[Editor: This editorial was published in The Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 20 September 1915. The editorial is primarily about party politics and conscription in the UK (although Australia is mentioned in passing); it says that “anyone guilty of conduct calculated to rekindle party rancor and inflame public feeling by plunging the country into a political conflict … merits being shot as a traitor to the British flag”, and ends with an implied call for a dictatorship.]
A new phase of the party curse.
There is at least one part of the world in which the internal political dissensions of Britain will give great satisfaction. The tragic folly and insanity of such developments may cause uneasiness among the Allied nations, but in Berlin they will be joyfully welcomed and incontinently acclaimed as a sign of weakness on the part of the hated British rulers.
One of the vital reasons for the downfall of France in 1870-1 had its primary source in the internecine strife which undermined the power of the nation; the principal element in France’s strength in the present campaign has its origin in the wonderful and inspiring unity of purpose which animates the whole of her people. At the outset of the war France set a magnificent example to the whole world by resolutely eliminating party and political questions and divisions from the life of the nation. If that example had been followed by Great Britain and Australia the position of the Allies would, in all probability, have been much better at the end of the first year of war than it is.
Nearly a year had elapsed before any serious attempt was made by Britain to subordinate rampant party politics to the urgent necessities of the nation; and even now it would seem that the leaven of old rivalries, jealousies, and animosities is still at work, to the grave detriment of the Empire. It would appear that an attempt is to be made to force a general election. It is understood that certain members of the Cabinet who favor conscription propose to resign their seats and to re-contest them on this question. These members, it is said, are in a minority in the Cabinet. Presumably they represent, in the main, the Tory section added to the Ministry as a result of the recent coalition.
A leading London daily newspaper declares that the country is on the eve of a crisis of the gravest magnitude; and Mr. Thomas (one of the Labor leaders) has very pointedly hinted that this new move aims at the removal of Mr. Asquith from the great and tremendously responsible office he holds.
It was declared in the House of Commons last week that if certain members of the Ministry persisted in their present course it would have the effect of absolutely “splitting the nation asunder.” It may well be believed that the ultimate result of such a movement would be absolutely disastrous to the country.
Even if we take the most optimistic view of the matter that is possible, it will still be manifest that a political crisis at this juncture would be fraught with the gravest danger to the interests of the Empire. Indeed anyone guilty of conduct calculated to rekindle party rancor and inflame public feeling by plunging the country into a political conflict just when the war has reached its most critical stage merits being shot as a traitor to the British flag.
A queer commentary on the moral level to which Parliamentary life has descended, apparently, was unintentionally made in connection with the impassioned speech delivered by Mr. Thomas. It is reported that “the House was moved by the passion and the startling sincerity” of the deliverance. The inescapable inference, of course, is that the House of Commons is so unaccustomed to sincerity that it is startled and galvanised into respectful attention by the novelty of a member passionately speaking the truth without regard for consequences! Reading between the lines, it would seem that this is a Tory move to take advantage of the disturbed state of public feeling to bring about an election in the hope of securing complete domination of the Cabinet.
Any such step as this would amount to a betrayal of both the nation and the Liberal party which agreed to the coalition. And, considering the whole of the circumstances, it may be not unreasonably suspected that the motives of the malcontent members of the Cabinet are more political than national.
If they desire to have the will of the people of the United Kingdom expressed on the question of conscription there is no need for an election to bring about that result. Public opinion in the matter could be ascertained by means of a non-party referendum of the electors without embroiling the whole country in what is sure to resolve itself into a squalid party fight, and without creating the impression abroad that the people in the British Empire are not unanimous on the question of prosecuting the war to the bitter and logical end, no matter what the cost may be.
One thing is certain — that even in the face of the most tremendous national crisis in the history of the Empire the country is still, to a large extent, in the foul grip of the curse of party politics to such an extent that even a rabid democrat might be excused for desiring to see something in the form of a supreme, individual dictatorship established. Unfortunately, however, there does not appear to be anyone in sight competent to assume this role.
The Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 20 September 1915, p. 2
Asquith = H. H. (Herbert Henry) Asquith (1852-1928), an English politician, part of the British Liberal Party; he was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1908-1916)
See: “H. H. Asquith”, Wikipedia
Cabinet = (in the context of various British Commonwealth countries, including Australia) the government Cabinet (the ruling body of the government of the country), comprised of the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Crown; the chief decision-making body of the executive branch of a parliamentary government, comprising a group of ministers responsible for overseeing government departments, formulating government policy, and making decisions on issues affecting the country
downfall of France in 1870-1 = a reference to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), fought between France and several states of Germany (led by Prussia); the French lost the war, and subsequently ceded the territory of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany
See: “Franco-Prussian War”, Wikipedia
House of Commons = (in the context of the UK) the lower house of the parliament of the United Kingdom
Ministry = (in the context of various British Commonwealth countries, including Australia) the Ministers of the Crown (including the Prime Minister); government ministers are responsible for overseeing government departments, formulating government policy, and making decisions on issues affecting the country
queer = odd, strange (can also refer to: feeling or being ill; a homosexual)
Thomas = J. H. (James Henry) Thomas, a Welsh politician, part of the British Labor Party; he was Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (1930-1935) and Secretary of State for the Colonies (1924, 1931, 1935-1936)
See: “J. H. Thomas”, Wikipedia
Tory = someone who is politically conservative (the term is especially used in the United Kingdom and Canada; although it has also been used in Australia, usually in pro-Labor publications); of or relating to conservatives or the Conservative Party
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]