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Leader's speech, Newcastle 1905

Arthur Balfour (Conservative)

Location: Newcastle


In a paper written in 1903 but unpublished during his lifetime Bertrand Russell, reflecting on the nature of propositions, took as his example not the fabled table of so much philosophical reasoning but, instead, the Prime Minister of the day. He wrote: “When me make a statement about Arthur Balfour, he himself forms part of the object before our minds. If we say, for instance, “Arthur Balfour advocates retaliation”, that expresses a thought which has for its object a complex containing as a constituent the man himself; no one who does not know what is the designation of the name ‘Arthur Balfour’ can understand what we mean…’ (quoted in Richard Gaskin, The Unity of the Proposition, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 77). Russell may have been influenced in this choice of example by the logician and social commentator Hugh Macoll who, in an article published in a 1905 edition of the philosophical journal Mind, employed the following example as part of a discussion of syllogisms: “If all who approve of Protection are Conservatives, and all who approve of fiscal Retaliation are also Conservatives; then somebody (one person at least) who does not approve of fiscal Retaliation does not approve of Protection’. Macoll’s aim was to demonstrate that ‘If P implies C, and R also implies C; then R dose not imply P’, which in more ordinary language means ‘One may disapprove of fiscal Retaliation without approving of Protection’ (Hugh Macoll, ‘Symbolic Reasoning’, Mind, 14, 55, July 1905, pp. ¬390-397). This intrusion of contemporary economic policy into the universal and fundamental reasoning of philosophers is indicative not only of the prominence of the issue of fiscal policy but also of that fact that what Russell and Macoll were seeking to make clear was something that Balfour had seemed to many to want to remain opaque. In order to balance out the differing factions in his coalition (Chamberlain’s advocates of colonial preference and the vociferous free trade ‘free foodies’) Balfour proposed a policy of fiscal retaliation. This seemed to mean that he wanted government to have the power to raise tariffs as part of a negotiating tool but didn't actually want to raise them. It was an unhappy compromise position and Balfour seized many opportunities to ensure that his intentions remained unclear. 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 – which he seeks to defend in this speech - had not won him support in the country. In 1904 and 1905 the coalition won just nine of thirty-seven by-elections. It was against this background, and with the necessity to call an election pressing upon him, that Balfour rose to speak as part of the 1905 conference. He came out fighting. He began with a series of attacks on the opposition framed by his insistence that there be a focus upon the present struggle not the past (despite its implied glories). Balfour then paints the opposition as long on speeches but short on meaningful detail, seeking to show them simultaneously as useless, and also a bit sinister. Perhaps, he implies, they are hiding something, their real subversive intentions. In short he argues that whatever one’s anxieties about the present administration the alternative is worse. It is an old tactic. This was not the last time it made an appearance in a conference speech. After this attack Balfour moves on to the problems within the Unionist party itself. In fact he is – to contemporary readers – perhaps strikingly candid about the divisions in his party. But, in a move at which Balfour seems expert, he positions himself above such squabbles, as the leader around whom all must rally if they are to stave off the menace which he has so convincingly portrayed. Along the way he provides a fascinating account of how he understands political parties, and then addresses the issue of fiscal policy straight on. Whether or not he does so with a clarity of which Bertrand Russell might have approved is perhaps an open question. But it is striking that he tries to appeal beyond class interests to ‘the consumer’, a move that has played an important part in more recent British politics. Another interesting feature is the extent of Balfour's interaction with the audience, their interventions and his incorporation of them into the flow of his discourse. As the text here records, after this speech to some 3000 people Balfour left to address an overflow meeting of possibly larger numbers. There he summarised some of his earlier remarks but also addressed further issues, including policy regarding the army and navy and the important issue of redistribution, the rebalancing of electoral districts. He concluded with a rousing call for unity and fulfilment of the mission entrusted to the party after which the audience escorted him by torchlight procession through the streets. Within a few weeks, however, the proposition that “Mr. Balfour is Prime Minister” would be subject to the most straightforward of empirical refutations.

My Lord Duke, Lord Armstrong, ladies and gentlemen, I have been introduced to your favourable notice by one of the kindest speeches ever made by a chairman in introducing the speaker of the evening.  (Hear, hear.)  But the Duke of Northumberland and I are old political allies.  We sat for years together in the House of Commons, and praise from him is to me valuable, not merely from the great authority which he rightly possesses in this great industrial centre, but because it comes from the mouth of an old and valued friend.  (Hear, hear.)  He has reminded you that it was eleven years ago since I last addressed in this place a great Newcastle audience.  He has also told you – he has also reminded you – that now after eleven years events have passed memorable in the history of our country – war, foreign difficulties, domestic reform – each and all have come before the attention of our fellow countrymen; and we have to look back upon a longer period of continuous office than has for many years fallen to any single party in the State.  (Cheers.)  Indeed, unless I am greatly mistaken, I have myself led the House of Commons for a longer continuous period than any predecessor of mine since William Pitt.  (Cheers, and a Voice:  ‘Long may it continue.’)    I do not come here tonight to talk about the past, although that is a subject well worthy of the attention of the country and of Unionist audiences.  I believe that the ten years referred to by the Duke of Northumberland may vie with any other ten years in our history for reforming at home, dignity in our foreign policy, and war, when war had to take place, successfully carried out to a conclusion.  I do not mean to deal tonight with those ten years.  I do not mean to discuss the controverted questions which they have inevitably raised.  I may be allowed to pass them by on the present occasion, because I take it that the address which has just been so kindly presented to me by Lord Armstrong is an indication that this audience, at all events, and our party in this part of the country, look back upon the period of office which their Government have filled as one which need cause shame to no man who belongs to it – (cheers) – and that we have shown ourselves not unworthy of the generous support which they have so continuously conferred through years of varying difficulty and stress.

The Question before the Country

But I dismiss the past for the moment, and I ask you to look at the present and at the future.  It is of course evident to every man that by our statutory enactments, if for no other reason, the time may not be far distant, and may be very close, at which the country will have to pronounce whether it prefers to entrust its destiny to the party to which we belong or whether it prefers to transfer it to that federation of pathos – (laughter) – which, if I may judge by the signs of the times, is extremely eager to take up the responsibility.  Let us therefore for a moment consider the position occupied by ourselves, and by what I have described as a federation of pathos opposed to us.  And that I may follow every due rule of courtesy let me devote my first attention to our opponents.  (Laughter.)  I understand from their public utterances that they regard themselves as personally aggrieved that they were not ensconced on the Treasury bench two or three years ago.  They make it a matter of almost personal grievance that His Majesty’s Ministers are still drawing from the Unionist party, and that those who have with more or less success carried out the national will and dealt with national policy, having been asked to transfer their energies to the Opposition bench and applied to the aggregate, and I am bound to say, relatively easy task of criticism, powers which to the best of their ability they have devoted to constructive legislation and public administration.  From a personal point of view, I confess I see no obstacle myself to the proposed change.  (Laughter.)  It is always easier to criticise than to construct, and unless my powers of anticipation are strangely at fault, criticism for the next Opposition, whenever the next Opposition is brought into being, will be a singularly easy and a singularly agreeable task.  (Laughter.)  But, in the meanwhile, what I would like to ask you, and through you, the country at large, is what these gentlemen, who for two or three years have regarded themselves as the natural and legitimate owners of a property from which they have been scandalously ejected by us – what they propose to do when they come into their heritage?

The Liberal Policy

They had thirty months or so to think the matter over.  They have told us until we are weary of it that they really possess the confidence of the country – that it is their policy which the country really desires to see carried into effect, and we are forced by this claim to ask ourselves what is that policy which it is alleged the country so passionately desires to see turned to practical account.  Well, I do not say I have read all the Opposition speeches, and I have not yet had the advantage of seeing the latest utterances of the leader of the Opposition, for I think so far as I am aware, that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman has not yet had the opportunity of laying his view – after all the most important view – before the country.  But we have had long speeches and many speeches from persons only second to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannermen in the position they held in the Radical party, and I want to know what it is we can collect from them.  What has been the result of these thirty months’ careful consideration?  What is the policy – I should say the mature policy – that these gentlemen mean to bring before us?  (A Voice:  ‘Home Rule for Ireland.’)  Well, I am coming to their views on Home Rule for Ireland.  (Hear, hear.)  But my friends, perhaps, will allow me to begin with what they think much more important than Home Rule for Ireland - (hear, hear) - which is the dinner hour of the House of Commons.  (Laughter and applause.)  It really is a most amazing thing when you come to think of it, that Mr. Asquith, the ablest speaker on the Radical side of the House, and a man whose capacity friends as well as political foes were agreed to admire – it really is an extraordinary thing that he should make a series of speeches to his constituents, that he should have the most subtle views apparently of the House of Commons procedure, as to the holidays which the House of Commons have, the hours when the House should dine, the time at which their weekly holiday should be taken; all these things should be given to his Fifeshire constituents, but that upon matters which I presume he and his colleagues are agreed, such things as the Education Bill, and the land legislation for Ireland, and matters of that kind, we should have only the vaguest hints, the least explicit utterances, the obscurest sketches of what this great party who has had an unwelcome holiday in which to consider its proposals – (laughter) – the only thing they were able to produce.  Surely that is a most undignified position for a party which has always been talking of the mandate given to parties at an election, and of the Constitutional  procedure of those who think that the House of Commons was not necessarily bound in its activity by the speeches or the election addresses of Ministers.  Well, why don’t they tell us more?  Why don’t they tell us, for instance, what their land legislation is to be about which they utter these dramatic hints?  That they intend to despoil somebody is, I suppose, obvious enough.  (Applause and laughter.)  But who they mean to despoil, how they mean to despoil them, and for whose benefit the process of spoilation is to take place – on that they maintain possibly an unwilling, certainly a somewhat sinister silence.  Look again at education.  They must know what they mean to do about education.  At all events, if they don’t know it now, I can’t see how they are ever to know it, for they kept us month after month in the House of Commons talking about the Education Bill of 1902.  They have talked very little of anything else ever since, and yet at this moment I don’t believe there is a man either on their own side or upon our side, who really knows what is the system which they mean to substitute for that which was created by the Act of 1902.  I gather that they are with a light heart going to despoil – rob – the Church and other denominations of their voluntary schools, and that they are going to lay down as a principle that if elementary schoolmasters – or through elementary schoolmasters – are to be permitted, even enjoined, to teach religion, it shall be an offence to ask these schoolmasters before they undertake that duty whether they are competent to perform it or not.  I do not know whether that will be satisfactory or not to the supporters of voluntary schools.  I know that I mean so far as I personally am concerned to resist such proposals to the end.  (Cheers.)

Mr. Balfour’s Complaint

What I complain of is that we have no details of these matters.  We do not know what it is they are going to do, nor do we know how they are going to do it.  And why do we not know?  We do not know because directly they drew in the rudest way a plan they propose to adopt, from that moment they know they would excite an amount of opposition in every locality in the country, which would gravely militate against their electoral prospects.

The Liberals and the Licensing Question

But there is, oh, yes, there is the other subject – I forgot that – which I gather has engaged their attention, and that is the licensing question.  Now I am not going into the merits or demerits of the licensing measure we passed last year, although, in my judgement, it has been the only practical effort ever carried out by any Government at the same time to do justice to legitimate traders and to foster all the interests of temperance.  (Hear, hear and cheers.)  And they do not like that bill.  They have specifically announced that they mean by increasing the cost of licences, and in other ways to extract from the licence holders an even larger amount of contribution to public purposes than they pay already.  They have fallen, not for the first time, into the old error of supposing that he does a service to temperance who does a personal injury to the licensed holder or to the brewer.  Believe me, no moral reform can be based upon foundations like these.  (Cheers.)  The growth of temperance among our people, one of the greatest and most beneficent changes that have happened in my experience, is not due to preaching based upon doctrines such as that, and I firmly believe that those who try thus to associate in an indissoluble union the injury to a class with the danger to public morals may succeed indeed, in injuring the class, but will leave public morals where they were so far as temperance is concerned, and lower than they were in so far as public morals have to do with the treatment by the state of separate interests.  (Cheers.)

The Opposition and Home Rule

One of my friends a few minutes ago asked me a question about Home Rule, and the view of Home Rule taken by our friends who are, to their own regret, at present on the other side of the House.  I do not think a more singular spectacle has ever been presented by a statesman of great ability than has been presented by Mr. Asquith, Lord Rosebery, and Mr. Morley within the last few weeks upon the subject of Home Rule.  I told you that Mr. Asquith was eloquent and detailed in the information he gives you about rules of the House of Commons, hours of the House of Commons, and the dinners of the House of Commons.  On that he speaks spontaneously and with satisfaction.  His views on Home Rule have to be extracted from him by a question.  He never volunteered them.  What are they?  His views of Home Rule are that it is not a question that the next Radical Government can deal with – (laughter) – but at the same time they adhere, that is, he, his colleagues, and his party – adhere to the letter and the spirit of Mr. Gladstone’s statement upon Home Rule.  Rather hard on Mr. Gladstone, is it not?  (Laughter.)  We know what Mr. Gladstone’s views on Home Rule were, and how he interpreted the spirit of those views, and how he carried out, or attempted to carry them out to the letter.  And we also know what the views of the Radical Party are, because they were good enough to vote with all the apparatus and party terrors on the resolution which condemned root and branch Irish Government and everything that has to do with it.  So that we have the most important speaker who has declared himself on this subject, announcing to the country that he thinks nothing can be worse than the existing system of the government of Ireland, though he agrees with Mr. Gladstone in the spirit that the way to deal with these evils is to institute a separate Parliament in Dublin, and though he agrees with Mr. Gladstone in the letter, he does not mean, so far as he is concerned, and his party does not mean so far as he can speak for them, to deal with that question at all.  Well, that was a great satisfaction, or would be a great satisfaction to me, if I saw in it anything in the nature of a conversion.  If Mr. Asquith were to get up and say, ‘Mr. Gladstone, a very eminent and very great leader of the Liberal Party, took a view with regard to an Irish Parliament, which experience has shown to be impracticable, and which although I once agreed with it, now I am prepared to abandon.’  I would say that was the speech of a perfectly direct, perfectly intelligible, and, of course, perfectly honest man.  But they do not say that.  They say they agree with Mr. Gladstone, but do not mean to do what Mr. Gladstone did.  I want to know how that kind of logic is going to stand against the stress of Parliamentary elections and Parliamentary contests.  (Hear, hear.)  That Mr. Asquith and those who think with him have not a logical leg to stand upon in regard to Home Rule is perfectly obvious.  And when to that bad logic was added bad conditions, then not only i s the position an intrinsically insensible position; and when a large number of those on whom he is looking to for support take that view, do you think it is going to last?  Do you think there is the smallest security for us, who believe in the Union, that Mr. Asquith thinks the Union wrong, and yet does not mean to carry it out so far as he is concerned.  The position is absolutely futile, and yet we have a colleague of Mr. Asquith exposing mercilessly its futility, for Mr. John Morley has said that so far as he is concerned he – who also believes in the letter and in the spirit of Mr. Gladstone’s views – he views, as surely everybody must think who holds those views, that the dealing with the Irish question is one which the Radical Party in power cannot ignore; and  we have Lord Rosebery saying also, in my opinion, with perfect truth, that they cannot ignore it, for the logic of facts, and the logic of opinions and the logic of  votes – (laughter and cheers) – inevitably drive them in the direction of Home Rule, and they will be forced to say so in the course of the examination to which they will be subjected before the General Election comes to its conclusion.  (Cheers.)   Now, is it not evident from the sketch which I have endeavoured to give you of the line taken by the only persons of authority who have yet spoken in the course of the present autumn on the other side – is it not evident that they are ashamed of their own programme - that they have nothing which they wish to recommend to the country in which the country sincerely believes, that their bill of fare, which may suit the diners in the House of Commons, is not one which the country will find appetising, and if they prefer to crawl into office, if office they were going to have, saying as little as they possibly can with regard to what they mean to do if and when office is within their reach, I consider that a most dangerous situation.  (Cheers.)  If they told us what they wanted to do, and told the country what they were going to do, and they put clearly and in the foreground of their programme the measures on which they were really bent in language which the country could understand, at all events some kind of preliminary verdict could be passed upon those measures.  (Cheers.)  But they pass it over as much in silence as they can, and what we have got to look forward to, if by any mischance they should become the depositories of political power, is not the carrying out of a programme which few of us here understand, and on which the interest of the country has never yet been concentrated.  We have got to consider what the Radical party, the British Radical party, driven by the Welsh Radical party and the Irish Home Rule party, could be driven by stress of Parliamentary controversy to lay before the House of Commons and the country.  (Cheers.)

The Remedy for the Electors

I think the prospect alarming; and I know but one remedy for it, and that remedy is that the electors of the country – who, after all held their own destiny in their hands – (cheers) – should entrust to those not untried depositories of power a yet further term of office, in which, as I believe, as I venture to hope, the interests of the country at home and abroad, the interests of our foreign policy, and the interests of sober domestic legislation, would be safe and secure.  (Cheers.)  But, ladies and gentlemen, if that consummation is to be arrived at, it must be fought for.  (Cheers.)  It is not by sitting and listening to speeches that that goal of our ambitions can be attained.  Are we equipped for fighting this great contest which may be imminent, and which, whether imminent or not, can in no case be long deferred?  I cannot honestly answer that question with full and satisfactory affirmation.  I don’t think that as things now are the Unionist party is arraying itself for this great conflict , and forming itself in the order in a manner which best promises for success in a stricken field.

An Episode in the House and an Explanation

I don’t think that I can more clearly put before you what I have been compelled to regard as the great dangers of our situation, than if I for a moment touch upon an episode that took place in the House of Commons last year, which caused a great deal of comment at the time, and has caused much comment since.  It will be in your recollection that when the fiscal question came on - (cheers) – at a certain point in last year, I publicly advised the party to take no part either in the debates upon it or in the divisions to which it might give rise.  That advice was given entirely on my own responsibility.  (Hear, hear.)  It was most reluctantly acquiesced in by some of those of my colleagues – in whose judgement I have the greatest confidence.  It has been subject to adverse criticism by some of the most eminent members of the party in and out of the House, but I have not the slightest doubt that the advice I gave then was the right advice, and that any other course would have been dogged by disaster.  (Cheers.)  Well, how is that, and why is that?  I understand that the Opposition hold the idea that we were afraid of them, and that because we were afraid of them we ran away.  I think that is the legend which they have assiduously propagated to the credit of their own eloquence, and to the discredit of our courage.  But they make a great mistake.  (Cheers.)  Remember the fiscal debate in the House of Commons, although they had no reference to any word before the House of Commons, although they did not touch the policy of the Government while the present Parliament lasts – remember these discussions had been neither few nor far between and, according to a calculation that a friend of mine made for me, before this episode on which I am touching took place, it was calculated that no less than 1,100 columns of Hansard had been devoted to the speeches – I have no doubt very able and very excellent speeches – of members of the House of Commons on the fiscal question.  But when the Opposition tell us that they have frightened us from the field, I regretfully have to tell them that the course pursued had no connection with them at all.  (Laughter.)  The mixture of rather doubtful political economy and rather crude personalities which passed with them for a kind of speech appropriate to the fiscal question - they may possibly produce tedium, but hardly horror in the minds of the hearer - (laughter) - and we have heard too many of them to regard them with any other emotion than that of good-natured weariness.  (Laughter and cheers.)  No, ladies and gentlemen, I was not afraid of the Opposition.  I was afraid of my friends – and this is why I am dealing with the subject – I was afraid of my friends, because I have had borne in upon me by a painful experience of two years or two years and a half, that upon this fiscal question the Unionist party is more interested in criticising its own members than in turning their united front to the Opposition.  I am here to say exactly what I think about the present situation, and I mean to say it.  Nobody who has had the direct experience which I have had in the matter will say that I exaggerate in the least when I tell you that a party, united upon all other questions, supporting a Government in its foreign policy and its domestic legislation, when a resolution, dextrously enough drawn by the Opposition, was thrown down on the table of the House for debate, that every section of the party were much more alive to each other’s shortcomings than they were to the dangers which menaced us from the common enemy.  (Hear, hear.)  That was the reason why I, for my own part, determined that after eleven hundred columns of Hansard had been spouted forth, that the floor of the House of Commons was not, if I could prevent it, to be the arena in which different sections of opinion in the one party, supporting the same Government were going to find their battlefield.  For I saw right that if they had not been prevented from going on we should as a Government have been rendered impotent for the great work in hand.  Great legislation was before the House of Commons.  The Japanese treaty was on the anvil - (cheers) - and it seemed to me folly then, and it seems folly now, to imperil great constructive acts on account of discussions which had no more reference to the actual work of the House of Commons than the discussion at a debating society at Oxford or Cambridge.  It had nothing to do with the present but with the future, not with this Parliament but with the next Parliament, and it did not touch the present and insistent needs of the nation whose interests we were bound to serve.  (Cheers.)  I have not mentioned this to defend myself.  I have come for far more important work than that.  I mention it because it is illustrative of the position which now exists in far too many constituencies.  And it is a position which if allowed to continue must destroy the real fighting efficiency of what ought to be and what might be a great united fighting force.  (Cheers.)  And there is no reason for it.  What is a party – what is a political party?  A political party does not consist of men who are bound to agree with each other in everything in heaven and in earth for all time and in all circumstances.  A political party no doubt is primarily bound together by a common mode of approaching political questions – a sentiment very often of ancient historic lineage on which they feel themselves able to work in harmony for the common good.  But if you come to specific details, to the actual enunciation of a definite policy, how can you expect, in a country  where all of us boast the right to individual opinion, and the freedom of the individual to form his own opinion; how can you expect that you will be able to do more than come to a common agreement with regard to the policy immediately before you, not always occupying your mind with possible controversies which, in a possible future, you may have with your political friends?  On no other plan whatever can that common action which we call party action be possible in a free country, and as I believe that the whole future of representative institutions depends upon the possibility of having a common organised action among the members of a party, so my very faith in the party system compels me to protest with all my strength and with all my force against stretching the doctrine of party unanimity to a point where it must break, and for asking for an agreement – which you can never get from free and independent human beings – which shall expand not merely into the immediate foreseen and practical future, but which shall cover in its abstract and theological meshes the whole potentialities of political thought.

A Practical Fixed Policy

Well, you will ask me if you agree – and I hope you will agree – with the account I have given you of what a party ought to be and what alone it can be, and if you agree with me, the only question you have to ask is this:  Is there on the fiscal question a policy – a practical policy – upon which the Unionist Government can be formed – is there such a policy before you?  If there is, it should be enough, and the fact that there may be other economic aspects of social life on which the party is not agreed should be swept aside as not merely irrelevant but absolutely pernicious to the effective working of the party system.  Well, I say there is such a party before you.  (Cheers.)  I say that the agreement is easy of attainment if only you will consent to take it when it lies before you.  I don’t, of course, mean either that on every economic subject the whole Tory party is agreed – it never has been agreed – it has not been agreed for sixty years.  (Hear, hear.)  But the Tory party has been a model of unity all that time, and I don’t see why it should not continue to give an example of unity for another sixty years.  (Cheers.)  Neither do I mean that even as regards the policy which I venture to recommend to the party will everybody look at it with the same eyes, with the same enthusiasm, or weigh the relative values of the proposition I lay before you in precisely the same balance or measure it by the same standard.  Of course not.  You cannot expect it, and you will not get it.  But what you may expect, and what, if you will, you can get, is a policy of fiscal reform in which as I think all Unionists may for practical purposes agree.  (Cheers.)  It is that common policy and not the differences outside of that policy, which I would venture to implore the party to concentrate their attention upon.  (Cheers.)  I don’t ask every man who listens to me, or who may do me the honour tomorrow to read what I have said – I don’t, I say, ask every man to take the same grave view that I take of the restrictions of our foreign markets, upon the industry of a country which if it is to grow – nay if it is to exist as we know it - (cheers) - must have an immense and expanding foreign trade.  (Cheers.)  But though I don’t ask every member of the party to which I belong to share my anxieties upon this subject, is there a man who regards it as wholly unimportant, is there a man who does not see that here, at all events, there may be a peril, even if I overestimate it – as I do not think I do – (cheers) – and if I am right, if every member of the party sees that there are dangers in the future of the kind I have indicated, surely, at all events, they may well join with us and refrain from paralysing the efforts of the party, and may co-operate enthusiastically with the party in carrying out what has, I think, rather unfortunately been called retaliation.  That is the first point.  Can there be, need there be, ought there to be on that point any disagreement with the party?  (‘No.’)  Is it for that we are going to hand over foreign and domestic legislation to these – (‘No retaliation at all, sir.’) – various, this strange collection of parties, who at all events are ready to unite to turn us out, whatever might happen afterwards?  I go on.  There may be members of the party who do not share to the full my views with regard to certain modern industrial developments, who may not feel as I feel that the whole course of industrial evolution is to require larger masses of capital, to be concentrated on great staples of industry, working with every modern appliance and with a very narrow margin of profit.  That is the form in which I think anybody who studies what is now going on in the great industrial countries of the world – that is the direction in which industry is moving.  Now, you won’t get these great industrial aggregations working, as I have said, upon narrow margins of profit if they are to be destroyed from time to time by foreign rivals, supported in their own country by protective tariffs.  (Hear, hear.)  It is not a fair competition nor a possible competition.  (Cheers.)  I am speaking, mark you, not in the interests of the manufacturer and not in the interests of the wage earner as such.  I am speaking at this moment in the interests of the consumer, and it is undoubtedly in the interests of the consumer, as it is certainly in the interests of the other two classes I have mentioned, that there should be no interference in this country with the productive evolution of those great industrial methods by foreign rivals not depending either upon their own enterprise or their own courage or their own foresight, but depending upon the artificial aid given to them by the fiscal legislation of their country.  (Cheers.)  Well, I say again, I may overrate these dangers – (cries of ‘No, no.’) – but does anybody doubt that they are real - (cries of ‘No, no.’) - and does anybody doubt that a Government returned by the Unionist party should be returned with hands free, yes, with hands free, to deal with those dangers if so be that they be even possible and profitable.  (Cheers.)  There, again, I think there is no ground for this disastrous division of opinion, which is paralysing our efforts in so many directions.  (Hear, hear.)  I ask another question.  Some of my friends may think that when I have advised them, and advised the party to put in the forefront of our constructive policy, the calling of a free conference - (hear, hear) - and the attempts to deal in a permanent and satisfactory fashion with a closer commercial union of the various members of the empire.  (Cheers.)  There may be friends of mine who think either that I am too sanguine in supposing such an arrangement to be possible, or that I overrate the advantages which will accrue to the empire from carrying such an arrangement into effect.  Yet, ladies and gentlemen, there may be differences among us on that point.  Is there any man whose blood courses so slowly through his veins who does not feel that, if we could bring into some more organic union the disjointed members of the empire, we should in the eyes of our children and our grandchildren have done the greatest and most patriotic work ever attempted – (loud cheers) – and he would indeed lack courage and lack patriotism who would hastily reject – the attempt is impossible – who would discourage the sentiment which has grown up in our colonies, and which I believe to be strong among the citizens of the mother country.  Here, again, is there any reason, why we should dispute among ourselves?  (Cries of ‘No.’)

Not on the Protectionist Side

I acknowledge, of course – and the statement is no surprise, though it may be painful, it may be disagreeable to many who listen to me – I acknowledge, of course, that the party has always been disunited upon the subject of what is strictly and technically known as protection.  I have never been and am not on the protectionist side.  (Hear, hear.)  I recognise, and I have throughout my political life recognised, that the doctrine which used to be  associated with free trade – of non-interference of what the French term laissez-faire, of leaving commercial matters as between nation and nation entirely to the free play of the forces that are in existence, never touching it one way or another.  I believe that throughout my political life I have always thought to be an antiquated and illusory doctrine.  (Hear, hear.)  It was a very convenient doctrine not to legislate for the difficulties.  I agree that in any department, social or commercial, the difficulty of dealing with these problems is very great, but for my own part it is a difficulty which must be faced by all legislation.  As I have said, I will not say, for I never belonged to the extreme school of laissez-faire – you will remember it was a characteristic Radical doctrine, although they had long abandoned it – although I have never belonged to that department of politics, I am more than ever convinced that that in the commercial policy it is antiquated, and that the Governments in the future will have their hands free to do all they can to help the industries of the country – (cheers) – and by helping the industries to help not merely the manufacturer, not merely the wage-earner, but citizens regarded as neither capitalist nor wage-earner, but citizens regarded as consumers.  (Cheers.)  Well, I know, and it is the very essence of that part of the speech I am making, I know the views I have given to this assembly are not precisely the views which, had one the power – were he at liberty to direct himself – the whole commercial policy of the country would be acceptable.  (A voice:  ‘It would be to nine-tenths.’)  But I am not asking for nine-tenths; I am asking for ten-tenths.  The one-tenth to which my friend referred, if it existed, would be sufficient to neutralise for all practical purposes the most enthusiastic, the most united efforts of the remaining nine-tenths.  Ten-tenths or nothing.  (Cheers.)  How many constituencies are there in the country in which the leaders – the local leaders and their followers – insist upon discussing not the constructive policy which I venture to recommend, but possible differences that may arise among them if and when that policy is carried out.  Let that state of things come to an end.  (Cheers.)  I speak here as the leader for the time being – (a Voice:  ‘For all time.’) – of the great party which for more than 30 years I have been associated in politics; to which I have given the best I have to give, both in time and labour.

Appeal for Unity

There is no use in a leader, believe me, unless you mean to follow him, and I am so confident that the advice which I am today giving you, and which I shall like to spread into every constituency in the kingdom, and into every corner of England, Scotland, and Ireland.  The advice which I shall give you is to is to forget the differences which are outside the practical politics of the hour, to associate yourselves in the common support of a policy which in my opinion all can accept, confident that if you reject my advice disaster will certainly overtake our cause as it overtakes every cause whose supporters are not at one with each other; while if you will follow the councils of him who at all events for the moment you have selected to be your guide, I think I can promise you not success at this or that bye-election, but I think I can promise you that the country will in moments of stress and difficulty turn to you, when it will see in you a party which has shown itself competent to protect its interests abroad, to promote its prosperity at home – a party which of all others has done most to further the interests of social legislation, that has never forgotten, under the stress of any difficulty, to preserve at the same time both the dignity, the honour, and position of our country, and to maintain those great interests of peace which in common with the whole civilised world are after all the greatest interests of an industrial population.  (Cheers.)  My Lord Duke, I have spoken longer than I designed, but I hope I have not unduly engaged your attention if I have brought it home to every man and woman connected with this grand organisation of the National Union, if I have persuaded them that in mutual co-operation and in mutual co-operation alone, enthusiastic, ungrudging, in that alone is to be found safety and power for the party, and through the party the highest interests of the Empire, which the party exists alone to serve.  (Loud cheers.)  (Mr. Balfour resumed his seat, having spoken an hour and ten minutes.)


Mr. Balfour subsequently rose and said: I hope you will allow me to say I am called for to another place to deal with the overflow meeting, and that I shall not have an opportunity, I am afraid, of taking any further part in the magnificent ceremonies of this evening’s meeting.  I am afraid, therefore, that it is my painful duty now to have to say goodnight and good luck to you – (cheers) – and may the unanimity and the enthusiasm of this great gathering be sympathetic and prophetic of a similar enthusiasm and a similar unanimity in our ranks throughout the whole country.  (Cheers.)  

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