Saturday, May 5, 2007

The 4th. Party - 2

He struck at once. During the Members swearing in, one Liberal member refused to swear because as an atheist he did not believe in the Bible. Lord Randolf drilled the Liberals in one of their most sensitive areas, morality. What to base morality upon if not some solid foundation, he asked. If not God, what?

Gladstone, caught off guard, replied tolerance.

What to tolerate and what not to tolerate? -- Slavery? – Oppression?

Gladstone talked about the separation of church and state.

Isn’t it interesting that Liberals are altogether too happy to claim the support of religion when it suits their purposes and to cast it aside when it does not?

Thus the general outline of the debates. Day after day this ongoing battle knocked the Liberal Administration off stride. The Conservatives in Parliament and in the country cheered on their new star while their nominal leaders glumly watched from their bench. Gladstone eventually got his man in, but the Liberal claim to the moral high ground had taken a bad beating.

Unable to budge his leaders into a more aggressive attack upon the Liberals, Lord Randolf formed his own team. There were just four of them, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, master of parliamentary procedure, John Gorst, the party machine man, Mr. Arthur Balfour, nephew of the Marques of Salisbury, and Lord Randolf. Jennie Churchill became a behind-the-scenes fifth member.

The press labeled them “The Fourth Party”. (The Liberals, Conservatives, and the Irish parties were the first three.) Their headquarters was at the Churchill’s house. Jennie, again:
“Many were the plots and plans which were hatched in my presence by the Fourth Party. How we used to chaff about the ‘goats’ as we called the ultra-Tories.”

Another time,

“Randolf looked like a great schoolboy, full of fun and mischief, his busy brain devising means by which he could upset his political opponents, and then bubbling over with fiendish glee at the traps he was setting for the unaware politicians of his own side… .”

They began a generalized attack on the Liberal Administration’s budgets. They pressed them with point, weight, joy, and humor. Gladstone stormed back at them. The daily proceedings became a delight for the Conservatives and a trial for the Liberals.

In addition to adding spice to Parliamentary opposition to Liberalism, Lord Randolf and Jennie realized that Conservatives would have to reform themselves and they would have to have a positive program for progress in policy.

After a bitter struggle with Lord Salisbury and the Conservative powers, they took control of the National Union of Conservative Associations. They made the leadership electable by and thus answerable to the grassroots instead of selected by the top leaders.

They barnstormed the country preaching “Tory Democracy”. On a practical level they founded The Primrose League. This was a national network of social clubs open to and serving the needs of ordinary people.

To Salisbury and the party elders this was all terribly vulgar. Sure they wanted the workingman’s vote, just not their voice in party affairs, and certainly not their presence in their social circles!

As Randolf and his beautiful wife Jennie stormed the countryside, the Conservative Party knew an excitement that it had not known before.

They weren’t the chief reasons for the Liberals’ fall. The main reason was Gladstone himself.

The story of his Second Administration is a good example of what happens when someone gets into power without having a clear idea of what to do with it. The opposition party seizes the initiative; his own party quarrels with itself; and the leader reacts to events instead of creating them.

Gladstone was “The Grand Old Man” of politics. He had already accomplished much during the decades he had headed departments under others’ administrations. He had accomplished more during his own first premiership from 1868 to 1874. By 1880 he had already achieved much of his goals.

During these years when the British Empire was at its height, no British Prime Minister could escape the pressures of the outside world. If the whole world was a stage, Britain was the center of that stage and everybody pressed upon the center.

His main problem in dealing with the affairs of the British Empire was that he didn’t like the Empire to begin with. He disliked the entire concept of imperialism. In South Africa, he recognized a free state for the Boers after their victory at Majuba. He lost The Sudan when General Charles Gordon was surrounded and killed at Khartoum. The newspapers brought a stead drizzle of defeat and retreat.

His worst problem was Ireland. Unrest and agitation dominated the news. He tried both reform and crackdown. Nothing worked. Ireland’s leader was Charles Parnell. He had Ireland’s solid backing and Ireland’s votes in Parliament. His goal was home rule. He would settle for nothing less.

With his policies failing and his government faltering, Gladstone considered giving it to him. Then 10 Downing Street received the worst possible news: Parnell had cut a deal with Churchill.
Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)