Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/30

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Churchill
Churchill
18

South Paddington on 2 July by 2,576 votes to 769. He returned to parliament at the head of a triumphant unionist majority, whose victory he had materially assisted to secure. In the electioneering campaign he had been somewhat less active than Lord Hartington, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Goschen, and other unionist liberals. But in the conservative camp proper there was no leader, except Lord Salisbury, who could now be compared with him in influence and reputation, and perhaps not one who surpassed him in popularity with the rank and file of the party in the constituencies. His personality had fascinated the masses, who admired his courage, his ready wit, and the brilliant audacity with which he dealt his blows at the loftiest crests, whether those of friends or adversaries. Moreover, it was perceived by this time that there was a fund of intellectual power and a genuine depth of conviction behind his erratic insolence and reckless rhetoric. Discerning judges recognised that the former swashbuckler of the 'fourth party' had statesmanlike ideas and penetrating insight. Accordingly, when the general election of July 1886 overthrew Gladstone, and Lord Salisbury was sent for by the queen on 22 July, Lord Randolph was offered and accepted the second place in the ministry, the chancellorship of the exchequer and the leadership of the House of Commons. Parliament was opened on 19 Aug., and on the same night, in answer to Gladstone, the new leader made a detailed statement of the ministerial policy, particularly in regard to Ireland. In this speech, and in the course of the other Irish debates of the short session, Churchill insisted on the unalterable determination of his party to maintain the union inviolate. He promised, however, a general inquiry into Irish administration, and dwelt on the necessity for developing local government 'in all parts of the United Kingdom.' It was an attitude which was somewhat resented by extreme unionists, who suspected Lord Randolph of a desire to coquet with the nationalist vote ; but it was thoroughly consistent with his general view of Irish policy. He had steadily asserted that, though repeal was inadmissible, Irish nationalism should be conciliated as far as possible by the extension of local self-government.

But Lord Randolph carried his progressive toryism into other fields. In the recess he delivered a speech at Dartford on 2 Oct., in which he gave a description of conservative policy that excited much adverse comment, both from radicals, who said that Lord Randolph was trying to 'dish' them by stealing their principles, and from many conservatives who complained that the chancellor of the exchequer was little better than a radical himself. Nevertheless several of the measures which he then advocated were destined to be officially adopted by the conservative party in the course of the next few years and carried into effect. The 'Dartford programme,' vigorously defended and reasserted three weeks later in a speech at Bradford, included local government reform in Great Britain and Ireland, bills for providing agricultural labourers with allotments and small holdings, the sale of glebe lands, and legislation on railway rates, tithes, land transfer, and Irish land purchase. 'Politics,' said its author, ' is not a science of the past. You must use the past as a lever with which to manufacture the future.'

As leader of the House of Commons in the autumn session of 1886 Lord Randolph vindicated the judgment of his admirers and disconcerted those who thought him petulant and shallow. He displayed tact, ability, and good temper, and exhibited that mixture of firmness and conciliation which the house respects above most qualities. Some curiosity was entertained as to what kind of financial administrator he would make. It was not destined to be gratified, for Lord Randolph never introduced a budget. On 23 Dec. 1886 the 'Times' announced that the chancellor of the exchequer had placed his resignation in the hands of the prime minister. The step was wholly unexpected by the general public, and caused intense interest and surprise. The retiring minister's colleagues were perhaps less astonished. All through the autumn there had been a certain amount of friction in the cabinet. Lord Randolph, though he could keep his feelings under restraint in the House of Commons, was not always able to control a high-strung and irritable temperament in his private intercourse with associates, some of whom he regarded with very little respect. On the other side, those members of the cabinet who had scarcely forgiven the gibes and insults of the 'fourth party' day, were displeased with the 'advanced' sentiments of the Dartford and Bradford speeches, and the overbearing manners of a comparatively youthful colleague. The chancellor of the exchequer is said to have talked of resignation more than once in the course of the autumn.

The final rupture was precipitated by a difference of opinion on a specific question of policy. Lord Randolph, as guardian of the public purse, objected to the demands of the ministers responsible for the army and