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parliamentary government by striking out the very elements which make parliamentary government possible. At present the majority of Parliament obey certain leaders: what those leaders propose they support, what those leaders reject they reject. An old Secretary of the Treasury used to say, “This is a bad case, an indefensible case: we must apply our majority to this question.” That Secretary lived fifty years ago, before the Reform Bill, when majorities were very blind and very "applicable.” Nowadays the power of leaders over their followers is strictly and wisely limited, — they can take their followers but a little way, and that only in certain directions; yet still there are leaders and followers. On the Conservative side of the House there are vestiges of the despotic leadership even now: a cynical politician is said to have watched the long row of county members, so fresh and respectable looking, and muttered, “By Jove, they are the finest brute votes in Europe !" But all satire apart, the principle of Parliament is obedience to leaders. Change your leader if you will, take another if you will; but obey No. 1 while you serve No. 1, and obey No. 2 when you have gone over to No. 2. The penalty of not doing so is the penalty of impotence; it is not that you will not be able to do any good, but you will not be able to do anything at all. If everybody does what he thinks right, there will be six hundred and fifty-seven amendments to every motion, and none of them will be carried, or the motion either.
The moment, indeed, that we distinctly conceive that the House of Commons is mainly and above all things an elective assembly, we at once perceive that party is of its essence: there never was an election without a party. You cannot get a child into an asylum without a combination : at such places you may see “Vote for orphan A” upon a placard, and “Vote for orphan B (also an idiot!!!)” upon a banner, and the party of each is busy about its placard and banner. What is true at such minor and momentary elections must be much more true in a great and constant election of rulers. The House of Commons lives in a state of perpetual potential choice; at any moment it can choose a ruler and dismiss a ruler: and therefore party is inherent in it, is bone of its bone and breath of its breath.
Secondly, though the leaders of party no longer have the vast patronage of the last century with which to bribe, they can coerce by a threat far more potent than any allurement,—they can dissolve. This is the secret which keeps parties together. Mr. Cobden most justly said “he had never been able to discover what was the proper moment, according to members of Parliament, for a dissolution: he had heard them say they were ready to vote for everything else, but he had never heard them say they were ready to vote for that.” Efficiency in an assembly requires a solid mass of steady votes; and these are collected by a deferential attachment to particular men, or by a belief in the principles those men represent, and they are maintained by fear of those men, -- by the fear that if you vote against them, you may yourself soon not have a vote at all.
Thirdly, it may seem odd to say so, just after inculcating that party organization is the vital principle of representative government, but that organization is permanently efficient because it is not composed of warm partisans. The body
The body is eager, but the atoms are cool. If it were otherwise, parliamentary government would become the worst of governments, a sectarian government: the party in power would go all the lengths their orators proposed, all that their formulæ enjoined, as far as they had ever said they would go. But the partisans of the English Parliament are not of such a temper: they are Whigs or Radicals or Tories, but they are much else too; they are common Englishmen, and as Father Newman complains, “hard to be worked up to the dogmatic level.” They are not eager to press the tenets of their party to impossible conclusions; on the contrary, the way to lead them - the best and acknowledged way - is to affect a studied and illogical moderation. You may hear men say, “Without committing myself to the tenet that 3 + 2 make 5 (though I am free to admit that the honorable member for Bradford has advanced very grave arguments in behalf of it), I think I may, with the permission of the Committee, assume that 2 + 3 do not make 4, which will be a sufficient basis for the important propositions which I shall venture to submit on the present occasion.” This language is very suitable to the greater part of the House of Commons. Most men of business love a sort of twilight: they have lived all their lives in an atmosphere of probabilities and of doubt, where nothing is very clear, where there are some chances for many events, where there is much to be said for several courses, where nevertheless one course must be determinedly chosen and fixedly adhered to; they like to hear arguments suited to this intellectual haze. So far from caution or hesitation in the statement of the argument striking them as an indication of imbecility, it seems to them a sign of practicality: they got rich themselves by transactions of which they could not have stated the argumentative ground, and all they ask for is a distinct though moderate conclusion that they can repeat when asked, --something which they feel not to be abstract argument, but abstract argument diluted and dissolved in real life. " There seem to me,” an impatient young man once said, “to be no stays in Peel's arguments ;” and that was why Sir Robert Peel was the best leader of the Commons in our time, - we like to have the rigidity taken out of an argument, and the substance left.
Nor indeed, under our system of government, are the leaders themselves of the House of Commons, for the most part, eager to carry party conclusions too far: they are in contact with reality. An Opposition,
on coming into power, is often like a speculative merchant whose bills become due: ministers have to make good their promises, and they find a difficulty in so doing. They have said, The state of things is so and so, and if you give us the power we will do thus and thus; but when they come to handle the official documents, to converse with the permanent under-secretary, - familiar with disagreeable facts, and though in manner most respectful, yet most imperturbable in opinion,-- very soon doubts intervene.
Of course something must be done: the speculative merchant cannot forget his bills; the late Opposition cannot in office forget those sentences which terrible admirers in the country still quote. But just as the merchant asks his creditor, “Could you not take a bill at four months ?” so the new minister says to the permanent under-secretary, “Could you not suggest a middle course? I am of course not bound by mere sentences used in debate; I have never been accused of letting a false ambition of consistency warp my conduct: but —” etc., etc. ( And the end always is, that a middle course is devised which looks as much as possible like what was suggested in opposition, but which is as much as possible what patent facts -- facts which seem to live in the office, so teasing and unceasing are they - prove ought to be done.
( Of all modes of enforcing moderation on a party, the best is to contrive that the members of that party shall be intrinsically moderate, careful, and almost shrinking men; and the next best, to contrive that the leaders of the party, who have protested most in its behalf, shall be placed in the closest contact with the actual world. Our English system contains both contrivances: it makes party government permanent and possible in the sole way in which it can be so,by making it mild.)
But these expedients, though they sufficiently remove the defects which make a common club or quarter-sessions impotent, would not enable the House of Commons to govern England. A representative public meeting is subject to a defect over and above those of other public meetings, -it may not be independent; the constituencies may not let it alone: but if they do not, all the checks which have been enumerated upon the evils of a party organization would be futile. The feeling of a constituency is the feeling of a dominant party; and that feeling is elicited, stimulated, sometimes even manufactured, by the local political agent. Such an opinion could not be moderate; could not be subject to effectual discussion; could not be in close contact with pressing facts; could not be framed under a chastening sense of near responsibility ; could not be formed as those form their opinions who have to act upon them. Constituency government is the precise opposite of parliamentary government: it is the government of immoderate persons far from the scene of action, instead of the government of moderate persons close to the scene of action; it is the judgment of persons judging in the last resort and without a penalty, in lieu of persons judging in fear of a dissolution and ever conscious that they are subject to an appeal.
Most persons would admit these conditions of parliamentary government when they read them; but two at least of the most prominent ideas in the public mind are inconsistent with them. The scheme to which the arguments of our demagogues distinctly tend, and the scheme to which the predilections of some most eminent philosophers cleave, are both so: they would not only make parliamentary government work ill, but they would prevent its working at all; they would not render it bad, for they would make it impossible.
The first of these is the ultra-democratic theory. This theory demands that every man of twenty-one years of age (if not every woman too) should have an equal vote in electing Parliament. Suppose that last year there were twelve million adult males in England: