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weak man; yet if he keep good ministers to the end of his administration, he may not be found out—it may still be a dubious controversy whether he is wise or foolish. But a prime minister must show what he is. He must meet the House of Commons in debate; he must be able to guide that assembly in the management of its business, to gain its ear in every emergency, to rule it in its hours of excitement. He is conspicuously submitted to a searching test, and if he fails he must resign.
Nor would any party like to trust to a weak man the great power which a cabinet government commits to its premier. The premier, though elected by parliament can dissolve parliament. Members would be naturally anxious that the power which might destroy their coveted dignity should be lodged in fit hands. They dare not place in unfit hands a power which, besides hurting the nation, might altogether ruin them. We
may therefore, that whenever the predominant party is divided, the un-royal form of cabinet government would secure for us a fair and able parliamentary leader—that it would give us a good premier, if not the very best. Can it be said that the royal form does more?
In one case I think it may. If the constitutional monarch be a man of singular discernment, of unprejudiced disposition, and great political knowledge, he may pick out from the ranks of the divided party its very best leader, even at a time when the party, if left to itself, would not nominate him. If the sovereign be able to play the part of that thoroughly intelligent but perfectly disinterested spectator who is so prominent in
the works of certain moralists, he may be able to choose better for his subjects than they would choose for themselves. But if the monarch be not so exempt from prejudice, and have not this nearly miraculous discernment, it is not likely that he will be able to make a wiser choice than the choice of the party itself. He certainly is not under the same motive to choose wisely. His place is fixed whatever happens, but the failure of an appointing party depends on the capacity of their appointee.
There is great danger, too, that the judgment of the sovereign may be prejudiced. For more than forty years the personal antipathies of George III. materially impaired successive administrations. Almost at the beginning of his career he discarded Lord Chatham : almost at the end he would not permit Mr. Pitt to coalesce with Mr. Fox. He always preferred mediocrity; he generally disliked high ability; he always disliked great ideas. If constitutional monarchs be ordinary men of restricted experience and common capacity (and we have no right to suppose that by miracle they will be more), the judgment of the sovereign will often be worse than the judgment of the party, and he will be very subject to the chronic danger of preferring a respectful common-place man, such as Addington, to an independent first-rate man, such as Pitt.
We shall arrive at the same sort of mixed conclusion if we examine the choice of a premier under both systems in the critical case of cabinet government—the case of three parties. This is the case in which that species of government is most sure to exhibit its defects, and least likely to exhibit its merits. The defining characteristic of that government is the choice of the executive ruler by the legislative assembly; but when there are three parties a satisfactory choice is impossible. A really good selection is a selection by a large majority which trusts those it chooses, but when there are three parties there is no such trust. The numerically weakest has the casting vote—it can determine which candidate shall be chosen. But it does so under a penalty. It forfeits the right of voting for its own candidate. It settles which of other people's favourites shall be chosen, on condition of abandoning its own favourite. A choice based on such self-denial can never be a firm choice-it is a choice at any moment liable to be revoked. The events of 1858, though not a perfect illustration of what I mean, are a sufficient illustration. The Radical party, acting apart from the moderate Liberal party, kept Lord Derby in power. The ultra-movement party thought it expedient to combine with the non-movement party. As one of them coarsely but clearly put it, “ We get more of our way under these men than under the other men;" he meant that, in his judgment, the Tories would be more obedient to the Radicals than the Whigs. But it is obvious that a union of opposites so marked could not be durable. The Radicals bought it by choosing the men whose principles were most adverse to them; the Conservatives bought it by agreeing to measures whose scope was most adverse to them. After a short interval the Radicals returned to their natural alliance and their natural discontent with the moderate Whigs. They used their determining vote first for a government of one opinion and then for a government of the contrary opinion
I am not blaming this policy. I am using it merely as an illustration. I say that if we imagine this sort of action greatly exaggerated and greatly prolonged parliamentary government becomes impossible. If there are three parties, no two of which will steadily combine for mutual action, but of which the weakest gives a rapidly oscillating preference to the two others, the primary condition of a cabinet polity is not satisfied. We have not a parliament fit to choose; we cannot rely on the selection of a sufficiently permanent executive, because there is no fixity in the thoughts and feelings of the choosers.
Under every species of cabinet government, whether the royal or the unroyal, this defect can be cured in one way only. The moderate people of every party must combine to support the government which, on the whole, suits every party best. This is the mode in which Lord Palmerston's, administration has been lately maintained ; a ministry in many ways defective, but more beneficially vigorous abroad, and more beneficially active at home, than the vast majority of English ministries. The moderate Conservatives and the moderate Radicals have maintained a steady government by a sufficiently coherent union with the moderate Whigs. Whether there is a king or no king, this preservative self-denial is the main force on which we must rely for the satisfactory continuance of a parliamentary government at this its period of greatest trial. Will that moderation be aided or impaired by the addition of a sovereign? Will it be more effectual under the royal sort of ministerial government, or will it be less effectual ?
If the sovereign has a genius for discernment, the aid which he can give at such a crisis will be great. He will select for his minister, and if possible maintain as his ministér, the statesman upon whom the moderate party will ultimately fix their choice, but for whom at the outset it is blindly searching; being a man of sense, experience, and tact, he will discern which is the combination of equilibrium, which is the section with whom the milder members of the other sections will at last ally themselves. Amid the shifting transitions of confused parties, it is probable that he will have many opportunities of exercising a selection. It will rest with him to call either on A B to form an administration, or upon X Y, and either may have a chance of trial. A disturbed state of parties is inconsistent with fixity, but it abounds in momentary tolerance. Wanting something, but not knowing with precision what, parties will accept for a brief period anything, to see whether it may be that unknown something—to see what it will do. During the long succession of weak governments which begins with the resignation of the Duke of Newcastle in 1762 and ends with the accession of Mr. Pitt in 1784, the vigorous will of George III. was an agency of the first magnitude. If at a period of complex and protracted division of parties, such as are sure to occur often and last long in every enduring parliamentary government, the extrinsic