Jump to content
 

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Newcastle-on-Tyne 1905

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal)

Location: Newcastle-on-Tyne

Commentary:

When Campbell-Bannerman addressed an audience at the Palace Theatre In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on May 19th, 1905 the Balfour government was in an advanced state of decay. In the speech Campbell-Bannerman wastes few of his opportunities to exploit that fact. The Conservatives had won the Khaki election in December of 1900 but memories of seeming military success in Africa had all but completely faded. Balfour, Prime Minister since 1902, had presided over a Cabinet ever more divided over fiscal policy. In order to manage the tensions he had - according to his opponents – sought to suppress, obfuscate and obscure the issue. For instance, On March 8th of 1905, in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill had moved a motion that would require Balfour to state whether or not he supported Chamberlain’s ‘colonial preference’ policy. Balfour ‘moved the previous question’ (i.e. he moved that the question not be put before the House). On March 22nd a vote on free trade resolutions was proposed in order to bring the government divisions into the open. Balfour led his Unionist supporters out of the house. Such maneuvers had not helped the government to win public support. In 1904 and 1905 the coalition won just nine of thirty-seven by-elections. It is against this background that Campbell-Bannerman challenges the legitimacy of the government and demands a general election. He begins by addressing general constitutional questions, making the case for regarding the popular will as, in effect, sovereign over Parliament or ministry. To this principle, he contrasts the desire of the government to hold onto power in Parliament and their consequent vacillation over not only fiscal but also Irish and Army policy. However, after some entertaining barracking of Chamberlain, this focus is somewhat lost. Campbell-Bannerman defends his parliamentary actions relating to the Agricultural Rates Bill and the Aliens Bill (which restricted immigration into Britain). The force of his attack on the government is blunted by this distraction and it draws attention to weaknesses on Campbell-Bannerman’s own side. A range of issues are then considered before the speech then returns to Chamberlain who is systematically, and at times forensically, challenged. But Campbell-Bannerman leaves himself only a little room to mention his own alternative policies. One of the issues addressed in the speech is unemployment. This is partly reflective of the growing significance of the Labour movement that had brought the issue to public attention and Campbell-Bannerman pays his respects to that movement even as he seeks to claim it for his own party. Given this, it is interesting to note that, shortly after his catastrophic defeat at the hands of Campbell-Bannerman in the subsequent year, Balfour wrote to Austen Chamberlain and observed of Labour's rise, ‘I am profoundly interested in the new developments which will end, I think, in the break-up of the Liberal Party, and perhaps other things even more important (cited in Sydney H. Zebel, Balfour: A Political Biography, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 144).

Mr. Chairman, Lord Aberdeen, Ladies and Gentlemen, - Never since it came into being has that great political engine, the National Liberal Federation, found itself at its annual meeting in such circumstances as now surround you. I go further, and say that never within the memory of any man among us has the country seen such a political situation. This is a constitu­tional country. (A Voice: It used to be.) Well, we thought it was, but the close observer of recent events may well begin to have his doubts. The form of government under which we live is that of a limited monarchy. The power of the Crown, wisely exercised, cheerfully and loyally obeyed, sincerely respected, and endeared to us by gratitude for faithful practice, is yet subject to restriction.

The Will of the People

What is the power that restricts it? It is the will of the people. It is not the fiat of a Minister, it is not the wishes or ambitions or interests of any junta or coterie of politicians. And how is the will of the people expressed? By the election of representatives to serve in Parliament, whether at a general election or by-elections. There­fore - and this is my point - the authority which places and maintains a Ministry in power is not the House of Commons; it is something behind it and above it. The authority originates with and resides in the popular will, or, in plain language, in public opinion. Yet here we have a Minister declaring that he cares nothing for the opinion of the country; he does not look beyond the actual House of Commons. The House of Commons behind whose support he shelters himself is nearly five years old; it was created amid a war fever which has long since passed away, and the votes which created it were sought and were given on the ground of that war and on that ground alone. So that this five-years-old House of Commons has less authority by far than Parliaments of its age usually have, and every passing election proves indisputably and undeniably that a profound and sweeping change has come over the feeling of the electorate. What is the plain duty of a Minister in such a case? This is not a matter for fine-drawn state­craft. It is a matter of common sense.

A Government of Usurpation

 Let us try it by the rules of everyday life. Suppose that A gives a power of attorney to B to act for him, and that in process of time it becomes apparent to everybody concerned that A has lost his confidence in B, and no longer approves of the way in which B conducts his affairs. A acts through an agent who takes no notice. What, then, will be the duty of B, whom I assume to be a man of probity and honour; what will he do? He will refuse to take advantage of any technical plea, and will renounce duties which he can no longer honestly discharge in accordance with the wishes of his principal. It comes to this, then, that we have in office a Government of usurpation, such as we have not had in any man’s experience before. Is Govern­ment altogether the right word? We are a plain, practical people, and what we mean by a Government is a body of men with a common policy, acting altogether in order to put that policy in practice by the aid of a majority in Parliament.

The Government’s Policy

What is the present Government’s policy? I take three questions which they themselves have brought to the front. That is treating them fairly, surely. What is their fiscal policy? What is their Irish policy? What is their Army policy? With regard to the Army, we have had an elaborate exposition of and disquisition upon the theories of Imperial defence. But we are just as much in the dark as ever as to the way in which these theories are to be carried out or the require­ments which they impose upon us. Of their fiscal policy we only know this - that it is in a condition which precludes its appearance in public. They cannot state it, they cannot defend it, and they cannot even vote upon it in the House of Commons. They cannot set it on its legs. The Government becomes dissolved whenever the subject is mentioned. As to Ireland, a week ago I ask a few plain questions - not conundrums - mere questions as to matter of fact, and I not only received no answer, but no attempt at an answer. The strange story of Sir Antony MacDonnell remains a mystery. The sudden change from coercion to conciliation, which happened to take place just at the time when the Government required the votes of the Irish members for their educa­tion policy - it was a singular coincidence; - the abrupt abandonment of that policy of conciliation at the first growl of the ascendency party, the marvellous result of Mr. Wyndham out and Mr. Balfour still in - all these are unexplained. The Government commands the confidence of its followers in the House of Commons - which is its only excuse for continued existence - by the consistent concealment of its policy from Parliament and from the country.

Mr. Chamberlain's Dark Room 

You may have observed that some days ago there was a discussion in the House of Commons upon the amount of accommodation provided for members, and the fact was discovered that the member for West Birmingham enjoys the use of a room although he is not at the head of any distinct political party. I do not grudge him that favour; but it was urged in extenuation of his occupation of it that it was a small, dark room, by which I suppose was meant very much what an enterprising and advertising hotel-keeper in a picturesque country by way of attracting the amateur photographer would call a developing-room. The very thing he wants! He is busy developing something. It was also a dark room, and that appears to be suitable also; and - I was forgetting this - it was said to be in a detached part of the building, also a very suitable location. But the House of Commons itself is, on critical occasions, a large, dark room, and the confidence of the supporters of the Government is never so enthusiastically voted as when the gas goes out.

The Government’s Reluctance to go to the Country 

I would ask you, is this what the country has been accustomed to? A feeling of surprise and bewilderment has grown into another feeling, a feeling of irritation and indignation scarcely paralleled in our history. Here is a Ministry for which, as the chairman has reminded you, not a single constituency is safe, and, if they reconstruct themselves, which they do now and then, they have either to go to the House of Lords for a new Minister or they have to sacrifice a Minister in the operation. No wonder then that last Session they put into the King’s Speech a Bill to dispense with the necessity of a newly-appointed Minister seeking re-election. When they talked of that Bill we wondered why they were so full of this novel zeal for liberty. Now we know the reason. Let us give them full credit for this unique instance of foresight on their part. But when, sooner or later, this cryptic Government, with no support except that which it can find in the doomed members of an expiring House of Commons, when they go to the country what will they say? Their reluctance to go we can well understand on three grounds at least. There is their record, which will not bear a moment’s inspection; there are their ranks, which are deeply divided and demoralised; they have no definite policy except a few strings of phrases which can hardly be put seriously before the world. 

Abuse of the Opposition

Knowing, then, defeat to be certain they are clinging to office in the hope that somehow or other they will achieve some degree of union, and that they may develop some sort of a policy, so that defeat may not turn into a catastrophe. But in the meantime the May meetings of the party - I especially refer to the Primrose League meet­ing at the Albert Hall and Mr. Chamberlain’s meeting with his own constituents at Birmingham - show that they are agreed that the best way of keeping up appearances is to denounce the Opposition. To read their speeches one would think that the Union Jack was em­blazoned with the counterfeit presentment of the Prime Minister, and that the Royal Arms contained, instead of a unicorn, an ex-Colonial Secretary rampant. Says Mr. Balfour to his audience and friends, ‘We are the defenders of the Crown, the Empire, and religion.’ He actually appears to take seriously the comedy of the Primrose League. And the same day Mr. Chamberlain, at Birmingham, rounded it off by remarking, putting all the vinegar - three kinds of vinegar - into one vessel, that the Liberal party was a party of Little Englanders, pro-Boers, and separatists. Have they learned nothing, these men? Has their South African policy commended itself to the country? Are they bent on reviving the passions of 1900? Are their eyes not open to the fact that the great majority of their countrymen condemn that policy? Do they seriously think that abuse of the Irish will be effec­tive Mr. Chamberlain, referring to the Irish Nationalists, said in a casual way, ‘Mr. Bright called them rebels.’ I do not recall a more ungenerous thing ever said by a public man in this country - dragging in an honoured memory to justify a slander. Why, if Mr. Chamber­lain wishes to abuse his political opponents, let him do it himself in his own words. But how absurd this sort of thing is. The one clear impression left on the public mind by their language and their policy is that the Irish were right in what is called rebellion, in attacking and seeking to deliver themselves from the system of Government under which they live and the unhappy results which have followed from it.

Mr. Chamberlain’s Mistake

I am inclined to think that Mr. Chamberlain is mistaken in his conception that the records of a Government count for nothing in an appeal to the electors. Political memories are not quite so short as that. The country has an account to settle with him and his friends, and the longer it is deferred the heavier it will be. That he is not without misgivings on this score is evident, because he called attention to the fact that before the fiscal question was introduced their losses at the by-elections were greater than they have been since. Their misdeeds were more vividly before the eyes of the electors. Yes, but as the smoke of this fiscal controversy clears away - and there are a good many people I suspect, even tariff reformers, who would not be unduly distressed if it ended in nothing but smoke - when the smoke clears, so much more plainly will the track of the last ten years appear. I leave the matter there. Let them get what comfort they can and what shelter they can from their denunciation of the iniquities of the Opposition, past, present, and to come.

The Agricultural Rates Bill

But we received some commendation from the Prime Minister the other day. That is worse; it makes one examine oneself to see what can be wrong. It is true there was a good deal of irony in the way in which he communicated his commendation; but he did commend us because of our not having opposed the second reading of the two great masterpieces of his legislative programme for this Session, the Agricultural Rates Renewal Bill and the Aliens Bill. Let me say, if you will, a few words upon each of those. For our inaction in both of those cases there are excellent reasons. There was nothing incon­sistent in what we did - inconsistent with previous views. Take the Agricultural Rates Bill first. The original Bill was introduced in 1896. We were strongly opposed to it and we strenuously resisted it, and we have not altered by one hair’s breadth our opinion upon the subject. We object to taking agricultural land and conferring benefits upon its owners at the expense of other people; and there was no fact concern­ing it which was more startling and convincing than this - that the City of London - not the little City, I mean the big City, London generally - is out of pocket annually £300,000 by this provision, and receives no benefit or equivalent for it. There had been a general enquiry by a Royal Commission, and there was what they call an interim report, which recommended this special favour to be shown to a particular kind of property, whereas the whole question cries aloud for reform and readjustment. We succeeded in getting a period put to the time when the Bill should last. In 1901 it had to be renewed. We adopted exactly the same position then as we have adopted this year. Procedure by way of repeal or non-renewal is impracticable.

The Need of Comprehensive Rating Reform

These doles, as we call them, must be renewed until that can be carried out which the Government have promised, but have failed to execute - namely, a comprehensive measure readjusting the whole system of local taxation, dealing with urban and rural rates alike, and with relations of each to the national Exchequer. However arbitrary, however inequitable and indefensible, in our opinion, the present temporary law is, these doles cannot be removed after all these years by mere surgical excision. It is easier to do mischief of this sort than to remedy it. The only practical way of dealing with the question is to approach it, as we shall be able to do, from a wider standpoint altogether. The task is heavy and complicated, perhaps the heaviest task that lies before any Government, to frame a scheme that shall be fair to the country and fair to the town, fair to agricultural interests and fair to other interests, to the ratepayer and to the taxpayer, out of the bewildering and puzzling mosaic of present rating arrangements; but, whatever its difficulties, it is a branch of reform which no Government, certainly no Government sincerely concerned about trade, about the housing question, and about the land question, can possibly ignore or neglect.

The Aliens Bill

Now I pass to the Aliens Bill, which is a case much simpler. Why did I, who voted for an amendment to the Aliens Bill last year, decline to vote for a similar amendment this year? That you will naturally ask. Because it is a different Bill altogether from last year’s. The Government have taken out of it some of the vices which we detected and denounced in the Bill of last year. I have never objected on principle to regulating the admission into this country of undesirable men, of criminals, of diseased persons, of persons who are diseased morally, physically, or mentally. But there are two important points on which we shall certainly insist - the first that no man shall be excluded on the mere ground of poverty, and the second that there shall always be maintained admission for anyone who seeks an asylum on our shores from persecution, whether political or religious. A breach of these conditions would mean a loss of character not merely to the Government or to the Opposition, but to the nation itself. We can take no narrow view of national hospitality, if for no other reason than that our countrymen make such large use of and so freely benefit by the hospitality of other nations. We shall look for the support of the Prime Minister against t he view of Mr. Chamberlain, who puts aside these excuses of disease and crime, and claims as the chief object, and merit, of this legislation the exclusion of the competitive labour of the poor man. Has not the alien in past years contributed most materially to the prosperity of this country without displacing native labour? The Royal Commission which was appointed on the subject distinctly says that, so far as skilled labour is concerned, there has been no such displacement of labour. I should have had more respect for this view of the question if I had not remembered that those who are so strong against admitting the deserving but poor alien to this country are the men who introduced Chinese into South Africa for the mere sake of cheapness, and also if I saw in that party solicitude for the interests of labour in other respects, and especially for restoring the combination laws to the position in which Parliament originally intended them to be.

Two Other Government Bills 

Well, these are the facts regarding these two Bills; and I do not grudge the Prime Minister any satisfaction he can derive from our attitude upon them. But besides these two in this Session there are only two other Bills in their programme to which I think I need refer. They seem to be in no hurry to carry either of them. There is the need of organised help for the unemployed, urgently required in all industrial centres, and, above all, in the East-end of London, and surely this will not be put off until another winter comes upon us. The second is the question of the deplorable ecclesiastical calamity in my own country across the Tweed, which demands instantly and urgently an equitable settlement. Why are the Government not ready to act? It is no party question; we are all agreed; we have striven and strained ourselves to prevent any element of party feeling in it. It was evident months ago that an Executive Commission would be required; the Commission of inquiry reasonably and properly recommended s uch an appointment. The recommendation was so obvious that it ought to have been the duty of the Government to prepare a Bill in anticipation of it. Every day’s delay not only continues but aggravates the scandal; and Scotland is grievously afflicted in her highest and dearest and tenderest interest, the spiritual welfare of her people.

Liberal Policy

We are taunted also by the leaders of the Government party with having no policy. We may ask, as I have been asking by way of recrimination, what is their policy? I have already said that their policy is vague and intangible; and I find myself in extremely good company in making an observation to that effect, because what said Mr. Chamberlain the other day ‘Have they,’ that is the Liberals, ‘have they a policy? What have we got?’ he said. ‘Have we any definite, distinct, beneficial policy? Our policy is not so clear as it might be.’ He goes on: ‘We must have a common object worth fighting for’; and so he casts about to find a common object, and he apparently can think of nothing but the Imperialistic idea; and, find­ing this rather thin and nebulous, he falls to belabouring the Liberals again. Why did he not fall back on his old friend old-age pensions? But would it not be a propos, would it be impertinent, to inquire what has become of the pledges and promises of social constructive reform which ten years ago were paraded as a policy, with great profit to the Unionist party, but with none whatever either to those who in the simplicity of their heart believed in those promises, or to the country which, on the other hand, has been scourged from that day to this with a number of policies that were never heard of either in 1895 or 1900? If these eminent persons, however, took the trouble to read the speeches made by their opponents, they would have seen that our policy, so far from being a policy of negation, as Mr. Balfour said, or a non-existing policy, as Mr. Chamberlain said, is a positive and constructive policy.

Undoing the Work of Reaction

No doubt much will have to be done to repair the false steps that have been taken when we have the power to do it. We must try to settle the education question on national and liberal lines; and no one can deny it wants settling, with Wales and East Ham and the West Riding of Yorkshire under our eyes. Then we must restore public control of the liquor traffic. We must do what we can to check the upward movement of the public expenditure; but we shall not be satisfied with these tasks. Still less shall we be satisfied to do what I sometimes see suggested that we should do - namely, to stand still and mark time till the last danger is passed of the revival of Protection. I have already mentioned one great subject, that of rating, which is urgent. In that must be included the taxation of urban site values, a reform for which our great municipalities are agitating and almost clamouring. This principle has been three times affirmed in the House of Commons; and I expect, though I have not received information, it has been affirmed a fourth time today, when a Scotch Bill dealing with the subject was under discussion in the House of Commons; and its effect, we believe, would be not only to place urban rating on a more equitable footing, but greatly to facilitate the solution of the problems of housing and of urban expansion. 

The Rural Problem 

No less urgent is the whole range of questions connected with the depopulation of the agricultural districts. To say that the well-being, and, indeed, almost the existence of the nation is endangered, is threatened, by this process of sapping is no exaggeration. We hold that measures are required for extending the facilities for smallholdings and for the erection of cottages, that tenant farmers are entitled to a larger liberty in the cultivation of their farms and greater security in the result. (A voice - ‘What about civil and religious liberty?’) Well, civil and religious liberty I take for granted; we will not forget the principles and rules of civil and religious liberty when we are dealing with education or any other subject of a cognate type. With regard to cottages and small holdings, which are powerful agents in stemming the current which is carrying men into the towns, I say that should it happen that the local authorities, either through social pressure or from any other cause, are unlikely to take a sufficiently strenuous part in administering such legislation and thereby combating an evil of national gravity, we ought not to shrink from adopting a policy of vigorous stimulation from the centre. We are all for encouraging local administration and responsibility; but whether it be in respect of the acquisition of land for the use of the people or the provision of cottages, or, to turn in another direction, the sanitary condition of cities as disclosed in their death-rates, the duty of proclaiming and enforcing a proper standard of administrative activity and efficiency will have to be undertaken a good deal more energetically by the State than it has been in the past. We must remember that there are interests of a kind so formidable in their social prestige and influence and in their financial power that the citizen may often have to forfeit a good deal of his rights and liberty unless he can count upon the central authority standing up for him.    

The Combination Laws

Again, what could be more important to the prosperity and contentment of the people than a revision of the combination laws? You may take a large and favourable view, or a less favourable view of the trade unions as you like - for my part I hold them to be an unqualified good of the country - but whatever view men take of them no one wishes them, surely, to be hustled and harried. Yet witness the deplorable spectacle of the last few weeks, when a Bill, imperfectly reviving the original intention of Parliament in this matter, has been so mauled and maimed in the Committee under the inspiration of the Government, led and represented by their Solicitor-General, that the Labour members and the Liberal members have been obliged to leave the room.

Electoral Reform           

These are some of the things to be done. I know there are many others of almost equal importance, which I could mention; but I will only refer to one other great class of reforms, perhaps the most essential, because the most elementary of all. I mean those affecting the electoral machinery; reforms for facilitating registration, for making individual right and not property the test and ground of qualification, for cheapening elections, for giving to members of Parliament a modest stipend, so as to enlarge the choice of the electors. Then, when those things have been done, and other reforms which I might mention, a true representative people’s Chamber would be con­stituted, strong enough to join issue with any other Chamber which challenged it. There would be the additional advantage in those things I have named, that it would be healthier for the country and for Parliament itself if elections came oftener than they do, and until you cheapen the cost of elections you can never accomplish that object.

History Repeating Itself

This is no conclusive list; I am not here either to frame or to pro­pound any programme whatever. I have far from exhausted the subjects. How history repeats itself. Could the condition of things at the present time be better described than they were by Mr. Glad­stone when he came here in 1891, and, as we were told yesterday, was entertained by your present mayor in his mayoralty? What was it that he then said? He said: ‘The first difficulty that encounters me is this - a surfeit; for there is no other word adequate to describe it: it is not the excess merely, it is the absolute surfeit of work that remains to be done: work that accumulates from year to year, and work that is certain to fall more heavily in arrear in proportion to the prolongation of the rule of a Tory Government.’

Liberalism and Labour

I would have you observe this further thing. Cast your mind back upon what I have been speaking about. Is there one of those things upon which there is any material difference between Liberal ideas and the ideas of those who directly represent labour in Parliament? Not one. Any seeming difference would at once dry up and disappear the moment we came to work together upon them. There is no reason why these two branches of the party of progress should not work har­moniously together. For my part I can honestly say that I have never heard upon any Liberal platform anything but sympathy and welcome expressed towards Labour members. If I have to my regret seen reported unfriendly things as having been said of the party to which I belong by prominent Labour politicians, I am confident that with patience and experience of one another any such feeling will evaporate.

The Fiscal Question

Let me ask you to go with me to the subject which has most occupied public attention for the last two years. How do we stand with regard to the great fiscal question I hold that we may claim to look both forward and back wards with a certain measure of cheerful assurance. The Protectionists have been beaten in argument; they have been routed at the by-elections; in the House of Commons they have been made to commit happy dispatch themselves. But we cannot lay down our arms until the Unionist party has formally separated itself from any schemes which directly or indirectly prejud­ice freedom of trade. They are far from having done this yet. Personally I would welcome a recantation even before a general election came on, because we have plenty of other issues to meet. We cannot for a moment relax our vigilance. Do not be blindly confident; do not be blind to the manoeuvres now going on, or the likelihood that they are leading up to some small and innocent-looking electoral instalment on account. Never mind if we are denounced as bigots and fanatics for insisting that the Free-trade position should be held intact. A general may have been foiled in his frontal attack and yet manage to effect a lodgment by a side way or a back way, and he will then think his foe was a very good sort of fellow and a very open-minded one to oblige him by allowing him to do so. But what comfort will it be, when the citadel has fallen, for the unwary defender to reflect that his defence was conducted in no antiquated spirit of obstinacy or intolerance?

Unionist Manoeuvres

What is the nature of these manoeuvres going on? We can only look from a distance and guess. We all remember the extraordinary campaign started two years ago, when the pioneer went out in advance under the flag of food taxation and preference with the blessing, the best wishes, and the warm sympathy of the commander of the main army, who contented himself with the humbler and less brilliant role of preparing at his leisure to annul, delete, and cancel the established and cardinal principle that taxation should be only for revenue purposes. I am not sure, on the whole, that the noisy and blatant vanguard is so likely to have done so much harm as the quieter and more insidious part of the army that remained. The pioneer included in his operations this very city on Tyneside, and it was to this city, and it may have been in this very house for aught I know - (‘No, the one you are going to’) - I am glad that it was not - that he bequeathed the deathless picture of the annihilation of all our industries, the extinction of our fires, the stoppage of all our exports; while, marvellous to say, the imports were to continue coming in just as usual. What an odd thing it is that a clear and level-headed man like Mr. Chamberlain never realises apparently that trade is barter, and that if things go out other things must come in, and if things come in other things must go out. That was an unrivalled picture, but the glamour of it and of the triumph of his progress gradually faded away. Calamity overtook them; and now the chief preoccupa­tion of that army appears to be, not to equip itself with arms of offence, but rather they have been concerned with the exigencies present and prospective of the ambulance department.

The Design of the Ambulance Waggon 

They are too stricken, too prostrate, to go to the country otherwise than in a recumbent position; and the deputation to Downing Street that we heard of, and the apparently incomplete negotiations of which we hear so much from time to time, only betoken some little differences between the authorities as to the design and decoration of the ambulance waggon. Mr. Chamberlain would, no doubt, like to have a fiery cross, Mr. Balfour would prefer a red cross or a cross of some neutral colour, but at any rate something which would appeal to Free-traders not to fire upon it; and the announcement which the country waits for with expectation and some amusement will tell us whether a combination of the two crosses is possible. There is no Geneva Convention for a political campaign. If Mr. Chamberlain’s quick-firing gun and Lord Lansdowne’s big revolver form part of the equipment of this melancholy procession when once it sets out on its way such concealment would be deserving of no greater reprobation than the prolonged policy of evasion and concealment and dissimulation of which the country has grown so heartily sick. If at this time of day you and I are deceived by any new formula, any freshly-discovered device for dressing up Protection in Free-trade garments, we shall have ourselves to blame. I fear little myself from any such concordat that may be devised. Supposing they do come to terms on the basis of the Sheffield and Glasgow programme, a concordat so spectral and unsubstantial will fail to consolidate their party or drive a wedge into the party of Free Trade.

Mr. Chamberlain and the Trade Unionists

 Two nights ago Mr. Chamberlain again appeared, waving the fiery cross. The old fallacies and the old promises were trotted out again. Having secured the gentlemen of the Tariff Reform League, he now addressed himself to the trade unions and the workmen generally. He says to them that a great deal, after all, depends on what you think of the man who is addressing you. That is very true; and those who are asked to consent to dearer food on his pledge that the cost of living will not be increased will not forget the old-age pensions proposals which were ‘so simple’ that anybody could understand them. This new scheme is also described as simple, but those will be even more simple who are taken in by it. He goes on to say that he has no personal interest to serve. Who ever said he had a personal interest? I am not aware that it has ever been alleged by anyone. And he says he is a mere consumer; but are the people about him mere consumers? Are the members of his tariff commission nothing but consumers? Do none of them stand to gain by the proceedings in which they are engaged?

The Colonies and Mr. Chamberlain

Having thus cleared his character from an imputation never made, he appeals to the working man. First, he interlards his appeal with higher and wider themes. He brings up the heavy artillery to which we are so accustomed, but the roar of which has never intimidated us - namely, the grand Imperial idea. ‘The Colonies,’ he says, ‘helped us in the war, shall we reject and insult them now?’ I would not reject and insult anybody, much less the Colonies. I give the Colonies credit for good feeling, for loyalty, and for good sense, and for a proper estimate of their own independence. The idea that their own indepen­dence, the idea that their loyalty depends upon trade advantages is the worst of insults. I think I once called it myself ‘a squalid idea.’ I repeat that it is a squalid idea. It has of ten been flung at my head and they can go on flinging it. What do the Colonies themselves say of this? We hear so much of what Mr. Chamberlain thinks about the Colonies, let us see what the Colonies think about Mr. Chamberlain. Here is a quotation from an article in the Toronto Globe of April 12th, which is the principal Ministerial organ in Ontario:

'By what authority does Mr. Chamberlain pose as interpreter of Canadian sentiment and ambition? What has he seen of Canada, and what does he know of Canadian feelings, that he should talk about the endangering of Canadian loyalty? Does he measure Canadian loyalty by an extra five per cent, or ten per cent preference on Canadian wheat, or is he trying to “bunco” the British elector into the adoption of Protection with a bogey game of Colonial dismemberment? A man who visited the United States again and again, but only once, even when Colonial Secretary, deigned to touch Canadian soil, is in no position to estimate either the quality or the strength of Canadian sentiment. It would be well for Mr. Chamberlain were he to base his Protective propaganda on the needs and interests of the British taxpayer, rather than the fickleness of Canadian loyalty. Imperialistic tuft-hunters may submit, but the point will soon be reached when intelligent and self-respecting Canadians will resent the persistent misrepresentation of Canadian sentiment by British politicians. One of our chief humiliations is the tone of men like Mr. Chamberlain, who think we are bound to the Empire by ties of trade preference.'

Mr. Chamberlain’s Fallacies and Contradictions

Now, when he turns to his appeal to the workmen, we see instance after instance in his speeches of contradictory statements on the financial question. He praises high tariff countries, and says ‘the conditions of life in Germany are such that many an English working­man would be glad to change places with some of his German competitors.’ I would interpolate, How does it come to pass that at the last election in Germany there was a huge number - I think some­thing like one-half of the votes - which were given for Socialist candidates on the very ground that the exactions of the rich and of the State made their life almost intolerable? But now I have quoted what he says in commending life in Germany to the British working­man. What does he say himself when he is talking of aliens in that same speech – ‘If the aliens were not allowed to come to England they would stop in Germany and the products of their cheap labour would come in their stead.’ Thus Germany is, in the same speech, a workman’s paradise and a country where goods are produced cheaply by sweating and unfair conditions. Surely it cannot be both. Again, he makes his appeal to the workmen by the promises of more employ­ment; but if his ten per cent duty on manufactured goods results in their exclusion, his arguments based on increased revenue - the foreigner paying our taxes and even, as we have now been told, our rates - fall to the ground; if, on the other hand, it does not keep them out, then where is the increased employment to come from? Our position with regard to this - and it is worthwhile to repeat it and revive our apprehension of it - is that any artificial steps taken for increasing the price of commodities is bound in the long run to reduce the opportunities for employment. Here and there it may benefit a single or particular trade by giving it a greater command of the home market. Take pearl buttons, referred to by one in the audience, for instance; or sugar refining - we have not heard so much of sugar refining since the effect of the Sugar Convention made itself felt, and large numbers of operatives in the confectionery trade were added to the ranks of the unemployed. Our contention is that, taking our home produce and our exports together, anything that arbitrarily raises the cost of production must react to the prejudice of the workman, and this for the simple reason, which we can never persuade Mr. Chamberlain to consider, that a diminution of the effective demand for commodities means a restriction of the employment of labour. If a man has to pay more for his boots or clothes, what is the effect upon him? He will economise in boots and clothes, he will not buy so many. How is that going to give more work to the boot-maker or the tailor? This is a plain argument quite apart from all those high-flying economic theories with which - and in this I agree with Mr. Chamberlain - the ordinary mind and the ordinary man might only be confused.

The Real Remedies 

I commend those plain arguments to you who are workmen and to others. The way to improve our trade is by other methods altogether, first, by lightening the burden of taxation through a peaceful and frugal policy; secondly, by better education and more drastic control of the liquor traffic; thirdly, by improving the character and stamina of our people by reform of the deplorable surroundings in which masses of them live; and lastly, by giving agriculture a chance, by giving the farmers security, and offering the labourer a career in his calling. It is in such directions as these that will be found the redemption of our social system, and not by restricting trade and by following the will-o’-the-wisp of baseless fallacies and mischievous and delusive promises.

Back to top

Home | About | Resources | Contact Copyright © British Political Speech 2017 | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy