Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of home rule. But no satisfactory evidence has ever been adduced in support of this allegation. As a party-manager Lord Randolph was habitually careless of the means he used to obtain votes. Knowing that Parnellite support was valuable to the conservatives in the House of Commons, he was doubtless prepared to bargain for it ; and he was always in favour of making large concessions to Irish feeling. But at no time did he publicly exhibit any want of fidelity to the act of union ; and though he may have unconsciously misled some of the nationalists in 1884 by vague or inaccurate language, it is very unlikely that he ever went the length of pledging himself to support a scheme of repeal.

In these years Ireland only occupied one part of Churchill's multifarious political activity. He was still a 'free-lance' of the tory party, and was equally busy in assailing the actions of the Gladstonian ministry, in reviving conservative spirit among the mass of the electors, and in prosecuting his campaign against the official leaders of the opposition in the House of Commons. His attacks were characterised by more vigour than good taste. Derisive, and even vulgar, nicknames were hurled at William Henry Smith [q. v.] and Mr. (now Viscount) Cross, and the kindly tolerance of Sir Stafford Northcote was mercilessly abused. The 'masterly inactivity' of the conservatives after the death of Lord Beaconsfield seemed to him sheer weakness. In November 1882 he was already so well known and popular in the north of England that a deputation was sent from Manchester urging him to become a candidate for that constituency at the next general election. In declining the invitation he complained of the want of energy which the tory chiefs had shown. 'The constitutional function of an opposition,' he said, 'is to oppose, and not to support, the government ; and that function has, during the three sessions of this parliament, been systematically neglected.' He maintained that the dual leadership, under which the party had been left, was a fatal source of weakness ; and in a letter to the 'Times' (31 March 1883) he came forward as an emphatic advocate of the claim of Lord Salisbury to direct the policy of the opposition, and heaped scorn on 'the malignant efforts of envious mediocrity' to retard or prevent the recognition by the party of 'the one man who is capable, not only of overturning, but also of replacing, Mr. Gladstone.' He followed this statement with an article entitled ' Elijah's Mantle 'in the 'Fortnightly Review' for May 1883, in which the parliamentary tactics of the conservatives were severely criticised. The writer argued that it would be a great advantage for the opposition to have its leader in the House of Lords. The obvious aim of Lord Randolph was to get Lord Salisbury recognised as the chief of the whole party, in which case, by the supersession of Sir Stafford Northcote, the way would presently be cleared for himself as leader of the conservatives in the Commons. He illustrated his theory as to the duty of an opposition by the persistency of his attacks on the liberal administration. Gladstone's home and foreign policy was assailed with the same unsparing determination, and with the same emphatic and often exaggerated phraseology, with which Lord Randolph criticised the conduct of Irish affairs. He took a strong line on the Egyptian and Soudan questions, denouncing Gladstone, in one of his most extravagant outbursts, as 'the Moloch of Midlothian,' who had shed streams of blood only to restore the Khedive Tewfik, 'one of the most despicable wretches who ever occupied an eastern throne.' His choicest collection of adjectives was reserved for the prime minister; but he bestowed his invective with almost equal energy upon some of the other liberal leaders, and particularly upon Mr. Chamberlain and John Bright [q. v. Suppl.] Meanwhile he was fostering the revival of conservatism among the working classes in two ways. In the first place he and his efficient lieutenant, Mr. Gorst, improved the party organisation by promoting the establishment of conservative clubs, and by establishing and popularising the primrose league. Speaking to the midland conservative club at Birmingham in 1884, he commended 'the peculiar form of organisation which is known as the Caucus,' and advised tories to take a lesson from their opponents by adopting their methods. At a primrose league gathering on 15 April 1885, however, he said : 'For my part I prefer the primrose league to the caucus, and I will back the primrose league against the caucus.' But in addition to strengthening the conservative machinery he endeavoured to widen the basis of conservative principles. In a series of speeches, delivered chiefly to large audiences in the great towns of the north and the midlands, he endeavoured to show that toryism, so far from being the political creed of an exclusive class, was in essentials as truly 'democratic' as that of the radicals, if not indeed more so. The doctrines of Lord Randolph Churchill's 'Tory Democracy' were never reduced by him to a system, nor has he anywhere given