Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Chancellor - 1

Lord Randolf was on the stump tearing into the Liberals. Gladstone was “the greatest living master of the art of political advertisement,” he said. And what was his idea of a quiet holiday, Lord Randolf asked

… a large transatlantic steamer is specially engaged, the Poet Laureate
[Tennyson] adorns the suite and receives a peerage as his reward, and the
incidents of the voyage are luncheon with the Emperor of Russia and the Queen of
Denmark. Gladstone liked to chop wood for exercise. In Lord Randolf’s hands this
became, “Entire forests must perish so that Gladstone may sweat.

Lord Randolf’s speech continued. He imagined a deputation of workingmen who come to speak to Gladstone at his “humble Castle named Hawarden”. But they cannot be received anywhere in the mansion for that would have been “out of harmony with the advertisement ‘boom’.” So they are conducted out back onto his

ornamental grounds. . . strewn with the wreckage and the ruins of the Prime Minister’s sport. All round them, we may suppose, lay the rotting trunks of once umbrageous trees; all round them, tossed by the winds, were boughs and bark and withered shoots. They came suddenly on the Prime Minister and Master Herbert [his son], in scanty attire and profuse perspiration, engaged in the destruction of a gigantic oak, just giving its last dying groan. They are permitted to gaze and to worship and adore, and, having conducted themselves with exemplary propriety, are each of them presented with a few chips as a memorial of that memorable scene.
Thus Gladstone hands out the fruits of his government programs:

Chips to the faithful allies in Afghanistan, chips to the trusting native races of South Africa, chips to the Egyptian fellah, chips to the British farmer, chips to the manufacturer and the artisan, chips to the agricultural laborer, chips to the House of Commons itself. To all who leaned upon Mr. Gladstone, who trusted him, and who hoped for something from him – chips, nothing but chips – hard, dry, unnourishing, indigestible chips.

This was a Lord Randolf speech when he was at the top of his game. But inside he had a terrible secret: he did not have long to live. The syphilis was eating away at his brain. It was affecting his personality.

When Gladstone lost the Home Rule fight in June 1886 the majority of Parliament went into opposition. He could either resign or dissolve. He decided to take the cause to the people.

That summer’s election was a disaster for the Liberals. Charles Stewart Parnell’s control of the Irish vote triggered a backlash. Joseph Chamberlain and other Liberal leaders led their followers into an alliance with the Conservatives. When they started calling their alliance “The Unionist Party” this indicated a permanent relationship that was dire for the Liberal cause. The Unionists won one of the biggest landslides of the century.

British politics had been transformed. Three big parties had gone to two. The wedge issue was Empire versus Home Rule. The Unionists regarded turmoil in Ireland as the price of empire. With Lord Randolf’s Tory Democracy Movement and promises of reform to salve Liberal consciences, they had the upper hand.

Lord Salisbury, the new Prime Minister faced the pleasant problems of the victor. What to do with Joe Chamberlain “the Radical” and what to do with Lord Randolf? Joe Chamberlain, though more to the left than Randolf, was the easier of the two problems for Salisbury.

Joe Chamberlain had started politics as Mayor of Birmingham from 1873 to 1876. There he had championed “municipal socialism”. Entering Parliament he had made himself leader of the “Radical” wing of the Liberal Party.

His problem now was that he had nowhere else to go. His opposition to Home Rule precluded rejoining Gladstone. An alliance with Parnell was even more unthinkable. He held out “a progressive program” as the price of his continuing support. His trouble was that he held a weak hand.

Lord Randolf’s case was different. He had transformed the Conservative Party and had upended the routine pattern of British politics. How to keep him from making trouble? Salisbury decided to give him the keys to the kingdom. He appointed him Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Chancellor was the number two man in a British administration. The Prime Minister lived at 10 Downing Street, the Chancellor at 11 Downing Street. The Chancellor was in charge of the treasury. He proposed and then managed the budget for the government.

Salisbury was not through. He also made him Leader of the House of Commons.

His other Fourth Party allies were also given key appointments. Only the Prime Minister himself was now more powerful than Lord Randolf. And he was an old man. All Lord Randolf had to do was wait until Salisbury retired. Then he would have it all.

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)