Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/764

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

sentiment of the legislature for the time being. But the executive under such a system would do its own work, and leave the legislature free to do the work of legislation. The special initiation of the Minister of Finance in financial matters would be preserved by the same sense of an obvious necessity which has established it. In the performance of purely administrative duties, all the members of the council might without difficulty agree, and their coöperation in their proper work might be perfect, notwithstanding possible differences of opinion about matters of legislation. Why should not a good Chancellor of the Exchequer act in harmony with a good Home Secretary notwithstanding a difference of opinion about the church establishment or the extension of the franchise? Why should the country be prevented by that difference from availing itself of the administrative capacity of both? And why should not each be free to vote as a member of the legislature, in accordance with his personal opinion? At present a cabinet has something of the character of a conspiracy, members often suppressing or even acting against their own opinions in order to present a united front to the enemy and to maintain their hold of power, from which no small calamities have flowed. It would not be difficult to point to instances of measures forced on a cabinet by some leading member, his colleagues acquiescing merely from fear of a break-up, and then carried through Parliament by the influence of government, though the sense both of the legislature and the cabinet was really the other way.

The tendency inherent in party government to supersede the national legislature by the party caucus has long been completely developed in the United States, where it may be said that in ordinary times the only real debates are those held in caucus, congressional legislation being simply a registration of the caucus decision, for which all members of the party, whether they agreed or dissented in the caucus, feel bound by party allegiance to record their votes in the House; just as the only real election is the nomination by the caucus of the party which has the majority, and which then collectively imposes its will on the constituency; so that measures and elections may be and often are carried by a minority but little exceeding one-fourth of the House or the constituency, as the case may be. The same tendency is rapidly developing itself in England; and it is evidently fatal to the genuine existence of parliamentary institutions.

So far as England is concerned, the institution of an executive regularly elected by the legislature at large in place of a cabinet formed of the leaders of a party majority would be substantially a return to the old form of government—the Privy Council. Parliament is now the sovereign power, and election by it would be equivalent to the ancient nomination by the crown. The mode of electing and confirming a Speaker shows how the forms of monarchy may be reconciled with the action of an elective institution.