« AnteriorContinuar »
up a government is very much like the difficulty of putting together a Chinese puzzle: the spaces do not suit what you have to put into them. And the difficulty of matching a ministry is more than that of fitting a puzzle, because the ministers to be put in can object, though the bits of a puzzle cannot. One objector can throw out the combination. In 1847 Lord Grey would not join Lord John Russell's projected government if Lord Palmerston was to be Foreign Secretary; Lord Palmerston would be Foreign Secretary, and so the government was not formed. The cases in which a single refusal prevents a government are rare, and there must be many concurrent circumstances to make it effectual. But the cases in which refusals impair or spoil a government are very
It almost never happens that the ministrymaker can put into his offices exactly whom he would like; a number of placemen are always too proud, too eager, or too obstinate to go just where they should.
Again, this system not only makes new ministers ignorant, but keeps present ministers indifferent. A man cannot feel the same interest that he might in his work if he knows that by events over which he has no control, -by errors in which he had no share,-by metamorphoses of opinion which belong to a different sequence of phenomena, he may have to leave that work in the middle, and may very likely never return to it. The new man put into a fresh office ought to have the best motive to learn his task thoroughly, but, in fact, in England, he has not at all the best motive.) The last wave of party and politics brought him there, the next may take him away.
Young and eager men take, even at this disadvantage, a keen interest in office work, but most men, especially old men, hardly do so. Many a battered minister may be seen to think much more of the vicissitudes which make him and unmake him, than of any office matter.
Lastly, a sudden change of ministers may easily cause a mischievous change of policy. In many matters of business, perhaps in most, a continuity of mediocrity is better than a hotch-potch of excellences. For example, now that progress in the scientific arts is revolutionising the instruments of war, rapid changes in our headpreparers for land and sea war are most costly and most hurtful. A single competent selector of new inventions would probably in the course of years, after some experience, arrive at something tolerable; it is in the nature of steady, regular, experimenting ability to diminish, if not vanquish, such difficulties. But a quick succession of chiefs has no similar facility. They do not learn from each other's experience ;-you might as well expect the new head boy at a public school to learn from the experience of the last head boy. The most valuable result of many years is a nicely balanced mind instinctively heedful of various errors; but such a mind is the incommunicable gift of individual experience, and an outgoing minister can no more leave it to his successor, than an elder brother can pass it on to a younger. Thus a desultory and incalculable policy may follow from a rapid change of ministers.
These are formidable arguments, but four things may, I think, be said in reply to, or mitigation of them. A little examination will show that this change of ministers is essential to a Parliamentary government;—that something like it will happen in all elective governments, and that worse happens under presidential government;that it is not necessarily prejudicial to a good administration, but that, on the contrary, something like it is a prerequisite of good administration; that the evident evils of English administration are not the results of Parliamentary government, but of grave deficiencies in other parts of our political and social state;—that, in a word, they result not from what we have, but from what we have not.
As to the first point, those who wish to remove the choice of ministers from Parliament have not adequately considered what a Parliament is. A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of mote or less idle people, In proportion as you give it power it will inquire into everything, settle everything, meddle in everything. In an ordinary despotism, the powers of a despot are limited by his bodily capacity, and by the calls of pleasure; he is but one man ;-there are but twelve hours in his day, and he is not disposed to employ more than a small part in dull business :—he keeps the rest for the court, or the harem, or for society. He is at the top of the world, and all the pleasures of the world are set before him. Mostly there is only a very small part of political business which he cares to understand, and much of it (with the shrewd sensual sense belonging to the race) he knows that he will never understand. But a Parliament is composed of a great number of men by no means at the top of the world. When you establish a predominant Parliament, you give over the rule of the country to a despot who has unlimited time,—who has unlimited vanity,—who has, or believes he has, unlimited comprehension, whose pleasure is in action, whose life is work. There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament. Sir Robert Peel once suggested that a list should be taken down of the questions asked of him in a single evening; they touched more or less on fifty subjects, and there were a thousand other subjects which by parity of reason might have been added too. As soon as bore A ends, bore B begins. Some inquire from genuine love of knowledge, or from a real wish to improve what they ask about,-others to see their name in the papers,—others to show a watchful constituency that they are alert,—others to get on and to get a place in the government,-others from an accumulation of little motives they could not themselves analyse, or because it is their habit to ask things. And a proper reply must be given. It was said that “Darby Griffith destroyed Lord Palmerston's first Government,” and undoubtedly the cheerful impertinence with which in the conceit of victory that minister answered grave men much hurt his Parliamentary power. There is one thing which no one will permit to be treated lightly,-himself. And so there is one too which a sovereign assembly will never permit to be lessened or ridiculed,- its own power. The minister of the day will have to give an account in Parliament of all branches of administration, to say why they act when they do, and why they do not when they don't.
Nor is chance inquiry all a public department has most to fear. Fifty members of Parliament may be zealous for a particular policy affecting the department, and fifty others for another policy, and between them they may divide its action, spoil its favourite aims, and prevent its consistently working out either of their own aims. The process is very simple. Every department at times looks as if it was in a scrape; some apparent blunder, perhaps some real blunder, catches the public eye. At once the antagonist Parliamentary sections, which want to act on the department, seize the opportunity. They make speeches, they move for documents, they amass statistics. They declare " that in no other country is such a policy possible as that which the department is pursuing; that it is mediæval; that it costs money; that it wastes life; that America does the contrary; that Prussia does the contrary." The newspapers follow according to their nature. These bits of administrative scandal amuse the public. Articles on them are very easy to write, easy to read, easy to talk about. They please the vanity of mankind. We think as we read, “Thank God, I am not as that man; I did not send green coffee to the Crimea; I did not send patent cartridge to the common guns, and common cartridge to the breech loaders. I make money; that miserable public functionary only wastes money.” As for the defence of the department, no one cares for it or reads it. Naturally at first hearing it does not sound true. The opposition have the unrestricted selection of the point of attack, and they seldom choose a case in