Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/26

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Churchill
Churchill
14

a completely coherent and harmonious account of them. But generally it may be said that the fundamental object is conveyed in his own phrase : ' Trust the people.' ' I have long tried,' he said in the Birmingham speech of April 1884, ' to make that my motto ; but I know, and will not conceal, that there are still a few in our party who have the lesson yet to learn, and who have yet to understand that the tory party of today is no longer identified with that small and narrow class which is connected with the ownership of land. . . . Trust the people and they will trust you.' Briefly, it may be said that while the democratic toryism claimed to differ from radicalism in its jealous regard for the throne, the church, the House of Lords, and the constitution, it asserted at least an equal interest in political and social reform.

By the winter of 1883 Lord Randolph Churchill's incessant activity, the audacity of his controversial sword-play in the House of Commons, the bold independence of his attitude towards the chiefs of his own party, and the effectiveness of his platform speeches, had made him one of the virtual, though unacknowledged, leaders of the opposition. The party managers were still disinclined to admit him to their inner councils ; but they could not counteract his influence over large numbers of middle-class conservatives, particularly in the great urban constituencies. In the autumn of 1883 he took part in the conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations, held at Birmingham, and established a close connection with some of the influential provincial politicians who belonged to that body. The antagonism between Lord Randolph Churchill and the official conservative leaders came to a head in the spring of 1884, and was fought out partly at the meetings of the National Union, and partly on the floor of the House of Commons over the franchise bill introduced by the liberal government. On the first night of the debate on the bill (29 Feb. 1884) Lord Randolph severely criticised it, and condemned the proposal of the government to swamp the electorate by the addition of some two millions of poor and grossly ignorant voters. But as the discussion continued he developed a line much more in consonance with his 'democratic' theories, and one which brought him into antagonism with a section of his own party. Sir Stafford Northcote, and those who agreed with his views, were on the whole inclined to accept the bill, while insisting on conditions which would have tended to maintain the existing system of representation in the prospective scheme of redistribution. Churchill, however, seemed more disposed to favour the establishment of single-seat electoral districts, believing that toryism would be no loser by them, and that by this method of representing local minorities seats would be gained even in the centres of dominant radicalism a calculation which was subsequently justified by events. There was also a division of opinion on the subject of Ireland. The Carlton Club conservatives objected to the immediate extension of the new franchise to that country. Lord Randolph held that Ireland should be included in the provisions of the bill. His friends said that this was merely consistent with tory democracy, his enemies that he was angling for the Irish vote. He, however, supported the general body of his party in the contention that it was unfair to pass the franchise bill into law without a disclosure, by the government, of the principles on which redistribution would be based, and without guarantees that the balance between urban and rural electors would be equitably maintained. On 28 April, on the motion for going into committee, he made a strong attack on the liberal 'gerrymandered,' whom he charged with an intention to manipulate the new constituencies in their own party interests. On 1 May Mr. Chaplin's amendment, intended to prevent the extension of the bill to Ireland, openly revealed the divisions among the conservatives. Mr. Gorst, as Lord Randolph Churchill's lieutenant, repudiated the amendment, which was withdrawn, after an admission from Lord George Hamilton that the opposition was not united on the subject. The real question at issue in the party was whether or not Lord Randolph and his followers were to be permitted a controlling voice in the direction of its affairs, and whether the whiggish conservatism of Sir Stafford Northcote, or the progressive toryism of the younger man, was to prevail. The dispute was made public by the crisis in the National Union of Conservative Associations. On 15 Feb. Lord Randolph, by a narrow majority, had been elected chairman of the council. This was a blow to the conservative parliamentary leaders, who had done their best to secure the election of a rival candidate. Lord Randolph followed his victory by obtaining the appointment of an executive committee, consisting of himself, Mr. Gorst, Sir H. Drummond Wolff, and one or two others. This committee refused to recognise the authority of the 'central committee' of the conservative party, which included Lord