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THE FOURTH PARTY,
serious rebuff. The occasion was a motion giving precedence to Sir Stafford Northcote's Egyptian vote of censure over the ordinary business of a Tuesday evening. The rule provided that the clôture must be carried by more than 200 members, unless the minority was under 40. Some Conservatives, including even occupants of the front Opposition bench, voted with the Irish members, against whom the clôture had really been invoked, with the result that the Ayes were 207 and the Noes 46. The deduction of seven from the majority would have involved a severe reflection on Mr Speaker. Such was the net, and indeed the gross, result of a resolution which was under the cognisance of the House of Commons for the whole of an unusually protracted parliamentary year. In 1887, Mr Smith, as leader of the Conservative Ministerialists in the House of Commons, introduced a much more stringent, and a much more business-like form of the clôture, which is now in almost daily use.
It would be undesirable to discuss the personal relations between Sir Stafford Northcote and the small group of highly talented men who were known in the Parliament of 1880 as the Fourth party, but it is easy to indicate their different principles of action.
The Fourth party, as every one knows, consisted of Lord Randolph Churchill, Mr Arthur Balfour, Sir John Gorst, and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff. They apparently took the view that the duty of an Opposition was to attack the Government in season and out of season, and to pay no heed to the constant defeats to which it thus exposed itself. Sir Stafford Northcote, on the other hand, considered that it was bad policy for the minority to be frequently pitting itself against the majority. He held that such a course of proceeding involved great waste of public time, and that it placed the Opposition in a disadvantageous position before the eyes of the country. In his opinion it was best to give the Government full swing, and to adopt the tactics of Fabius rather than those of Minutius.
Events have rendered it impossible to decide as to whether Sir Stafford Northcote or the Fourth party were right. The partial defeat of the Liberals in 1885, and their utter rout in 1886, were not due to any Conservative policy. Mr Gladstone failed to secure an absolute majority in 1885, partly because of the indignation aroused by Gordon's death, and partly because the Irish, anxious to hold the balance in their own hands, desired to equalise as far as possible the numbers of the two great parties in the State, and so cast their votes for the Conservatives. In 1886, Mr Gladstone was defeated entirely in consequence of his adoption of Home Rule.
Mr Gladstone's Ministry was beaten in June 1885 on their Budget Bill, and at once resigned. It is probable that no event of a similar kind was ever less expected. It has been explained in a number of ways, but too little attention has generally been paid to the unpopularity of the Budget itself. It may be true that some Liberals, and even some Liberal Ministers, may have had reasons of their own for witnessing with complacency the resigna1885.]
GENERAL CRITICISM OF SIR STAFFORD.
tion of the Government; but it is certain that the Budget, which proposed to put additional taxes on beer, spirits, and land, was open to severe condemnation. The revenue derived from beer was stationary, that from spirits was declining, while the condition of land seemed desperate; and the impolicy of imposing additional burdens upon them at such a time was strongly urged and widely recognised.
Such a Budget loudly challenged opposition, and Sir Michael Hicks-Beach brought forward an amendment to the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill on the 8th of June, which was carried by a majority of twelve. Sir Stafford Northcote wound up the debate on the Conservative side, and in doing so delivered his last speech of any importance in the House of Commons.
Sir Stafford Northcote had many qualifications for a leader of men. He was extremely quick of apprehension, he never missed the point of an argument, his courage and coolness never forsook him, his temper was almost perfect, he never gave personal offence to any one, and he always bore himself with simple dignity. He has been accused of timidity, but such an accusation is too ridiculous to notice. It has also been said that he lacked the sense of humour, but such a criticism is thoroughly superficial. Şir Stafford Northcote's sense of humour was often proved, and always showed itself to be of the keenest and most refined character. But he was chary of displaying it, and once remarked that the speakers who moved laughter were seldom respected.
Perhaps the two characteristics that were especially his own were his simplicity and his graciousness. A distinguished public servant wrote of him after his death, with perfect truth, that his graciousness concealed his greatness, and his simplicity tended to produce the same effect. For exaggeration of all kinds he entertained a profound contempt, and this habit of mind led him generally to make the least of things, and particularly of his own work. His simplicity also accounts for his utter indifference to authority for the sake of authority. To many minds it is a pleasure to issue commands, and to see those commands obeyed: it seems a satisfactory proof of power. But the exercise of authority gave Sir Stafford Northcote no pleasure at all. He loved to excel, and no doubt his political successes were sweet to him; but he regarded them much as he regarded the successes of his boyhood at Oxford. It was the victory itself, and not the fruits it might bring to him, that he loved.
It must be admitted that in some respects Sir Stafford Northcote's very virtues told against him in his character of party leader. He inspired much affection, but perhaps too little awe. He was certainly too candid and judicial to be a thorough-going partisan, or to be able to make all the sacrifices that the spirit of party demands; but perhaps his worst fault was a certain detachment of mind, which made him see things at the moment as other people would see them a week or a month afterwards. Sir Stafford Northcote was a man who knew himself, and he quite recognised that he was not by nature a party man.
GENERAL CRITICISM OF SIR STAFFORD.
He saw that this placed him at a certain disadvantage which could not be entirely recovered, however warmly he might throw himself into party business. No labour and no thought can ever quite supply the absence of natural instinct. If his conduct may at times have appeared undecided, and if he ever allowed himself to be over-persuaded by his adherents, the explanation is to be found in the fact of his extreme anxiety to render to party even more than its due in all cases when he could do so conscientiously. He was well aware that there were moments when advantages might have been snatched from the enemy by a more reckless and less scrupulous leader than himself; and to make up to the party for what they lost in this manner was an object so dear to his heart that it is possible that on some occasions he yielded to counsels that his own judgment opposed, careless as to the effect upon his own reputation.
But when everything has been said about Sir Stafford Northcote's merits and defects as a leader of the House of Commons, the fact remains that it was his misfortune to assume that office in immediate succession to Mr Gladstone and Mr Disraeli, one of whom may perhaps be described as the most powerful statesman, and the other as the most interesting political personage, that have appeared in England during the present century. Mr Disraeli, not long after the death of Lord Palmerston, once said to Sir Stafford Northcote that the coming struggle between himself and Mr Gladstone would rival the great conflict between Mr Pitt and Mr Fox, and it