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has kept the supreme work of government for men, and to invite women to undertake, in politics, in Parliament, and in Imperial administration, exactly the same duties and liabilities as men have hitherto discharged alone.
Again, most people are agreed that this question is one of profound importance, a change in the basis of power, and it may be in the basis of society, the most novel and in its possibilities the most incalculable ever seen. It is not known how many millions of women would be added to the register by the Woman Suffrage amendment promised from the Treasury Bench. Sir Edward Grey has placed the number at six millions. Other estimates are higher. Some are not so high. But on any estimate, the Franchise Bill so amended would be the largest measure of franchise reform ever submitted to the House of Commons, and its results no wise man would forecast. There are, indeed, Laodiceans who argue with a certain plausibility that the practical differences made by such a measure would be few, beyond a heavy increase in the cost of elections. But Mr. Philip Snowden probably spoke for the great majority of convinced Suffragists, and for most of their opponents too, when he declared in Parliament that Woman Suffrage was not a mere franchise question but a great moral question, the greatest of all the measures with which Parliament was called upon to deal.' Most people are agreed that, if the majority of women want the suffrage, they will ultimately get it. The only question is whether the majority of women, or of men either in this country, want it at all. Most people are agreed that no Government can carry such a measure through the present House of Commons without a grave risk of destroying itself—a risk which the enemies of the Liberal party face with an equanimity imperfectly concealed. Most people are agreed that the House of Commons has repeatedly expressed itself in favour of the principle of Woman Suffrage, and has as repeatedly refused to allow any measure embodying the principle to go beyond the preliminary stages of debate. And most people are agreed that the electorate has never been asked by any responsible party leader to treat the question as a dominant or imminent issue at any General Election held in this country yet. Mr. Lloyd George stated the position on this point with great force and fairness in November 1907:
Before the Government could bring in a Bill on a gigantic question of that sort, it ought to have been before the country in a definite and concrete form. He could not conceive of a revolution of this character being introduced into our Constitution without the opinion of the country being asked upon it definitely. It could hardly be said that the four hundred members of Parliament pledged to Woman Suffrage had really consulted their
constituents about it. . . . It had never really been discussed by the electors in the way that previous extensions of the franchise had been debated, and it would be a very serious departure from all precedent if it were possible to introduce a Bill of that magnitude without giving fair warning to the country that it was intended to deal with the subject.
Since that speech there have been two General Elections at which certain prominent issues were definitely put by every candidate who stood. But in no case can it be contended that Woman Suffrage was seriously treated as an issue to be settled by the vote of the electorate then. That does not, of course, disentitle the advocates of Woman Suffrage to argue that the question ought to be decided without any appeal to the country. But the fact that the constituencies have never been consulted in the definite way which Mr. Lloyd George desired is a fact which fair minds will take into account.
But it matters little what degree of agreement there may be about these propositions. What does matter to loyal members of the Liberal party is the effect which recent Ministerial utterances in regard to Woman Suffrage may have on the fortunes. of the Government and on the measures to which the party as a whole is pledged. The Liberals and their allies emerged from the second election of 1910 with a substantial majority and a very large programme. They had received a mandate for the Parliament Bill, so far as any election can be said to give a mandate for anything at all. They had made it clear to their supportersthey believed that they had made it clear to their opponents too -that their first use of the Parliament Act would be to endeavour to pass Home Rule, and to follow that up with proposals for Disestablishment in Wales, for One Man One Vote, and for Registration Reform. That was, I think, as much controversial legislation as the majority of Liberals hoped to secure in the second session of the new Parliament. But beyond that they were pledged to projects of Land reform and of reform in Education, in which for years past the veto of the Lords had blocked the way. And they were deeply committed to social reforms, like the great scheme of National Insurance, which were bound to occupy a great deal of the time of Parliament, but not likely to be delayed by the opposition of the Peers. Now this formidable programme is only just begun. The Parliament Bill is law. The Insurance Bill has emerged victorious from a very strenuous session. But practically the whole controversial programme of the Government remains, and, sure as that programme is of the loyal support of the Liberal party, no one can think lightly of the opposition it will encounter, or of the grave difficulties which it must involve. To carry Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and the abolition of the Plural Vote this session is in any case
a Herculean task. The party as a whole is pledged to these measures, and on their passing its credit and its future will depend. But to complicate a task already so exacting by throwing in at the last moment a vast Franchise Bill, as novel in principle as it is sweeping in its scope, a Bill on which the Government and its followers are divided, and which not one elector in a thousand has asked or expected this Government to propose, seems to many Liberals, even to many who favour Woman Suffrage, to be courting disaster before that task is begun. Under these circumstances there is little ground for wonder at the exultation in the Opposition camp.
For instance, how will the forcing of the Suffrage issue affect Home Rule? The present Parliamentary majority is a majority for Home Rule alone. It is now a quarter of a century since the Liberal party pledged itself to the policy of Self-Government in Ireland, and every consideration of honour and of interest makes that the first obligation which it is called on to redeem. For a quarter of a century the Nationalist leaders, men of standing and abilities second to those of no section of the House of Commons, have refused with a self-sacrifice rare in English politics all those opportunities of office and emolument to which politicians look for their reward, and have stood by their Liberal allies, and by what they believe to be the interests of their country, with a patience and devotion which even opponents may admire. Now at last, rightly or wrongly, they think they see their victory in sight; and if they show in the next two years anything like the steady discipline which enabled Mr. Gladstone, with less than half Mr. Asquith's majority, to carry a Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons in 1893, the prospects of their victory are very fair. But the fate of Home Rule hangs on one conditionthe maintenance of this Government and its majority for the next two years. Even with that assured the problem is not easy. It will need all the skill and all the unity of purpose which Ministers possess. And if, while answering critics in the Commons, meeting the Peers' resistance, and passing and re-passing a most contentious Home Rule Bill, the Government attempts pari passu to push through a Bill for Woman Suffrage which strains to breaking-point the unity of the Cabinet and of the majority at its back, the results can hardly fail to be disastrous to Home Rule. Besides that, the introduction of Woman Suffrage into Ireland must greatly aggravate the difficulties of the Home Rule Bill. The chief objection to Home Rule in the eyes of many Protestants both in England and in Ireland is that it will place political power in the hands of an electorate which is supposed to be peculiarly liable to the influence of the Roman priesthood. If we double that electorate by giving votes to Irishwomen, we
can hardly fail to increase the influence of the priests, and we double the fears we are most anxious to dispel. Can anyone pretend that such an extension of the suffrage has been in the minds of the Irish electors? Is it not essentially a question which the new Irish Parliament ought to consider and to settle for itself? Will Governments never learn the wisdom of doing one thing at a time? If it was impossible to drive three omnibuses abreast through Temple Bar in old days, it is no easier since they became more cumbersome, even though they be driven at a motor's pace.
As it is with Ireland, so it is, though in a lesser degree, with Wales. The Welshmen, too, have waited long and patiently. Their victory, too, is now within their grasp. But Welsh Disestablishment will not be passed till the Peers have exercised their veto to the full. It needs two years' persistent unity and discipline. Anything which breaks the Government in that time, which divides its followers or dissipates its force, means that that victory is indefinitely postponed. It would be a strange example of the irony of politics if the Church Establishment in Wales were to be saved, because a statesman whom the Welsh people love as they have loved few leaders, thought it his duty to insist on pushing Woman Suffrage to a point which shattered the Liberal Government just as the hopes of Welsh Nonconformity were about to be achieved.
And so, again, it is with Electoral Reform. I doubt whether six months ago anyone in the Cabinet or outside it contemplated a large extension of the franchise as a part of the work of this session. Quidnuncs have even questioned whether the Cabinet as a Cabinet have ever yet sanctioned any proposal of the kind. One Man One Vote and a simpler scheme of Registration have long been among the primary objects of the Liberal party, and have formed for years a part of every Liberal programme. One Man One Vote the Peers have already rejected, and every Liberal expected and desired that proposal to be introduced again this year and to come under the operation of the Parliament Act. But it was anticipated that the Franchise Bill and the Redistribution Bill, which had been dimly but much less clearly projected, and which are not necessarily such controversial measures, would be postponed until a later session, when the life of the new Parliament was more advanced. Most people imagined that the plans for this session were already ambitious enough. But now it seems that these plans are to be extended by superadding to a small measure of electoral reform, on which all Liberals are heartily agreed, large and startling franchise proposals on which the Liberals and their leaders are fatally divided. The chances of passing the smaller measure are rendered at once more uncertain and remote. And there is a real risk that the Liberal party
may be driven to face another Election under the same system of plural voting which it is at this moment in its power to end. On all these three contentious questions, the objects of long years of public effort, the Liberals seem for the first time in their history to have success almost within their grasp. And if, for the sake of pushing Woman Suffrage this session till it destroys the unity of the party, Home Rule were to be sacrificed, Welsh Disestablishment prevented, and One Man One Vote allowed to fail again, the Liberal leaders would find it difficult to answer the reproaches of their followers for opportunities wasted and pledges unfulfilled.
No one outside the Suffragette camp will question for a moment the disinterested sincerity of view which has led the majority of the present Cabinet to declare for a sweeping scheme of Woman Suffrage. One only hopes that, in giving effect to their opinion, they will not ignore the interests of their party. The two Ministers who have made themselves specially responsible for the suggestion that a leading member of the Cabinet should move an amendment to a Government Bill, embodying a principle which the Government has deliberately excluded, and which nearly half the Government regard as mischievous and wrong, command each in a rare measure the respect and affection of the Liberal party. Combined they would be irresistible, did not their proposal seem to involve the dissolution of the present Cabinet and of all that Cabinet responsibility means. They have behind them colleagues sharing their opinion with more or less reserve, and scarcely second in authority or esteem to them. They have at their back a majority of the House of Commons, which has again and again voted for the idea of Woman Suffrage, but has never yet shown itself willing to go a step beyond. No one, again, questions the right of the Commons to pass any Bill for Woman Suffrage, or the duty of the country to accept it if the Lords should pass it too. But it is almost impossible to reconcile with any tradition of English statesmanship, or with the character of Ministers in power, the theory that a Cabinet could father, if the House desired it, a measure which many of its members in principle condemned. The first duty of a Cabinet is to agree. Its second duty is to resign if its members are irreconcilably divided. Mr. Balfour's experiment in the opposite direction is one that few statesmen would readily repeat. It is only necessary to state the other course suggested to recognise it as a counsel of despair. Suppose that a Woman Suffrage amendment to a Government Bill were to be proposed by the Foreign Secretary from the Treasury Bench, opposed by the Prime Minister from his place beside him, supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, denounced by the Colonial Secretary, and so on in succession, amid the cheers and jeers of the opposite party. Suppose the amend