A Good Start

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A Good Start

W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, July 7, 1885)

The new Cabinet made a good beginning yesterday. The ministerial manifestoes of Lord Salisbury and Lord Carnarvon were admirable alike in tone and in substance; and, although we cannot profess to rejoice at the latest and final vote against liberty of conscience recorded in the House of Commons in the case of Mr. Bradlaugh, Ministers may well feel exhilarated at carrying a majority of 44 into the lobby in the first important division that has taken place since they accepted office. If for the rest of the session they can keep up to yesterday’s level they will do more to convince the country of their statesmanship than by all the speeches which they have made during the last five years.

Take, for instance, the way in which the new Lord Lieutenant discussed the affairs of Ireland from his place in the House of Lords. Nothing could be more statesmanlike and lofty than the tone in which Lord Carnarvon addressed himself to the consideration of the great problem of the reconciliation of Ireland.

No Radical in the House of Commons could have been more frank and courageous in his recognition of the necessity for a change in the abandonment of the miserable habit of constant recourse to exceptional and special legislation, by which, as by a series of temporary stopgaps, peace and order have been maintained in Ireland for the last forty years. It is a great thing to have the official chiefs of the Conservative party committed to a declaration in favour of some wholesome and better solution, based upon that feeling of trust, “which is after all the only foundation upon which we can hope to build up amity and concord between the two nations.” There is a better ring about Lord Carnarvon’s little speech than we have heard in any of the speeches dedicated to Irish affairs for some years. If the new Administration fails in Ireland, it will not be for lack of a noble ideal; and, with Lord Carnarvon, we cannot and will not believe that the combination of good feeling to England and good government to Ireland is a hopeless task. The new Government intends to rely upon the firm and effectual administration of the ordinary law for the maintenance of order, while they proposes to amend the Labourers Act and pass a Land Purchase Bill as a means of establishing better, more wholesome, and kindlier relations between the rulers and the ruled. Nothing could possibly be better than the spirit which breathed throughout Lord Carnarvon’s speech, and if only the new Viceroy is not fatally hampered by his sinister alliance with the Irish Chancellor we may venture to hope for better things in Ireland.

Lord Salisbury’s declaration of the foreign policy of the new Administration was dignified and effective. Of course it is easy to deal in sounding generalities, and the test of an Administration is not in its formulae, nor even in its ideas, but in its ability to act upon the one and to realize the other. Still, so far as mere programme can go, Lord Salisbury did his work very well. His speech was devoted solely to the Afghan and Egyptian questions, and on both he spoke with a very certain sound, and in a much more reasonable fashion than might have been imagined considering some of his own utterances when in opposition. On the question of the Afghan frontier he somewhat unnecessarily committed himself to a declaration which might compel him to go to war with Russia as to the precise point where the Pass of Zulfikar begins, or concerning the definition of the positions which command the entrance to that place. But that, we may take it, is governed by the significant remark that “he was bound to say that the promise given to the Ameer was only consequent upon another promise given by Russia.” From which it follows that the definition as to what we are to give to the Ameer is bound by the interpretation which Russia attaches to the particular phrase, “the Pass of Zulfikar.” On the general principles of Afghan policy Lord Salisbury spoke wisely and well:—

Although we shall cultivate the confidence and friendship of the Ameer of Afghanistan, it is not to the friendship of the Ameer of Afghanistan that we must trust for the protection of our interests. It is to preparations skilfully devised and vigorously and rapidly carried out for the defence of our frontier at all points where it is weak, and to bulwarks which shall not only defend the frontier when it is attacked, but which shall stretch out far enough to prevent the tide of war rolling to its foot.

There is a danger of course that the last phrase may be held to apply to Candahar, but we prefer to believe that it refers solely to Quetta, and perhaps to Pishin and Sibi. On that point we need more explicit assurances; but giving the new Cabinet the benefit of that doubt, there is no exception to be taken the policy of defending India on the frontier of India, and not on the frontier of Afghanistan.

In the references to Egypt and the Soudan there was not much that is new, but its strain was good, straightforward, and manly. The only hint which it contained of any new departure was the allusion to the possibility of obtaining assistance from Turkey in resisting the advance of the Mahdi. Such at least we take to be the meaning of the following allusion:—”The most momentous issue we have to decide is how we shall apply the forces of Egypt, assisted, no doubt, in some measure by ourselves—and assisted, it may be, “other ways—so as to keep this tide of fanatic and sanguinary barbarism at a distance. “Lord Salisbury definite put his foot down upon the suggestion that we should sacrifice Tewfik. The Khepe “throughout the whole of the calamitous history has shown himself loyal and stedfast (sic) to England. To him, therefore, we are bound by every consideration of honour.” The Khepe, therefore, will be maintained, and Sir H. Drummond Wolff, we suppose, will not go to Cairo. Concerning his general Egyptian policy Lord Salisbury’s words were weighty and to the point. He said:—

It is impossible that we can restore Egypt to the condition in which she v before our troops landed unless we make up our minds to a somewhat lengthy process. There is really no alternative before us but steadily buckling to with a view of amending all the evils, or a considerable number of the evils, which exist by a cautious and circumspect policy. There is no alternative between that and taking a course which, it seems to me, would cover England with shame, that of abandoning Egypt to her fate—anarchy and chaos.

A policy of “steadily buckling to” is better than a policy of scuttle, and we cordially wish Lord Salisbury all success in the difficult task to which he has set his hand. He may not achieve success, but if he and his colleagues continue the same broad and generous spirit which they displayed in their manifestoes last night there is little fear but that they will face the General Election with much better prospects than six weeks ago appeared possible.