PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION APPLIED TO PARTY GOVERNMENT
A NEW ELECTORAL SYSTEM
T.R. ASHWORTH (President of the Victorian Division, Australian Free Trade and Liberal Association)
H.P.C. ASHWORTH (Civil Engineer)
SWAN SONNENSCHEIN & CO., LIM.
I.—THE TRUE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL REPRESENTATION 1
II.—THE SO-CALLED REPRESENTATIVE PRINCIPLE 22
III.—THE PRESENT POSITION or PARTY GOVERNMENT 47
IV.—THE REFORM: TRUE PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION 97
V.—HOW THE EVILS OF THE PRESENT SYSTEM WILL BE REMEDIED 122
VI.—THE HARE SYSTEM OF PROPORTIONAL DELEGATION 141
VII.—THE FREE LIST SYSTEM OF PROPORTIONAL DELEGATION 162
VIII.—PREFERENTIAL VOTING, THE BLOCK VOTE, THE LIMITED VOTE, &C. 172
IX.—ATTEMPTS TO IMPROVE THE PRESENT SYSTEM 188
X.—APPLICATION OF THE REFORM TO AUSTRALIAN LEGISLATURES 194
XI.—THE CONDITIONS OF SOCIAL PROGRESS 208
"Majority and minority, in and for themselves, are the first requisite of popular government, and not the development or representation of separate groups."—Bradford's "Lesson of Popular Government," vol. ii., page 179.
The subject of electoral reform has been brought into prominence in Australia by a clause in the Commonwealth Bill which provides that the Federal Senate shall consist of six senators from each State, directly chosen by the people, voting as one electorate. The problem thus presented has been keenly discussed. On the one hand we have the advocates of the Block Vote asserting that the party in a majority is entitled to return all six senators; and on the other, a small band of ardent reformers pressing the claims of the Hare system, which would allow the people in each State to group themselves into six sections, each returning one senator. The claim that every section of the people is entitled to representation appears at first sight so just that it seems intolerable that a method should have been used all these years which excludes the minority in each electorate from any share of representation; and, of course, the injustice becomes more evident when the electorate returns several members. But in view of the adage that it is the excellence of old institutions which preserves them, it is surely a rash conclusion that the present method of election has no compensating merit. We believe there is such a merit—namely, that the present method of election has developed the party system. Once this truth is grasped, it is quite evident that the Hare system would be absolutely destructive to party government, since each electorate would be contested, not by two organized parties, but by several groups. For it is precisely this splitting into groups which is causing such anxiety among thoughtful observers as to the future of representative institutions; Mr. Lecky has attributed to it, in his "Democracy and Liberty," the decline in the parliamentary system which has accompanied the progress of democracy all over the world. The object of this book is to suggest a reform, which possesses the advantages of both methods and the disadvantages of neither; which will still ensure that each electorate is contested by the two main parties, but will allow its just share of representation to each; and which will, by discouraging the formation of minor groups, provide a remedy for the evil instead of aggravating it.
325 COLLINS STREET, MELBOURNE.
THE TRUE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL REPRESENTATION.
Old establishments, like the British Constitution, said Edmund Burke, "are not often constructed after any theory; theories are rather drawn from them." In setting out on an endeavour to understand the principles underlying political representation, the saying expresses exactly the course which should be followed. The inquiry is the more necessary as, although representation more than anything else in the domain of government distinguishes the modern from the ancient world, the ideas which prevail as to the part it has played, is playing, and is destined to play on the world's stage are not merely hazy, but extremely inaccurate. The intimate connection of representation with the progress which has followed its introduction is so little recognized that the most advanced democracies are now willing to listen to any proposal to return to direct government. In spite of the fact that the nineteenth century has witnessed the triumph of the historical method in most fields of social inquiry, the dangers of a priori speculation on political institutions are as much in evidence as when Burke wrote.
If we would understand, then, the meaning of representative institutions, it is in the gradual development of the "mother of parliaments" that we must seek for the most reliable information. We must be careful, however, to leave out of sight those features of the growth of the British Constitution which are merely the expression of transitory social conditions, and to confine our attention to the landmarks which bear directly on the inquiry. The subject is best divided into two stages; the first characterized by the origin of representation; and the second by the division into parties, and the creation of cabinet government.
The First Stage of Representation.—Rightly to understand the conditions which led to the introduction and development of the representative principle, we must look back to the period immediately following the signing of the Great Charter by the tyrant King John.
The Charter reaffirmed the ancient principle that free Englishmen should not be taxed without their consent, and representation was the natural outcome of that provision. A brief glance at the social conditions of the time is necessary to understand why this was so. First, it must be remembered that the true political unit of ancient times was the city or local community. England at that time was a collection of local communities, having more or less a corporate life. Then, again, there were the three estates of the realm—the clergy, the lords, and the commons—who were accustomed to confer with the King on public affairs. The stage which marks the birth of representation was when these different estates and communities were asked to tax themselves to relieve the necessities of the King. It was obviously impossible that the consent of every freeman should be obtained, hence the duty had to be deputed to agents. Now, the idea of agency was not unknown in the ancient world, but that agents should have power to bind those for whom they acted was something entirely new. It was necessary, however, that they should have this power, and it suited the King's convenience that they should exercise it. Already, in the earliest writ of which we have knowledge, summoning each shire to send two good and discreet knights, it was provided that they should be chosen in the stead of each and all. This happened in 1254, and in the following year the clergy were also summoned for the same purpose of granting aid to the King. In the meantime the merchants and trade guilds in the cities were growing rich. The King cast longing eyes on their possessions, and wished to tax them. So we find that in 1264 Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, issued the celebrated writ summoning each of the cities and boroughs to send two of its more discreet and worthy citizens and burgesses. This is sometimes regarded as the beginning of the House of Commons, but it was really not until the fourteenth century that these several assemblies, each of which up till then taxed itself separately and legislated in its own sphere, coalesced into the present Houses. First the lower clergy fell out, and, with the knights, citizens, and burgesses, were merged into the House of Commons; and the higher prelates with the earls and barons formed the House of Lords.
This, then, is the first stage of representation. What was the nature of this new force which had come into the world and was destined to so profoundly affect the whole course of human affairs? One result of immense importance is apparent at a glance. It solved a problem which had baffled the ancients—that of the nationalization of local communities on a free basis. But it is generally assumed that the only difficulty overcome was that of size; that the representative assembly is a mere substitute for the larger assembly of the whole nation. Starting with this assumption, it is claimed that the representative assembly should be a mirror of the people on a small scale, and the more faithfully it reflects their faults as well as their virtues, their ignorance as well as their intelligence, the more truly representative it is said to be. It is even asserted that with the modern facilities for taking a poll, representative government might be dispensed with and the people allowed to govern themselves. Democracy, we are assured, means that every man should exercise an equality of political power. Now, if this conception is correct, we should at once insist that every law should be submitted to a direct referendum of the people; that legislators should be mere agents for drawing up laws; and that the executive should be directly responsible to and elected by the people. But if representation is not a mere substitute for the direct action of the people this idea as to the true line of democratic progress falls to the ground. The whole question, therefore, hinges on what representation is and what are the principles underlying it.
Looking back to the history of its introduction, we have seen that it was only in proportion as the deputies of the local communities were not regarded as delegates or agents that they became representatives. Professor E. Jenks has written an interesting article in the Contemporary Review for December, 1898, in which he advances the theory that representation is a union of the ideas of agency, borrowed from the Roman law, and of vicarious liability from barbaric sources. As to the latter he points out that in Anglo-Saxon times the only way for the King to control the free local communities was to exact hostages till crimes were punished or fines paid. In England, where these ideas were combined, constitutional monarchy was firmly established; but in France, Germany, &c, in whose medieval parliaments the idea of agency prevailed, and where in consequence the parliamentary idea was weak, absolute monarchy held its ground. When Edward I. desired for purposes of his own to emphasize the unlimited liability of political representatives, and insisted that they should have "full and sufficient power to do what of common council shall be ordained," he probably never realized that a body having power to bind the shires and towns was a formidable institution, or that the trembling hostages would become in time haughty plenipotentiaries. But whatever may have been the social conditions which gave rise to the idea, it is certain that it was the power of binding those to whom they owed their selection which enabled the representatives to resist the encroachments of the monarchy on the liberties of the people. At first they were not legislators, but merely sought to uphold the ancient laws. They presented petitions to redress their grievances; but in time these petitions became demands; and they refused to grant the King's subsidies till the demands were complied with. It was, therefore, this first stage of representation which enabled the people to start that long struggle against the power of the King and nobles which has ended in complete self-government; nay, more, it was necessary that they should pass through this first stage before they could learn to govern themselves. Yet we have seen that if we apply the modern ideas on representation the start could never have been made. In what respects, then, did these early representative institutions differ from the modern conception as a reproduction of the people on a small scale? One obvious difference at once suggests itself. The representatives were not average members of the communities; they were the most influential; they were selected because of their special fitness for the work to be done; they were leaders of the people, not followers; they did not take inspiration from the people, but brought it to them; and having selected these men the people deferred to their judgment to act for them and protect their interests. Here, then, we arrive at the first principle involved in representation, which is leadership.
But there is another and still more important difference between a representative assembly and a primary assembly of the people. It is this: that a representative cannot be a violent partisan of a small section of his constituents; he must be in general favour with all sections. Therefore a representative assembly is composed of moderate men, representing a compromise of the views of their individual supporters. Moreover, the representatives appeal to the people to sink their minor differences for the general welfare. This feature is very prominent in the early parliaments. The local communities were arrayed as a united people against the aggression of the monarchy. The principle which is here apparent is that of organization. In the first stage of English parliamentary history we may say at once that these two principles—organization and leadership—were most conspicuous. The people, sinking all minor differences, formed one united party; and recognised that their struggle against the party of prerogative depended on the ability, influence, and integrity of their deputies.
The Second Stage of Representation.—There is no need to enter into that long struggle between the nation and the monarchy which followed. We pass on, then, to the time when the parliaments, having wrested a share of power, began to split up into parties. It was natural that when power became divided two parties should arise; one upholding the authority of the Parliament against the King; and the other favouring the divine right of Kings. The Puritans and Cavaliers in the troublous times of Charles I. were the earliest signs of this tendency. The Long Parliament, which met in 1640, was divided on these lines; the misdemeanors of the King brought on civil war; the parliamentary troops defeated the royal troops after a bloody struggle; and the King was brought to execution. The succeeding events were full of instruction. The Parliament attempted to govern the nation—or, rather, we should say the House of Commons did, for the House of Lords was abolished. But it proved quite unfit for the purpose. It was thoroughly disorganized, and rent by violent factions. The anarchy which ensued was ended by a military despot, Oliver Cromwell, who entered the House of Commons in 1653 with his soldiers. The Speaker was pulled from his chair; the members were driven from the House; and Cromwell was proclaimed dictator. It is strange, indeed, that the lesson which is to be drawn from this event, and which has been repeated in France time after time since the Revolution, has not yet been learned: the only escape from continued political anarchy is despotism. But the weakness of despotism is that it ends with the life of the despot. Cromwell's son was forced to abdicate, and the monarchy was restored. The same division of parties in the Parliament continued, and they began to take the names of Whigs and Tories. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the dissensions of these two factions again threatened to make government impossible. In administration the evil was felt most; the union of ministers of both parties was proving unworkable. So fickle did legislation become that no one could say one day what the House would do the next. It was at this crisis, and about the year 1693, that William III., who cared more for a strong administration than for political differences, created what is known as cabinet government, and, as Professor Gardiner says, "refounded the government of England on a new basis." Recognizing that power should not be separated from responsibility, he affirmed the principle that the ministers of state should be selected from the party which had a majority in the House of Commons. But the time was not yet ripe for the complete application of this principle. Early in the eighteenth century Sir Robert Walpole set the example of resigning when he no longer possessed the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons; but in the latter half of the century the great Earl of Chatham introduced again the practice of selecting ministers irrespective of party. Despite the fact that he was supported by the personal influence of George III., the attempt failed. A succession of weak ministries followed; and out of the confusion the modern division of Liberals and Conservatives emerged. Thus it was not until the beginning of the present century that the doctrines of the solidarity of the Cabinet and its complete dependence on a majority of the House of Commons were thoroughly developed in their present form. England, now grown into the United Kingdom, had at last, after six centuries of strife, won her national independence, and for one brief century has enjoyed a full measure of self-government.
Comparison of the Two Stages.—How do the conditions presented by the nineteenth century differ from those of the fourteenth? And how is the problem of representation affected? We have seen that the great forces which animated the nation in the fourteenth century were organization and leadership. Have these forces ceased to operate? Assuredly not. In the fourteenth century we had a united people organized under its chosen leaders against the encroachments of the King and nobility on its national liberty. In the nineteenth century the people have won their political independence, but the struggle is now carried on between two great organized parties. The principle of leadership is still as strong as ever. The careers of Pitt, Peel, Palmerston, Beaconsfield, and Gladstone attest that fact. The one great difference, then, between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries is that instead of one party there are two. The problem of representation in the fourteenth century was to keep the people together in one united party, and to allow them to select their most popular leaders. Surely the problem is different in the nineteenth century. The requirements now are to organize the people into two great parties, and to allow each party separately to elect its most popular leaders. And yet we are still using the same method of election as our forefathers used six centuries ago. Although the conditions have entirely changed, we have not adapted the electoral machinery to the change. The system of single-membered electorates was rational in the fourteenth century, because there was only one party. Is it not on the face of it absurd to-day, when there are two parties?
The Meaning of Party Government.—Why should there be two parties instead of one in order that the people should be able to govern themselves? To answer this question we must start at the beginning, and consider what is the problem of popular government. The best definition is that it is to promote the general welfare—to reconcile or average the real interests of all sections of the community. Now, if the people could all agree what is best in the interests of all, unity of action might certainly be obtained; but even then the problem would not be solved, for the people are not infallible. The greater part of the problem consists in finding out what is best in the interests of all, and no amount of mere abstract speculation can solve this part. So diverse and so complex are the interests to be reconciled, so interwoven and interdependent one with another, that the problem of securing a just balance is incapable of solution by anything short of omniscience. But in any case the people cannot be always got to agree to one course of action. Therefore the people cannot govern themselves as one united party. The only workable basis is, then, the rule of the majority, and the problem of popular government is how to ensure that the majority shall rule in the interests of all.
Party government provides the best known means of solving this problem. The only way of finding out what is best for the whole people is by the incessant action and interaction of two great organized parties under their chosen leaders; each putting forth its energies to prove its fitness to hold the reins of government; each anxious to expose the defects of the other. This healthy emulation as to what is best for all, with the people to judge, is the real secret of free government. The two parties are virtually struggling as to which shall be king. Each is striving to gain the support of a majority of the people; and the grounds on which it appeals for support are that the measures it proposes are the best for the country, and that the men it puts forward are the best men for passing those measures into law and carrying on the administration of the country. This constant agitation, and this mutual competition to devise new measures, and to bring forward new men, prevent stagnation. Both sides of every leading public question of the day are presented in the rival party policies, and the people are invited to decide between them. The forces on which the parties rely to move the people are enthusiasm for measures and enthusiasm for men—party and personality, or, in other words, organization and leadership. It is in opposing these forces to counteract the selfish and anti-social passions that party government acquires its virtue. By appealing to their higher nature it induces the people to subordinate their class prejudices to the general welfare, and by setting before them definite moral ideals, and appealing to them by the force of personality, it raises the character of public opinion, and moulds individual and national character to an extent that is seldom appreciated. Here, then, is the key of human progress. Direct democracies may hold together so long as there are external enemies to induce the people to sink their differences in the common interest, or so long as there is a slave caste to do the menial work, as in the ancient democracies; but representative democracy offers the only hope of welding together a free people into a united whole. The unrestrained rule of the majority under direct democracy must degenerate into the tyranny of the majority. Instead of the equality of political power which it promises, the minority is deprived of all power. Representative democracy, on the other hand, deprives the people of the personal exercise of political power, in order to save them from the free play of their self-assertive passions, but still leaves to every man an equality of influence in deciding the direction of progress. Thus every man is induced to express his opinion as to the direction of progress; and the party policy is the resultant direction of progress of all the party electors, and therefore represents their organized opinion. Now, bear in mind that the true direction of progress is not known, and can only be found out by constant experiment directed by the most far-seeing and capable minds. It is the means of carrying on this experiment which party government provides. The party representing the organized opinion of the majority has, rightly, complete control of the direction of progress so long as it remains in a majority. But, although deliberation is the work of many, execution is the work of one. Hence the creation of a small committee of the party in power—the cabinet—associated with the leader of the party, who becomes for the time being the Prime Minister, the cabinet ministers being jointly responsible for the control of administration and the initiation of measures for the public good. But an organized minority is quite as essential to progress as an organized majority—not merely to oppose, but to criticise and expose the errors of the party in power, and to supplant it when it ceases to possess the confidence of the country. Hence progress under party government may be compared to a zigzag line, in which the changes in direction correspond to changes in ministry. By this mutual action and alternation of parties every vote cast has, in the long run, an equal influence in guiding progress. The only justification for majority rule sanctioned by free government is that when two parties differ as to what is best for the whole people the majority shall prevail, and party government tends to realize this condition. But direct government by the people offers no check whatever on the power of the majority, which is as absolute as that of the Czar of Russia. As Calhoun, the American statesman, writes in his "Disquisition on Government," "the principle by which constitutional governments are upheld, is compromise, that of absolute governments is force!" Now, the significance of party government as a guarantee of free government lies in this: that party policies represent a compromise of what every section composing each party supposes to be the interests of the whole people; and the parties are engaged in fighting out a compromise of the real interests of every section of the people.
Lest it be thought that in this panegyric on party government we have been indulging in a wild flight into the region of speculative politics, we hasten to add that the ideal condition we have pictured has never been reached. The British Parliament has perhaps most nearly approached it, but already shows signs of retrogression. America and the Australian colonies are drifting further away from it. Already political philosophers are shaking their heads and predicting the failure of popular government. The cry everywhere is for a stronger executive. Party organization is breaking down; small factions actuated by self-interest hold the balance of power between the main parties, and render government unstable and capricious. The main parties themselves tend to degenerate into factions. Personality is declining—the demand is for followers, not leaders. Compromise is supplanted by log-rolling and lobbying. And, to crown all, the rumbling of class strife grows ominously louder. The danger is that these tendencies may be allowed to go too far before reform is attempted—that the confidence between classes may be destroyed.
Organization and Leadership.—We have shown that the two great principles underlying representation are organization and leadership. Now, after all, there is nothing very profound in this conclusion. Is there a single department of concerted human action in which these same principles are not apparent? What would be thought of an army without discipline and without generals; or of a musical production in which every performer played his own tune? Even in the region of sport, can a cricket or a football team dispense with its captain and its places? And yet many people imagine that a disorganized collection of delegates of various sections can rule a nation? Such an assembly would be as much a mob as any primary assembly of the people, and would in no sense be a representative assembly. The fact is that the growing intensity of the evils which beset representative institutions throughout the civilized world to-day is due to imperfect expression of these two principles. Representative assemblies are not properly organized into two coherent parties, nor is each party allowed free play to select its most popular leaders. What is the remedy?
A Change in Electoral Machinery the Key to Reform.—The great mistake made by all writers on electoral reform is that they have failed to recognize that the character of public opinion depends upon the way it is expressed. If the electoral machinery be adapted to give effect to those principles of organization and leadership which lie at the root of representation, then the character of public opinion will be improved. Representation, in fact, is not only a means of expressing public opinion, but also of guiding, informing, educating, and organizing it. Therefore, the method of election is an all-important factor.
The first and greatest necessity is to counteract the tendency of the people to split up into factions. It may seem a startling conclusion that this is a mere matter of electoral machinery, but it is nevertheless quite true. It must be remembered that we are dealing with human beings and not with insentient figures. If the method of election allows representation to two sections only, the people will group themselves into two sections. But if it allows representation to a large number of sections, then the people will group themselves into as many sections as are allowed. Now, party government offers every hope of preventing two sections degenerating into factions, but with a number of sections there is absolutely none.
Here, then, we see the one great merit of the present system of election, which explains why it has persisted so long, with all its faults. It is that it tends to confine representation to the two main parties, since each electorate is generally contested by them; but in so far as it does not completely effect that object and allows representation to independent factions it is defective. Moreover, the merit we have indicated is purchased at too high a price. It is these defects which are causing the degradation of representative institutions throughout the world to-day.
It is obviously impossible to give a just share of representation to two parties and allow each party to elect its most popular leaders, in an electorate which returns only a single representative. Hence the first necessity for reform is to enlarge electorates, so that each may return several representatives. Now, the requirements for giving effect to the principles of organization and leadership in such an electorate are:—
1. Proportional representation to the two main parties—Ministerial and Opposition, the majority and the minority.
2. The election by each party of its most popular candidates—i.e., those most in general favour with all sections of the party.
This is the problem of representation as it presents itself to us. Leaving a detailed account of the means by which it is proposed to give effect to these great desiderata to a later chapter, let us indicate briefly where they strike at the root of the evils of the present system.
Enlarged Electorates.—With enlarged electorates the minority will not be excluded. Each party will secure its just share of representation. When both parties are represented in each electorate the interests of the electorate will not be bargained for as the price of support. Members will cease to be mere local delegates.
Proportional Representation to the Two Main Parties.—Representation must be absolutely confined to the two main parties, and each party must be allowed its just share. Every candidate should be required to nominate either as a Ministerialist or Oppositionist, and each party should be allotted a number of representatives proportional to the total amount of support received. If democracy means that every man's opinion, as expressed by his vote, is to have the same weight, it follows that the parties should be represented in the Legislature in the same proportion as among the people, otherwise it is ridiculous to talk of the rule of the majority. The present system sometimes results in minority rule and sometimes in minority extermination; it is difficult to say which alternative is the worse.
Election of its Most Popular Candidates by each Party.—It would be little use to confine representation to the two main parties if the parties were allowed to split up into factions. The only way to prevent this is to provide such electoral machinery as will ensure the return of the candidates most in general favour with all sections, and will exclude the favourites of sections within the party. This distinction is vital. The general favourite is a representative; the favourite of a faction is a delegate. A representative is not only independent of any one section, but if he does favour a faction he will sink in general favour. He therefore represents a compromise of the demands of all sections. But a delegate is the mouthpiece of a faction—a follower, not a leader of the people.
No section will be disfranchised by this proposal, for the true function of all minor sections is to influence the policies of the two main parties. Thus every section will be proportionally represented in one or the other policy and by all the party candidates. Not only will each party be proportionally represented but all the sections which compose each party will be proportionally represented in its policy. This is the only true meaning of proportional representation.
THE SO-CALLED REPRESENTATIVE PRINCIPLE.
All schemes of electoral reform hitherto proposed under the name of proportional representation are based on the so-called "representative principle"—viz., that every section of the people is entitled to separate representation in proportion to its numbers. The ideal varies somewhat, but the usual conception, is that if each member represents a different section or interest the assembly will represent all sections or all interests. Now this is simply an attempt to return to what we have described as the first stage of representation, but without the fear of the monarchy to keep the sections together. For a deliberative body or a king's council it might be suitable, but for an assembly charged with the complete control of government in the interests of all it is utterly impracticable. Each representative must represent all interests; he must be elected on a definite policy as to what is best for all the people. If he is sent in as the agent of one interest or one section of the people, he ceases to be a representative and becomes a delegate. All these schemes are therefore not proportional representation at all, but proportional delegation.
We have shown that representation means the organization of public opinion into two definite lines of policy, and that this is the only way to prevent political anarchy. But the proportionalists (as they like to call themselves) say that it means representing men and the opinions they hold in proportion to their numbers. The fundamental error is that they neglect the all-important factor of human nature. They look on public opinion as something having an independent existence apart from the questions about which it is expressed and from the means of expressing it; and they fail to recognize that the character of public opinion depends on the manner in which it is expressed and organized. It is but a natural consequence that they also conceive the number of sections of opinion awaiting representation as pre-existing and independent of the electoral machinery.
In short, they reduce the whole problem to a nice little exercise in mathematics, requiring only for its clear exposition some columns of figures and a few coloured diagrams to represent the different shades of public opinion. No better example of the dangers of a priori speculation could be adduced than this chimerical idea of the proportionalists that public opinion is something to be divided into fractions like a mathematical quantity, unless it be, perhaps, the conclusion that if you gather together delegates representing these fractions you will have an assembly representing the sum total of public opinion.
The issue is quite clear. Are we to have two parties aiming at the control of administration and appealing to all sections for support, or the separate delegation of a number of sections? In the one case we will have parties based on national policies, and in the other case we will have a number of factions, each wanting something different and determined to block progress till it gets it. Remember that it is a mere matter of electoral machinery which will determine the choice. It is true that at present we do not have two very coherent parties, but that is the fault of the present electoral system.
It would seem that there can be but one answer to this question, and yet the "representative principle" shows such wonderful vitality that it is worth while considering the arguments on which it is based, and the various stages through which the idea has passed.
Mr. Hare's Scheme.—The "representative principle" was first propounded in England in 1857 by Mr. Thomas Hare. He proposed that the United Kingdom should be constituted one huge electorate for the return of the 654 members of the House of Commons. The people were to group themselves into 654 voluntary unanimous sections, each returning one member, and each gathered from every corner of the kingdom. We propose to consider here not the scheme itself but only the principle on which it was founded. Mr. Hare rightly conceived that the great evil of the present system is the exclusion of the minority in each electorate, but he altogether failed to appreciate that the excluded minority nearly always represented one of the two main parties. He could not see, in fact, that to divide each electorate into majority and minority is to divide the whole country into majority and minority, nor that the injustice is tolerated because it is usually as bad for one party as the other. Instead, therefore, of proposing to do justice to both the majority and the minority in each electorate, he proposed to allow representation to as many minorities as possible. To him, the rule of the majority was the rule of a majority of interests; this he called the constitutional majority, as opposed to the "mere rule of numbers." Now, at the time Mr. Hare wrote party government was rather weak in England. He quotes with approval a statement of Mr. Sidney Herbert, M.P., that the House was divided into many parties, or rather no party, because the country was divided into many parties or no party, and that the division into two parties would never be restored again. It is amusing, in view of after events, to find Mr. Hare asking what would be the result of any contrivance to re-establish party. Assuming that party representation was dead, Mr. Hare proposed to substitute personal representation. It is positively ludicrous at this interval of time to note how the electors were expected to group themselves. They were to take personal merit as the basis of representation; every vote cast was to be a spontaneous tribute to the qualities and attainments of the person for whom it was given. And in order, presumably, that they should choose good men in preference to corrupt men, the polling-day was to be set apart as a sacred holiday, and church services were to be held to solemnize the public act and seek for the Divine blessing!
The maintenance of a responsible ministry in such a House presented no difficulty to Mr. Hare. The electors were to indicate whom they considered the most illustrious statesmen, and no one would dare to question their decision!
It seems strange now that this scheme should have received serious consideration. Mr. Hare was so much under the spell of the apparent justice of the underlying principle that he was blind to its results. But it was soon perceived that the electors would not group themselves as Mr. Hare supposed; that the personal ideal of every class of electors would be simply men of their own class. It was further pointed out that cranks and faddists and every organization founded on questions of the remotest interest would combine to secure representation. Mr. Disraeli declared it to be "opposed to every sound principle, its direct effect being to create a stagnant representation ... an admirable scheme for bringing crotchety men into the House." Mr. Shaw-Lefevre condemned it as "a vicious principle based upon a theory of classes," and Mr. Gladstone said that it regarded electors "not as rational and thinking beings, but merely as the equivalents of one another." Walter Bagehot, in his standard work on the "English Constitution," opposes the principle of voluntary constituencies, because it would promote a constituency-making trade. "But upon the plan suggested," he writes, "the House would be made up of party politicians selected by a party committee, chained to that committee, and pledged to party violence, and of characteristic, and therefore unmoderate, representatives for every 'ism' in all England. Instead of a deliberate assembly of moderate and judicious men, we should have a various compound of all sorts of violence. I may seem to be drawing a caricature, but I have not reached the worst. Bad as these members would be if they were left to themselves—if in a free Parliament they were confronted with the perils of government, close responsibility might improve them, and make them tolerable. But they would not be left to themselves. A voluntary constituency will nearly always be a despotic constituency."
The practical difficulties in the application of Mr. Hare's scheme are almost insuperable, but it is not worth while pursuing the subject, since it is now admitted by recent advocates that the faddist argument is fatal. This is an admission that Mr. Hare completely neglected the factor of human nature. Professor Nanson writes:—"Hare proposed that there should be only one electorate, consisting of the whole State. It is unfortunate that this proposal was made. There can be no doubt that it has retarded the progress of true electoral reform for at least a generation ... it would inevitably lead to the election of a certain number of faddists."
John Stuart Mill.—The great vogue which the Hare system has obtained is to be traced more to the influence of John Stuart Mill than to that of anyone else. Mill was captivated by the apparent justice of the proposal, and devoted a chapter of his "Representative Government" to it, wherein he declared:—"Mr. Hare's scheme has the almost unparalleled merit of carrying out a great principle of government in a manner approaching to ideal perfection, while it attains incidentally several other things of scarcely inferior importance." Believing in the absolute justice of the principle, Mill and Hare were certainly consistent in setting no limit to its application except the size of the assembly. Mill is emphatic on this point. "Real equality of representation," he asserted, "is not obtained unless any set of electors, amounting to average number of a constituency, wherever they happen to reside, have the power of combining with one another to return a representative." Now, the recent disciples of Mr. Hare are never tired of claiming the support of Mill, although they have thrown this definition to the winds. But they are guilty of far more than that, for in another chapter of Mill's book we find that his conception of a representative assembly elected by the Hare system is a purely deliberative body. He expressly declares it to be radically unfit for legislation, which he proposes to hand over to a commission appointed by the Crown. The value of his testimony is very much discounted by this fact.
Sir John Lubbock.—We have asserted that the proportional principle should be applied to two parties only—the majority and the minority, and that every section can then be represented. Mill and Hare thought that no limit should be set except the size of the assembly. All the recent advocates of the system take up an intermediate position. Appreciating the serious objections against allowing independent representation to a large number of small sections, Sir John Lubbock, president of the English Proportional Representation Society, proposes to constitute electorates returning only three to five members each, thus confining representation to only three to five sections in each electorate, and sacrificing to a great extent accurate proportional representation. In his book on "Representation," he writes:—"I have assumed that Parliament should be 'a mirror of the nation;' if the object were to secure unity of action rather than freedom of discussion, to form an executive body such as a Government, a Board of Directors, or a Vestry, the case would be quite different. It is, however, I presume, our wish that Parliament should be a deliberative assembly in which all parties should be fairly represented." But to make Parliament a deliberative body is to destroy its power to secure unity of action at all, and to render it useless as a working machine.
Miss Spence.—An active campaign has for some time been carried on for the adoption of the Hare system in Australia. Miss C.H. Spence, of South Australia, was the pioneer reformer, and has laboured in the cause by pen and voice for no less than forty years. Great credit is undoubtedly due to Miss Spence for the clear and simple manner in which she has expounded the system, and for the good work she has done in exposing the defects of the present methods. Not only has she lectured in all parts of Australia, but she has made visits to England, where she met Mr. Hare and Sir John Lubbock, and also to America. But we may admire Miss Spence's courage and devotion to principle without agreeing with her conclusions.
At a meeting held at River House, Chelsea, London, in 1894, Miss Spence submitted an analysis of 8,824 votes recorded at 50 public meetings in South Australia. The audiences were in each case asked to select six representatives out of twelve candidates. The result of a scrutiny of all the votes combined was that the following six "parties" secured one "representative" each—viz., Capital, Labour, Single Tax, Irish Catholic, Prohibition, and Women's Suffrage. Miss Spence frankly confesses that these "parties" are minorities, but holds that a majority can be formed by the union of minorities, and that party responsible government can still be carried on. Now, can any sensible man or woman imagine a working ministry formed by a union of any four of these "parties?" Capital would certainly be permanently opposed to Labour and to Single Tax, and as for the others, there is not a single principle in common. How, then, could a union be formed? The only possible way is by log-rolling; they must make a bargain to support one another's demands. Such a union could not possibly be stable, because the minority is free to offer a better bargain to any one of the "parties" to induce it to desert. Again, it may be called the rule of the majority, but what sort of a majority? Is it not plainly the rule of a majority in the interests of minorities? That is very different to the rule of the majority in the interests of all, which free government demands. The simple truth is that the "parties" are factions, and that the "representatives" are mere delegates of those factions.
But in practice the case would be far worse than we have assumed. There is not the slightest guarantee that the same six factions would be elected in each six-seat electorate. We might have an unlimited number of delegates of various religions, classes, races, localities, and political organizations on all kinds of single questions. An assembly formed on these lines could hardly be dignified with the name of a representative assembly.
Mr. G. Bradford, in his work on "The Lesson of Popular Government," displays a more intimate knowledge of human nature than any other recent writer. Of these schemes for the representation of minorities he says:—
As an illustration of the effect in popular government of looking to popular impulse for the initiation of measures, it may be observed that perhaps the worst of all expedients for remedying the defective working of a government by a legislature like ours, that which combines the evils of them all, is one which is urged by perfectly disinterested advocates of reform, and is known as proportional representation. If there is one principle at the base of popular government it is that the majority shall rule. If the largest of three or four fractions is to rule it ceases to be popular government, and becomes government by faction. If the tyranny of the majority is bad a tyranny of the minority is still worse. (Vol. i., p. 505.)
And the following picture could hardly be better drawn:—
If the basis of carrying on the government is to be the wishes of some millions of units, it is evident that they must to a greater or less extent agree in wishing for something. It is equally evident that they cannot all agree in wishing for the same thing at the same time, while if they, or any considerable number of groups, want different things at the same time, the result in so far is anarchy. Government is paralysed, and with the well-known excitability of humanity in groups men begin to confound the importance of the thing wanted with the importance of getting what they want. The clash of contending factions is apt to suggest the clash of arms. The first necessity, therefore, is the formation of large and coherent parties, not merely for the purpose of accomplishing what is desired by the majority of the people, but also for suppressing agitation and social disturbance on behalf of what may be called merely objects of passion or private interest with comparatively small groups, at least until those objects enlist the support of a large minority. (Vol. i., pp. 492, 493.)
Professor Nanson.—In Victoria the Hare system is championed by Mr. E.J. Nanson, Professor of Mathematics at Melbourne University. Professor Nanson approaches the subject entirely from a mathematical standpoint, and resolutely refuses to admit the factor of human nature into his calculations. Following Mr. Hare, he is a declared opponent of party government, and "would like to see it pushed further into the background." Moreover, he regards every step in the process as an end in itself. Thus the act of voting is one end, representation is another, and the rule of the majority a third. Leaving aside for the present, however, the elaborate mathematical devices which are proposed for attaining these supposed ends, let us take only the principles on which they are based. These are laid down as follows:—
(a) The rule of the majority.
(b) The fair representation of all parties in proportion to their strength.
(c) Perfect freedom to every elector to vote exactly as he pleases.
(d) The emancipation of the voters from the tyranny of the political "boss" or caucus.
(e) The full value of his vote to each voter without loss or waste.
The principles involved, we are assured, "must appeal to every democrat, to every Liberal, to every lover of true and just representation."
As to the first claim, we are willing to grant the rule of the majority, if the words are added "in the interests of minorities." The second could also be granted if by "all parties" were meant both parties, for there cannot be more than two parties in the true sense of the word. But Professor Nanson proposes such large electorates that any small section, from one-sixth to one-twelfth, can secure independent representation. Notwithstanding this, he claims that it is quite possible to give fair representation to the main parties and to small sections at the same time. In illustrating the system he avoids the issue as to the character of these sections by giving them a "scientific" nomenclature, such as Colour, Place, Pursuits, Qualities, &c. These abstractions are very misleading, as attention is diverted from the fact that they refer to voluntary groups of men united for some political purpose. The real question is, on what basis are these groups likely to be formed? When the element of human nature is taken into account it must be apparent that they will be formed for the propaganda of some sectional interest; some on a religious basis, others on a class basis, &c. Now, if we were to ask each candidate to declare his religion, we could easily take religions as the basis of representation and allow proportional representation to each religion; and similarly with classes, races, and so on. But we could only take one basis at a time, and the important deduction is that if we were to take religions as the basis of representation, the people would be induced to vote according to religion; if we were to take classes, according to class, and so on. Now, no one but the fanatic or the demagogue will claim that the majority is entitled to rule where religions only or classes only are represented. The questions then arise—What is the correct basis of representation? How should the people be induced to vote? And the answer is clearly that the people should be induced to vote on questions of general public policy, on the leading questions of the day which decide the party lines, and that, therefore, the policies of the two main parties should form the primary basis of proportional representation. But the Hare system, by taking individual candidates as the basis of representation, induces the elector to vote on any basis or on sectional lines. It promotes dissension instead of repressing it, and instead of encouraging all sections to express their opinion as to what is best for the general well-being, it encourages them to express their opinion as to what they imagine to be best for themselves. Public opinion expressed on these lines would be worse than useless. But Professor Nanson thinks that the electors would still have regard for the main parties, even though they grouped themselves into small sections. He declares that "any party amounting to anything like a quota would not only have two candidates of its own—one Liberal and one Conservative—but would also be wooed by candidates of both leading parties." We may well question whether factions would trouble themselves about the main parties; but, granting the assumption, the small parties might just as well be single electorates as far as the main parties are concerned. The Liberal candidates might be successful in all of them, and the Conservatives be unrepresented. The peculiar feature is that the defeated Conservatives are expected to transfer their votes to the Liberals to make up the quotas for the small parties!
The third claim is that electors should have perfect freedom to vote exactly as they please, and yet Professor Nanson, in condemning Mr. Hare's original scheme, has denied that they are free to vote as faddists; but he still holds that they are free to vote on any basis if only they form one-sixth to one-twelfth of an electorate. Thus the amount of freedom is variable and a matter of opinion. Now, we altogether deny that electors should be given the opportunity to subordinate the national interests to factious interests. Just as the faddist argument is fatal to Mr. Hare's original scheme, so the splitting up into factions is fatal to Professor Nanson's present scheme. Where is the freedom which Professor Nanson claims under the present system of election? Is it not the fact that throughout England, America, and Australia the electors have very often a choice between two candidates only—one Ministerialist and one Oppositionist? By all means let us have as many political organizations as possible to make known the wishes of all sections; but the true function of all such organizations is to influence the policies of the two main parties, and not to secure independent delegates in Parliament. This means simply that the compromise among the different sections supporting a party must be effected in the electors' minds, and at the elections, and not on the floor of the Legislature.
The fourth claim is the emancipation of the voters from the tyranny of the "boss." Now, the power of the "boss" lies in the control of nominations, and although to some extent this control is necessary with the present system of election, it is not essential to party government, as we hope to show. But with government by faction there would be no escape from this control. The tyranny of a faction is worse than the tyranny of the "boss." The voters need saving from their own selfish passions far more than from the "boss."
The final claim that each elector is entitled to the full value of his vote, regardless of the way in which it is used, is really a claim to an equality of political power, i.e., to direct government. It means that electors are absolutely free to combine for their own interests, or for their interest as a class, in opposition to the public welfare. These combinations would, with an equality of direct political power, soon bring on social disruption.
Professor Jethro Brown.—In the preface to "The New Democracy," by Professor Jethro Brown, the two fundamental difficulties of present-day politics are correctly stated to be—how to express public opinion, and how to improve its value. For the first of these Professor Brown recommends the Hare system, and for the second the study of history. Later on he writes:—"How is the amelioration of popular sovereignty to be effected? Not, I venture to believe, by the pursuit of the policy which hopes to play off ignorance against ignorance and prejudice against prejudice, and to secure good government by the arts of flattery, manipulation, and intrigue; nor, indeed, by the improvement of democratic machinery, though this is extremely desirable, and calls for immediate attention. For, above all, towers the question of character." It is quite evident that Professor Brown shares the delusion of the other advocates of the Hare system, that the manner of expressing public opinion has nothing to do with the character of public opinion. The two difficulties laid down are essentially one. The cardinal fact underlying representation is that it is a real social force, capable of reacting upon and moulding character, and therefore of improving the value of public opinion. The independence, love of freedom, respect for minorities, and capacity for self-government, which are the most distinctive traits in the English character, are not innate, but are largely the products of the British Constitution. If the only chance of improving the value of public opinion lay in the hope of inducing the individual electors to study the lessons of history, the prospect would be indeed gloomy.
Professor Brown regards party government as a necessary evil, resulting from the mechanical difficulty of securing unity of action from a plurality of wills. This is practically equivalent to saying that legislation itself is a necessary evil. But he writes:—"Whatever may be the evils of party government, there can be no doubt of the utility as well as of the necessity of the institution itself. The alternative to party government is the system of government by small groups. In Australia the evils of this alternative have been occasionally displayed in practical politics; but it is to France that we must look for their supreme illustration." Turning to the chapter on the Hare system, we find that Professor Brown believes that the electors would still divide themselves into two parties, even if given the opportunity to form small groups. "I cannot believe," he writes, "that the reputation of our race for sound common-sense is so far misplaced that a provision for the faithful representation of the people would end in an immoderate Legislature! For, although the Hare system is not perfect, it does undoubtedly afford an opportunity for an absolutely fair representation. Of course the opportunity would be abused by some; but to argue that the abuse would be general, or if at all general, would long continue, is to argue that the people would prove themselves unworthy of the opportunity offered." While he was at the University of Tasmania the first election under the Hare system was held, and Professor Brown's opinions are based on the result. A second election has, however, just been held, which shows the futility of his hopes.
The Tasmanian Experiment.—Despite the fact that it has been advocated for over forty years, the trial now being made of the Hare system in Tasmania is the first application of the "representative principle" to any assembly modelled on the English plan of party government, and therefore deserves more than passing notice. But the experiment is on such a small scale, and has been conducted for such a short time, that the result can hardly be expected to be conclusive as yet. The objection against the Hare system is not so much that it is not suitable to present conditions as that it will speedily bring about altered conditions. It is interesting to find that this is exactly what is taking place. The system is applied in two electorates only, at Hobart and Launceston the former returning six members and the latter four. At the first election, in 1897, the possibilities of the system were not appreciated, and electors voted on the old lines; and although the results were rather erratic and unexpected, they were considered fairly satisfactory. But the second election, held early in the present year, proved a great blow to the system. No less than three of the successful candidates were intensely unpopular; and one of them, an ex-minister, had recently been banished from public life on the report of a select committee of the House. His reinstatement aroused a storm of indignation throughout the colony, and he was forced to retire again before Parliament met. It will be as well to take the evidence of a strong advocate of the system—the Argus correspondent. Of one candidate he writes:—"Judging by all available definite evidences, it seemed that five-sixths of the electors of Hobart were directly in favour of the construction of the railway by the present Great Western Railway Syndicate; while those of the remaining sixth were variously opposed to the company or to the project of constructing such a railway by private enterprise at all. This sixth is represented by Mr. R.C. Patterson, who headed the poll." Of another candidate we learn that "Mr. Mulcahy had fought a hard fight, and it is a fair assumption that on the list of the elected he represents the Roman Catholic vote. As a member of a generally popular Government, the extent of Mr. Mulcahy's personal unpopularity was remarkable and probably unique." But it was over the return of Mr. Miles that the storm raged most. The excuse is made that "the fault of Mr. Miles's return (assuming that it is a fault) lies with the electors who returned him, and not with the system under which his return was accomplished.... Once grant that a section of Hobart electors have the right to select for their representative whom they choose, and it would seem that the Hare system must be held free of all responsibility for the return of Mr. Miles." But this is precisely what cannot be granted for a moment, as we have endeavoured to show. The assertion is made that Mr. Miles would have been returned as easily under the old system, but this is not a fact. He polled only one-eighth of the votes, so that, even supposing that his supporters were twice as strong in a single electorate, he would have had only one-fourth of the votes. It is safe to say, from the small proportion of second and third preferences which he secured, that if the Block Vote had been adopted he would have been at the bottom of the poll. Commenting on these results, the Argus declares that the Hare system does not pretend to reform or guide the people. Very likely not! But is it not quite evident that it has the opposite effect?
Is it too much to say that, if the Hobart experiment be persevered with, the ultimate tendency will be the return of six members, each acceptable to one-sixth of the electors, and obnoxious to the other five-sixths? It is quite obvious already that the usual party lines are entirely disregarded.
Professor Commons.—The best book on the subject yet published is the "Proportional Representation" of John E. Commons, Professor of Sociology in Syracuse University, U.S. Its great merit is that the political and social bearings of the reform are fully treated. Professor Commons rejects the Hare system in favour of the Free List system. He writes:—"The Hare system is advocated by those who, in a too doctrinaire fashion, wish to abolish political parties. They apparently do not realize the impossibility of acting in politics without large groupings of individuals." He makes a great step in advance of the disciples of Mr. Hare in recognizing that the proportional principle should be applied to parties, and not to individuals, and he even defines parties correctly as being based "not altogether on sectional divisions, but on social and economic problems of national scope;" but, unfortunately, he fails to see that there can be only two parties, and that the representation of small parties would not reform the main parties, but break them up altogether. At the same time he is no mere theorist, for he declares:—"If a practicable and effective method of proportional representation cannot be discovered, the theoretical principle is a mere dream." Moreover, he prudently recognizes that his arguments as regards Federal and State Legislatures in America are in advance of what the public is ready to accept, and adds:—"We, as a people are not yet ready to abandon the notion that party responsibility in Federal affairs is essential to safety." His immediate object is, therefore, the reform of city councils, which in America are controlled by the national parties, and are exploited by the notorious "machine" organizations. We may sympathize with this object, for parties in an administrative body are a serious evil, but with legislatures the case is quite different. Professor Commons admits that third and fourth parties, if given their proportionate weight in legislation, would hold the balance of power, but he declares that "the weight of this objection, the most serious yet presented against proportional representation, varies in different grades of government." He then proceeds to examine the objection "as applied to Congress (and incidentally to the State Legislatures), where it has its greatest force, and where pre-eminently party responsibility may be expected to be decisive." And the only answer he can find is that the objection "overlooks the principle of equality and justice in representation. It may prove here that justice is the wisest expediency. It is a curious anomaly, showing confusion of thought regarding democracy, that a people who insist on universal suffrage, and who go to ludicrous limits in granting it, should deny the right of representation to those minor political parties whose existence is the natural fruit of this suffrage." But these minor parties would not be denied representation if they were allowed to exercise freely their true function, which is to influence the policies of the main parties; and it is essential to the working of the political machine that they be limited to that function. Professor Commons continues:—"The argument, however, of those who fear that third parties will hold the balance of power is not based solely on a dread of the corrupt classes, but rather of the idealists, the reformers, 'faddists,' and 'cranks,' so called. They would retain exclusive majority rule and party responsibility in order to prevent the disproportionate influence of these petty groups. They overlook, of course, the weight of the argument already made that individual responsibility is more important for the people than the corporate responsibility of parties." The assumption is here made that the complete suppression of individuality is an essential feature of party government, whereas it is in fact a peculiar feature of American politics, due to "machine" control of nominations. The one point which Professor Commons has missed is that individual candidature can be permitted and representation still be confined to the two main parties.
Conclusion.—The advocates of proportional delegation have failed to grasp the importance of the principles of organization and leadership, which underlie representation. Mr. Hare thought that the effect of doing away with organization would be to improve leadership. But he reckoned without his host—Human Nature. Organization cannot be dispensed with without destroying leadership and bringing on the strife of factions.
 Now Lord Avebury.
THE PRESENT POSITION OF PARTY GOVERNMENT.
England.—We have seen that the fundamental error of the proportionalists is that they have failed to distinguish between the two stages of representation. In constantly appealing back to the earlier parliaments they altogether overlook the fact that the functions which Parliament now exercises were then vested in the King. But this error is not confined to the proportionalists, most of whom, indeed, however inconsistently, favour party government. It is also put forth as an argument by those who lay all the blame of present evils on the party system, and who think that all sections should work together as one united party. Take, for instance, the diatribe of Mr. W.S. Lilly on "The Price of Party Government" in the Fortnightly Review for June, 1900. Mr. Lilly complains bitterly that the infallible oracle in politics to-day is "the man in the street." He asserts that all issues are settled "by counting heads, in entire disregard of what the heads contain." His bugbear is the extension of the franchise. "Representative institutions, for example," he asks, "what do they represent? The true theory unquestionably is that they should represent all the features of national life, all the living forces of society, all that makes the country what it is; and that in due proportion. And such was the Constitution of England up to the date of the first Parliamentary Reform Act. Its ideal was, to use the words of Bishop Stubbs, 'an organized collection of the several orders, states, and conditions of men, recognized as possessing political power.'" Could anything be more ridiculous? Political power is to be apportioned in the nineteenth century as it was in the fourteenth century! The people are to be always governed by their superiors! Mr. Lilly continues:—"It appears to me that the root of the falsification of our parliamentary system by the party game is to be found in the falsification of our representative system by the principle of political atomism. Men are not equal in rights any more than they are equal in mights. They are unequal in political value. They ought not to be equal in political power."
The mistake here is in the premise. Has not the demagogue more power than his dupes, or the Member of Parliament more power than the elector? We have hardly yet reached, and are never likely to reach, that ideal of direct government. But what is this price which Mr. Lilly is railing at? "The price may be stated in eight words. 'The complete subordination of national to party interests.' The complete subordination. I use the adjective advisedly. Party interests are not only the first thought of politicians in England, but, too often, the last and only thought." All this is sheer nonsense. The coincidence of party aims with the real interests of the people which the British Parliament has displayed since the Reform Act of 1832 has never been even remotely approached by any other country. Two causes have contributed to this great result; first, the gradual extension of the franchise to all sections of the people, and second, the fact that the principles of organization and leadership have been highly developed. In one respect, however, Mr. Lilly is right. The zenith has been passed. Party government is not the same to-day in England as it was twenty years ago. But the fault lies not with the extension of the suffrage, but with the fact that the principles of organization and leadership are less operative. True, the extension of the franchise is indirectly concerned in the failure, but the primary cause is that the present system of election is unable to bear the increased strain. It no longer suffices to organize the people into two coherent parties. The effect on the parties is correctly noted by Mr. Lilly. "A danger which ever besets them," he declares, "is that of sinking into factions."
Now, the result of the want of organization is the presence in Parliament of small independent factions, which, by holding the balance of power, cause the main parties to degenerate into factions.
This tendency is apparent even in England, and the rock on which the parties have split is the Irish faction. Into the merits of the Irish question we do not propose to enter; it is the career of the faction in Parliament which interests us. But it may be noted that the Irish party rests on a three-fold basis as a faction; it is based mainly on a class grievance, and is also partly racial and partly religious. It was the Irish party in the House of Commons which first discovered that, by keeping aloof from the two main parties, it could terrorize both; and thus found out the weak spot in party government. Its tactics were successful up to a certain point, for Mr. Gladstone succumbed to the temptation to purchase its support, and brought in the Home Rule Bill. The result is known to all; the historical Liberal party was rent in twain; party lines were readjusted; Mr. Gladstone was left in a hopeless minority; and the remnant of his following is to-day in the same condition. What is the lesson to be learned from these events? That these tactics cannot succeed in the long run. All interests suffer, but the culprits most of all. Moreover, such tactics are unconstitutional, and would in some circumstances justify retaliatory measures. Let us trace the constitutional course. The Irish members could have exerted a considerable influence on the policies of both Liberals and Conservatives, just as the Scotch did. If they had followed this course, might they not have been in a better position to-day?
Of course, the Irish faction can hardly be said to be the result of the present system of election; it is mainly the expression of old wrongs. But it has set the example, and the disintegration of the old parties is rapidly proceeding. One feature, however, in connection with the present system in Ireland may be mentioned, and that is the permanent disfranchisement of the minority. In the greater part of Ireland there is no such thing as a contest between the main parties. If a system were introduced by which the minority could get its share of representation the parties would compete on even terms for the support of the people, and good feeling would tend to be restored.
To return to Mr. Lilly. The present position of party government in England is not due to defects in the institution itself, still less to the extension of the suffrage, but to imperfect organization. The true remedy is, therefore, to improve organization, not to restrict the suffrage. By this means such a condition will be brought about that if either party favours a faction it will lose in general favour; then, indeed, we may hope that the main parties themselves will cease to degenerate into factions.
The same number of the Fortnightly contains an unsigned article on "Lord Rosebery and a National Cabinet," in which the party system is alluded to as defunct, and in which the suggestion is thrown out that on the retirement of Lord Salisbury a national cabinet should be formed, comprising both Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Rosebery. Impending foreign complications are given as the excuse for terminating party action. Now, it is not to be denied that party government is more suitable for what Mr. Herbert Spencer calls the industrial type of society than for the militant type. Quite recently Lord Salisbury blamed the British Constitution for the state of unpreparedness for the present war. But it is equally true that in foreign affairs party action is generally suspended: in the control of India, for instance, it is so. The real question, then, is this: Is the danger of foreign aggression so serious that all questions of internal policy can be permanently set aside? If we have reached this stage, the end of modern civilization is in sight. In effect, the proposal is a return to the first stage of representation, with the difference that all sections of the people are expected to be held together by the fear of foreign aggression, instead of the fear of the aggression of the monarchy.
Mr. David Syme is a censor of a very different type. So far from wishing to take control from the people, he would give the people absolute control over everything, and at all times. Seldom has the case against party government been more powerfully presented than in his work on "Representative Government in England." But Mr. Syme founds his proposed remedies on a theory of representation which is based on the literal meaning of the word. No one has put the delegation theory more clearly than in the following passage, or gone so far in applying it:—
Representation is a mental act; it is the presentation or reproduction of the state of mind of another person; and before one person can represent another person he must first know what the opinions of that other person are. A representative is a substitute; he stands in the place of, and acts for, another person. But one man cannot act for another unless he knows what that other would do were he acting for himself. In other words, he requires to know the motives which actuate that other person, or what influences his motives, namely, his principles and beliefs. The House of Commons is a representative body, not because every individual member of it represents the opinions of the whole nation, but because members in the aggregate represent those opinions, (p. 170).
This position is diametrically opposed to the principles we have laid down, for it eliminates entirely the ideas of organization and leadership. Again, Mr. Syme says:—"If the government is to be carried on for the benefit of all classes, representatives should be chosen from all classes. We had class representation in the early parliaments, but then all classes were fairly represented." We have shown that the analogy from early parliaments is fallacious. Representatives should now be chosen irrespective of class, and not as class delegates. But Mr. Syme does not carry his theory to its logical conclusion. For if representatives merely express the thoughts of others, and should be class delegates, surely all classes are entitled to have their thoughts "represented;" and Mr. Syme should range himself among the disciples of Mr. Hare. But here comes in an interesting difference. Mr. Syme would retain the present system and make members continually responsible to a majority of their constituents; he would even give this majority power to dismiss them at any time. Now, this is practically an admission that representation involves the existence of a majority and a minority, or, in other words, is a means of organizing the people into a majority and a minority. Again, as regards leadership, the theory will hardly bear the test of facts. Could a man like Gladstone be said to merely express the thoughts of his constituents? Was he not rather a guide and leader of the thoughts of a great part of the British nation?
In addition to the continual responsibility of members to their constituents, Mr. Syme would also make the individual ministers of state responsible to a majority of the members. He adds:—"The whole system of party government could in this manner be quietly and effectively got rid of." We do not propose to criticise the latter suggestion, as we do not believe it would be put forward to-day, in the light of fuller knowledge. Mr. Syme's book was written nearly twenty years ago. But, as regards the continual responsibility of members, we consider it important that the electors should not have their way on single questions. They should periodically express their opinion as to the general line of progress, and the representatives should then have complete control. The necessity for this is to save the people from their anti-social tendencies, which we have already stated as the great objection to all forms of direct government. Lord Macaulay once defined the position exactly in a letter addressed to the electors of Edinburgh. "My opinion," he declared, "is that electors ought at first to choose cautiously; then to confide liberally; and when the term for which they have selected their member has expired to review his conduct equitably, and to pronounce on the whole taken together."
We hope to have left on the reader's mind by this time no doubt as to the intimate connection between the machinery of election and the resulting character of the legislature. Now it is a most extraordinary fact that this connection is hardly noticed by the leading constitutional authorities. It is true they often recognize that suggested changes like the Hare system would debase our legislatures, but it never seems to occur to them that present evils might be cured by a change in the electoral machinery. They point out the evils indeed, but only to indulge in gloomy forebodings at the onward march of democracy, or as warnings of the necessity for placing checks on the people.
Take Bagehot's study of the House of Commons in his standard work on "The English Constitution," where he classifies the functions exercised by the House. He insists that the most important of these is the elective function—its power to elect and dismiss the ministry. In addition, it exercises an expressive function, a teaching function, an informing function, and, lastly, the function of legislation. But not a word is said of the relation of these functions to representation, or to the method of election. It is asserted that the reason the House of Commons is able to exercise these functions is because England is a deferential nation, and the people leave government in the hands of their betters, the higher classes. On one point he is emphatic, and that is the absolute necessity of party. He writes:—
The moment, indeed, that we distinctly conceive that the House of Commons is mainly and above all things an elective assembly, we at once perceive that party is of its essence. The House of Commons lives in a state of perpetual potential choice; at any moment it can choose a ruler and dismiss a ruler. And therefore party is inherent in it, is bone of its bone, and breath of its breath.
As to the present trend of affairs, the opinion of a foreign observer, Gneist—"History of the English Constitution"—may be quoted:—
England, too, will experience the fact that the transition to the new order of industrial society is brought about through a process of dissolution of the old cohesions, upon which the constitution of Parliament is based. The unrepresented social mass, which is now flooding the substructure of the English Constitution, will only stay its course at a universal suffrage, and a thorough and arithmetical equalization of the constituencies, and will thus attempt, and in a great measure achieve, a further dissolution of the elective bodies. To meet the coming storm a certain fusion of the old parties seems to be immediately requisite, though the propertied classes, in defending their possessions, will certainly not at first display their best qualities. As, further, a regular formation in two parties cannot be kept up, a splitting up into fractions, as in the parliaments of the Continent, will ensue, and the changing of the ministry will modify itself accordingly, so that the Crown will no longer be able to commit the helm of the state in simple alternation to the leader of the one or the other majority. And then a time will recur in which the King in Council may have to undertake the actual leadership. (Vol. ii., pp. 452, 453.)
In other words, that an industrial society is incapable of self-government! Note the reason for this remarkable conclusion—a splitting up into fractions, i.e., imperfect organization.
Take now the evidence of the distinguished historian and publicist, Mr. W.E.H. Leeky, M.P., as given in his recent work on "Democracy and Liberty":—
After all due weight has been given to the possible remedies that have been considered, it still seems to me that the parliamentary system, when it rests on manhood suffrage, or something closely approaching to manhood suffrage, is extremely unlikely to be permanent. This was evidently the opinion of Tocqueville, who was strongly persuaded that the natural result of democracy was a highly concentrated, enervating, but mild despotism. It is the opinion of many of the most eminent contemporary thinkers in France and Germany, and it is, I think, steadily growing in England. This does not mean that parliaments will cease, or that a wide suffrage will be abolished. It means that parliaments, if constructed on this type, cannot permanently remain the supreme power among the nations of the world. Sooner or later they will sink by their own vices and inefficiencies into a lower plane. They will lose the power of making and unmaking ministries, and it will be found absolutely necessary to establish some strong executive independently of their fluctuations. Very probably this executive may be established, as in America and under the French Empire, upon a broad basis of an independent suffrage. Very possibly upper chambers, constituted upon some sagacious plan, will again play a great restraining and directing part in the government of the world. Few persons who have watched the changes that have passed over our own House of Commons within the last few years will either believe or wish that in fifty years' time it can exercise the power it now does. It is only too probable that some great catastrophe or the stress of a great war may accelerate the change. (Vol. i., pp. 300, 301.)
And the reason assigned for this very unsatisfactory state of affairs is precisely as before:
All the signs of the times point to the probability in England as elsewhere of many ministries resting on precarious majorities formed out of independent or heterogeneous groups. There are few conditions less favourable to the healthy working of parliamentary institutions or in which the danger of an uncontrolled House of Commons is more evident. One consequence of this disintegration of Parliament is a greatly increasing probability that policies which the nation does not really wish for may be carried into effect. The process which the Americans call "log-rolling" becomes very easy. One minority will agree to support the objects of another minority on condition of receiving in return a similar assistance, and a number of small minorities aiming at different objects, no one of which is really desired by the majority of the nation, may attain their several ends by forming themselves into a political syndicate and mutually co-operating. (Vol. i., pp. 152, 153.)
Mr. Lecky, too, holds out very little hope for the future:—
When the present evils infecting our parliamentary system have grown still graver; when a democratic House, more and more broken up into small groups, more and more governed by sectional and interested motives, shall have shown itself evidently incompetent to conduct the business of the country with honour, efficiency, and safety; when the public has learned more fully the enormous danger to national prosperity as well as individual happiness of dissociating power from property and giving the many an unlimited right of confiscating by taxation the possessions of the few—some great reconstruction of government is sure to be demanded. Fifty or even twenty-five years hence the current of political opinion in England will be as different from that of our own day as contemporary political tendencies are different from those in the generation of our fathers. Experience and arguments that are now dismissed may then revive, and play no small part in the politics of the future.
Why make democracy the scapegoat for all these evils, when they are simply due to the imperfect organization of democracy? In any case, the most that could rightly be urged would be that universal suffrage had come before its time. The conclusion that its time will never come is certainly not warranted. Universal suffrage cannot be condemned till it has had a fair trial under a rational system of election. Mr. Lecky appreciates so little the connection between the method of election and the splitting up into groups that he views without alarm the Hare system, which would still further develop groups.
But perhaps no one has caught the spirit of party government more truly than Mr. Lecky. Dealing with the motives which should actuate the statesman, in his latest work, "The Map of Life," he writes:—
In free countries party government is the best if not the only way of conducting public affairs, but it is impossible without a large amount of moral compromise; without a frequent surrender of private judgment and will. A good man will choose his party through disinterested motives, and with a firm and honest conviction that it represents the cast of policy most beneficial to the country. He will on grave occasions assert his independence of party, but in the large majority of cases he must act with his party, even if they are pursuing courses in some degree contrary to his own judgment.
Everyone who is actively engaged in politics—everyone especially who is a member of the House of Commons—must soon learn that if the absolute independence of individual judgment were pushed to its extreme, political anarchy would ensue. The complete concurrence of a large number of independent judgments in a complicated measure is impossible. If party government is to be carried on there must be, both in the Cabinet and in Parliament, perpetual compromise. The first condition of its success is that the Government should have a stable, permanent, disciplined support behind it, and in order that this should be attained the individual member must in most cases vote with his party. Sometimes he must support a measure which he knows to be bad, because its rejection would involve a change of government, which he believes would be a still greater evil than its acceptance, and in order to prevent this evil he may have to vote a direct negative to some resolution containing a statement which he believes to be true, (p. 112.)
Mr. Lecky goes on to point out that "many things have to be done from which a very rigid and austere nature would recoil;" but he adds:—"Those who refuse to accept the conditions of parliamentary life should abstain from entering into it." Moreover, he holds that "inconsistency is no necessary condemnation of a politician, and parties as well as individual statesmen have abundantly shown it." But still "all this curious and indispensable mechanism of party government is compatible with a high and genuine sense of public duty."
The American theory of government is that checks must be placed on a democratic legislature by a fixed Constitution and a separate executive exercising a veto. The late Professor Freeman Snow, of Harvard University, was a strong supporter of this school. His objections to cabinet government are given in the "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science" for July, 1892:—
Cabinet government is the government of a party; and for its successful operation it must have at all times a majority at its back in Parliament. If it were possible to direct the current of public opinion into exactly two channels, there would be but two parties, one of which would generally be in the ascendency; but in practice this is found to be a very difficult thing to accomplish, and it becomes the more difficult as the right of suffrage is extended to the mass of the people, with their ever-varying interests. In the countries of continental Europe parties, if indeed they may be said to exist, are broken up into groups, no two or more of which ever act together for any considerable length of time; and ministries are without a moment's notice confronted at brief intervals with opposing majorities, and must give place to others, whose tenure of office is, however, equally unstable and ephemeral. There is no other alternative; one of the two great parties must yield to any faction which becomes strong enough to hold the balance of power between them, or suffer the inevitable consequences—instability and impotence of government.