Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

3 articles on this Page

MR. LLOYD GEORGE AND THE SUFFRAGE.

News
Cite
Share

MR. LLOYD GEORGE AND THE SUFFRAGE. By W. N. EWER. Mr. Lloyd George, in his address to the Carnarvonshire Women's Liberal Association last week, gave further explanation of the reasons which induced him to speak and to vote against Mr. Shackleton's Conciliation Bill. His action has been made the occasion of a bitter attack by a section of the advocates of Woman's Suffrage he has been denounced as a "traitor": he has been accused of violating his pledges. His attitude, we have been told, was adopted, not for the reasons which he gave in the House, but from a desire to re-open the breach between the two wings of the feminist forces, and thus to destroy all chances of their success. Such charges, flung out in the heat and in the bitterness of disappointment, cannot be —are not—taken with great seriousness. But, apart from the wilder attacks, the posi- tion taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer did undoubtedly cause great dis- appointment among many of the more level- headed supporters of the Suffrage movement. Passing by the accusations of faithlessness, of insincerity, of duplicity, as unworthy either of reply or of comment, it does appear desirable that one should fully understand and appreciate Mr. Lloyd George's attitude. With it we may agree or disagree. But it must be understood, and its bearing on the whole situation appreciated. Every decision in practical political life must be determined by two motives, by principle and by policy. That is no cynical or Machiavellian doctrine; it is a necessary consequence of the conditions of life. Let me be understood clearly. I do not mean that a public man is justified in sinking his principles in the persuit of objects indicated by lower motives-by self-interest or what not. That were to deny the existence of public morality. But a man confronted with the necessity of making a decision, of casting a vote in the House of Commons, has to realise that he is in a governing assembly, not in a debating society. In academic debate one's voice and one's vote can be determined by considerations of abstract principle alone no regard need be paid to consequences, for there are no consequences a vote and a voice in the House of Commons are quite other things. There a member is bound to look closely, not only to the principles which determine, but to the con- sequences which may follow the casting of his vote. It is for those consequences that he is primarily responsible. He was sent to Parliament rather to produce results than to voice pious opinions and his responsibility for results is the whole foundation of our polity. Now, from this, it follows inevitably that occasion may arise on which a vote must be given which is apparently in opposition to the convictions of its giver for to assert those convictions might involve consequences disastrous to other ideals. To vote accord- ing to his conscience," as the cant phrase has it, might be to sacrifice the greater to the less, the whole to the part, a thing which however superficially" conscientious," is fundamentally wrong and unjustifiable. Continually through life one is called upon to sacrifice the lesser immediate for the greater ultimate good: to do so is no dis- graceful thing, requires no Jesuit casuistry for its justification. And so in public life. The outstanding example is that necessity which arises at times to withhold one's vote, even to vote against one's opinion, in order to prevent the defeat of a government. The fact that members do on occasion support their leaders on matters whereon they hold quite divergent views, gives opportunity for many shallow criticisms of party government and its effect upon the moral of the individal member of Parliament. The sneers are without justificaiion. In reality there has been no abandonment of principle, only the exercise of choice. The alternative is, Do you prefer-do you hold it better for the country-that this particular result (held by you desirable) should come about, and that the Goverment should go out of office (an event which you believe entirely undesirable, perhaps disastrous for the country) ? Or do you prefer that the particular thing desired should not come about but that the Govern- ment should remain in power to carry out all those other matters on which your heart is set ? There is an intellectual problem to balance the benefit or damage to the country involved by the two events but whichever way judgment be given there is no moral stigma. The cant of against one's conscience" is absurd. Conscience demands that judgment shall be exercised fairly and that the motives allowed to in- fluence it shall be honourable; but the decision itself is only a particular case of that choice between mutually exclusive good or mutually exclusive ills which we must all continually make throughout our lives. Now, though the fate of a Government was not at stake, this is in essence the posi- tion with which many Liberal members- amongst them the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer—found themselves confronted when the Conciliation Bill was before the House. The Suffrage question, be it understood, had entered upon a new phase. There had been previous debates, year after year but these had been of the academic character speeches could be made, votes given in favour of principles, without fear of the detailed con- sequences of the particular measure. Now, for the first time, the House found before it a Bill which was more than an expression of opinion, which was a real measure of which the passage into law was a conceivable eventuality. At once it was seen that con- sequences must be considered as well as principles. Men began to ask themselves, not only as before-whether they favoured the enfranchisement of women as a general principle but also what would be the results of this particular Bill; most of all how would it affect the realisation of other democratic aims, of that great democratic ideal of which the enfranchisement of women is a part. To translate that ideal into practice involves great and far-reaching changes in the laws which govern the election of our Parliamentary representatives. Before we can be said to have established democracy in this country there is much to be done. The plural voter has to be abolished the clumsy and inefficient registration laws must be reformed, so that men shall no longer be disfranchised for the crime of changing their abode and the women must be admitted to the full rights of citizenship. Democracy in its completion can, in short, have but a single basis: One man, one vote; one woman, one vote." "I am all for Women's Suffrage," said the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer, but I want it all round." That is the democratic standpoint; every measure must be judged by a Liberal from it. When a proposal is made not as a mere subject for debate, but as a plan to be carried, if possible, into effect, we have to consider not merely whether it embodies a principle or principles with which we are in agreement, but how its results will affect our other ideals, how in particular they will affect the full develop- ment of the particular principle involved. And on the verdict of our intellect our decision must depend. That is the course which Mr. Lloyd George has taken. I am not for the moment con- cerned to examine his decision, to discuss whether he judged rightly or wrongly in concluding that the passage of Mr. Shackle- ton's Bill would hinder rather than help the progress towards the full realisation of democracy. My point is that, when he had so decided, the course which he took was the only straightforward and worthy one that he was right in taking into consideration iiot the mere fact that the Bill enfranchised women, but his belief-right or wrong- that its passage into law would be a bar to progress. He has reminded us, not perhaps without need, that, in this as in other matters, it is ill to look only where the next step leads; that the goal must be ever before our eyes, and that for Liberals the goal of all electoral reform must be the enfranchisement of every man and every woman of sound intellect and sufficient age.

LONDON WELSH Rugby Football…

Advertising