Imágenes de páginas

All the acts of every administration are to be canvassed by it; it is to watch if such acts seem good, and in some manner or other to interpose if they seem not good. But it cannot judge if it is to be kept in ignorance; it cannot interpose if it does not know. A secret prerogative is an anomaly-perhaps the greatest of anomalies. That secrecy is, however, essential to the utility of English royalty as it now is. Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic. We must not bring the Queen into the combat of politics, or she will cease to be reverenced by all combatants; she will become one combatant among many. The existence of this secret power is, according to abstract theory, a defect in our constitutional polity, but it is a defect incident to a civilization such as ours, where august and therefore unknown powers are needed, as well as known and serviceable powers.

If we attempt to estimate the working of this inner power by the evidence of those, whether dead or living, who have been brought in contact with it, we shall find a singular difference. Both the courtiers of George III and the courtiers of Queen Victoria are agreed as to the magnitude of the royal influence. It is with both an accepted secret doctrine that the Crown does more than it seems. But there is a wide discrepancy in opinion as to the quality of that action. Mr. Fox did not scruple to describe the hidden influence of George III as the undetected agency of 'an infernal spirit'. The action of the Crown at that period was the dread and terror of Liberal politicians. But now the best Liberal politicians say, 'We shall never know, but when history

is written our children may know, what we owe to the Queen and Prince Albert'. The mystery of the constitution, which used to be hated by our calmest, most thoughtful, and instructed statesmen, is now loved and reverenced by them.

Before we try to account for this change, there is one part of the duties of the Queen which should be struck out of the discussion. I mean the formal part. The Queen has to assent to and sign countless formal documents, which contain no matter of policy, of which the purport is insignificant, which any clerk could sign as well. One great class of documents George III used to read before he signed them, till Lord Thurlow told him, 'It was nonsense his looking at them, for he could not understand them'. But the worst case is that of commissions in the army. Till an Act passed only three years since, the Queen used to sign all military commissions, and she still signs all fresh commissions. The inevitable and natural consequence is that such commissions were, and to some extent still are, in arrears by thousands. Men have often been known to receive their commissions for the first time years after they have left the service. If the Queen had been an ordinary officer she would long since have complained, and long since have been relieved of this slavish labour. A cynical statesman is said to have defended it on the ground 'that you may have a fool for a sovereign, and then it would be desirable he should have plenty of occupation in which he can do no harm'. But it is in truth childish to heap formal duties of business upon a person who has of necessity so many formal duties of society. It is a remnant of the old days when George III would know everything, however trivial, and assent to everything, however insignificant. These labours of routine may be dismissed from the discussion. It

is not by them that the sovereign acquires his authority either for evil or for good.

The best mode of testing what we owe to the Queen is to make a vigorous effort of the imagination, and see how we should get on without her. Let us strip cabinet government of all its accessories, let us reduce it to its two necessary constituents-a representative assembly (a House of Commons) and a cabinet appointed by that assembly-and examine how we should manage with them only. We are so little accustomed to analyse the constitution; we are BO used to ascribe the whole effect of the constitution to the whole constitution, that a great many people will imagine it to be impossible that a nation should thrive or even live with only these two simple elements. But it is upon that possibility that the general imitability of the English Government depends. A monarch that can be truly reverenced, a House of Peers that can be really respected, are historical accidents nearly peculiar to this one island, and entirely peculiar to Europe. A new country, if it is to be capable of a cabinet government, if it is not to degrade itself to presidential government, must create that cabinet out of its native resourcesmust not rely on these old world debris.

Many modes might be suggested by which a parliament might do in appearance what our parliament does in reality, viz., appoint a premier. But I prefer to select the simplest of all modes. We shall then see the bare skeleton of this polity, perceive in what it differs from the royal form, and be quite free from the imputation of having selected an unduly charming and attractive substitute.

Let us suppose the House of Commons-existing alone and by itself-to appoint the premier quite simply, just as the shareholders of a railway choose a director. At each vacancy, whether caused by

death or resignation, let any member or members have the right of nominating a successor; after a proper interval, such as the time now commonly occupied by a ministerial crisis, ten days or a fortnight, let the members present vote for the candidate they prefer; then let the Speaker count the votes, and the candidate with the greatest number be premier. This mode of election would throw the whole choice into the hands of party organization, just as our present mode does, except in so far as the Crown interferes with it; no outsider would ever be appointed, because the immense number of votes which every great party brings into the field would far outnumber every casual and petty minority. The premier should not be appointed for a fixed time, but during good behaviour or the pleasure of parliament. Mutatis mutandis, subject to the differences now to be investigated, what goes on now would go on then. The premier then, as now, must resign upon a vote of want of confidence, but the volition of parliament would then be the overt and single force in the selection of a successor, whereas it is now the predominant though latent force.

It will help the discussion very much if we divide it into three parts. The whole course of a representative government has three stages-first, when a ministry is appointed; next, during its continuance; last, when it ends. Let us consider what is the exact use of the Queen at each of these stages, and how our present form of government differs in each, whether for good or for evil, from that simpler form of cabinet government which might exist without her.

At the beginning of an administration there would not be much difference between the royal and unroyal species of cabinet governments when there were only two great parties in the State, and when

the greater of those parties was thoroughly agreed within itself who should be its parliamentary leader, and who therefore should be its premier. The sovereign must now accept that recognized leader; and if the choice were directly made by the House of Commons, the House must also choose him; its supreme section, acting compactly and harmoniously, would sway its decisions without substantial resistance, and perhaps without even apparent competition. A predominant party, rent by no intestine demarcation, would be despotic. In such a case cabinet government would go on without friction whether there was a queen or whether there was no queen. The best sovereign could then achieve no good, and the worst effect no harm.

But the difficulties are far greater when the predominant party is not agreed who should be its leader. In the royal form of cabinet government the sovereign then has sometimes a substantial selection; in the unroyal, who would choose? There must be a meeting at 'Willis's Rooms'; there must be that sort of interior despotism of the majority over the minority within the party, by which Lord John Russell in 1859 was made to resign his pretensions to the supreme government, and to be content to serve as a subordinate to Lord Palmerston. The tacit compression which a party anxious for office would exercise over leaders who divided its strength, would be used and must be used. Whether such a party would always choose precisely the best man may well be doubted. In a party once divided it is very difficult to secure unanimity in favour of the very person whom a disinterested bystander would recommend. All manner of jealousies and enmities are immediately awakened, and it is always difficult, often impossible, to get them to sleep again. But though such a party might not select the very best

« AnteriorContinuar »