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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Norwich 1913

Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative)

Location: Norwich

Commentary:

In this speech, Bonar Law restated the Party’s position on tariff reform, pledging to freeze duties on food and introduce a tariff on foreign manufactured goods, on which the self-governing dominions would receive preferential rates. He then criticised the government’s land taxes, the Insurance Act and the ‘land campaign,’ which targeted bad landowners. However, the main issue at the time of the conference was Ulster, where Bonar Law claimed the majority of people were opposed to Home Rule. He also expressed dismay at the possibility that British troops might be sent to Belfast.

Sir Ailwyn Fellowes and Gentlemen – I was very much interested, I need not say, by the reminiscence which you just presented to us of my first entry into the House of Commons.  You said that nothing was further from your thoughts than that I should occupy the position which I now hold.  Nothing was further from mine; and I can say further that the one thing and the only thing which could possibly reconcile me to that position is the feeling that in some degree at least I have the confidence of the party which I represent.  (Cheers.)  This is the third time that I have the honour of addressing the National Union, and in speaking to you, the representatives of the fighting forces of our party, I naturally turn back to the first occasion on which I addressed you, that at Leeds two years ago.  There has been a great change in the position, and it is not a change for the worse.  (Hear, hear.)  Even then we believed that the tide had turned, but it had only begun to turn.  Now it is in flood.  (Cheers.)

Found Out

The Government have lost, and they know it, have lost utterly the confidence of the country.  (Cheers.)  They have suffered the greatest misfortune which could possibly befall them, the one calamity from which there can be no recovery.  They have been found out.  For years they have posed as the Pharisees of politics, they have made broad their phylacteries; they were not as other men - (laughter) - or even as these Tories – (laughter) – and now words are unnecessary.  (Laughter.)  They stand before the country for what they are, Pharisees still – (laughter) – but Pharisees stripped of their phylacteries naked and not even ashamed.  (Laughter.)  From the party point of view no political party ever met under conditions more hopeful than those in which we are associated here tonight – (cheers) – but from the national point of view so long as the Government persist or seem to persist in their Irish policy the position is one of danger, which it is simply impossible to exaggerate.  That is the subject which fills my mind to the exclusion of every other; that is the subject also which ought to dominate, and which I think now at last does dominate the mind of the people of the country.  (Cheers.)

TARIFF REFORM

A United Front

But before I speak on that subject I think it right, at the annual meeting of our party, to speak to you for a little on one or other or two other subjects.  The first of these on which I shall speak is Tariff Reform.  It is a subject on which I have made more speeches by far than on any other, and though I am not a good judge perhaps they have not been worse speeches than on other subjects.  I know this at least that our policy on this question is plain, straightforward, and cannot be misunderstood.  (Hear, hear.)  I know also – for I never think there is any advantage in trying either to shut my own eyes to facts or to pretend that I do not see them – I know that on that question there is still some difference of opinion in our party.  There is on the one hand a large number who are devoted to the whole policy of Tariff Reform, including the immediate imposition of agricultural duties.  On the other there are some who are opposed to any change in our fiscal system.  Both these sections have recognised that, important as our fiscal system is in comparison with other dangers by which we are now threatened, it sinks into insignificance, and each section has recognised that the only way by which we can present a united front to our common enemy is that each should abate something of its demand – (cheers) – and as a consequence we do present a united front on this question.  (Cheers.)  I shall content myself, therefore, tonight in restating that argument, for as I have, unfortunately for me, many speeches still to make, I shall find another opportunity for arguing the question.  I shall content myself with restating what our policy is, and what, if we are in power in the new Parliament, we intend to do.  (Cheers.)

NO NEW DUTIES ON FOOD

Moderate Tariffs on Manufactured Goods

We shall not impose any new duties on any articles of food – (cheers) – but we shall impose a moderate tariff on foreign manufactured goods – a tariff not exceeding an average of ten per cent, a scale of duties, remember, which is only something like a third of the reduced scale in the new American tariff, which Radical newspapers are constantly telling us is practically a Free Trade system.  (Laughter.)  In my belief duties such as these, apart from any other consideration, can be justified on the strictest Free Trade principles by the needs of revenue.  They can be justified on precisely the same ground on which revenue tariffs have been imposed by Free Trade Governments in India and in Egypt.  We should all, gentlemen, at the same time establish at once the principle of imperial preference.  (Cheers.)  We shall give to our self-governing dominions what at every conference for more than twenty-five years they have unanimously asked from us, and that is all that they have formally asked.  We shall give them immediately a preference on all duties imposed in the United Kingdom.  (Cheers.)

THE FARMERS’ POSITION

Burdens on Agriculture to be Reduced

Now on this subject I have only one thing more to say.  I believe that farmers and agriculturalists would be justified in being hostile to that policy if it stood alone.  But it does not stand alone.  I have already in the House of Commons, on behalf of our party, made this pledge, which I repeat tonight, that apart altogether from the readjustment on general lines of local taxation, which is urgently required – (hear, hear) – apart from that readjustment, at the same time that we impose a tariff we shall take part of the revenue of that tariff and use it in reducing the burdens of agriculture – (cheers) – in order to make sure that the farmer will at least be compensated, and more than compensated, for any additional price which, as the result of the tariff, he may by any possibility be called upon to pay.

Well, gentlemen, that is our policy, and I can say this with confidence, that it has already secured the support, the practically unanimous support, of our own party, and I believe it will command the approval of the country.  (Cheers.)

THE LAND CAMPAIGN

Mr. Lloyd George’s Methods

The second of these subjects on which I wish to speak to you is that which has been referred to by our chairman – the Government’s land campaign.  (Laughter.)  It is in one respect unique – (more laughter) – perhaps in more than one respect.  (Hear, hear.)  It is said to be the policy of the united Cabinet, but already two members of the Government, and not unimportant members – the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary for India – have said in effect that this is not now a practical question, that it can only arise after the present policy of the Government has been carried out.  (Laughter)  It is therefore the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  (Some booing.)  I have a great deal to say about him; don’t waste your breath at present.  (More laughter.)  It is the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been sent out into the cold world alone to sink or swim with it as best he can.  (Laughter.)  Well I happened, when speaking at Newcastle a few days ago to make a casual reference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in consequence I received quite a number of letters from members of our party, who were rather angry with me because I had given him as they said a certificate of character.  (Laughter.)  It did not strike me in that light at the time – (renewed laughter) – but perhaps they were right, for I saw that the Daily News – (laughter) – described my speech as a tribute to Mr. Lloyd George.  (Oh, oh!)  Well, perhaps I cannot tell, as what I am going to say now I shall render myself liable to the same condemnation.  (A Voice: ‘Never mind.’)  Among those whom I am addressing there are many I am sure who in one way or the other are engaged in business.  If so, your experience must be the same as mine.  There must have been occasions when people have come to you with proposals for making your fortunes, which on the face of them looked plausible.  When that happened, what was your first step?  You inquired into the past of your would-be benefactor.  (Hear, hear.)  You asked about his character.  (A Voice: ‘He ain’t got one,’ and laughter.)  You tried to find out his record.  You asked what previous transactions he had been engaged in – (laughter and a Voice: ‘Marconis’) – and whether they had succeeded or failed.  (Laughter.)  How would Mr. Lloyd George stand in that test?  (Renewed laughter.)  

Stormy Petrel or Ostrich

In one of his bursts of rhetoric he compared himself to the stormy petrel, but I think there is another bird which he more closely resembles.  When I was at school I was taught that the ostrich had the habit of dropping its eggs in the sand and leaving their subsequent fate to be decided by sun or wind.  (Laughter.)  That, I believe, is false natural history, but whatever may be the habits of the ostrich that is precisely the method adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  (Laughter and cheers.)  He drops his egg, and when it is dropped as far as possible, he is done with it.  (Laughter.)  He leaves it to be hatched by chance, or, perhaps, by Mr. Masterman – (loud laughter) – and when it becomes addled, when it begins to smell – (renewed laughter) – he hops off and lays another.  (Loud laughter.)  The one and only object of his ambition being to make sure that the second egg is bigger than the first.

The Land Taxes

The first of these droppings – (laughter) – is represented by the land taxes.  If any of you have time which hangs heavily on your hands, I would recommend you to read a book which had a great vogue when it was published, but which is rather dull now – ‘The People’s Budget – (laughter) – explained by the Right Hon. David Lloyd George.’  No promises which by any possibility he can make now can exceed them, can hardly equal the brilliancy and the variety of the promises which he made then.  The resources of rhetoric were utterly exhausted.  The wilderness, including I suppose deer forests, at 22s. 6d. an acre – (laughter) – the wilderness was to rejoice and to blossom like the rose, and what is the result of it all.  Since these taxes were instituted they have brought into the Exchequer in all £223,000, and the State has paid out in valuation and collection £1,390,000.  (Oh, and cheers.)  But Mr. Lloyd George has a great advantage as a controversialist.  He is never hampered today by what he said yesterday.  (Laughter.)  He tells us now, I heard it in the House of Commons last session, that he never thought these taxes would bring any considerable revenue except in the future.  I don’t know what he thought, but I do know what he said.  (Laughter and cheers.)  In the House of Commons when the Budget was going through in 1909 he used these words, ‘Even in the case of the Dreadnoughts which you are laying down this year, the real expenditure will be next year, so that when the revenue comes in from the land taxes next year it will be revenue which will be used just as much for Dreadnoughts as for old age pensions.’  That was in 1909.  The revenue which came in in 1910-11 was £2700.  (Laughter.)  But perhaps he meant the second year of their imposition.  The revenue for the second year was £57,000.  So far he has omitted to tell us how it was divided.  (Laughter and cheers.)  How much of it was spent in Dreadnoughts and how much was left over for old age pensions.  (Laughter.)  That was his first egg – (laughter) – and I think he would give something, and I am sure his party would give a great deal to have it decently buried.  (Laughter.)

THE INSURANCE ACT

‘The Work of Gamblers’

Now, the second of these eggs, and it was big enough, was the Insurance Act.  I don’t believe that in the whole record of human folly you will find an example where a measure like this of such vast importance which touched on every point the lives of the whole nation, was rushed through with such haste, with such recklessness, and with such ignorance.  (Cheers.)  It was the work of gamblers, and of gamblers whose audacity was only surpassed by their folly, and what is the result?

Position of the Friendly Societies

The friendly societies set an example of thrift which was not equalled anywhere else in the world, and what was the position now?  We have appointed a committee, I mean Lord Lansdowne and myself, we have appointed a committee to study the Act, and the effect of it,  and I say to you from what knowledge I have been able to gain on the subject, that the position is far worse probably than any of you imagine.  In my belief these great friendly societies are many of them drifting, and drifting rapidly, to insolvency – (Hear, hear) – and that is not the only effect or the worst effect.  The worst effect is upon the character of our people.  In the old days the men who directed the friendly societies were proud, and justly proud, of their work.  And the members of these societies shared that pride.  It was no uncommon thing at meetings of these societies to find men get up and glory in the fact that though they had been many years members they had never withdrawn anything from the funds.  (Cheers.)  All this has changed.  The insured people have to pay, whether they like it or not, their fourpence, and they were naturally anxious and determined if they can to get the ninepence which the Chancellor so generously promised them with this result, that the whole position is reversed, that instead of being proud of helping their societies their pride now consists in getting as much as they can out of the funds of the society.

A Voluntary System

Well, gentlemen, in my belief, the defects of the Act are radical, and cannot be cured by any patchwork such as the amending Bill which went through last session.  About two years ago, I think, I said in the House of Commons that if we happened to come into power before the Act was in operation we should repeal it with a view of amending it.  (Hear, hear.)  And it would have been a good thing for this country if it had been suspended.  (Hear, hear.)  But what is to be done now it is not so easy to say.  Governments are like men: the evil that they do lives after them.  This only I can say, that if the opportunity is given us we shall do what the Government ought to have done, and what they refused to do.  We shall appoint a committee, as far as possible non-political, impartial, and competent, which will examine into the whole subject, not only into the working of the Act, but to the whole principle of the Act, and will consider this, whether or not it is possible, and whether it is in the interests of the nation even yet to turn it into a voluntary system.  (Cheers.)

Well, gentlemen, that is the position.  Here is this social reformer coming forward with his new remedy for all ills, when, as a matter of fact, the one social reform which at this moment is more needed, I believe, than any other is to undo the evil effects which he has done by his Insurance Act.

GOOD AND BAD LANDLORDS

Co-operation Instead of Campaign

And now we come to the land, and judging by the size the greatest of these eggs is the land campaign, it is an amazing performance.  Here we have a Government which is in power – it has been eight years in office – if the evils are such as they now describe them, why did they not remedy them long ago instead of only now beginning to talk about them.  A land policy I can understand, land reform I can understand, but land campaign, why and against whom?  (Laughter and cheers.)  Mr. Lloyd George has left us no doubt about that.  (Laughter.)  It is against the wicked landlord.  In one of his recent speeches he made the interesting discovery that property in land has duties as well as rights.  I agree with him, but I do not agree with his limitation.  I think, and there is nothing on which I feel more strongly that all property owners have duties as well as rights – (cheers) – and if the duties are not fulfilled the rights are impaired, and ought to be, but that does not apply to one class of property alone.  (Hear, hear.)  It applies to all kinds of property, property even derived from the Stock Exchange – (laughter) – as well as to property in land.  It is my belief that among the property owners of this country there is no class which, to a greater extent than landowners, does recognise their responsibilities, and does try to fulfil the duties of their position.  (Cheers.)  That is not my belief alone.  It was Mr. Lloyd George’s even until a few years ago.  (Mr. Bonar Law stopped for a moment to look through his papers for a quotation.)  I have not got it.  I am sorry (he said), but I can tell you the substance of it.  In the House of Commons in 1909, I think, he said this, or something almost exactly in these words: ‘There are, of course, good and bad landlords, but the good landlords are so overwhelmingly in the majority that they set the standard which even bad landlords have to follow.’  (Laughter and cheers.)  Well, if that be the truth or anything like the truth, surely if the object of the Government were not to help a party, but to benefit the nation, surely what they would have done would have been to try to secure the co-operation of all classes interested in the land and not to direct the campaign against any class; and only when that co-operation was refused should they have stepped in and done what was necessary without.  Surely that was the proper method.  Believe me that that is, and always will be, the best way of securing reform.  Indeed, I can go further and say this, that every real reform which has ever benefited the nation has been carried out first by the attempt to secure the co-operation of those who are interested in it.

Comparisons with Belgium

I am not going to criticise these proposals in detail.  But there is one consideration which I would like you to have clearly in your minds, because I think it utterly destroys the whole airy fabric with which such floods of words the Chancellor has erected.  He has compared Belgium and the United Kingdom.  He has pointed out that the produce from the soil in Belgium is far greater than here, and that the number of people employed on the land is far greater in proportion than in the United Kingdom.  These facts are true.  And what is his explanation?  It is that it is all due to the land monopoly.  Well, now suppose that it were the case that land in the United Kingdom could be got by anyone who wanted to use it at a lower price than it could be got in Belgium.  What would become of the land monopoly theory?  Well, what are the facts?  The facts are – and they are admitted – that here in England agricultural land, the freehold of it, the absolute freehold, with complete immunity from pheasants or any other birds of prey – (laughter) – that the price of land is only half what the price of similar land is in Belgium today.  (Hear, hear.)  That therefore cannot be the explanation.  There are many reasons for it.  I shall give you only two, but they are two of the most important.  In Belgium the burdens of agricultural land are far lower than the burdens of agricultural land here.  (Hear, hear.)  And this Government, whose one desire is to help agriculture, during their eight years of office have not only not mitigated those burdens, but have deliberately and systematically added to the unfairness of them.  (Hear, hear.)

Pride of Ownership

The other reason is that in Belgium the soil is largely cultivated by the men who own it.  (Cheers.)  That is the explanation.  It is the magic of ownership; it is the industry, the energy, and the pride of ownership which not only in Belgium, but in all the great countries nearly of Europe, and before our own eyes in Ireland – (cheers) – it is the pride of ownership which everywhere has produced the best results; and this Government deliberately precludes itself from adopting the one system, or helping to have it instituted, the one system which everywhere else in the world has proved to be the best for agriculture.  (Cheers.)

Why Not an Honest Inquiry?

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have only this more to say.  Why did they not have an inquiry, and an honest inquiry?  They have themselves appointed a commission to inquire into the railways.  Well, the railways are a complicated problem, but they are not half so complicated as the land.  Why did they not adopt for the bigger problem the same method that they adopted for the smaller?  If they had adopted it, or if they would adopt it now, we should gladly co-operate with them in getting at a knowledge of the facts, which is the first consideration.  (Hear, hear.)  Take, for instance, one of the evils, and the greatest evil probably, of the conditions of life on the land – the low wages paid in many agricultural districts.  They are so low I believe in some districts that at any cost they ought to be raised.  (Cheers.)

SUPPORT FOR MINIMUM WAGE

But Facts Must be Examined

The Government have gone for a minimum wage.  Well, gentlemen, I am not frightened by the words minimum wage.  Not in the least.  In the case of sweated industries I supported it.  I knew all the economic objections against it, but I supported it, because on the whole I believed that a remedy was necessary, and that in those cases was the only remedy.  Well, I take precisely the same view about this problem.  Let us have, and surely it is the first essential, let us have an inquiry on the spot, impartial and competent.  Let us know the facts.  Let us find out, so far as knowledge can inform us, what the effect of a minimum wage would be, not on landlords or tenants, but on the labourers themselves.  (Hear, hear.)  It seems to me – I admit that on this subject I speak absolutely without the kind of knowledge which I value most, the kind which comes from practical experience – indeed, I am probably almost as ignorant on the subject as Mr. Lloyd George himself – (laughter) – but there is this difference.  He likes ignorance.  (Laughter.)  Perhaps it is an advantage to him – (renewed laughter) – for it enables him to speak much more freely than would be the case if he knew more about it – well I think that knowledge is essential, and that it is the first essential in this or in any other question.  Now isn’t it possible that though you may fix the rate of the minimum wage you may actually diminish the amount of employment given to individuals.  Is it not possible that the economic effect of it will be to do the very thing you are trying to prevent, to turn land which today is arable into pasture, because of the smaller amount of labour which would be required.  (Cheers.)  That is what we want, an examination into the facts.  If there were such an examination it would command the respect of the whole community, and whatever legislation were necessary could go forward, not by means of a campaign against anybody, but with the goodwill of every man, woman, and child throughout the country.  (Cheers.)    

ULSTER

Remarkable Demonstration

Now, gentlemen, I have, I see, taken up more time than I anticipated – (Loud cries of ‘No!’ and ‘Go on!’) – with these subsidiary subjects, and I must therefore be somewhat brief with what I say on the dominating issue of the hour.

I do not think that matters because there is no change in the position since I spoke at Wallsend ten days ago, and in any case I can only repeat in other words what I said then.  Gentlemen, if the Government really persist in obeying the orders of Mr. Redmond, Mr. Devlin, and I see by today’s paper that Mr. Dillon has added his – (laughter) – if they obey these orders then we are face to face with national disaster, and perhaps national ruin.  If they do persist our duty as a party is clear, and I am sure that we shall fulfil that duty.  (Cheers.)  I have said on behalf of the party, with the approval of the party, that if the Government attempt to coerce Ulster before they have received the sanction of the people, we shall support Ulster in her resistance.

There was a great outburst of cheering at this announcement, and after it had died down many sprang to their feet and started the singing of ‘Rule Britannia,’ which was taken up with great gusto by the rest of the audience, loud cheers again being given at its conclusion.  It was some minutes before Mr. Bonar Law could resume, and when he did he continued:  

I am glad to receive that expression of your approval of what I have just said, but I ask you, gentlemen, to think what it means.  (Hear, hear.)  It involves a great deal; it involves something more than making speeches – (Hear, hear) – and from that pledge we as a party will never go back.  (Renewed cheers.)  It means this – and long and very many months before I gave the speech at Blenheim I realised exactly what it does mean – it means this: that when the time comes we should be bound in honour – (Hear, hear) – to use every means, any means, which seem to us effective to prevent British troops being used to shoot down loyal British subjects.  (Loud and prolonged cheers.)

At Aberdeen the other night Mr. Balfour – (cheers) – said that the Irish question could never have got into its present position but for the sluggish imagination of our people.  That is a great truth, and it explains the present situation.  I said somewhere – I think it was in the House of Commons – that in my belief statesmanship really consists in imagination.  It consists in the power of looking forward – (Hear, hear) – of having in your mind a clear picture of what the conditions will be when the events which you foresee have actually occurred.  Well, I ask you, gentlemen, to use your imaginations.

When British Troops are Sent to Ulster

Now picture to yourselves what the effect will be when the order is given to send British troops to Belfast.  Think of the effect on the Army itself.  On Ireland, on Great Britain, on the British Empire.  (Hear, hear.)  It is a picture which I confess utterly appals me.  In face of dangers such as these, though I am a party man – and I suppose I may say that I have at least as strong a personal interest in the success of our party as any one of you – though I am a party man, party advantage or disadvantage in face of such a problem as that seems to me to account for nothing. 

GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS WILL BE CONSIDERED

Demand for an Election

Well, now, gentlemen, it is because I feel this, and feel it strongly, that I said at Wallsend, and I repeat here tonight, that if the Government have any proposals to make which will avert the horrors that I have tried to depict to you, we will consider these proposals carefully, honestly, and with sole regard not to the interest of a party, but to the welfare of the nation.  (Cheers.)  But though I say that I feel more strongly than ever that the plain, clear duty of the Government is to submit their proposals either at a General Election or by means of a referendum – (Hear, hear) – I do not care which they choose – to submit their proposals to the judgement of the people who alone are entitled to decide this question.  (Cheers.) 

Now I shall give you my reasons for saying that that is their duty, I believe, as I am sure you all believe, that the Government at the last election received no mandate of any kind for this Home Rule Bill.  (Cheers.)  But I am not going now to argue that question, which has been – I won’t call it argued, because I really do not think there are any arguments on the other side – but which has been discussed over and over again.  I shall base my claim on this ground, and I think it is a claim which on this ground alone is absolutely unanswerable, and it is on the change in the conditions which have occurred since the General Election took place.  You all know that at the time of the General Election Mr. Redmond said there was no Ulster question.  Will even he say that today?  (Cries of ‘No!’)  He was not alone in holding that view.  Mr. Asquith said practically the same thing.  He was asked during his election campaign that question: ‘Will you be prepared to permit the soldiers of the Crown to shoot down any of the Protestant minority if, and when the latter should take up arms in defence of their present liberty?’  Ad this is Mr. Asquith’s answer.  ‘We have not the least reason to fear that the contingency apprehended will ever arise.’  Can he say now that there is not the least reason to fear that the contingency will not arise, and if he cannot then that also is the whole condition, and makes it absolutely essential that the people and not the Government should decide the issue.

Solidarity of Ulster Protestants

I know of nothing in the history of our country more remarkable than the absolute solidarity of the Protestant population of Ulster on this question.  In all previous controversies before Home Rule they were divided.  The Presbyterians in Ulster – the great bulk of them – supported Mr. Gladstone in disestablishing the Irish Church, they supported him in his land law, but now there is no section in Ulster which is more determined; there is, I believe, no section which is so determined as the Presbyterian to resist to the death this proposal.   

In Deadly Earnest

In our great cities the line of division among our people is very largely, unhappily as I think, disputes between capital and labour.  The conditions in Belfast in that respect are precisely the same as in the great towns of England and Scotland.  Yet the dread of Home Rule is so utterly overpowering that these things which weigh so much everywhere else have ceased to exist in Ulster.  When the Ulster movement first took place we were told by Radical speakers, and by the whole Radical Press, that this was a movement which was engineered from above, that the democracy had nothing to do with it.  Then they changed their tune suddenly.  They said until the other day that it was only the Belfast mob which was doing it, and that the businessmen of Belfast, who had something to lose, took no part in such disorderly proceedings.  Well, they have been answered.  (Cheers.)  The meeting in Belfast last week in the Ulster Hall, and the overflow meeting in the Presbyterian Assembly were, in my belief, the most striking event which has so far happened in this movement.  That meeting consisted of practically the whole business community of Belfast.  They are the very class which hate disorder, which know that disorder injures their business, perhaps ruins their business, yet that class unanimously showed an enthusiasm which equalled, if not surpassed, the enthusiasm of the workers in the shipyards, and they declared without a dissentient voice that though they have counted the cost they will resist this Bill, and will back up and obey the Provisional Government which is set up in Ulster.  (Cheers.)  Facts like these alter the whole situation.  Let me enforce, if I may, the argument which I am now putting before you by an illustration from the action of another Government, and of a Radical Government.  You remember Majuba Hill, and what followed.  You remember that the Boers agitated, they drilled, they threatened.  Mr. Gladstone paid no attention.  They then took up arms and defeated the British Army, and he at once yielded to their plea.  Now this is an old controversy.  I do not raise it for a moment either in condemnation or criticism of what took place then.  I raise it because it is an exact analogy to the present position.  Surely it would have been wiser for the Government then to have granted the claims if they were just before and not after our troops had been used.  (Hear, hear.)  Mr. Gladstone knew – he well knew – that if he chose to use the forces of the British Empire, he would at that time have had no difficulty in overcoming the resistance of the Boers.  He refused to use that force.  He said it would bring blood guiltiness upon him to use it.  Why?  I remember the controversy well, and this was his reason, I think the sole reason.  He felt that since those men were willing in that cause to risk their lives, the course he was pursuing was not the right one.  Well, is not the position exactly the same in Ulster?  In Ulster we know, and the Government knows, that there are thousands and tens of thousands of men – (A Voice: ‘Hundreds of thousands’) – who, rather than submit, will sacrifice their lives.  (Hear, hear.)  Does not that make it in a free country absolutely impossible that you could coerce them?  (Cheers.)  Surely all that is left for the Government to decide is this, and this only – whether they will recognise the facts and bow to the facts before, and not after, blood had been shed.  (Cheers.)

APPEAL TO THE COUNTRY

Premier’s Grave Responsibility

Gentlemen, I said at Wallsend that in my belief the Government had before them three possible alternatives.  There are three nominally, but in reality there are only two.  The responsibility for the present position rests not on the Cabinet.  It rests with one man – the Prime Minister – (Hear, hear) – and it is a responsibility which he cannot avoid, which he cannot even share, for he, and he alone, will be judged at the bar of public opinion now, and at the bar of history hereafter.  (Cheers.)  I do not wish to be unfair to Mr. Asquith.  I think I understand his difficulties, at least some of them.  I know how strong party ties are, and I think what is happening shows us that they are perhaps too strong for the benefit of the nation with both parties.  I know what the strength of party ties is; but in my belief Mr. Asquith has now only two possible courses open to him.  He can, if he thinks it possible, try to arrange a settlement which will avert these evils.  But if he fails, then as a statesman, as indeed an honest man, there is only one course open to him, and I am sure that he will take it, and that is to appeal to the people of this country.  (Loud cheers.) 

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