CHAPTER XIII. A TALE OF BAD LEADERSHIP AND BAD FAITH
It became a habit of the Irish Party, in its more decadent days, to spout out long litanies of its achievements and to claim credit, as a sort of hereditament no doubt, for the reforms won under the leadership of Parnell. It was, when one comes to analyse it, a sorry method of appealing for public confidence - a sort of apology for present failures on the score of past successes. It was as if they said: "We may not be doing very well now, but think of what we did and trust us." And the time actually arrived when "Trust us" was the leading watchword of Mr Redmond and his Party. How little they deserved that trust in regard to some important concerns I will proceed to explain. I have shown how they dished Devolution and drove Mr Wyndham from office when he was feeling his way towards the concession of Home Rule - or equivalent proposals under another name; and how they thus destroyed in their generation the last hope of a settlement by Consent of the Irish Question - although a settlement along these lines was what Gladstone most desired. Writing to Mr Balfour, so long ago as 20th December 1885, he thus expressed himself:
"On reflection I think what I said to you in our conversation at Eaton may have amounted to the conveyance of a hope that the Government would take a strong and early decision on the Irish Question. This being so, I wish, under the very peculiar circumstances of the case, to go a step further and say that I think it will be a public calamity if this great subject should fall into the lines of Party conflict. I feel sure that the question can only be dealt with by a Government, and I desire especially on grounds of public policy that it should be dealt with by the present Government. If, therefore, they bring in a proposal after settling the whole question of the future government of Ireland my desire will be, reserving, of course, necessary freedom, to treat it in the same spirit in which I have endeavoured to proceed in respect to Afghanistan and with respect to the Balkan Peninsula."
To this statesmanlike offer Mr Balfour immediately replied:
"I have had as yet no opportunity of showing your letter to Lord Salisbury or of consulting him as to its contents, but I am sure he will receive without any surprise the statement of your earnest hope that the Irish Question should not fall into the lines of Party conflict. If the ingenuity of any Ministry is sufficient to devise some adequate and lasting remedy for the chronic ills of Ireland, I am certain it will be the wish of the leaders of the Opposition, to whatever side they may belong, to treat the question as a national and not as a Party one."
And not less clear or emphatic were the views of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, spoken on 23rd December 1885, as to the feasibility of settling the Irish problem by Consent:
"On one point I may state my views with tolerable clearness. In my opinion the best plan of dealing with the Irish Question would be for the leaders of the two great parties to confer together for the purpose of ascertaining whether some modus vivendi could not be arrived at by which the matter would be raised out of the area of party strife."
It will thus be seen that at a very early stage indeed of the discussions on Home Rule, distinguished statesmen were agreed that the ideal way of settling the Irish Question was by an arrangement or understanding between the two great British parties - otherwise by those methods of Conference, Conciliation and Consent which Mr William O'Brien and Lord Dunraven were so violently and irrationally assailed by Mr Dillon and his supporters for advocating. The great land pact was arranged by those methods of common agreement between all parties in Parliament - it could never have been reached otherwise. And, as these pages will conclusively show, the "factionism" of Mr O'Brien and those associated with him consisted in pressing a settlement by Conference methods consistently on the notice of the leaders of all parties. But Mr Wyndham was treated by the Dillonite section as "a prisoner in a condemned cell" - to use their own elegant metaphor - because he showed a disposition to secure a settlement of the Irish difficulty on a non-party basis. He was ruthlessly exiled from office by methods which confer no credit on their authors, and the Unionist Party retired at the close of the year 1905 with nothing accomplished on the Home Rule issue.