William Morris. Commonweal 1886

Home Rule or Humbug

Source: “Home Rule or Humbug” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 24, 26 June 1886, p.100-101;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

It would be but waste of time to go through all the election addresses of even the principal leaders of parties which have been put before the public during the last few days; but those addresses, and the reception of Mr Gladstone on his journey northward, seem to foreshadow the nature and issue of the coming contest, and a few words seem desirable about it. Mr Gladstone has definitely given up his Bill, and takes his stand on the principle of a parliament for Ireland. It is clear that this may mean compromise — that he is prepared to accept something less like independence than the Bill intended; but it may not mean anything more than electioneering vagueness, trying to make the sweep of the net as wide and inclusive as possible, — a dangerous manoeuvre, but which will always be tried at elections, and by Mr Gladstone.

The point is, whether the Irish people are prepared to accept anything less like independence than the Bill; or rather, will the march of Parliamentary events compel them to do so. The Chamberlainites have the power, perhaps, of forcing them to accept a compromise. The immediate purpose of Mr Gladstone’s declaration of the death of the Bill is an olive-branch to Radical dissentients. If they accept it as a body, the whole Liberal-Radical party (outside Lord Hartington’s Whigs) will be pledged to shaving down the measure for the new Parliament to something less than the defunct Bill. The Irish, at all events their central group, will shrink from the attitude of irreconcilability if the shaving down is not very flagrant, especially if it gives them as it almost certainly will do, an immediate opportunity for carrying on the agitation. Unless, therefore, the Chamberlainites are dead against any real Home-Rule, they will give up their present opposition to Mr Gladstone and leave their Tory-Whig friends in the lurch.

It is much to be hoped that they will not take this course, for in their coming into the Gladstonian camp again lies the real danger to the success of Irish independence. Whether Mr Gladstone is strong enough to win in the elections or not, he will at least have at his back a minority strong enough in opposition to prevent the passing of a measure intended for the complete shelving of the question, which would have to be enforced by the usual method by which English gifts are presented to Ireland — coercion, to wit. But on the other hand, a majority of men merely pretending to support Home Rule, joined to the usual amount of waverers, might so dally with the question as practically to draw us back again into the trouble from which we have seemed to be emerging. A firm and strong minority would educate people somewhat: a sloppy majority would wear them out and make them languid as to the whole subject.

Meanwhile it is observable that no party professes to intend shelving the question; and further, that in spite of all the bluster of the Tory press, the Tories are beginning to see the impossibility of dragooning Ireland in the future, and are loudly disclaiming coercion. Even the St James’s Gazette is driven to this retreat, and talks about Lord Salisbury’s ‘unguarded moment’, — the moment in which he very frankly expressed the intentions or hopes of the Tory party as regards Ireland; intentions which would have to become those of Whigs and Jingo-Radicals if they were to succeed in getting support enough to impose their schemes on that country. This looks very like throwing up the sponge. Things have come to this point, that even those who, if they could, would coerce Ireland by any and every means, including a scheme of depopulation, which Lord Salisbury is now driven to disavow, perceive that the thing is impossible in the face of the gathering instinct of the English people against their forcible benevolence in favour of the landlords.

It is becoming impossible then to impose the rule of the English bureaucracy in its worst form on Ireland. What alternative is left then to the re actionists in dealing with her. Apparently, to involve the whole question in a hopeless, lawyer-like muddle, so as to sicken people of it, and to get up the old cry of the impossibility of dealing with the Irish. This is what is being attempted; and, on the whole, Mr Gladstone’s answer to it must be considered an effective one, and none the less so because of its simplicity; he has for once thrown off all finesse, and puts the broad question before the country of Home Rule or Humbug; it was necessary to do this in order to break through the network of evasions, intrigue, and compromise that the end of last Session had woven round the question. It is no use prophecying as to the result of the elections, but if they go against Home Rule this simplifying of the present issue will give force and distinctness to the powerful opposition which, as above said, is the alternative to a success at the polling booths.

One may say about the Radicals generally, looking at them from the Socialist point of view, that they may be divided into two sections. The first are the pedantic Radicals with certain party shibboleths on their tongues, and in their hearts bitter hostility to everything which seems to interfere even temporarily with the party game which they are playing. Between them and us there is and must be mere war; they will not even listen to us. They look upon us with more hatred than they do upon the Tories, for without the latter they could not carry on their game. But besides these pedantic Radicals, there is another Radical section who are on the look out for progressive ideas, and are the representatives of advancing Democracy. These may, and often do, oppose us as inconvenient impracticable persons, who interfere with what they have learned to consider progress, but they are not really unfriendly and are willing to hear us, and when they have done so they will find many of them, that they are Socialists after all.

Well, the Chamberlainite Unionist Radicals, many of whom are quite fanatical in their opposition to Home Rule, do on this occasion represent to us the hostile pedantic Radicals, while those who are championing Home Rule represent our Radical friends, who are waiting to be told what Socialism really is, or at any rate waiting to find out what it is, and who when they have found out will become Socialists. As Socialists, therefore, we are bound to wish the utmost success to those who can at least see that it is necessary for Ireland to take her own affairs into her own hands, whatever the immediate results may be. To the pedantic Radicals, the new Jingoes, we need scarcely wish ill-success, for as things are going they are getting themselves deeper into the mire at every step.