Jump to content

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Cardiff 1908

Arthur Balfour (Conservative)

Location: Cardiff


When Balfour spoke to the party conference in Cardiff on 19th November, 1908 it was to a party much more confident than it had been the previous year. The Cardiff military played ‘patriotic selections’ to entertain the audience in the Drill-Hall which was brightly decorated, its walls ‘covered with shields and other devices, the names of all the leading men in the Unionist Party being displayed in large letters set in a background of red, white and blue’. With suffragettes advancing their demands with ever more disruptive boldness ‘the order had gone forth that no ladies would be admitted,’ but nevertheless, The Times continued, ‘the proceedings were graced by a party of ladies who occupied places immediately in front of the platform. Among them Lady Plymouth, Lady Samuel and Lady Ninian Crichton-Stuart’. Advancing the charge that the government are merely cynical and ‘a phalanx of sillies’ Balfour began this speech with a discussion of foreign policy. In October 1908 Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, increasing tensions between various of the European powers. For Balfour, the need for Britain to be able to defend itself, along with its colonial interests, highlighted the importance of maintaining an adequate military force. Balfour then develops his main theme – the incoherence of a rush of legislation – applying it to a number of cases. He attacks Liberal policy on education and disestablishment, and then develops an interesting argument against the Licensing Bill (a piece of temperance legislation that would have led to the closure of many drinking establishments). He argues that legislation is neither an appropriate or effective means of affecting moral behaviour, advocating instead society wide persuasion and argument – such advocacy of a rhetorical culture is something this website can easily applaud.

My lords, ladies and gentlemen, your chairman in his introductory remarks has just told you what you all know, that the fortunes of the party are now in a very different position from what they were twelve months ago, still more two years ago. But he has attributed that happy change in our fortunes to such efforts as I and my col­leagues have been able to make to restore the fortunes of a cause, which never, indeed, were lost fortunes, but which for the moment were in abeyance. He has attributed to our efforts the great and revolutionary change which has taken place in the position of the party. I am most grateful to Lord Plymouth for what he has said, and to you for the way in which you have received what he has said, and let me tell you that there are others to whom a larger measure of gratitude is due, and those others are his Majesty’s present Government. (Laughter and cheers.) We have done our best. It may be small indeed, but we have done our best. But what would our efforts have been if we had not been seconded by that admir­able phalanx of sillies who sit opposite to us in the House of Commons, and who in their hunt for votes throughout the country have alienated every section of the population? (Cheers.)

Foreign Affairs

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I shall have to revert to this controversial aspect of the present situation, but before I come to con­troversy let me say on this occasion that I suppose it is my duty to make some refer­ence, at all events, to that which is uppermost in the minds of large sections of the popula­tion. Let me say one word, and it shall only be a word, about foreign affairs. All of us, irrespective of party, have watched, and are still watching, with anxiety the position of matters in Europe. We have abstained in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords from anything in the nature of criticism - indeed from anything in the nature of commentary - upon what the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have done, for we believe that they are carrying on the continuous tradition of Lord Lansdowne and his predecessors - (cheers) - and we are resolved, so far as we are concerned, that nothing that we say and nothing that we do shall weaken the voice of Great Britain in the councils of Europe. (Hear, hear.) Ladies and gentlemen, there have been times in the history of our country when the friendship of friends has been cooled, and the enmity of enemies has been heated to a white heat, by the idea that the party system in Great Britain was weakening the forces of our country, that we could easily be counted for by our enemies, and could offer but a poor assistance to our friends. Such periods have existed, as you all know. They shall not exist if we can help it during the period that we are called upon rather to take the role of critics than to accept the great responsibility of directing and, it may be, initiating foreign policy. (Hear, hear.) Of course, I do not say that we, the Opposi­tion, are going necessarily to abstain from comment or criticism. Such a position could never be taken up. But I do say, and I say it with a deep sense of responsibility, that criticism should be indulged in with great caution on such subjects and that in no case shall we aim at any party advantage to the disadvantage of the national policy of this country. (Applause.) I rejoice to think that foreign affairs are, at all events at the pre­sent time and as far as I can penetrate the future, likely to be entirely outside the sphere of party controversy, and I am glad to think also that the recent statement by the Prime Minister makes it likely that on one great part of the problem of national defence we may rest content that the present Government are likely, and intend to carry out what has been the traditionary policy of successive Governments with regard to the maintenance of the Navy in the state it should be, and there was this, indeed, in my judgment, in a statement by the Prime Minister made a few days ago in the House of Commons, and I understood him to make exactly the same statement in substance as far back as April, I think it was, or March, when we were discussing the Navy Estimates.

Naval Policy

I then understood him to say, as I know now that he intended to say, that we were going to maintain our two-Power standard in the sense in which the two-Power standard has always been understood, namely, the equality of strength with any two other Powers, with the necessary margin. (Applause.) There were those - I never was one of them - but there have been those who thought that when a statement somewhat less precise was made by the Prime Minister six or seven months ago he intended to preserve a loophole for escape. I never thought that, and I know now what I have always believed, that that was not the fact, and I rejoice to think that, however we may differ, perhaps, on other ques­tions connected with Naval policy, upon this fundamental, capital, and all-important point of national safety the Prime Minister of a Radical Government has announced his full adhesion to that policy to which his predecessors and our predecessors have alike professed allegiance. One other point, and one other point only, shall I make in connection with Naval defence. Never forget that a fleet without an army is a fleet robbed of half its virtues. (Applause.) Let no man be so foolish as to dream that we in these two islands can remain safely sheltered from the storms that shake the outside world, protected from every danger by our overwhelming Naval strength. That is a vain and empty dream if the British Empire is to remain an Empire. In the first place it is not a fact that the Navy and the Navy alone can give us adequate home defence. The Navy must be supplemented by an adequate home force, and it is folly to suppose, and no instructed soldier or sailor does suppose, that merely by multiplying your ironclads, but wholly neglecting the problem of military defence, you can flatter yourselves that in all contingences you can sleep safely is your bed. But apart from that - apart from home defence, which I am quite certain has not been taken sufficiently to heart by the general community - apart from home defence, we have got interests so vast in our Colonial and Indian Empire that we cannot ignore the necessity of keep­ing an adequate military force, and I am quite sure if you look back over the century and a half in British history you will see that this country has never yet been disinterested in what is going on on the Continent. (Applause.) The most pacif ic of Ministers, the most reluctant of nations, the most difficult of House of Com­mons have found themselves again and again forced to take part in struggles in which this country, though remotely, were so closely and indissolubly involved that we could not stand aside and see the battle fought out elsewhere without our assistance, except by the sacrifice of the most vital national interests. (Cheers.) Look then to your Army - look then to your Volunteers in their new shape - see that they are made adequate for all that we can reasonably anticipate if they were called upon. To do short of that you will be failing in your first duty as citizens of the Empire. (Cheers.)

The Government’s Programme

I turn, Lord Plymouth, from these general questions, which I am glad to think, at all events for the present, are entirely outside the region of mere party controversy. I turn to subjects upon which the population of these islands is sharply divided, and turn to the legislative programme of the government. (Hear, hear.) The present holders of office have an insatiable appetite for legislation. (Laughter.) They are perpetually bringing in new Bills. They are sometimes withdrawing old Bills. They require, sometimes with notice and sometimes without  notice, sometimes in the possession of oar natural system of debate, more often without any freedom of debate at all, to deal in breathless haste, without intermission and with almost as little thought as the Government themselves give to their own measures, with one strange scheme of legislation after another. I admire this omnivorous appetite. It has something almost of a Gargantuan sublimity about it, but though they have a wonderful appetite for legislation they are rather coarse feeders. (Loud laughter.) They are strangely indifferent to the manner in which these plentiful meals are prepared.


I am almost bewildered by the rapidity of their legislative procedure. I hear by telegram, for instance, tonight, from friends who are unable to be present here, being detained by their Parliamentary duties in London - I hear the Government have withdrawn their Education Bill - (loud cheers) - but they are going to introduce a new one - (laughter) - ­and they are going to ask us to deal with it not later than next Wednesday. (Renewed laughter.) Can we have a finer example of their fertility and their versatility? They have been in office since the end of 1905. The general election was in 1906; we are now in the third quarter of 1908 - not a very long period in the history of a Ministry, but in that period I make out that they have had six different Ministers of Education - (laughter) - three at the head of the office and three subordinates - all changed, and th at these six gentlemen have had in charge no less than three Bills, all of which have been either dropped or withdrawn, and that those three Bills are now to be succeeded by a fourth. That is surely the most amazing legislative performance which we have ever seen in the whole history of this country. (Hear, hear.) What the new Bill is to contain, of course, we do not as yet know. I daresay it will be an improvement on its predecessor. It could hardly be worse - (‘Hear, hear,’ and laugh­ter) - and I am sure the Opposition will give it, as we always give every proposal by a responsible Government - (laughter) - a consi­deration which is respectful, or, at least, as respectful as it deserves. (‘Hear, hear,’ and laughter.) I do not comment further upon legislation of which we shall know more, I suppose, on Saturday - (laughter) - and still more on Wednesday, but of which we know nothing at present. I do not need to comment on that, and I shall come to measures of which we do know something.


As regards the future, as regards next session, I do not profess to have loaded my memory with all the pledges that the Government have given as to the manner in which next session is to be occupied, but at all events, we know one thing, that, so far as Wales is concerned, there is to be a Bill for severing the ancient Church of this country - (‘Shame!’) - for dividing it from the other portions of the Established Church, and for depriving it of its property. (Voice: ‘No, never,’ and applause.) I need not say that to that measure, when it comes forward, we shall give again as we have given before, the most strenuous opposition - (loud applause) - and I venture before its introduction to make this appeal to those who, though not members of the Church of England, do not blind their eyes to the great work which the National Church has done and is doing, both in Wales and elsewhere. Now, remember this is a Government which is always talking about social reform. They have not got time to give us to discuss their social reforms, which always have to be got through under excep­tional measures of closure, but of the time which is still given them before the nation calls them to account they are going to spend deliberately a large fraction next session in carrying out a measure which I venture to say no man not actually blinded by reli­gions and partisan bigotry can regard as anything else but a social crime. (Applause.) I would ask - if my voice can reach them - I would ask those Nonconformists, the great­ness of whose work I should be the last to deny, whether that work is carried out in England or in Wales - I would ask them whether they think the cause of humanity, of morality, of religion, of social reform, or any of the great causes to which our opponents make such glib appeal on the platform, and for which they do so little off the platform - I would ask them whether they think that any of these great causes is going to be served by depriving of its property and severing and cutting in half a Church which most undoubtedly shows, by every symptom that a Church could have, that it is a living, vital force working for all that is best in humanity? (Applause.) It is not only folly, but it is worse than folly, to suppose that you are doing anything to advance the fortunes of a party by such a policy, and, if I may venture to make a suggestion - a purely wire-pulling suggestion - to my politi­cal opponents, it is that they will find that they will get as few votes by this particular procedure as they have by any other expedients to which they have had resource in order to stem the flowing tide which is gradually sweeping them to destruction. (Applause.) Further, ladies and gentlemen, this Bill is in the future, and though the future is not apparently very remote, it is possible that there may be accidents - (laughter) - even before that future arrives.

Licensing Injustice

I turn, therefore, to the present - (hear, hear) - and one final word upon that Licens­ing Bill - (cheers) - which has occupied so much of our time during the last six weeks, which will, I suppose, be read a third time tomorrow in the House of Commons, then go up to the House of Lords. Now, I do not mean in the few final remarks that I shall make on this Bill to dwell at length upon the gross and scandalous injustice­ - (hear, hear) - which I think it does to a very large section of our countrymen, neither do I wish to dwell upon the corollary issue, namely, the general discredit - the general effect upon confidence in this country, that is, after all, the basis of commercial prosperity, the very life-blood of commercial enterprise. I wish in these valedictory remarks - (laughter and cheers) - to touch more particularly upon its aspect as a measure of social reform. And I do this because I am well aware that there are many persons, for whom I have the pro­foundest respect, in the community who, while not blind to the weaknesses or even the injustices of this measure, are, never­theless, not prepared to treat as I think it deserves to be treated, what they regard as a great step forward in the cause of temperance. Now, if I thought that this was a great step forward in the cause of temperance, it would not alter my views as to its injustice - (cheers) - nor as to the iniquity of passing it in its present shape. But should say if the public - the great British public - believes really that the cause of temperance is going to be greatly advanced by these restrictions upon licence­-holders, let them by all means pay a fair price to the license-holders - (cheers) - and then carry out what they believe to be a great instrument of moral regeneration. (Cheers.) I am very sorry to say that I have listened to these debates, going on day after day and night after night, and I am more than ever convinced that persons who call themselves temperance reformers are some­times only teetotal fanatics, and I am more than ever convinced that with the best intentions they are working on the wrong lines. (Cheers.)

Legislative Restriction

I don’t believe that by this simple method of restriction you are really going to change the morals and habits of the people, and it is only by changing their morals and habits that you are going to make a reform worth having, and if you ask me whether I have any evidence for that opinion I would make two answers. The first is that nobody has been able in the course of all these debates to show that where a policy of restriction is carried to its logical consequence, and where such a policy becomes a policy of prohibition, you have done anything except add the immorality of breaking the law of the land to the immorality of exceed­ing the use of strong drink. (Cheers.) Never. No evidence whatever has been pro­duced to show that real reform has resulted from legislative restriction. And why should it? Why should it? Is it on legislation that the moral reformers, the religious reformers, the clergy, rely when they are dealing with any other topic connected with the advance of human morality? They rely upon persua­sion, upon argument, upon the growth of better feeling, of that gradual progress and improvement of the whole social environment which gradually makes that which is not a legal crime a social disgrace - (hear, hear) - and which does produce a general change in the disposition of the community which we may truly call a solidly based reform, not depending upon an Act of Parliament - not depending upon police interference or the infliction of fines, but depending upon those subtle - great and subtle - changes which are the true cause and index of social progress, and on which, for my own part, I rely so greatly for the future improvement of the community in this as in all other moral and ethical respects. (Cheers.)

Position of the Clubs

I have a much stronger argument than that. I have the argument drawn from the Bill itself. The Bill and the framers of the Bill seem to suppose, or go on the assumption, that if you restrict the opportunities for drinking in licensed premises you are going to produce a change in the habits of the people. If that is their view, if restriction be genuinely their creed, then why have they not touched the off-licences, and why have they not touched the clubs? (Cheers.) Is it not folly, verging on hypocrisy? (Hear, hear.) Is it not folly verging on hypocrisy to say that you are going to improve the whole habits of the people by preventing them consuming alcohol under police restrictions and supervision, while you do not touch their opportunities in the smallest degree for obtaining as much alcohol as they like by those two other channels, the holder of the off-licences and the club, which this Bill does practically nothing to touch at all. I never can believe that any man can regard this Bill as a great step in advancing the morality of the country unless he is either ignorant of the provisions of the Bill, or so extra­ordinarily incapable of seeing that you must have a coherent and consistent system of restriction - I never can see that he can be a sincere believer in his own creed when he does not touch either the clubs or the off-licences. (Hear, hear.) I don’t believe you can touch either the clubs or the off-licences in any effectual way. I don’t think you ought to. (Applause.) I don’t believe in any restrictions carried out in the way this Government appear to think they are going to carry great social reforms. (Applause.) But, then, at all events, I am consistent. I don’t wish to carry the restriction of clubs further than it was car­ried in our Act of 1902. (A Voice: ‘1904.’) No, in our Act of 1902. I don’t wish to restrict licences beyond what was carried out in the Act of 1904. But, then, I am consistent. But what are you to say of people who describe us who oppose the Bill as slaves prepared to sacrifice the morals of the community for a temporary political advan­tage? What are we to say about people who indulge in this kind of criticism and have not the courage and consistency to carry out their own doctrine to its logical conclu­sion, but leave the working classes, whom they wish to reform, no opportunity for getting alcohol in one direction, whilst they give them every opportunity to get it in another? It is folly, I consider, and immoral folly. I confess when I hear excellent people describe themselves as advocates of some higher mode of political thought than we, poor politicians, are able to arrive at, and I see them contentedly acquiescing in such illogical and inconsis­tent courses, I despair of social reform if committed to such hands as these.

The House of Lords

I need not say that the views I have been expressing are not the views of the Government. (Laughter.) Mr. Birrell, the Irish Secretary, in particular made a most un­measured attack on the House of Lords for what he supposed the House of Lords were going to do when this Bill went up to them. I couldn’t help comparing the free flowing invective in which Mr. Birrell indulged when he was attacking the House of Lords with the carefully weighed and measured judgements which he passes upon Irish law breakers. (Laughter and applause.) If he would use among those who boycott their neighbours, who tyrannise over whole dis­tricts in the West of Ireland, who drive their neighbours’ cattle, who occupy their neighbours’ lands - if he would use the same vigour and invective against them, and follow it up - (laughter) - if he would use the same invective against them as he uses against the House of Lords, well, then, gentlemen. I shouldn’t take so dark a view as I do at present of the government of Ireland. (Ap­plause.) But after all have the House of Lords so much to fear? (‘No, no,’ and laughter.) I daresay you have forgotten what I had almost forgotten, which is a resolution against the House of Lords - (laughter) - proposed, I think, only a year and a half ago - in June of last year - debated three nights in the House of Commons, and in which all the heavy Radical artillery was brought to bear upon the Second Chamber. I had almost for­gotten it - (laughter and applause) - they have almost forgotten it - (renewed laughter and applause) - and I am quite confident that the country does not retain a shred of recol­lection of it. And, indeed, isn’t it a myth? These gentlemen have been filling up the cup for two and a half years or thereabouts, with the only result that the more full the cup the more the country likes the House of Lords. The fact is that the more the cup is filled the country say that the irresponsible and here­ditary chamber is perfectly right. (Applause.) And all this bluster on the part of Mr. Birrell and his friends is really completely out of date. It may have suited the note - ­harmonised with the general picture - when the Government came in with their 300-odd majority and Chinese labour - (laughter) but I can assure them that it is totally out of perspective now. (Hear, hear.) It offends my artistic sense. (Loud laughter.) And they really ought not to repeat these ancient fragments of vituperative rhetoric the next time they come in with a majority of 300. (Laughter and ‘Hear, hear.’) But I think the House of Lords, in spite of Mr. Birrell’s thunder - (laughter) - is per­fectly safe. (Cheers.) I think them as safe - and I don’t know that I can find a more expressive metaphor - as safe as if they were cattle-drivers in Cork. (Loud laughter and applause.)

Fiscal Reform

An abstract resolution against the House of Lords is not, however, the only abstract resolution out of which I have derived much private enjoyment during the last two or three years. I remember another brought in most gratuitously, finished most tyrannically, and that was an abstract resolution to which the Government devoted two or three days in their first session, and in which they made this House of Commons express its unalterable determination to maintain the cause of Free Trade. I remember asking some questions at the time as to what exactly they meant by this strange declaration of policy, which could not bind their successor, could not bind the next Parliament, and, as a matter of fact, was not bound by this Parliament. I got no answer, or, at all events, the only answer which comes most readily to the lips of the present Government - I get only the answer of the closure being moved. But I thought at the time, and my anticipations have not been disappointed, that the mere progress of events would supply the best commentary on this eccentric Parliamentary performance­ - (laughter) - and I have not been disappointed.

Shipping and Sugar

I just ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to con­sider for one moment the two measures which the Government in their two and a half years of office have brought in and carried. The one relates, and I dare say gentlemen in Cardiff are well acquainted with its provisions - one deals with the pro­vision of all the restrictions affecting British shipping to foreign shipping which use our ports. As you all know, we do not allow British ships to go to sea except with certain regulations as to load-line, and all the rest, intended for the safety of our sailors - most proper regulations - (hear, hear) - but which, of course, necessarily involve - rightly in­volve, but necessarily involve - more cost to the ship-owner. We have no power to inflict these regulations upon foreigners. All we can do is to do what we have done, and I think quite rightly done, which is to say that if the foreigner chooses to use our ports he must submit to our - to similar regulations - (hear, hear) - an excellent system. But how, I ask, is it to be reconciled with that par­ticular profession of regard for the consumer which is the fundamentally economic doc­trine by which the present Government pro­fess to direct all their legislative and fiscal efforts? After all, their theory when they are dealing with sugar - their theory is ­– all you have got to do is to consider the interests of the community qua consumer, and the interest of the community qua producer will look after themselves. That is their theory, and that really is the so-called Free Trade theory. Then why don’t they act upon it? The consumer, that is to say the man who wishes to have his freights as low as possible, would, of course, like to use the ships where the cost of freight is not raised by any regulations - the foreigner, in fact - and that is exactly what the present Government have said about sugar. They say, ‘Why not welcome dumped sugar into this country? Quite true, it might not be permanent, and it might ruin your West Indian sugar industry.’ But it might be all that so long as the foreigner is fool enough to dump sugar onto our shore under cost price. I say that is utterly abandoned when you are dealing with this shipping question. Is it not to protect the interests of the ship-owner, to safe­guard the interests of the British ship-owner against the foreigner that this has been done? Is it not to prevent unfair competition - the cardinal doctrine of our political and fiscal faith? (Hear, hear.) Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the cardinal doctrine of our fiscal faith. How about the Government’s fiscal faith? I thought they did not consider the producer at all; that unfair competition provided it ended in giving it cheaper to everybody, was a thing not only you are to tolerate, but which you ought to tolerate - the foolish and idiotic doctrine which they themselves had to abandon when they were dealing with the shipping industry. Of course, you may say - or some apologists of the Government may say - I don’t know whether they have said it or not - that it was not to please the shipping interest, the owners of ships, and the British sailors, but to protect the foreign sailors, that they have done this - that it was in the interest of a widespread humanity that they require foreign ships to conform with our doctrine of the load-line. Well, if that is their theory, how far is it going to carry us? I suppose then it would be their duty, and it would be their successors’ duty, to consider with regard to Protection whether the goods that compete with our labour were produced by sweated labour or underpaid labour, or labour under improper and unhealthy con­ditions. Are the Government going to say that is their doctrine? If that is their doc­trine, how is it consistent with the only theory of Free Trade, which, as I have been able to understand, they have announced and perfected as it could be done, by the abstract resolution passed in 1806.

The Unemployed

And the same extraordinary inconsistency makes itself perfectly patent when they come to the question of the unemployed. Remember the Free Trade theory as they have been in the habit of expounding it is this, that if you look after the consumer, if you devote all your efforts to getting goods at the lowest price in the British market, that is the best way to obtain employment for the British working men. (‘No.’) That is their theory. Then I don’t understand, if that is their theory, how they justify spend­ing vast sums of money out of the rates in order to deal with the unemployed, and make them do things which are either of very little use or which certainly would not be regarded as worth making if it wasn’t that they desire to give employment. Then where does the consumer theory come in? I have never been able to bring together the two halves of the doctrine of the present Govern­ment - I have never been able to make their economical theory of the consumer fit in with the practical theory of how to deal with the unemployed. After all, the extremist Protectionist only desires to see men in their own country doing work for which they are fitted - (applause) - and producing goods somebody wants. (Hear, hear.) Is it any important advantage on the extremest view of Protection to pay out of the rates for that which they are not fitted to produce and which nobody wants, and if you are going to say that the State in its public dealings is never to con­sider the interests of the producer - if, in other words, you regard the community as consumers and absolutely ignore the inte­rests of the producers, how then can you consistently give artificial contribution for the sake of the producer under conditions which make production profitably utterly im­possible, which prevent them doing that for which they are fitted, compelling then to do something nobody wants at a price so much that the State has to come to the assistance and to pay the difference between the value of the article and the cost of procuring it? (Applause.) I confess I have been surprised when we hear from the present Government all these ancient orthodoxies. (Loud laughter and applause.) They were quite ready to throw them in our face when it suited their interest to do so, but whenever the practical necessity faced them they, as practical men, abandoned all these theories and accepted the very doctrine of regarding the producer quite as well worth looking after as the consumer and the doctrine of protecting against illegitimate competition those who were engaged in production within our own shores. (Hear, hear.)

Looking Backward

Now, in the light of these events, is not everything which the National Union decided upon just this time a year ago at Birmingham - (hear, hear) - amply justified? (Hear, hear.) Look back upon the doctrines which you then endorsed by universal acceptance. Look back upon the views that were expressed with regard to the necessities of revenue, to the arrangements with our Colonies, and to the safeguarding against illegitimate competition of our own indus­tries. (Hear, hear.) Look back upon these three cardinal points, and ask yourselves whether everything that has occurred since November 1907 has received farther endorsement by November 1908. (Cheers.) In 1907 the whole party represented here to­night at Birmingham gave its unqualified adhesion to those principles of fiscal reform - (cheers) - which I ventured in their name to enunciate. I am convinced that the twelve months which have elapsed since that date have induced such doubters in our ranks as there were to modify, if not wholly to abandon, any objections they may once have had to that view, and that month after month, as the policy of the present Govern­ment develops, and as the necessities of the situation make themselves felt more and more, it becomes clear to friends and to foes alike, to the sympathiser in our Colonies, to the alarmed spectator among our commercial friends elsewhere, that fiscal reform is no remote ideal - (cheers) - is no distant prospect of which men scarcely dare to dream, no far-off landscape which only shows itself dimly upon the vanishing hori­zon, but all the movement, all the thought, all the political forces, all the trend of economic speculation are alike driving us to this great change in our system - (‘Hear, hear’ and cheers) - and that most surely, if political controversy be worth anything, most surely the time is not far distant - is, indeed, within the gaze, within the reach of vision of all the great audience I am now addressing - the time, I say, is coming when that great policy will be translated from the ardent hope into practical reality - (cheers) - and from the very furthest corners of the British Empire, the very heart of that Empire in this great country the effects will be seen in a closer knitting of our Imperial bonds -(hear, hear) - in the steadying of the whole industrial machine, to the mitigation of the ever-present problem of unemploy­ment - (hear, hear) - in the safeguarding of great interests against that combination of increasing industrial efficiency backed by the use - I was going to say unscrupulous, but at all events, the unregarding use - of hostile tariffs by every other commercial country in the world - the time, I say, will come when all these great problems will receive if not a complete solution - what problems receive a complete solution, how­ever you manage your affairs? - it will receive a solution - an approach to a solution by the rational, reasonable rearrange­ment of our fiscal system, rendered necessary in any case by the wild financial policy of the present Government - (hear, hear) - which, quite apart from that, has justifica­tions which, in my judgment, must appeal, in the first place, to every economist; in the second place, to every man who has realised the truth that you cannot look at a great industrial community merely as people who consume, and not as people who produce; and, in the third place, to every man who realises that the British Empire depends for its pre-eminence, its power, and its existence upon the encouragement of those common sentiments of citizenship which cannot have their base and root in a centralised Govern­ment, but which may, nevertheless, flourish perennially, usefully, and fruitfully if only we use every method by which every race, wherever they may be planted, may look to this country, not merely as the head of the Empire, but as a collaborator in the great work of industrial production. (Applause.) We have not concealed our convic­tions on this point. Has the country made no response? (Cries of ‘Yes,’ and cheers.) I tell you that every man on the other side, however loudly he may have talked of his fiscal views two years ago, now knows, in his heart, that the moment of change is approaching, that the first breath of a new era is making itself felt, that the dawn of a new day is visible above the horizon, and that when - and it will not be long  - the great party represented in this room is called upon to resume its duties and to carry out a constructive policy, they will be able, they will set themselves to the task of carrying out these doctrines into practical shape, they will have had a mission given them by their fellow countrymen (applause) - and whatever be the difficulties of the task, they will neither shrink from it nor fail in it. (Loud and prolonged cheers, during which Mr. Balfour resumed his seat.)

Back to top

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