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Liberal / SDP / Libdem Manifestos > 1900 > Manifesto text in a single long file
1900 The Liberal Party General Election Manifesto
Yielding to pressure from the less scrupulous of his colleagues and supporters, Lord Salisbury has recommended the Queen to dissolve Parliament as and from today. When Lord Beaconsfield was blamed for not taking a General Election in 1878 on the conclusion of the Berlin Conference, he declared that:
'A Minister with a large majority in the House of Commons has no business to dissolve merely with the object of gaining an advantage at the polls due to transitory circumstances. It is said I have lost a golden opportunity. I am not so sure of it. The English people do not like breaches of Constitutional practice.'
It would seem that Her Majesty's present advisers are less scrupulous than Lord Beaconsfield, and a 'Khaki' Election in the month of October is accordingly ordered.
The Nation will not soon forget the dark days of less than a year ago following the miscalculation of a Government that had risked a war without first counting the cost. The matter of conducting the negotiations had, at least, not made for a peaceful solution. For years this Government, without remonstrance, had allowed the Transvaal to arm itself to the teeth, and yet continued to underestimate its military strength. Diasters in the field fell like thunderclaps upon our country and overwhelmed it with shame, apprehension, and distress. Out of this state of humiliation it has been lifted, not by the statesmanship and administration of the Government, but by the genius of Lord Roberts and the bravery and endurance of officers and men; while the whole people, without distinction of Party, calmly, patiently, stubbornly facing their adversity, have cheerfully yielded up those they love best to hardship and to death in the service and for the honour of a common country.
And now this Government are scheming that in the achievements of a great General and a brave army their own negligence, miscalculation, and the manifold misdoing shall be forgiven and forgotten. They are seeking to prostitute the sacrificies of a whole people to the interests of one political Party. By a Dissolution on a stale Register and a point-blank refusal of such special legislation as would put the new Register in force - sharp practice unprecedented since the great Reform Bill - they deliberately disfranchise half a million of electors, and their appeal to the nationl for a verdict of acquittal and confidence is so far a delusion and a sham. Liberal, whatever their differences of opinion, must unite in indignant protest against such an obvious and discreditable electioneering trick, and call upon their fellow-citizens not to be blinded to the vast and varied interests at stake by the dust of a false and partial issue. Not Lord Roberts and his soldiers, but Lord Salisbury and his colleagues ask for the Nation's confidence, and that in all departments, for the next six years.
What have they done to deserve it? Have they other credentials than the mis-management of negotiations and of war?
Abroad, where it was prophesied for them by one of themselves that the advent of this Heaven-sent Government would shed an unwonted felling of calm and security over Europe, their career has been marked by a continuous series of wars and rumours of war. In theories and complications with which they have been called upon to deal, they have shown neither clear purpose nor resourceful diplomacy, not any true sense of the greatness and dignity of the country whose destinies and traditions have been committed to their keeping. In the Near East, thanks to the feebleness and ineffectiveness with which the voice of this country was heard in the Councils of Europe, we have seen the Armenian Christians slaughtered and unavenged, Greece humiliated, the Sultan triumphant, and Crete only delivered from his sway by a happy accident, of which admirals were able to take advantage where Statesmen had failed. In India the wanton breach of the country's pledged word and the abandonment of the wise policy of their predecessors kindled the whole frontier into a flame. In Siam, Tunis, and Madagascar British interests were gratuitously sacrificed by a series of what were called 'graceful concessions'.
Finally, in the Far East the Government subjected the country to a succession of humiliation. They entered into a futile and unnecessary contest with Russia, on which they were at every point worsted. They neglected golden opportunities which might have been seized with effect, and finally were forced to console themselves and the country with Wei-hai-Wei, the possession of which has imposed an additional burden to our already over-taxed military resources, and is a source of naval weakness rather than strength. And in this, as in all other matters, the Government so unskilfully represented the interests and presented the case of this country, that the nations of Europe now stand towards us in an attitude of hostility and suspicion.
At home, the lavish and grandiloquent promises with which the confidence of the country was wooed have issued in a singularly bare and exiguous performance. The great social programme has evaporated into air. The scheme for Old Age Pensions, which was so simple that anyone could understand it,' and which 'any Liberal Unionist agent' was prepared to explain, has disappeared in a vanishing vista of Committees of Inquiry. The great question of Temperance Reform, which bulked so largely in election addresses, has also been shelved. In the early days of the Government it was pushed aside, the profits of the Brewers being preferred to the prayers of the Bishops, and of late, when revived by the highly significant Report of his own licensing Commission, it was dismissed by the Prime Minister with cheap jibes about 'free indulgence.' The scheme of Employers' liability which was to compensate 'every man for every accident', 'as a matter of right and certainty, without the risk of litigation,' has partial in its incidence, and has proved the most litigious Act of modern times.
There is one section of their policy to which the Government have devoted themselves with zeal and persistence - that of administering doles from the public exchequer to the classes on whose support they rely. That policy appears to have been pursued with all the more gratification because it involved the emphasis and extension of the principle of Sectarianism in Education, and preserved the so-called 'Voluntary' Schools from that public control which should always follow the grant of public money. In doles of this sort of Agricultural Landowners, to Clerical Tithepayers and to Denominational Schools, the whole of the magnificent revenue derived from Sir William Harcourt's great financial reforms has been uselessly and mischievously dribbled away; during years of peace and increasing income there has been no substantial remission of taxation; while, to complete the picture of the Government's financial recklessness, the Sinking Fund, the reserve of the country against the time of war, was wantonly raided, in the teeth of his own financial principles, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Is it likely that the nation will forget this record of the Government's unskilful handling of its interests abroad, and the vicious principles of its legislation at home? Shall we not all unite in condemnation of a Ministry which, for the five years of its existence, has kept the Empire in a ferment, has squandered its resources, and in legislation and administration has shown neither the will nor the power to pursue or to initiate a policy of progress and reform?
The miliary conquest of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal is said to be over, and those territories have been formally annexed to the dominions of the British Crown. But to annex a territory is one thing, to settle it is another. There remains before this country a task of delicacy and difficulty which throw mere operations of war into the shade. It is a task which calls for tenacious purpose, discriminating judgement, broad and liberal sympathies. It consists in the reconciliation of a humbled but brave people to the conditions of a new flag, and in the reconstruction of free institutions within the bounds of an Empire for meny who before owed no direct allegiance save to themselves. Is such a task to be left to a Party with Tory ideals and Tory traditions, and a Government with the personnel and the record of the present administration? Is it reasonable to expect that those who so little understood the task before them at the beginning of the war, will be able to cope with the far heavier and more complicated problems presented by its sequel? These are the questions connected with South Africa which the electorate of these islands have now the opportunity and the responsibility of determining.
There are, moreover, far-reaching questions affecting the relations between the Colonies and the Mother Country to which new attention has been directed by the attitude and action of the Colonies in this war. These are questions which ought not to be left for solution to the Tory Party, whose record in these matters in times past has never been happy, and has sometimes been disastrous.
But we do not forget that questions of Foreign Policy and the Government of our Empire across the seas are by no means only matters for Liberals to ponder. Nor does our duty end with opposition to the class legislation with the Government has forced upon us. It is sometimes said by cynics that the work of the Liberal Party is done, but he who thinks this must be blind indeed to the grim and menancing group of subjects which has been called 'the Conditions of the People Question.' So long as the Housing Problems both of the Town and of the Rural Districts remain unsolved; so long as our Land Laws are unreformed; so long as the evils of intemperance continue unchecked; so long as complete Religious Equality is denied; so long as the doors of Parliament are open only to the wealthy; so long as some men have many votes while many have none; so long as the Peers may arbitrarily overrule the Commons - so long must there remain work with the Liberal Party alone can do.
To secure that the government of the Empire shall be conducted upon liberal principles, to maintain a firm but non-provocative policy abroad, to forward social pgogress at home, and to provide strong business-like administration in all the great Departments of the State, is as much the duty of Liberals today as it ever was, and it is to strenuous endeavour to secure that liberals shall have the power to perform these duties that we call upon our Federated Associations to devote themselves. Every seat won from the Tories is a gain to the cause of the people.
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