The Labour party have tried, and are only biding their time. Ultimately they hope to be a plague to both parties, by carrying off the seat themselves. Chapels are falling out with churches with uncharitableness worthy of a public-house, and, if carried on long enough and kept bitter enough, will empty all the faster the few houses of prayer. The grasp for power, place, and wealth is so great that men will often sacrifice everything to get these baubles.
Can anyone therefore predict what will come next? Will there arise men and a party equal to the occasion, when principle shall prevail, justice be done, and rights respected, so that when the Son of Man cometh he will find faith on the earth, with England the greatest, the freest, and the most prosperous nation, ready to welcome the glory of the second Advent.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden