Leader's speech, Birmingham 1907
Arthur Balfour (Conservative)
Commentary:Arthur Balfour was quite a presence in and around the conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations in Birmingham in 1907. The speech presented here took place in the evening after the conference, at a mass meting held in the Hippodrome and 'into which fully 5000 listeners were packed' as The Times recorded. A queue formed in the early afternoon and 'The Hippodrome Orchestral Band' played a selection of popular airs'. Balfour spoke 'from the proscenium, and behind him were tiers of seats occupied by members of both Houses of Parliament'. The next day he opened a Unionist Labour Club in Aston where he explained that 'My duty, the duty of every man in the party to which I belong, is a duty neither to the working man nor to the non-working man, neither to males as against females, or rich as against poor, nor poor as against rich. The duty is to the community as a whole' (part of an ongoing strategy to portray the Liberal administration as destructively sectarian). That evening he spoke to a Conservative and Liberal Unionst banquet in Birmingham town-hall. In July 1906 Joseph Chamberlain suffered a serious stroke and, at the time of the present speech, was still seriously ill. Balfour pays tribute to him at various points in the speech. He also refers to the recent constitutional reorganisation of the Conservative Party itself which included granting to each constituency the power (here the ‘responsibility’) to choose candidates. Indeed, this speech (in which we see further examples of the kind of humour, invective and audience interaction still a characteristic of public meetings at this time) can be taken as evidence of the fact that the status of the leader’s speech develops alongside, rather than in contradiction with, the growth of mass ‘grassroots’ and party politics. The bulk of the speech is concerned with tariff reform (the extent to which imports should be taxed and preference given to trade within the empire), the issue which had divided the Unionist parties, contributed to the end of Balfour’s premiership and put him into conflict with Chamberlain. Balfour attacks the government for rejecting offers from the colonies to participate in their commercial schemes. In so doing, the Liberals had, Balfour argued, missed a golden opportunity to promote free trade within the Empire. He then outlines the Conservatives’ programme of tariff reform, basing it on four propositions: widening the basis of taxation, protecting the manufacturing industries, strengthening Britain’s commercial position internationally, and colonial preference. In the latter part of the speech Balfour attempts, rhetorically, to define the frontiers of ideological division, using mockery to suggest that the Liberal government and the socialists are birds of a feather, whereas the Conservatives have a long history of sensible social reform. His is a ‘responsible’, approach to politics quite different from the ‘theory’ and ‘speculation’ of the Liberals and other radicals.
Lord Plymouth, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen. It is twenty years since I had the pleasure and the honour of addressing a Birmingham meeting. I am sorry the interval since I last spoke in this great city has been so long, and I regret still more that when, in the ordinary course, this great gathering, representing as it does the Conservative branch of the great Unionist party throughout England, meets here we should not feel that we have with us and behind us, the active energy of that great statesman - (hear, hear) - whose work for Birmingham, whose work for Great Britain - (hear, hear) - whose work, shall I say in this audience above all, for our Colonial Empire - (loud cheers) - has given him an immortal place in the great series of statesmen who have guided the imperial destinies of this country. (Applause.) We have the consolation of knowing that Mr. Chamberlain - (load cheers) - although for the moment he cannot take any part in the firing line - (‘Pity’) - yet gives us his keenest and heartiest sympathy - (hear, hear) - that he watches each step, each movement in the gradual evolution of public thought upon some of the greatest imperial questions of the day, with unabated interest - (hear, hear) - and that we here - we representing the Conservative portion of the great Unionist party, have in all the work we are doing, and have been doing, his keenest and heartiest sympathy. (Cheers.) My lords and gentlemen, I have not had an opportunity of addressing the great body of the Conservative Unionists of England since the great reorganisation has been worked through and brought to a happy conclusion. This is my first opportunity of speaking to you, and I cannot preface what I have come here to say upon the great question of the day more appropriately than by congratulating you upon that reorganisation, which has carried out what has always been the view of the party to which I belong - namely, that the Conservative party should be in its organisation essentially democratic - (loud cheers) - that as we recognise and have recognised that our strength comes from the people - (hear, hear) - is born of the people - (hear, hear) - can have efficiency and perpetuity only by means of the people - (hear, hear) - our organisation should reflect our ideals, and that the system on which we carry out party Government should be one in which the leaders of the party may feel that they represent, not merely the officers of the party, but the rank and file and every member who belongs to it.
An Appeal for Toleration
This reorganisation has been carried out. I believe it has been carried out successfully, and the result of it is that upon the various representative associations in each constituency it thrown the responsibility, the full responsibility, the representative responsibility, of selecting their candidate, and of maintaining that unity without which no enthusiasm is of the smallest value, without which it is impossible that the causes which lie nearest to our hearts can ever reach their full and satisfactory fruition, which is the very condition of success in a free country governed under the party system. (Hear, hear.) Now I am not going to attempt to suggest how that practical unity in either case is to be carried out. I have no love either of processes of court-martial or processes of excommunication. (Hear, hear.) The first may be necessary under a great military system; the second has been rightly or wrongly thought to be necessary in many great ecclesiastical organisations. But such things are not in my line. (Laughter and ‘Hear, hear.’) This, and this only would I say: You cannot lay down rules in black and white as to what constitutes party loyalty, or what does or does not amount to a difference of opinion with the great body of a party which should cut any member of that party from the general communion. (Hear, hear.) No precision of doctrine is possible in such circumstances, but the test of our competence as practical men to deal with great practical problems will be measured by our power of working together, of forgetting small individual differences - (hear, hear) - of sinking petty jealousies - (hear, hear) - of silencing contemptible criticism - (hear, hear) - which we are able to show in the face of a great national and Imperial destiny - that you, gentlemen, representing as you do every constituency in England, every great body in England, will see both the need which lies before you, and each in your own measure be able to carry out the steps which are required to satisfy that need. I come here before you as your leader. (Cheers.) I believe I have your confidence. (Cheers, and a Voice: ‘You have!’). That I know. (Cheers.) I know I have done all in my power to earn it. (Hear, hear.) And while I am the last man in this room either to claim or to desire immunity from criticism, I think may appeal to every man who listens to me, and to that larger public throughout the country which may honour me by reading what I say tonight, I may appeal, to them, not in my interests or in yours - (hear, hear) - not on any personal. grounds, for, as every human being knows, I have no personal interest in the matter whatever - (hear, hear) - in the interests of the great cause to which we all owe service, and to which all of us are bound to sacrifice leisure and convenience - in the interests of that great cause I would ask them, each in their own sphere, not to exercise any tyrannical jurisdiction over those who may feel difficulties about this or that item in the party programme; but, at all events, to see that the degree of party unity is preserved throughout the whole of England, for which alone you can speak, which is the first condition to party success, and without which talents, energy, zeal, are all thrown away, and are all so much waste; but which, if you only can secure it, is bound to lead you at no distant date to that position of responsibility in the councils of the country which you have wielded with conspicuous success for so many years within the last generation - (hear, hear) - and which I am confident you will within a relatively short space - (hear, hear) - be called upon to wield again - (cheers) - for the benefit of every class of the country. (Cheers.)
Enthusiasm for Fiscal Reform
Now, my lords and gentlemen, you have reorganised yourselves, but an organisation is nothing as a mere machine, a mere soulless instrument, unless it be animated by convictions, by the consciousness of a mission - (hear, hear) - by a belief in principles - (hear, hear) - by a desire to reach a goal which alone will make it worthwhile for the citizens of a free country to engage in all the labours involved in carrying on free institutions. Have we those great aims? Where do we stand in respect of the principles that we desire to see adopted by the country at large? Do we feel that at this moment our affairs are being mismanaged by the present Government? (Hear, hear.) I should suppose that on that point there would be little doubt in any assembly. (Cheers.) However orthodox might be the complexion of their Radicalism that would hardly be doubted. But have we something more than a mere negative conviction, or, rather, a conviction of the negative deficiencies of our political opponents? Have we that positive consciousness that, were we called upon in our turn to govern the destinies of the Empire, we should rise to that great occasion which would then be offered us? (Cheers.) I think so. (Cheers.) If you carried your memories back, let me say, to the beginning of last session, the beginning of the year 1906, or, if you prefer, to the end of the year 1905, when the late Government resigned office, what you would find would be that, so far as we were concerned, so far as our p arty was concerned, the solitary subject, so far as I know, which excited the enthusiasm of the Unionist party, was the programme, was the desire to see some change in our fiscal system. (Loud cheers.) I am not going back on the history of the ten years of office, which I believe was one of the greatest periods of administrative success of this country - (hear, hear) - but which has passed into the domain of the historian, and is outside now, at all events for the moment, the sphere of discussion in current party controversy. Our business, ladies and gentlemen, is to make history, not to discuss it. (Hear, hear.) I have told you with general assent what the frame of mind was of our party two years ago. What was the frame of mind of our opponents? (A Voice: ‘Nothing.’) Some friend of mine in the gallery said ‘Nothing!’ I believe that to be a very accurate description - (laughter) - of all that we can learn, at all events from the authoritative utterances of their authoritative leaders. I do not know whether I misrepresent - I think I do not - some statements of the Prime Minister’s, whose restoration to health we are so rejoiced to hear. (Hear, hear.) I don’t know whether I misrepresent his statements before the election when I say, as far as I can remember, they were confined to a general expression of a desire to increase the happiness of everybody all round - in entirely proper and estimable sentiment - and a fixed intention to have an enquiry into the canal traffic of the United Kingdom - (laughter) - a proposal which, at all events, was innocuous. (Hear, hear.) But since then we have seen these gentlemen at work. We know exactly, I won’t say what the Government as a unity can do, but what each Minister, in his individual and irresponsible capacity can do - (laughter) - and I rather think many of us, many of the community who are not, as we are, engaged in active political propaganda, have come to the conclusion at which we have long ago arrived, that these gentlemen are not the people to whom the safety of the country can properly be entrusted. Their conduct has raised, in addition to the great fiscal question, other issues which no Unionist can afford to forget - (hear, hear) - which no Unionist is likely to forget, and to which, before I finish, I may make a few references. (Hear, hear.) But before I come to that, let me ask you what has been the fate of the great fiscal controversy which excited among our own friends so much enthusiasm at the time when we finally abandoned office, and when we handed over the destinies of the country to our successors. Has it lost force? (Cries of ‘No!’) Has it gained force? (Cries of ‘Yes!’) Does it represent a movement which, slowly here, rapidly there, but continuously everywhere - (hear, hear) - has gained strength? (Cries of ‘Yes!’) You have given me your answer. I agree with that answer. (Loud cheers.)
Mr. Chamberlain and Tariff Reform
There are those who say that the origin, the sole origin of this great movement was a speech delivered by Mr. Chamberlain in this city in 1903. (Hear, hear.) My lords and gentlemen, even Mr. Chamberlain’s great genius and great authority, even his magnificent advocacy of any cause which he has taken in hand, would have been insufficient to give permanent vitality to any great cry for reform unless the desire for reform were deeply rooted in the public needs of the community. (Cheers.) And if anybody will take the trouble to do now what some day the historian will have to do, wh ich is to trace the genesis of the great movement to its beginnings, they will say that it is the offspring of two quite separate, quite independent movements, both of which conspired to make the citizens of this country utterly discontented with the fiscal system under which we have now for two generations carried out our national work. What were these two streams of tendency? The first was one which convinced observers that foreign countries were becoming rivals of this country in their productive manufactures in a manner which had never been conceived, or could be conceived by the statesmen and economists of sixty years ago - (hear, hear) - and that foreign Governments were using their power, not merely in the way of seeing that their citizens possessed the opportunities of fair trade, of fair competition, with their rivals in other countries, but that their whole fiscal organisation was directed to the end of injuring the trade of their rivals and assisting the trade of those whom, rightly enough, they regarded as their clients. (Applause.) You know well enough what forms that Governmental action took. You know well enough the weaknesses which our traditional system imposed upon the Foreign Office for the time being in carrying out negotiations with regard to treaties. We found ourselves one of many productive countries, all rivals in the same markets, all fully equipped for the great industrial warfare, a nd we found that while other countries were making with each other treaties for their own benefit, we were helpless in all negotiations, and had no safeguard for our interests at all, except the feeble and elusive safeguard given us by the most-favoured-nation clause. We found also that behind the wall of tariffs which it had pleased our commercial rivals to erect round their respective countries, they were organising, intentionally or unintentionally, a machinery by which, in times of indifferent trade, in times of sinking trade, in times of bad trade, they could dump down upon our shores goods manufactured at a cost at least as great as those which we had to undergo, but which they were able to put down in rivalry with our manufactures at a less cost than that which we had to undergo. (‘Shame.’) I am not quarrelling with them. My quarrel is not with foreign countries. (Hear, hear.) My quarrel is with those who, after we have had experience of the result of offering up our national industries unarmed to this kind of attack, refuse to put on the armour which they have at their disposal. (Applause.) That represents one current of opinion. I told you there were two. The other current of opinion is that which arises from the fact that in the last two generations our colonies have in the first place become great self-governing communities; and, in the second place, while that process of growth was going on, the consciousness that they belonged to a great Empire has been growing also. (Applause.) And they felt that, as members of that Empire, it was becoming to them as citizens to see that the great productive forces of this community - this Imperial community, of which we are all citizens - those productive forces should not be used with that international impartiality which was the idol of the economists sixty or seventy years ago, but which, I think, in the face of modern developments, is absolutely antiquated at the present time. (Cheers.)
Free Trade within the Empire
t;Now, so far as I am concerned, I have always thought that this idea of promotion of Free Trade within the Empire - (hear, hear) - is not only the most important of all to our commercial interests, but appeals most directly and immediately to the heart of every man who believes that he is mot merely an Englishman, a Scotchman, or an Irishman - not merely a citizen of the United Kingdom, but that he is a member of a worldwide Empire. (Cheers.) Well, I personally have always felt that. I quite admit that until the recent conference I entertained serious doubts as to whether this great policy could be carried through in the face of the great difficulties which must surround any course of action which requires the co-operation of a large number of independent units. (Hear, hear.) And I think that those fears, though I believe them to be unfounded, were not irrational. (Hear, hear.) What I think is irrational is that these fears should still be entertained after we have experience of what occurred at the last conference. (Cheers.) I observe that members of the Government allude with a complacency that I am utterly unable to understand to the figure which they cut - (‘Hear, hear,’ and laughter) - at the debate which occurred between them and the Prime Ministers of our great self-governing colonies. (Laughter.) I thought they cut a very poor figure. (Hear, hear.) At all events, of this I am sure - that every impartial spectator must have come to two conclusions. The first was that at the beginning of this year the temper of our self-governing colonies was such that it would have been easy for the British Government to make an arrangement with them, by which this Imperial inter-communication of commerce could have been enormously promoted. (Hear, hear.) Even if they could not do much they might have expressed sympathy. (Hear, hear.) Even if they could not do all that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa desired, they might have said, ‘We recognise the greatness of your aims, we sympathise with your ideals, and insofar as we can do it consistently with the revenue needs of our country, we will endeavour to meet you.’ (Cheers.)
A Missed Opportunity
They held out not the smallest hope. (‘Shame!’) They told those gentlemen that, insofar as they could speak for one of the great parties in the State, they rejected absolutely any offers they could make. (‘Shame!’) And I suppose it would be rash now to say that there will ever again be an opportunity as great as that which was wantonly and recklessly thrown away by the present Government, (‘Hear, hear,’ and applause.) Suppose our colonies now choose to say, ‘The mother country has rejected our offers; they have, in language sometimes polite, sometimes not so polite, explained that they will have nothing to do with our commercial schemes; we will proceed, therefore, to do what we are invited to do, which is to pursue a commercial policy in which the interests of the mother country have no place at all, in which we treat Great Britain, are invited to treat Great Britain, no better than we treat those who are great commercial rivals of Great Britain’s.’ Should we in such circumstances have any right to complain? (‘No.’) I trow not. And as I cannot foresee what course colonial policy will take, until such time as the country may recall us to power - (‘Hear, hear’ and applause) - I can make no sure forecast of what the future is. But this I know - that were we, by the wave of some magician’s wand, installed in office tomorrow, clearly our first duty would be to summon again that conference - (loud and prolonged cheers) - which was so hastily dissolved. (A Voice: ‘We won’t slam the door.’) We would open that door which was so rashly slammed, and see if we could not again do something towards that great ideal of Imperial unity - (hear, hear) - in which every statesman, every responsible statesman, of the colonies has borne a share, in which the late Government were warm sympathisers, and towards which no man has done so much as my right hon. friend the late Colonial Secretary. (Loud applause.) Time is passing - (‘No, no!’) - and I have still a great deal to say to you. (Applause.) But I will condense as much as I can. (‘No, no!’) On this question of fiscal reform - (cheers) - I do not think there is a better text to be taken than that which is given me by the resolution moved by my friend Mr. Chaplin - (cheers) - and passed, not merely unanimously, but with enthusiastic acclamation - (applause) - by the whole body of representatives. (Hear, hear.) That resolution divides the question into four heads - broadening the basis of taxation - (hear, hear) - safeguarding our great productive industries from unfair competition - (hear, hear) - strengthening our position for the purpose of negotiation in foreign markets - (hear, hear) - and establishing preferential commercial arrangements with the colonies, and securing for British producers and workmen a further advantage over foreign competitors in the colonial markets.
Four Incontrovertible Propositions
Now to that programme of fiscal reform, taken, I believe, from a speech which I delivered to the Council of this Union - (hear, hear) - to that programme of fiscal reform, taken from that speech of mine, among others - (laughter) - I need not say I heartily subscribe. (Applause.) But the interesting point is not that, because that, I hope, is obvious enough - but the interesting point I think about it is this: At first sight you might suppose that those four propositions, however excellent in themselves, were separate and isolated, with no logical connection, and not to be advanced by any single fiscal policy. Now, I don’t agree with that. I think you may approach these four propositions - broadening the basis of taxation, safeguarding productive industries, strengthening our position in foreign markets, and colonial preference - you might, I say, approach the whole policy from any one of those four propositions, and I believe you would arrive at the same practical result. (Hear, hear.) The policy which is good for one is good for the other. Through the policy by which one can be promoted the other can be advanced, and we can confidently say that any fiscal changes we carry out would not merely be independent efforts to deal first with that proposition and then with the other, but that a comprehensive scheme by which all four of those great causes might be equally advanced. (Applause.) Well, if it be a matter of indifference - and I think it is - from which of those propositions you approach the whole policy, let us, for the sake first of all of brevity, approach it from the revenue side, from the point of view which is represented by the resolution which deals with the basis of taxation. I might approach it from the others, but I will approach it from that. You will see in a moment or two why I choose that avenue of approach rather than any of the three others equally open to me. I will for the moment assume what I am subsequently going to prove - that a broadening of the basis of taxation is absolutely necessary in my judgment for revenue purposes – (hear, hear) - and that if we had no Colonies, and if there were no such thing in existence as a commercial treaty, and if no industrial phenomenon such as dumping had ever been seen or heard of, it would still be necessary for us, for the purposes of revenue and the purposes of revenue alone, to broaden the basis of taxation. There are four principles which may be laid down as practically incontrovertible, or, at all events, which I am prepared to support by argument if necessary. The first is that your duties should be widespread, the second is that they should be small, the third is that they should not touch raw material. (Hear, hear.) The fourth is that they should not alter the proportion in which the working classes are asked to contribute to the cost of government. (Applause.) They should be small, because it is small duties which do not interfere with the natural course either of production or of consumption. They should be numerous, because if you require revenue, and if your duties are small, you must have many articles of consumption subject to those duties. Need I argue the other two questions - the question as to whether they should be applied to raw material or whether they should be used to alter the balance of Imperial burdens upon the working classes. Those require no argument. They have always been both the commonplaces of the Unionist party in this controversy and the subject of the grossest misrepresentation by gentlemen who differ from us in opinion. (Applause.) And in my judgment, while those are four conditions which should govern any reform in our fiscal system, it would be folly for us to go beyond them, and to exclude from any redistribution or any alteration which, subject to those conditions, it might be necessary to make in our fiscal system, any articles of import whatever. Let our general import system be subject to revision and consideration. I, for my part, never have consented, and never will consent, either to bind myself or to suggest to any friend of mine that he should bind himself to exclude from this redistribution, this alteration of taxation, any article of import whatever – provided - (‘Ah! That’s it!’ and laughter) - firstly, that it is not raw material - (hear, hear) - and, secondly, that the tax put upon it is not a tax which would augment the proportion paid by the working man to the general taxation of the country. (Cheers.) Now, observe, that in this general scheme - I may say, incidentally, that I am not going to be bullied by our opponents - (cheers) - into doing what they never think of doing, which is to give an account of the precise details of their procedure some years ahead - I have laid down these general propositions. Their character is unmistakable, they are perfectly plain, they are perfectly precise, and while I reserve to myself the right to ask the gentlemen questions - the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others - (laughter) - to ask them some questions before the autumn campaign is over - (laughter and ‘Hear, hear’) - I consider that they are paid £5,000 a year to answer questions - (laughter and cheers) - the most they can ask of me is to lay down the principles on which I should propose to act were I again called to the councils of my Sovereign. (Cheers.)
Not Backward, But Forward
Before I pass to some of the things I am bound to talk to you about tonight, I must deal with one commentary which I hear perpetually echoed and re-echoed from more or less responsible quarters. I am told that in this policy I am recommending a return to some antiquated and discredited fiscal system. I am doing nothing of the kind. (Cheers.) I do not ask you to go back; I ask you to go forward. (Cheers.) I do not ask you to take to yourselves bows and arrows and Brown Bess and all the antiquated machinery of a system which may have suited its own day, but does not suit ours. (Hear, hear.) What I am asking you to do is to abandon a system which itself is antiquated - (hear, hear) - which was started when the industrial world was framed on wholly different lines from that which we see determining its character at the present moment. When the fiscal system under which we now suffer - (cheers) - was originally started there was no question in the minds of any public man or any economist about markets. The difficulty of finding markets for British goods was not one that suggested itself, or could suggest itself to anybody. (Hear, hear.) Would anybody say that that is the state of things at the present time? (‘No!’) Would anybody say that the whole forces of industrial development in the world at the present moment are not tending towards making it more and more difficult for us to find the outlet for our manufactured goods which is essential to our national existence? (Cheers.) The second observation I have to make is that the diplomatic difficulty of commercial treaties was never thought of two generations ago. There were not these commercial treaties. The Foreign Office was not called upon to deal day by day with commercial rivals without having anything in its hand either to give or to withhold. That is a new fact. It is a fact that ought never to be forgotten. (Hear, hear.) Well, the colonies? When our vaunted system of taxation was established the British colonies were not merely in their infancy – they were in their cradle. (Hear, hear.) It never occurred to anybody that they were the great nations of the future, that it was to our interest as well as our duty to make commercial arrangements, and the whole colonial aspect is absolutely of novel growth within the memory of almost every man and woman I am addressing, born, indeed, within the last fifteen years, and in no sense present to the minds of the economists and legislators of the time of Sir Robert Peel. Take corn, again. The old theory of British economics on corn was based on the fact of what economists called the law of diminishing returns, which meant that as a community increased in numbers the pressure on the means of subsistence would increase also, and various consequences, of which I will not speak now, would ensue. But that is no longer the law governing wheat. Wheat is now subject, not to the law of increasing cost, it is subject to the law of diminishing cost, and the enormous strides which the growth of wheat in Canada, Argentina, and elsewhere, the enormous improvements in transport - however unfortunate to the farming class to which I belong - (laughter and applause) - absolutely destroy the whole basis of the economic argument familiar to our forefathers. The last point is the point of revenue. When our present basis of taxation was started, it was easy to get all the revenue you required from the sources which we now strain almost to the breaking point. (Hear, hear.) Is it easy now? (‘No.’) Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer say it is easy now? (‘No.’) Here are four points, and they are the pivots of the whole argument I have addressed to you tonight, and of every argument I have ever addressed to any public meeting. I say that no one single point of those four, the governing consideration of the whole argument, were present to the great men - their greatness I do not minimise or desire to minimise - or could be present to the great men who were the founders of our present fiscal system. (Hear, hear.) I leave it to the Radical Party to bow down in this abject submission to a dead authority. (Cheers.) I leave it to them to base their whole policy upon conditions which once existed but which exist no longer - (hear, hear) - and to show their love of progress - (laughter) - their consciousness of the changing needs of an ever-developing society by binding themselves, now and for all time, to the dead formulae of the great men who would have been the first to scorn the action they are taking. (Cheers.) Well, ladies and gentlemen, I know of only one possible answer to the argument that I have laid before you, and it is this: It may be said the present system of taxation, at all events, is adequate for our needs; what the country wants it can get from the present sources open to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is that true? (‘No!’) Is there the smallest prospect of it? (‘No!’) Observe that this was a point on which it was very difficult - almost impossible, I think - to pronounce a conclusive opinion before a popular audience until the present Chancellor of the Exchequer had had the opportunity of presenting two Budgets to the nation. He has presented two Budgets, and nothing could be more certain that while we are all desirous, and for the best of reasons, to promote national economy, it is quite impossible that we should carry out the ordinary duties of national and Imperial defence and the other duties incumbent upon a Government, and also pursue a policy of social reform - (hear, hear) - unless we have some possibility of increasing the sources from which our public expenditure must ultimately come.
Socialism versus Social Reform
I observe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer devoted a speech the other day, or the large part of a speech, to the discussion of social reform and Socialism. Everybody will admit - everybody in this room, I think will admit - that while social reform has always been a cardinal element in the Unionist programme, the growth of Socialism is a disquieting phenomenon at the present time. Well, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is very naturally fidgety and nervous about being confused with those Socialists who are alienating some of his best supporters - (laughter) - and he very properly desires to clear his character before the world. I read a speech in which he cleared his character. Perhaps you will allow me to read the central extract from his speech. It is quite worth it. (Laughter.) This is what Mr. Asquith said: ‘If they asked him at what point it was that Liberalism and what was called Socialism in the true strict sense of the term parted company, be would answer when liberty in its positive and not merely in its negative sense was threatened.’ (Laughter.) I am told, ladies and gentlemen, that there are people uncritical enough to accuse me of an over-subtlety of statement. (Laughter.) But mere plain men - (laughter) - as the Prime Minister described them last night - mere plain men, when they set themselves to the task, have an extraordinary gift of ambiguity. (Hear, hear.) ‘When liberty in its positive and not merely in its negative sense is threatened.’ (Laughter.) That is the point at which Liberalism ceases to be Liberalism and becomes Socialism - (laughter and cheers) - and Socialism becomes no longer Liberalism. Now it is my happy destiny to sit opposite the crowded benches of the Government side, filling not merely the right hand part of the House of Commons, but extending to the Independent Labour Party, who sit below the gangway on our own side. When I return next session I shall look with the greatest curiosity to see where this fissure occurs. (Laughter.)
What Socialism Is
I shall pass my eye from the amiable and comfortable capitalists and landowners - (Laughter) - who sit behind the Treasury Bench, down across the gangway, and then up on the left-hand side to the Speaker, and I shall ask myself where the precise division occurs between the gentlemen who interfere with liberty on its negative side - (laughter) - who threaten liberty on its negative side, and those who threaten liberty on its positive side. (‘Hear, hear,’ and applause.) It would be a very interesting subject of investigation. (Laughter.) And as we are asking questions of each other from platform to platform, I should like to have the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s views on the precise point where this unhappy division between Liberalism and Socialism occurs. (Laughter.) But, in truth, ladies and gentlemen, it seems to me that there is no difficulty or ambiguity about the subject at all. Socialism has one meaning, and one meaning only. (Hear, hear.) Socialism means, and can mean, nothing else than that the community or the State is to take all the means of production into its own hands, that private enterprise and private property are to come to an end, and all that private enterprise and private property carry with them. That is Socialism, and nothing else is Socialism. (Applause.) Social reform is when the State, based upon private enterprise, based upon private property, recognising that the best productive results can only be attained by respecting private property and encouraging private enterprise - (applause) - asks them to contribute towards great national, social, and public objects. That is Social reform. (Hear, hear.) There is, there can be, or ought to be, no ambiguity between the two, and we need not discuss either liberty in its positive or liberty in its negative sense when we are dealing with this plain proposition. Now I have one observation to make upon the social aspect, upon the effect on the State of these two plans. Socialism I believe to be absolutely ruinous - (hear, hear) - not to the possessors of property principally or chiefly, but to the whole community, which depends not upon dividing the wealth of those who are above the average, but upon increasing the production of the whole community. (Hear, hear) It is upon the productive activity, the inventiveness, the enterprise, the knowledge, the readiness to run risks and to bear the result of risks when they go wrong - (hear, hear) - it is on these that a great community depends, and on these alone, for the wealth it can use. As regards social reform, I admit the difficulty. I admit that there is nothing in the world which more tries the statesmanship of those entrusted with office than really to carry out something which is not merely to figure as social reform on a platform, but which is to make the lot of the unfortunate and the toiler and the aged better, happier, healthier. The only condition which is to be kept in mind in that connection is that if you ask from the community at large too great a contribution, even for the best of objects, you defeat your own end - (hear, hear) - by destroying the productive efficiency of the community on which alone all your philanthropic efforts must ultimately be based. Very well, I ask now how is Mr. Asquith going to find the money for his social reform on the present basis of taxation? He is fond of asking questions of those who have no responsibility for the present conduct of affairs. I ask him, who has responsibility, how he means to do it? (Hear, hear.) I cannot conceive it. (Hear, hear.) Ladies and gentlemen, social reform has long been the work of the Unionist Party - (applause) - as distinguished from the Radical or Socialist Party. I was amused in reading in this very speech of Mr. Asquith a statement that we are all in favour of social reform, which some call erroneously Socialism, and that nobody would care to go back upon such great changes in our system as that involved in free education, the labour laws, the Factory Acts, the Housing Acts, and other great feats of social reform of the past. Nobody will go back on them. But who did them? (‘Hear hear,’ and applause.) Was it Mr. Asquith’s friends or predecessors - (‘No!’) - or was it the party of which we all here are members? (‘Yes.’)
The Real Social Reformers
Go back sixty years, trace the course of ameliorative legislation through all that period, and you will find the stamp of the Unionist party upon every serious effort. You will find that the men who are, in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s view, entangled in the desire to support this or that privilege, this or that class - that these men, these class politicians, are the only ones who have found time, while they were in office, really to carry out the work of social reform, of which the Radical party can present us nothing except perorations. (Laughter.) We passed the Acts; they give us a sort of general survey of British history from which you suppose that everything had been done by them. As a matter of fact, nothing has been done by them - nothing or next to nothing. (Applause.) And why? For a reason given you by the Prime Minister last night, which is only an echo of similar reasons, given by a long line of his distinguished predecessors. The Prime Minister cannot give social reform because he has got to destroy the House of Lords. (Laughter and applause.) I am not travestying his argument. I believe I have quoted him literally. That is exactly what they have always said. The Radical, when he is face to face with a social problem, says, ‘An excellent object, an object to which we may all devote the whole efforts of our great and historic party - (laughter) - but before we do so we must destroy this or that institution. (Hear, hear.) We must carry out this or that political reform, and the welfare of the worker, the happiness of the crowded centres of our great towns, the conditions of industry - they must wait until we have reformed the Constitution and provided the machinery by which we can effectively carry into practice all the great professions with which for fifty years we have tickled the ears of the public.’ (Laughter and ‘Hear, hear.’) My lords and gentlemen, we are a more modest party. We think the machinery provided for us by our ancestors is not inadequate to the task of carrying out social reform. (Hear, hear.) We think that in addition to all that has been done for the housing of the working classes in the great towns, there may yet be remedies found, and that we may be privileged to find them. (Hear, hear.) We think that in addition to all we have done to increase small ownership - (hear, hear) - agricultural and urban, and in addition to all that has been done - and it has all been done by our party - (hear, hear) - in addition to all that, yet more can be done. (Hear, hear.) This idea, that you are going to improve the agricultural position of Great Britain by handing over the management of smallholdings, either to county councils or a bureaucracy in Edinburgh - (laughter) - and by depriving the holders of the stimulus which ownership in every period of history and every part of the world has always given to agricultural progress - we think that wholly and utterly absurd. (Hear, hear.) We think that if the conditions of labour are to be improved, above all if there is to be a great reform of the Poor Laws - (hear, hear) and all causes analogous to relief but outside relief, such as provision for old age - (hear, hear) - that if those are to be carried out it will not be aided by wasting some years in a great political revolution, of which the result is to destroy one of the immemorial elements of the British Constitution. (Hear, hear) We have before us a great task. I asked you at the beginning of my speech now, I am sorry to say, a very long time ago - (‘No!’) - I asked you at the beginning of my speech, whether the Unionist party had or had not that great sense of public obligation and public mission which alone makes it worthwhile organising and reorganising, and spending such efforts as those of which you have all been witnesses today. Can anyone doubt that we have such a mission? We have the great cause of fiscal reform - (cheers) - in all its branches, the revenue branch, the foreign branch, the colonial branch - we have it in all those branches before us to deal with.
The Work before the Party
We have the great cause of social reform, dealing, as I have said, with the condition of the workers, the condition of the livers in urban and rural districts, the increase of small ownership, the complete remodelling of the Poor Law - (cheers) - and the attempt to deal with the mighty problem of the whole. All these we have before us, for we are untrammelled with the necessity of abolishing anything or anybody - (cheers) - except abolishing the present majority in the House of Commons. (Cheers.) Surely, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, that is a prospect which should inspire the heart of every Unionist, should fill him with enthusiasm, should make him equal to any effort, should make him feel that his patriotic task is one worthy of the highest efforts of which he is capable, and all the talents of which God has made him master. (Applause.) May I appeal to you, who come from all the various constituencies in England, to carry to your respective regions the message which I have, however imperfectly, endeavoured to give you? May I appeal to you to fill them with enthusiasm for these great objects of national endeavour, and if, as I doubt not, you fulfil that mission, if you use the enthusiasm which you have shown today, both in the proceedings of this afternoon and this evening, if you use that enthusiasm in propagating the great cause of which we are the guardians, can anybody doubt, can any human being doubt, that the time is not far distant when we shall be able to resume the thread of Imperial Government and social reform, interrupted briefly by a dark episode, but interrupted only to make the original cause shine out more clearly and more resplendently - (applause) - and that many of the annual meetings of this great company will not occur before I, or someone standing in my place, will be able to tell yon that the great task is taken in hand not merely as a matter of theory or speculation, but as the work of a responsible Government, having behind it the confidence of a great people. (Prolonged cheers.)