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30. Chapter XXX The Future Of Our Empire

THE coalition of Parties and leaders and the suspension of Party warfare have saved this nation and Empire from many calamities, but they have left many hopes unfulfilled. I believe the continuation of the political truce to be necessary so long as the War lasts, and far more necessary when the War is over. But there have been too many instances in which the action of Ministers has followed instead of led public opinion. This has become painfully obvious, and must lead to startling changes.

While the War lasts we have the guidance of our naval and military authorities, and the splendid valour and constancy of our sailors and soldiers, to sustain us. But when the havoc wrought by the War has to be made good; when armies have to be disbanded and re-enlisted in the services of peace; when social conditions and the structure of national and international trade and finance, have to be remodelled; when Capital and Labour have to give us of their best in order to found on better lines an industrial concord never yet realised; when a new policy promoting a fuller use of British resources in the supplying of British needs, a closer union between national capacities and Imperial resources, a better relationship with our allies in trade and enterprise, and drastic


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measures for the discouragement of our crime-stained enemies—the lowest depth of folly will be reached if we have to revert to the sordid squabbles of the past in which statesmanship was the plaything of wire-pullers. No! The nation will call more than ever for harmony and for united effort to place our storm-tossed ship of state on an even keel, in a haven of universal patriotism.

As the struggle becomes more and more bloody and disastrous, can we wonder that projects to banish war for ever from the world are forced upon our notice? “A league of peace.” What a noble enterprise! How much would such a league be worth if Germany, and Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria were to win this war? When we defeat them, how much would the league be worth if they joined it?

Every approach to a real peace will be hailed with delight. If any project of international authority can even help to make peace more likely our whole power would be behind it. But could the traitors to the cause of peace, who have thrown the world into mourning, maddened by defeat, full of the old treachery and new schemes of revenge, sit down in honest conference with apostles of peace? The idea has one merit—that of sardonic humour. I do not suppose that any detected and defeated burglar would refuse to exchange the confinement of a gaol for a seat of honour on a council for the suppression of crime.

A Great Power which can stand in or out of a European War—for a long time at any rate!—is in an ideal position for such beautiful dreams.

The nature and extent of our Empire, which has


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boundaries to protect in every quarter of the globe, and interests to defend everywhere; the degree to which the people of Great Britain are dependent for their existence on oversea supplies of food and raw materials; the fact that without sea supremacy the continuance of the Empire is impossible—make any surrender of our power of self-defence unthinkable at present. That very surrender would, it seems to me, weaken, not strengthen, the prospects of peace and goodwill amongst the nations.

Concerning many large divisions of the Empire, the ignorance of the average Englishman is astounding. I suppose it will continue until our school systems are reformed. His attention will then be attracted more frequently to that vast, mysterious assemblage of races, living in the Indian Empire, which contains about 325 millions of the King-Emperor's subjects, with room for 325 millions more. The increase of its population in one generation nearly equals the total number of His Majesty's uncoloured subjects at the present time. Its area of cultivation covers 250,000,000 acres. The annual amount of its seaborne trade just before the War was £327,000,000—it had doubled in ten years! India is no pauper clinging to the skirts of Imperial charity. If the magnificent loyalty of her princes and peoples continue to the end of this War, a more honoured place must be found for her in our family circle of nations.

Another member of the Imperial family is at the moment undergoing a time of political testing. Across


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the seas, under the Southern Cross, the national evolution gave in recent years the representatives of the working men an ascendancy in the Federal Parliament, the progress of which has been watched with great interest. The crucial moment came this year, and the first great strain has proved fatal to the Labour Caucus and Labour League domination in Australia. The fusion of the Liberal Party under Mr. Cook, with what is left in the Ministerial ranks under Mr. Hughes, is a transformation so violent that one asks, Can it possibly last? It represents the purest patriotism, or the most desperate need, or a mixture of both.

The break and the fusion were so violent that the future of the latter is, of course, uncertain. The Labour Leagues, having achieved supremacy by solidarity, will probably try hard to regain power by restoring it. If the fusion survive that ordeal, the fiasco of the Referendum for Compulsion will have rendered one good service. Without sacrificing any just claim of the trade unionists, Parliament will take better care of the rights of others, and the interests of the whole community.

Whilst the main object of the approaching Imperial Conference may be to reinforce effort in the last desperate stages of the War, it may also be intended to gather the views of Dominion statesmen as to the terms of peace, and as to the lines of agreement possible in matters of trade.

I sincerely trust that it will prove another milestone on the road to a closer union of Empire forces. But I must warn my readers that the goal of final


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achievement—an Imperial Parliament—will not soon gladden our eyes. The Dominions will be ready, probably, to take as large a share in the management of affairs as the British Parliament is prepared to offer them, but they will be slow to surrender any of their own powers of self-government, especially in matters of trade and immigration.

When people talk of an Imperial Parliament, they rarely appreciate the obstacles to be overcome. Would that be an Imperial legislature in which 370,000,000 —83 per cent.—of the Empire's population had no voice? If the 83 per cent. were represented, could you refuse, say, to India the control of her own local affairs? If you granted that, would it not lead to immediate chaos? Would it not irritate the 83 per cent. if the Dominions, while helping to rule over them in an Imperial Parliament, shut them out from seven-twelfths of the Imperial area? Would not racial demands assail the new Parliament, and could an answer to them be evaded?

Such suggestions do not aim at the destruction of a noble ideal. They are only offered for serious consideration as reasons for cautious methods of procedure.

The two most pressing problems of an Imperial union can, I hope, be dealt with in an easier way. Surely, after the War, by agreement a system of Imperial defence could be established and also an Imperial policy of trade? An Imperial tariff is impossible; so is free trade within the Empire, for reasons “too numerous to mention.” But a scheme of preference and reciprocity could come in between the two fiscal


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policies without seriously clashing with either. A little “come” and a little “go,” such as was exercised when our Parliament set aside political rivalries for a common end, will produce harmony.

A precedent of great interest will be established if the Irish Question come before the Imperial Conference. Hitherto it has been a salutary rule that the domestic troubles of each division of the Empire should be settled locally. But if the Irish trouble could be settled by that innovation no one would quarrel with the means employed. Would Ulster accept Colonial interference if it does not view its claims with favour? Would the Nationalists in Ireland accept it if it does not favour their aspirations? Would not both repudiate the interference if it satisfied neither?

The statesman from the Dominions who does not see a vital difference between Home Rule in Australia, Canada, South Africa, or New Zealand, and Home Rule in Ireland, makes a deplorable mistake. Separation was the unwritten corollary of Colonial Constitutions. There was no condition of “indissoluble union,” or pretence of it, in Colonial Home Rule Acts. If any of Britain's legislative offspring desired to start on his own account a parental blessing awaited him. But separation, however strongly demanded, could never be allowed to Ireland, who may resemble a discontented wife, but certainly not a son. To suppose that any words in an Act of Parliament can stay the evolution of events, or forbid the progress of a national movement, is to betray childish ignorance. Hence, above all others, is that previous question—


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Have we arrived at a time in Irish history when the great mass of the Irish people will accept Home Rule as if it were a hand-clasp of eternal friendship and union? The most ardent British supporters of Irish Home Rule, from Mr. Gladstone downwards, would repudiate the movement if they believed that it would end in a separatist agitation. A drawing of the sword by the Mother of Parliaments, to take the life of her youngest child, would surely be the most awful catastrophe in that long and dismal history. Many years ago I put my fear of such a catastrophe to Lord Aberdeen when he was in Sydney. He assured me that it could never happen. I had begun to hope, when that pro-German outbreak in Dublin in April, 1916, even when Home Rule was on the Statute-book, awakened all my former fears. When will North and South each love Ireland more than their own end of it? The laws of Nature have made Ireland an essential part of that awfully narrow base on which rests the stupendous fabric of an empire which marches with the sun.

The Ministerial crisis which gave such a dramatic close to the year 1916 is quite the most wonderful in British history. It was a peaceful political earth-quake, which may be succeeded by others not so harmless.

The making of the Coalition Government of 1915 involved a notable sacrifice on the part of the Conservatives. The making of the new Coalition Government gives the late Prime Minister and his colleagues a chance of self-sacrifice, too. They have begun admirably. If anything could exceed in patriotism


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the first speech in the House of Commons of the new Prime Minister, it was the reply of the new Leader of the Opposition.

The change has brought men of practical knowledge, with no political training, into some of the high offices of State. This is nothing less than a revolution of great promise. Mr. Fisher, the President of the Board of Education, has a chance of doing more for the British people than most of his colleagues. Will he make teaching a really attractive calling? Will he have the souls of our children fed with nourishing ideas instead of the husks which contain them? Will he act so that Britain, in the grim industrial battle before her, will get into childhood and youth something more than the accomplishments of reading, writing, and arithmetic? Surely the beginnings of knowledge in things that help most in the real battles of life might be given in compulsory continuation schools on some of the nights of the week? The Universities, old and new, might also be persuaded to make science, the useful arts, and modern languages more fashionable. There is, I admit, a serious risk attending such changes—the number of students who are trained to murder afresh languages already dead would undoubtedly be lessened, and the study of prehistoric mysteries may be turned into more modern channels.

I hope that the Imperial Conference will pave the way for great and beneficial changes—indeed, that is all we can expect it to do. The relations of the various divisions of the Empire in defence


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and trade come first in the order of pressing and practicable topics. When the Conference comes to questions of Imperial and international trade it must begin by casting aside all fiscal creeds and battle-crises. Nothing short of that will clear the way for satisfactory adjustments which all wish in the abstract, but will find it difficult to establish. The politicians, economists, and leader writers must sit at the feet of the experts.

Conclusion

Our own Empire, and those of Russia, France, and Italy, hold sway over 25 or 30 millions of square miles, and 730 millions of the human race. They offer openings for mutual trade and enterprise so unprecedently great that one's highest hopes centre round one question: will that grand alliance of Empires, which has been strong enough to save the world in war, be wise enough to crown its military triumphs by a lasting brotherhood in the arts of peace?

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