Leader's speech, Leeds 1911
Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative)
Commentary:This speech was Bonar Law’s first as Party Leader. He condemned the government’s policies on Welsh disestablishment and Home Rule for Ireland, and its failure to implement its reforms of the House of Lords. The latter had resulted in the suspension of the Constitution, and Bonar Law questioned whether legislation on Home Rule should be carried in these circumstances. He also spoke about tariff reform, which - together with changes to Britain’s fiscal system - would raise the level of wages and ultimately reduce unemployment.
Mr. Chairman, my Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, I thank you from my heart for the warmth of this reception, but if I am to proceed I shall not speak of it; I shall try not to think of it. I have in my time made many political speeches, but never have I felt so much need of the indulgence of my audience, and never have I been so certain that I should receive it. (Hear, hear and cheers.) My first duty is to express on my own behalf - after the resolution which has been read it is unnecessary to express it on yours - my deep regret at the retirement of the chief who has led us so long. I have always felt, and I feel now, an admiration, not only for the towering intellect - the adjective is none too strong - but for the character of Mr. Balfour which it is impossible for me to exaggerate. (Hear, hear.) No truer words were ever said of any man than the words used the other day by Sir Oliver Lodge about him. I shall read the exact words:
Other men, he said could lead a party, but not every one could take the wide survey of human knowledge, or bring to profound questions the trained intelligence, the critical acumen, and the comprehensive grasp of Mr. Balfour.
I see it has been suggested in the Radical Press that the message sent to Mr. Balfour by the Unionist members, though sufficiently cordial, contained no invitation to return. Let there be no misunderstanding, ladies and gentlemen. The leaders of the party knew with absolute certainty that he could not reconsider his decision, and that was the reason, and the sole reason, why we did not urge our old leader to return to his old position. (Cheers.) I see also that the kindly suggestion has been made that when Mr. Balfour returns to the House of Commons, and asserts again, as he will assert, his old supremacy over the Assembly which he has dominated so long, it will be awkward for me. (Laughter and cheers.) Don’t imagine that such a thought ever enters my mind. (Hear, hear.) Whatever my weaknesses, jealousy is not one of them. (Cheers.) And jealousy on my part towards Mr. Balfour would be ridiculous.
There is no one who rejoices more than I in the thought that in the coming struggle for the unity of our country we shall have at our side the man who last led us to victory in the same fight, and who will, I believe, play no small part in securing the victory which will again be ours. (Cheers.) Next to Mr. Balfour, I should like to say that I have seen Lord Lansdowne, the leader of our party in the House of Lords, and I can assure you that no one will work with him more heartily or more willingly for the success of the cause for which we are responsible than I shall do in the future. (Cheers.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure your attention has been called to it before, and I feel bound to call your attention to it again.
In the whole personal history of the Conservative Party, or indeed in any party, there is nothing of which we have more reason to feel proud than the spirit of self-sacrifice - (hear, hear) - which was shown by Mr. Austen Chamberlain (cheers) - who, as you know from the letter which you have just heard read, would have been with us tonight had he not been fighting our battle elsewhere, and by Mr. Walter Long - (cheers) - who is beside me now. As soon as the proposed solution of the leadership was mentioned to me, I at once saw both of those gentlemen. They received me with a generosity which I shall never forget. I should never have undertaken the duties of my new position if I had not known, as I do know, that they had made the proposal not only in the interests of the party, but with a feeling of goodwill and of personal friendship towards myself - (cheers) - personal friendship which I am sure will last as long as we live. (Hear, hear.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have been received in the same way by all my colleagues on the Front Bench. I cannot mention them all. But I should like to say that from no one have I received a more whole-hearted promise of support than from Sir Edward Carson - (cheers) - and from no one do I value it more. (Hear, hear.)
Now, ladies and gentlemen, one word more only on this personal aspect. When I returned to the House of Commons in my new position I received a welcome from our old friends which, when in time difficulties arise, as they will arise, will always be in my mind to call to my recollection how sincere their welcome was towards me. I received also a welcome from my political opponents which touched me. (Hear, hear.) It is not to their interests that our leadership should be effective, and to any one who does not know the House of Commons their welcome might not have seemed a good omen for my success. (Laughter.)
I have been long enough a member to know how generous are the instincts of the House of Commons - (hear, hear) - and I was not discouraged. The Radical Press, too, has treated me on the whole not ungenerously. But I have had my attention called to some passages not entirely friendly, and I read them with pleasure. (Laughter.) They have also given me some advice. I am, I think, by nature tolerant of differences of opinion, and I have always believed, and believe now, that it is possible to dislike, even to detest, opinions, whilst still respecting the man who honestly holds those opinions.
It is with reference to that subject that the advice was given. It was that in the House of Commons in the future I should not be so rude - (laughter) - as I have been in the past. It is possibly good advice, and I shall at least remember it. (Laughter.) But in the severe, and, I am afraid, bitter fight which lies before us - a fight for everything which we hold dear - (cheers) - I have really no hope of acting in such a way as to satisfy the giver of that advice.
First Duty of the Party
I said at the outset that I needed your indulgence. In any case under the circumstances in which we are met here tonight I could not expect to cover the whole field of current political controversy, but I have more than that to say. If anyone supposes that because there has been a change in the leader in the House of Commons there is going to be a new programme he will be disappointed. I do not believe in elaborate, still less in varying programmes. Our opponents tried it. During their period of opposition they had a new programme for every new year. (Laughter.) It was not very successful. Do not let us imitate them.
If I can be of any service to the party it will be simply by urging that party to move straightforward without haste, but without rest, to the goal which lies before it. (Loud cheers.) The goal is in the first place to get rid of the present Government - (hear, hear, and laughter) - which from the beginning has been a danger to our country - (hear, hear) - and which now is tearing down the destructive path with ever-increasing rapidity.
When that is accomplished it will be our duty to face the new problems which new conditions and a new age have brought by new, but by Conservative methods. (Hear, hear.) No Government of which I or my colleagues on this platform are members would ever be a Government purely of reaction. It is quite possible, and I think it probable, that without regard to our merits or demerits if we give the Government a little more rope we may step into their place. (Laughter and cheers.)
Under such circumstances there would be a temptation to form a Government simply of resistance, but what would be the result? It would be like building a dam against which the waters would pile themselves in ever-increasing volume. Sooner or later that dam would burst, and the floods would flow with irresistible force, carrying ruin and devastation throughout the land. That is not what we propose. It was once said by Burke, ‘The desire to preserve and the ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.’ (Hear, hear.) If ever our countrymen entrust us with power it is in the spirit of those words that we shall undertake that trust. (Cheers.)
Now, ladies and gentlemen, the first of the destructive proposals of the Government to which I shall refer is their determination to destroy the Church of England in Wales. (Hear, hear.) That proposal we shall resist to the utmost of our power. (Cheers.) It is a proposal which has, in my judgment, nothing to justify it - (hear, hear) - which has nothing even to explain it, except prejudice and bigotry. (Cheers.) We have had in Scotland an experience of what disendowment means, which, while familiar to me, is probably new to you.
There was a Church there called the Free Church of Scotland, which was founded in support of the principle of the State establishment of religion. A few years ago that Church joined with a voluntary Church in Scotland. After the union the courts of law decided that the resources belonged to the small minority which still adhered to the old principle. And what happened? It was felt by every one that if that decision held, a great institution which was doing a great work in Scotland would be crippled.
And the British Government, and a Conservative Government - I am proud to have been a member of it - a Conservative Government actually passed through an Act to return to the majority the share of the funds which had legally been taken from it. Now, there is an analogy. Parliament in that case intervened to prevent the weakening of a great Church by depriving it of its resources; Parliament is asked now to intervene for the very reverse purpose - to deprive a great Church of the resources of which it stands in absolute need. (Cheers.)
Ladies and gentlemen, in an age of materialism, and, as I believe, in an age of growing materialism, when any of my friends, for instance, who live in London, or any of you who visit London, if you choose to go to Hyde Park, will find many orators - always with good voices - (laughter) - advocating many causes, but you will find always that the advocate who has the largest audience is he who proclaims that there is no God. In such an age I cannot understand how any Christian, to whatever denomination he belongs - how any man can desire to weaken, if not destroy, a Church - (hear, hear) - which has undoubtedly been doing a great work, and doing it with ever-increasing efficiency - a work not only in the interests of Christianity, but in the interests of humanity. (Cheers.)
A Move in the Home Rule Game
The next subject to which I shall turn is the question of Home Rule, with which is connected a constitutional question; for, so far as the present Government have dealt with the Constitutional question, they have dealt with it simply as a move in the Home Rule game. (Hear, hear.) The keynote of the policy of the present Government, since the January election a year ago, has been not merely that they are dependent upon, but that they are absolutely dominated by a small faction in the House of Commons, and a faction which, small as it is, is far larger than it ought to be in comparison. (Cheers.)
It is due to that domination that now - at this hour, probably - the Insurance Bill, which affects the vital interests of almost every man, woman, and child in this country, is passing mechanically through the House of Commons without discussion, without the possibility of those whose interests are affected having the opportunity of having their objections, even considered. (Hear, hear.)
The vital interests, the most direct and personal interests of the whole population of these islands, are being sacrificed today. Why? In order to clear the line for the Home Rule express. (Hear, hear and ‘Shame.’) It is also due, I believe, to the necessity under which the Government felt of retaining the Irish vote at all costs. It is due to that, and, in my belief, to that alone, that the Conference last year was not carried to a successful issue. (Hear, hear.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, it may be said - it has been said to me in the House of Commons – ‘You are pretty Unionists to discriminate between members of the House because they come from different parts of the United Kingdom.’
That sounds plausible, but its plausibility disappears the moment you examine it. If Irish members judged British questions and voted on British questions on their merits they would have as much right as anyone else to let their influence be felt on British questions. They do nothing of the kind. (Hear, hear.) They do not pretend to do anything of the kind. (Hear, hear.) I myself heard the leader of the Nationalist party in the House of Commons say practically this - I have his exact words in my pocket if anybody wants to hear them - (laughter) - that neither he nor his friends knew anything or cared anything about British political questions.
Mr. Asquith in Other Days
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that is all very well for them, but what about us? If they know nothing and care nothing about British politics then it is utterly intolerable that they should dominate British politics (Loud cheers.) The views which I have just expressed were once held by the Prime Minister - (laughter) - not many years ago when he was in opposition, when his mind was less biased, when he was free to consider it on its merits. (Laughter and cheers.) He said the Liberal party ought never to assume the responsibility of office except with an independent majority. He does not say that now. (Laughter.) Why? Because he has yielded to the temptation which Mr. Gladstone foresaw - (hear, hear.) - the most insidious temptation which can come in the way (under our political system) to any statesman - the temptation of sacrificing his own judgment, and, unconsciously, I am sure, but not less really, sacrificing not only his own judgment but sacrificing the interest of his country - (hear, hear) - not for his own sake - Mr. Asquith would not do that - but for the sake of the interests of the party of which he is a member. (Cheers.)
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are living today under a provisional Constitution. That is admitted. The Prime Minister said a week or two ago that in due course - whatever that may mean - (laughter) - they will establish a proper Second Chamber. Well, they tell us that at the last election they received a mandate for the Parliament Bill. But the Parliament Bill had two proposals, one to adjust the relations between the two houses, the other to reform the Second Chamber. If they had a mandate for the one they had equally a mandate for the other. (Hear, hear.) They have done the one – they have left the other undone.
Now, look at this from the plain, common-sense, business standpoint to which our Chairmen has referred. Everyone knows that nothing can be worse for trade and industry than political uncertainty. (Hear, hear.) The Government have these two great changes, two great reforms, as they call them, to make. Surely, common sense should have taught them that they should be made together - that they should at least arrive at a settlement which has some possibility of permanence. No Government, surely - not even the present Government - is so much in love with revolution for its own sake that when they have the choice they deliberately prefer two revolutions rather than one.
Why the Constitution was Suspended
Why have they adopted this course? They have given one explanation; they have all given one explanation only. They say - I am sure we in the House of Commons have all heard it a dozen times - there is no use passing a Bill to reform the House of Lords which the House of Lords would have rejected; we must have power of retaliation, negotiating powers - phrases which we have heard before - (laughter) - in order to carry through our reform of the House of Lords. Now examine that explanation. By what means did they carry one half of their proposals through the House of Lords? They carried them by what Mr. Balfour described in words which were not too strong, ‘a felon stroke’ - (cheers) - by a gross outrage not only on the spirit, but, as I believe, on the letter of our Constitution. (Cheers.)
Does anyone doubt that the same means which enabled them to pass half their proposals world not have enabled them to pass the whole of them? Dees anyone doubt that it would not have been less of a constitutional outrage, less of a breach with the past to have reformed than to have destroyed the House of Lords? (Hear, hear.) That is not an explanation, it is an excuse. (Hear, hear.) The explanation is very different, and we all know it. The head of the Government gave them no alternative.
Mr. Redmond knows just as well as Mr. Asquith knows that if Home Rule were submitted to the people of this country as a clear issue, the same answer would be returned in the same decisive way in which it has been given twice before. (Cheers.) Mr. Redmond knows also, just as Mr. Asquith knows, that if we had an effective Second Chamber, no matter how it was constituted, however democratic it might be, if there were an effective Chamber of any kind, a great change like this would not be permitted to pass until there was clear proof that the people of this country desired it. (Hear, hear.)
That is why our Constitution is suspended. We know now what due course means. Due course may arrive after Home Rule is carried. They may perhaps be quite willing after the steed has fled, carefully to lock the stable door. I am not going tonight into the general argument on the subject of Home Rule. I wish to impress upon you one aspect of that question, and one only, and that is whether it is right to carry a great change like this while our Constitution is in suspense, and while it is at least doubtful whether the majority of the people of this country desire the change. (Hear, hear.)
That it is doubtful ought to be conceded, even if we admit for the sake of argument the claim of the Government that they received a mandate for Home Rule at the last election - a claim which I utterly repudiate - (cheers) - even if we admitted it, there would still be doubt. Mr. Gladstone fought the election of 1892 on Home Rule. He told us the Bill of 1886 was dead, but declined to tell us what was going to take its place. He won the election, but his proposals had then to be defined. They were discussed. They were submitted to the country, and in spite of his victory on the words Home Rule, they were defeated by an overwhelming majority. (Cheers.)
Can anyone pretend that the same thing might not happen now? Can anyone maintain that on a vital question like this the people of this country have not the right to decide not on frail, but clear and definite proposals? Now, Mr. Chairman, the sole ground, so far as I can understand, on which Home Rule is justified is the nationality of Ireland, but people do not become a nation because they happen to live in the same island. If there is one nation in Ireland there are two nations in Ireland - (cheers) - two nations separated from each other far more acutely than either of them is separated from the people of Great Britain. We do not suggest that the minority should dominate the majority.
‘An Intolerable Curse’
No! But we say it is equally unjust that a majority, because it is in Ireland, should dominate a minority because it is also in Ireland. They are both - majority and minority alike - not only inhabitants of Ireland, but citizens of the United Kingdom. (Hear, hear.) And both can rely on obtaining justice in a way in which neither perhaps can rely on receiving it from the other - from the British House of Commons, in which both are represented. (Cheers.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, to one of these sections Home Rule comes perhaps as a boon. To the other it comes not merely as a grievance, but as an intolerable curse. (Hear, hear.)
They may be quite wrong. The Nationalists may be the most tolerant people who ever existed in the world - (laughter) - and to judge by Mr. Redmond’s speeches now - he has not always spoken quite in the same way - but to judge by his speeches now, the whole characteristic of himself and of those whom he represents, their one burning ambition is when they are smitten on one cheek to turn the other to the smiter. (Laughter.) That may be their characteristic, but the minority don’t think so. (Laughter and hear, hear.) And what is that minority? It is important from the point of view even of numbers, for it comprises at least a quarter, more than a quarter, of the whole population of Ireland. It is far more important from every other point of view, and its power and its real weight is enormously increased by the way in which that minority is concentrated.
Well, these people, not accepting strictly and literally Mr. Redmond’s present declaration, have declared that under existing conditions they will not submit to such a government. Their moral force in taking up that attitude is increased to an extent which is simply incalculable by the fact that they will say, and that they will be entitled to say, that this intolerable tyranny, as they regard it, is being forced upon them against the will of the majority of their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom. (Cheers.) Now, I said in one of the debates in the House of Commons, and I venture to repeat it here, that in my belief, the Government, under Irish domination, have not only destroyed our Constitution, but they are putting in danger our whole system of representative government.
On what does that representative government rest? It rests on a convention, and nothing more. It rests on the convention that a majority at any given time represents the balance of forces in the country. But majorities are not always stronger than minorities, and that convention can only continue to be respected so long as the majority uses its powers with moderation - (hear, hear) - and with a due regard to the convictions and the strength of those to whom they are opposed. (Hear, hear.) It cannot continue if a majority - and a small majority - tries to ride rough-shod over the minority. (Hear, hear.) If the Government, therefore, really try to carry out - I think they are beginning to realise its difficulties - if they really try to carry out the programme which they have so light-heartedly sketched, then in my belief - and this will be my last word to you on this subject - in my belief they will strain our Parliamentary institutions to the breaking-point. (Loud cheers.)
Social Condition of the People
I should like to speak to you now, with your permission - (a Voice: ‘Go on!’) - on the social condition of the people of this country, with special reference to Tariff Reform. (Loud and prolonged cheers.) Each kind of government has its own kind of dangers. In the old days of despotic rule, one of the greatest enemies of the people was the King’s friend, who played upon the weaknesses of his Sovereign for his own advantage. Under new conditions the same evil appears in a new form. The King’s flatterers have become the flatterers of the mob - (hear, hear) - for under democratic institutions in every age and in every country the greatest enemy of the democracy has always been the demagogue. (Cheers.) How easy it is to make eloquent or at least rhetorical speeches based on the glaring anomalies, the glaring contrasts, between the luxuries of the rich and the hardships of the poor. (Hear, hear.) How easy it is, and how successfully it has been done - (laughter) - to represent the political conflict in which we have been recently engaged as a struggle between Peers and people. How easy it is to represent us as the party of privilege and class, and as the party of the rich. We are not, ladies and gentlemen, the party of privilege. It is our aim, as it was the aim of Disraeli throughout his long life - (cheers) - to be the party not of a class, but a party of the nation. We realise as strongly as any man that the greatness of a nation does not depend upon the trade, but upon the character of its people. (Cheers.)
But we know that character cannot be formed except under good social conditions. There is, as our Chairman has reminded us, a great feeling of labour unrest, which is not confined to this country, which is to be found elsewhere. And to whatever extent it is widespread it means simply this - your Chairman has said the same thing - that the working classes think they are entitled to have, and they want to try to obtain, a larger share of the profits of industry. Ladies and gentlemen, in this country there are two special causes which have accentuated that feeling. One of these is the Budget campaign of two years ago. (Hear, hear.) That campaign stirred every constituency - almost every family in the kingdom - and did undoubtedly induce the poor to believe that the passing of the Budget would be for them the beginning of a golden age. (Laughter.)
Well, the Budget is passed, and the outbreak last August, an outbreak of a kind unprecedented in this country, is, in my belief, simply the ripening fruit of the seed that was sown two years ago. (Cheers.) That is one cause, but there is another. During the last ten years there has been a considerable increase in the total wealth of this country.
But in that period the condition of the working classes has not improved; it has actually deteriorated. (‘Quite right.’) From information supplied by the Board of Trade, we know that during that period the cost of living has gone up almost 10 per cent, and wages have remained stationary. That is a cause, and a sufficient explanation of a good deal of discontent. (Hear, hear.) I said a minute or two ago, that the working classes thought they were entitled to a larger share. I go further, and I say now that in my belief, so far as I can judge, all classes, including employers - and what your Chairman said confirms for his part what I am now going to say - all classes would like the working classes to have as large a share of industry as is compatible with the success of that industry. (Cheers.)
How is that result to be obtained? There is one method - the method adopted by the Government. It is to take from the rich in taxes and to hand it to the poor in doles. That is a very simple way. But it has its dangers. If you attack capital suddenly and unexpectedly, it is apt to fly beyond your reach. The Prime Minister, whose economic views are at least original - (laughter) - has told us that the more capital flies from this country to be invested abroad, the better for us.
If he is right, we never have had benefactors like the present Government. (Laughter.) During the short time they have been in office the amount of capital that has gone abroad for investment, as shown even in the very imperfect returns of the Inland Revenue Commissioners, is greater, taking the average of the five-year period, than in the twenty years before they came into office. (Hear, hear.) That is one fact. But there is another. We have been passing through a period which, so far as statistics can guide us, is a period of good trade. And in spite of that good trade there has been a steady, an enormous emigration from our shores. (Hear, hear.)
Do you think there is no connection between these two facts? I think there is. If you attack capital, as I said a moment ago, unexpectedly, if you attack it vindictively - (cheers) - and - what is worse far than anything they have done, actually done - if the men at the head of the Government speak of those who have accumulated wealth as if they were outcasts, treat them as if they were beasts of prey to be shot at sight - (hear, hear) - well, you will indeed injure the capitalist, but you will injure far more vitally the man whose only capital is his skill and his industry, and who has to depend for the employment of that capital of his not only on accumulated wealth, but on the energy of the men who are capable of accumulating that wealth. (Hear, hear.) That is one method; there is another.
Change of Fiscal System
In my belief the greatest of all possible social reforms would be to raise the standard of wages throughout this country - (hear, hear) - for in that way you would not so much help the working classes directly as put them in a position to help themselves. (Hear, hear.) For many years now I have advocated a change in our fiscal system but in advocating that change, however mistaken I may have been, I have never, and I hope I never shall, make any claim in which I do not in my heart believe. We do not pretend that a change in our fiscal system would cure all evils; but we do contend that such a change would do much to help what is the greatest of all our social evils - chronic unemployment. (Loud cheers.) In making this claim we have something at least to justify us. A rise in the cost of living, without any corresponding rise in wages, is found in this country.
It is not found elsewhere. In Germany, for instance, there has been a rise perhaps as great, certainly not greater, but as we know from the authoritative report of our own Consul to this Government, there has been a rise in wages which more than compensates for the increased cost of living. (Cheers.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that Tariff Reform would tend to raise the level of wages, but I am sure of this, that without some change in our fiscal system a general rise in the level of wages is absolutely impossible. (Cheers.) In proof of this take the Insurance Bill, to which I have already referred. That Bill, whatever its merits - (laughter) - and I hope it has some merit greater than fourpence for ninepence (loud laughter) - perhaps my slip was nearer the truth than I thought - whatever its merits it does add a new burden to industry in this country.
I have taken a great deal of trouble to find out what is the extent of this burden, and it is a very heavy one. I have examined returns from more than a hundred employers in different trades, and the employers’ contribution alone, without counting the workmen’s, means, when stated in terms of additional income tax, a new burden varying in some cases from less than a shilling to in other cases more than twenty shillings in the pound. Now, that is a heavy burden, especially the twenty shillings in the pound. (Laughter and hear, hear.) Can anyone suggest that the whole of that burden ought to be borne by the producer? Should not part of it at least fall on the consumer? (Hear, hear.) Even Mr. Lloyd George has himself suggested that the consumer should bear part - (hear, hear) - but under our existing fiscal system how is that possible? (Hear, hear.) Of all the manufactured goods consumed in this country something like 10 per cent come from abroad. That is not a large proportion, you may say, but there is no businessman in this room who does not know that it is quite a largo enough proportion to regulate prices. (Hear, hear.)
The Example of Germany
If you impose a new burden on the home product, and no corresponding burden on the foreign product, is it not evident - is it not certain - that the intensity, the severity, and the extent of that foreign competition must be increased (Cheers.) Mr. Lloyd George, I am glad to admit, is improving. (Laughter.) After passing his old age pension scheme, he took a voyage across the North Sea, where, incidentally, he discovered Germany - (laughter) - in order to examine the pension scheme there.
He has done better in regard to the insurance scheme; he took his journey before and not after passing the Bill. But in spite of that improvement, he has missed the one lesson which German experience should have taught him. It was Prince Bismarck who passed the insurance scheme for Germany, but it was Prince Bismarck who gave to the German workman security in the German market - (hear, hear) - and it was the change in the fiscal system, and not the insurance scheme, which came first. (Loud cheers.) He first stopped the leak which was sinking the ship, and afterwards it was easy to improve her sailing qualities.
We must do the same. (Hear, hear.) If we do not, then most certainly Bills introduced, with the best intentions, perhaps, for helping the poor, for helping unemployment, will inevitably turn out to be Bills to increase the number of the poor and to create unemployment. (Loud cheers.)
The Canadian Elections
The last subject on which I should like to speak to you tonight is the general election which has just taken place in Canada. (Cheers.) That election was described by Mr. Balfour as the great event of the year in the history of the British Empire. It may prove to be - and I believe it will prove to be - a landmark in the history of the world. (Hear, hear.) In common with the other leaders of our party, while the result was in suspense I never said a word in criticism of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Government. To have does so would have been the height of folly, for however much the question concerned us it concerned Canada more, and it was for them and not for us to decide. (Hear, hear.) It would have been not only the height of folly, it would have been really the height of ingratitude. For we must never forget - and this is not by any means the only occasion that I have recalled that it was the Government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier which gave to the work of our people at home a preference on the Canadian market. (Cheers.) We are grateful to him for that, but we are grateful to him also for this, that the example which was set by him has now been followed by every one of the self-governing Dominions. (Hear, hear.) Let us remember, also, that while the British Government defended that treaty on the ground that it would destroy Preference, Sir Wilfrid Laurier defended it always because in his belief it would not injure Preference. I differed from him, but that difference did not weaken in any way my respect for him, and has not lessened the admiration which I feel for his great intellect and his great eloquence. But now that the Canadian people have decided, we have the right to rejoice in their decision. (Hear, hear.)
If you wish to understand what these elections really mean you must not look at what Radical speakers or Radical newspapers say about it now. Look at what they said about it when they thought the result was going to be different. (Hear, hear.) We were told then that this treaty was a great step towards Free Trade. If that were true, then the rejection of the treaty is not a step, it is a leap backwards from what they call Free Trade. We were told that it was a death-blow - not the first by many - (laughter) - a death-blow to the cause of Preference. If that were true then the rejection of the treaty gives new life to the cause of Preference. We were told that the treaty was just another proof that trade must be governed by natural laws and controlled by natural forces. That is true, but the rejection of the treaty proves what our opponents always forget, viz., that the greatest natural forces are human character and human sentiment. (Cheers.) The real meaning of the rejection of that treaty was simply this - that Canadian people believed, and I agree with them, that President Taft was right when he said it was a case of now or never, because they believed that that election would decide, and perhaps finally decide, whether Canada was to continue to grow as an autonomous nation more closely bound to the British Empire, or whether it was to be more and more closely united socially, economically, and ultimately politically with the great friendly nation lying to the South. They tell us that it has no bearing upon the question of Preference. A more ignorant claim was never made. (Cheers.)
For many years at every opportunity the Colonial Prime Ministers of every self-governing Colony have urged upon the Mother Country the policy of reciprocal Preference, which means simply this - that each part of the Empire should give to every other different terms and better terms than those given to the rest of the world. (Hear, hear.) And the Canadian election is supply an emphatic reminder to us that that is still the policy of the self-governing dominions of the Crown. (Cheers.) I referred the other day to an incident in my own experience which I shall repeat to you tonight. A friend of mine, who was a candidate for the House of Commons at the last election, was in Canada while the elections were going on. As soon as they were over this, he tells me, was the message that was everywhere given to him: ‘We have done our part; it is up to the old country now.’ (Cheers.) It is up to the old country now. (Hear, hear.) We have thrown away many opportunities. We are fortunate. We shall have one other opportunity and one only, and at the next election, I am satisfied that we shall not throw it away.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you probably know, most of you, I was born in Canada. (Cheers.) I spent the early years of my life there. Among the many disqualifications for the position which I now hold - and no one feels them more strongly than myself - that is not a disqualification. (Cheers.) It is an advantage. (Cheers.) For 25 years the determination to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom has given a name to our party. We are the Unionist party. (Hear, hear.) But ours is now a larger Union. It is for us not only to preserve; it is for us also to create. It is for us to maintain, and we shall maintain, in spite of the lowering clouds which now threaten us, the integrity of the United Kingdom. But it is for us also, it is for the men of this generation, to guard the vital Union of the British Empire. (Loud cheers, during which the right hon. gentleman resumed his seat, having spoken for an hour and ten minutes.)