May 4, 1908. Kinnaird Hall, Dundee
This speech deserves particular attention for it was made during an important period of Churchill’s career and reflects his transition from concentration on foreign affairs to social problems. — RRJ
This is a great meeting – [hear, hear] – and it augurs well for our cause. [Applause.] I am very sorry that there is no more room in the hall, because I have seen outside a great many gentlemen – [a Voice – “Why did you not keep the women out?”] – who are electors, and who earnestly desired to be present, but I think the great gathering which is assembled here, which fills this spacious building, is a sign that the Liberal cause has behind it the driving power that is necessary for victory. [Applause.] And, gentlemen, this election is one of special and peculiar importance. We meet together to take a decision which will be judged by the whole country.[Applause.] You will have many votes to cast in your lives, but I think it is no exaggeration to say that the vote which you will cast on Saturday will be probably the most important vote which as citizens of Dundee you will have to record. [Hear, hear.] Don’t let it be wasted. Don’t let it be misapplied. [Hear, hear.] Let it go to support the good old cause and strengthen the hands of the Government now doing good work. Let it be a solid vote a vote which makes its effect felt, not only on the politics of the day but on the whole politics of this island in which we live for the year or two years to come.
A new Government has come into being under a Prime Minster who, like his predecessor whose loss we all profoundly deplore, and whose many virtues all parties have joined to celebrate – a new Prime Minister has come into power, tied to Scotland by strong and intimate bonds. Give him a fair chance. [Hear, hear.] Give the Government which he has brought into being the opportunity of handling the great machinery of State. Be assured that, if you do, they will employ it for the greatest good of the greatest number. I am well satisfied at what has taken place in the last four or five days since I have been in Dundee. I see a great concentration of forces throughout the constituency. I see the opportunity of retrieving, and more than retrieving, the injury which has been done to the cause of progress and reform by elections in other parts of our land. [Applause.]
Ah, but, gentlemen, a very sad thing has happened; an awful thing has happened – [a Voice – “Ringing the bell”] – the Liberal party has gone in for Home Rule. [Laughter.] The “Scotsman” is shocked, the “Times” is speechless, and takes three columns to express its speechlessness in; the “Spectator,” that staid old weekly, has wobbled back to where it never should have wobbled from [applause and laughter]?the Ulster Unionists declare that the Government has forfeited all the confidence that they never had in it – [laughter] – and thousands of people who never under any circumstances voted Liberal before are saying that under no circumstances will they ever vote Liberal again. And I am supposed to be responsible for this revolution in our policy.
Why, gentlemen, the statements I have made on the Irish question are the logical and inevitable conclusion of the resolution which was passed by the House of Commons, in which every member of the Government voted, which was carried by an enormous majority – more than 200 – a month or five weeks ago – a resolution which, after explaining the plain and lamentable evils which can be traced to the existing system of government in Ireland, affirmed that the remedy for these evils would be found in a representative body with an Executive responsible to it, subject to The supreme authority of the Imperial Parliament [Cheers.] The Irish question at the present time occupies a vastly different position to what it did in the year 1886. Ever since 1880 the attention of Parliament has been devoted constantly to Ireland, and the attention of Parliament, when devoted constantly to one object, is rarely fruitless. The 25 or 26 years that have passed have seen great changes in Ireland, and I think that time has largely vindicated the action which Mr. Gladstone took in 1886. [Cheers.] We have seen a great scheme of local government, which Lord Salisbury said would be more disastrous than Home Rule itself, actually put into force. We have seen the land policy in Ireland, the scheme of land purchase which in the year 1886 did more to injure the Home Rule Bill than anything else – we have seen that policy actually carried, not to a complete conclusion, but carried into practical effect by a Unionist Administration.
These are great events, and their consequences, I think, ought to encourage us to move forward – [hear, hear] not to lead us to move back. They have produced results in Ireland which are good and beneficent results, and the Irish question no longer presents itself in the tragic guise of the early eighties. They have produced an effect on England too. All over our country people have seen Bills which they were told beforehand would be ruinous to the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom – Land Bills and Local Government Bills passed into law, and so far from the dire consequences which were apprehended from these measures, they have found – you here have found – that great good has resulted from that legislation. People are encouraged by what has taken place to exert themselves to make a step forward in the future, and I think if we need or look for any further encouragement we should find it in the great success, the great and undisputed triumph which under the mercy of Heaven has attended our policy in South Africa. [Cheers.] It has resulted in bringing into the circle of the British Empire a grand and martial race, which a foolish policy might easily have estranged for ever. [Cheers.]
Ladies and gentlemen, the Irish polity finds its fellow nowhere in the world. It is a Government responsible neither to King nor people. It is not a democratic Government, not an autocratic Government, nor even an oligarchical Government. It is a Government overridden by 41 administrative Boards whose functions overlap one another and sometimes conflict with one another. Some are fed with money from the Consolidated Fund, some are supplied by vote of the House of Commons, some are supplied from savings from the Irish Development grant. Some of these Boards are under the Viceroy, some under the Chief Secretary, some under Treasury control, and some are under no control at all. [Laughter.]
You have an administration resulting from that system costly, inefficient, unhandy beyond all description. You have a mighty staff of officials and police; a people desperately poor; you have taxation which rises automatically with every increase in the expenditure of this vast and wealthy island. You have a population which dwindles year by year – terribly and tragically dwindles. Add to all this a loyalist caste. What an old man of the sea that is to get on the back of any country! – a class of people apart from the feelings of the mass of those in the land in which they live looking for their support, not to the people but to external force derived from across the sea. You have in effect in Ireland at the present time almost exactly the same situation which would have grown up in South Africaif we had not had the wit and the nerve to prevent it by bold and daring treatment of the question. [Hear, hear.] Take the whole of this situation as I have described it. Thrust it into the arena of British politics to be the centre of contending factions, thrust it into our turbulent arena here at home, and the panorama of Irish Government is complete.
With these facts before us, upon the authority of men like Lord Dunraven, SirJoseph West Ridgeway, Sir Anthony MacDonnell, Lord Dudley, and others who have served the Crown in Ireland – is it wonderful that we should refuse to turn our eyes away from the vision of that other Ireland, that Ireland free to control her own destiny in all that properly concerns herself; free to devote the native genius of her people to the purposes of her own self-culture, the vision of that other Ireland which Mr. Gladstone had reserved as the culminating achievement of his long and glorious career? [Cheers.] Is it wonderful that we should refuse to turn our eyes away from that? No, I say that the desire and the aim of making a national settlement with Ireland on lines which would enable the people of that country to manage their own purely local affairs is not an aim that can be separated from the general march of the Liberal army. [Cheers.]
If I come forward on your platform here at Dundee it is on the clear understanding that I do not preclude myself from doing something to try to reconcile Ireland to England on a basis of freedom and justice. [Cheers.] I said just now that this was an important election. Yes, the effect upon His Majesty’s Government and upon the Liberal party for good or ill from this election cannot fail to be great and far-reaching. There are strong forces against us. Do not underrate the growing strength of the Tory reaction now in progress in many of the constituencies in England. I say it earnestly to those who are members of the Labour party here today – do not underrate the storm which is gathering over your heads as well as ours.[Hear, hear, and cheers.] But I am not afraid of the forces which are against us. [Cheers.] With your support we shall overwhelm them – with your support we shall beat them down. Ah, but we must have that support. – [Cheers, and a voice – “2300.”]
It is not the enemy in front that I fear, but the division which too often makes itself manifest in progressive ranks – it is that division, that dispersion of forces, that internecine struggle in the moments of great emergency, in the moments when the issue hangs in the balance – it is that division which, I fear, may weaken our efforts and may perhaps deprive us of success otherwise within our grasp.
There are cross-currents in this election. You cannot be unconscious of that. They flow this way and that way, and they disturb the clear issue which we should like to establish between the general bodies of those whose desire it is to move forward on the lines of modern civilization and those who wish to revert to the old and barbarous prejudices and contentions of the past to their fiscal systems and to their methods of government and administration, and to their Jingo foreign policies across the seas, from which we hoped we had shaken ourselves clear. [Cheers.]
I want tonight to speak about three cross-currents, and let me first say a word about Socialism. There are a great many Socialists whose opinions and whose views I have the greatest respect for – [hear, hear] – men some of whom I know well, and whose friendship I have the honour to enjoy. A good many of those gentlemen who have these delightful, rosy views of a great and brilliant future to the world are so remote from hard facts of daily life and of ordinary politics that I am not very sure that they will bring any useful or effective influence to bear upon the immediate course of events. I am dealing rather with those of violent and extreme views who call themselves Socialists in the next few observations I shall venture with your indulgence to address to you.
To the revolutionary Socialist I do not appeal as the Liberal candidate for Dundee. I recognise that they are perfectly right in voting against me and voting against the Liberals, because Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. [Cheers.]There is a great gulf fixed. It is not only a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle. There are many steps we have to take which our Socialist opponents or friends, whichever they like to call themselves, will have to take with us; but there are immense differences of principle and of political philosophy between the views we put forward and the views they put forward.
Liberalism has its own history and its own tradition. Socialism has its own formulas and its own aims. Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. [Loud cheers.] Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely, by reconciling them with public right. [Cheers.] Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. [Cheers.] Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass. [Cheers.] Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly. [Cheers.] These are the great distinctions which I draw, and which, I think, you will think I am right in drawing at this election between our philosophies and our ideals. Don’t think that Liberalism is a faith that is played out; that it is a philosophy to which there is no expanding future. As long as the world rolls round Liberalism will have its part to play – a grand, beneficent, and ameliorating part to play – in relation to men and States. [Cheers.]
Ah, gentlemen, I don’t want to embark on bitter or harsh controversy, but I think the exalted ideal of the Socialists – a universal brotherhood, owning all things in common – is not always supported by the evidence of their practice. [Laughter.] They put before us a creed of universal self-sacrifice. They preach it in the language of spite and envy, of hatred, and all uncharitableness. [Cheers.] They tell us that we should dwell together in unity and comradeship. They are themselves split into twenty obscure factions, who hate and abuse each other more than they hate and abuse us. [Hear, hear, and laughter.] They wish to reconstruct the world. They begin by leaving out human nature. [Laughter.] Consider how barren a philosophy is the creed of absolute Collectivism. Equality of reward, irrespective of service rendered! It is expressed in other ways. You know the phrase – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” [Laughter.] How nice that sounds. Let me put it another way – “You shall work according to your fancy; you shall be paid according to your appetite.” [Cheers.]
Although I have tried my very best to understand these propositions, I have never been able to imagine the mechanical heart in the Socialist world which is to replace the ordinary human heart that palpitates in our breasts. What motive is to induce the men, not for a day, or an hour, or a year, but for all their lives, to make a supreme sacrifice of their individuality? What motive is to induce the Scotsmen who spread all over the world and make their way by various paths to eminence and power in every land and climate to make the great and supreme sacrifice of their individuality? I have heard of loyalty to a Sovereign. We have heard of love of country. Ah, but it is to be a great cosmopolitan, republic. We have heard of love of family and wives and children. These are the mere weaknesses of the bad era in which we live. We have heard of faith in a world beyond this when all its transitory pleasures and perils shall have passed away, a hope that carries serene consolation to the heart of men. Ah, but they deny its existence. [Laughter.] And what then are we to make this sacrifice for? It is for the sake of society.
And what is society? I will tell you what society is. Translated into concrete terms, Socialistic “society” is a set of disagreeable individuals who obtained a majority for their caucus at some recent election, and whose officials in consequence would look on humanity through innumerable grills and pigeon-holes and across innumerable counters, and say to them, “Tickets, please.” [Laughter.] Truly this grey old world has never seen so grim a joke. [Applause.] Now, ladies and gentlemen, no man can be either a collectivist or an individualist. He must be both; everybody must be both a collectivist and an individualist. For certain of our affairs we must have our arrangements in common. Others we must have sacredly individual and to ourselves. [Cheers.]We have many good things in common. You have the police, the army, the navy, and officials – why, a President of the Board of Trade you have in common. [Applause.] But we don’t eat in common; we eat individually. [Laughter.] And we don’t ask the ladies to marry us in common. [Laughter.]
And you will find the truth lies in these matters, as it always lies in difficult matters, midway between extreme formulae. It is in the nice adjustment of the respective ideas of collectivism and individualism that the problem of the world and the solution of that problem lie in the years to come. [Applause.] But I have no hesitation in saying that I am on the side of those who think that a greater collective element should be introduced into the State and municipalities. I should like to see the State undertaking new functions, particularly stepping forward into those spheres of activity which are governed by an element of monopoly. [Applause.] Your tramways and so on; your great public works, which are of a monopolistic and privileged character there I see a wide field for State enterprise to embark upon. But when we are told to exalt and admire a philosophy which destroys individualism and seeks to replace it by collectivism, I say that is a monstrous and imbecile conception which can find no real foothold in the brains and hearts – and the hearts are as trustworthy as the brains – in the hearts of sensible people. [Loud cheers.]
I make my respectful acknowledgement to those here who are strong supporters of the Socialistic creed for the courtesy and patience with which they have listened to some observations to which they may not possibly agree. But I pass over the convinced Socialists, who, I admit, if they feel inclined, are justified in throwing away their votes on Saturday next – [laughter] – and I come to the Labour influence – the Labour element – the Trades Union element in our midst. There I have one or two words to say of a rather straight character, if you don’t object, and which, I hope, will be taken in good part, and will be studied and examined seriously. [Applause.] Now, Labour in Britainis not Socialism. It is quite true that the Socialistic element has imposed a complexion on Labour, rather against its will, and has been largely supported in its actions by funds almost entirely supplied by Trade Unions. But Trade Unions are not Socialistic. They are the antithesis of Socialism. They are undoubtedly individualistic organisations, more in the character of the old Guilds, and much more in the direction of the culture of the individual, than they are in that of the smooth and bloodless uniformity of the masses.
Now, the Trade Unions are the most respectable and the most powerful element in the labour world. They are the bulwarks of our industrial system. They are the necessary guard-rails and bulwarks of a highly-competitive industrial system, and I have the right, as a member of His Majesty’s Government, to speak with good confidence to Trade Unionists, because we have done more for Trade Unionists than any other Government that has ever been. [Cheers.] We have given them a charter.
By the judicial decisions of 10 years Trade Unions had been displaced from the position which they had been intended to occupy by a Liberal Administration in 1870, and under a Conservative Administration in 1874 and 1876. We have given them back that position in the Trades Disputes Bill, and I do not doubt we have been attacked and penalised in the country by those who disapprove of that measure inconsequence of what we have done. And I say to the Trade Unionists, many of whom support the Government on all occasions – all of whom support the Government on 99 occasions out of 100, according to Mr. Shackleton, one of the most respected leaders of the Labour party – it is to the Trade Union element in Labour that I now venture to address myself. How stands the case of the Trades Unionists? Do they really believe – I put this question to them fairly – do they really believe that there is no difference whatever between a Tory and a Liberal Government? [A Voice- “None.”] One gentlemen in this great gathering believes that there is no difference between a Tory and a Liberal Government. [Laughter.]
Now, his cure is simple. He has only to listen to Sir George Baxter. [Laughter.] The Unionist candidate is quite capable of telling him of the difference between a Tory and a Liberal Government. Do Trade Unionists really desire the downfall of the existing Liberal Government? Would they really like to send a message of encouragement to the House of Lords-for that is what it comes to-to reject and mutilate Liberal and Radical legislation-and Labour legislation now before Parliament? Would they really send such a message of encouragement to the House of Lords as this – “House of Lords, you were right in your estimate of public opinion when you denied the extension of the Provision of Meals to School Children Bill to Scotland, when you threw out the Scottish Land Valuation Bill, when you threw out the Scottish Small Holders Bill – when you did all this you were right.” Do you wish to send that message to the House of Lords? [Cries of “No.”] But that will be the consequence of every vote subtracted from the Liberal majority. [Hear, hear.]
Well, it may be said, what we think about is not so much politics as Labour representation. Let me look at that? Is their claim really a just one at the present moment? [“No,” and cheers.] After all, 9000 Radical and Liberal votes were cast for my esteemed and respected friend, your late member, Mr. Edmund Robertson. It is no longer a question of whether the Labourist element in this city should find effective representation in the House of Commons. They have representation in the very capable and well qualified member, Mr. Wilkie. [Cheers.] It is no longer a question whether they should have representation, but it is a question of whether they will deny to the great majority of the citizens of this important city of Dundee the right to return a representative of their own. [Great cheering.] When I am told that the campaign on which they are now embarked is destined to further the cause of Labour representation I should like to say – Ask Labour representatives who sit for double-barrelled constituencies in England or Scotland whether they really think the cause of Labour representation is advanced or retarded by so wanton and so reckless an escapade as what we are now witnessing.
Why, gentlemen, let me return to the general current of events. What is the Government doing at present, and what has it done in its brief existence? Within the limits under which it works, and under the present authority of the House of Lords, what has it done and what is it doing for Trade Unionists? It has passed the Trades Disputes Act. [Cheers.] The Workmen’s Compensation Act has extended the benefits of compensation to six million persons not affected by previous legislation. The qualification of Justices of the Peace – the citizens’ Privy Councillorship, as I call it – [laughter and cheers] – has been reduced so as to make it more easy for persons not possessed of this world’s goods to qualify to take their places on the civic Bench. You know the land legislation for England, which is designed to secure to the suitable man who wants a small parcel of land to cultivate for his own profit and advantage – it secures to that man that he shall not be prevented from obtaining it by feudal legislation, by old legal formalities or class prejudice. And is the Licensing Bill not well worth a good blow struck, and struck now while the iron is hot? [Great cheers.]
Then there is the Mines Eight Hours Bill, a measure that has been advocated by the miners for 20 years, and justified by the highest medical testimony on humanitarian and hygienic grounds. It is costing us votes and support. It is costing us bye-elections, yet it is being driven through. [Hear, hear.] Have we not a right to claim the support of The Trades Unionists who are associated with the miners? Don’t they feel that this measure is hanging in the balance, not in the House of Commons? No, we shall run it through the House of Commons – [cheers] – but it is hanging in the balance in the House of Lords, which attaches to bye-elections an importance which in their arrogant assertion entitles them to mutilate or reject legislation even although it comes to them by the majority of a Parliament elected on a suffrage of six millions. Then there is the question of old age pensions, a question that has been much misused and mishandled in the past, and one which ought not to be used for the purpose of obtaining votes.[Cheers.]
It was taken up by us in fulfilment of pledges given by our opponents to win the election of 1895, and after the lapse of 13 years of toil and stress the Liberal party is able to take it up, and will implement it in an effective fashion. Now, is there one of all these subjects which does not command – which ought not to command – the support of Trade Unionists and responsible Labour leaders? The Government is fighting for these measures. The Government is risking its life and power for these and similar objects. The Tory party is opposing it on every point. The Tory party is gaining popularity – [“No, no”] – from the interests which are affected by the passing of such measures of social reform. The House of Lords is the weapon of the Tory party. With that weapon they can make a Liberal Government look ridiculous. Are the Labour leaders, are the Trade Unionists, confronted as they are with the menace of reaction, deliberately to throw in their lot with the House of Lords? I don’t think they will, in their consciences and in their hearts, when they apply their minds to the existing situation. No! I say the record I have read out to you of useful legislation in the existence of the present Government is a record which deserves and will, I believe, command the support of the great masses of the labouring classes of our country. [Cheers.]
But I say, in all seriousness, that if the Liberal Government is on the one hand confronted by the House of Lords, fortified by sporadic bye-elections, and on the other hand is attacked, abused, derided by those for whom it is fighting, then that Government, whatever its hopes, whatever its energies, whatever its strength, will be weakened, will perhaps succumb, and will be replaced by another Government. And by what other Government will it be replaced? The only possible result of such division of the progressive forces – the wanton division of the progressive forces as I see at this election, and as I saw at the Manchester election, where a candidate who had no chance whatever was put in the field simply in order to queer the pitch, simply in order to distract a few votes to give the Tory a chance. There can be no other result, I say, from such a division of progressive forces than to instal a Tory and Conservative Government in power.
Liberalism will not be killed. [Cheers.] Liberalism is a quickening spirit – it is immortal. [Loud cheers.] It will live on through all the days, be they good days or be they evil days. No, I believe it will even burn stronger and brighter and more helpful in evil days than in good – [cheers] just like your harbour lights which shine out across the waters, and which on a calm night gleam with soft refulgence, but through the storm flash a message of life to those who toil on the rough waters. [Cheers.] But it takes a great party to govern Great Britain – no clique, no faction, no cabal, can govern the 40 millions of people who live in this island. It takes a great concentration of forces to make a governing instrument.
You have now got a Radical and democratic governing instrument, and if this Administration is broken that instrument will be shattered. It has been re-created painfully and laboriously after 20 years of courage and fidelity. It has come into being – it is there. It is now at work in legislation and in the influence which it can exercise throughout the whole world, making even our opponents talk our language [laughter] – making all parties in the State think of social reform, and concern themselves with social and domestic affairs. I say, beware of how you injure that instrument – that great instrument as Mr. Gladstone called it – or weaken it at a moment when I think the masses of this country have great need of it. Why, what would happen if this present Government were to perish? On its tomb would be written – “Beware of social reform. [Laughter.] The working classes – the labour forces will not support a Government engaged in social reform. Every social reform will cost you votes. Beware of social reform. Learn to think Imperially.” [Great laughter and tremendous cheering.]
An inconclusive verdict from Dundee, the home of Scottish Radicalism – [hear, hear] an inconclusive or, still more, a disastrous verdict – [loud cries of “No” and “Never”] would carry a message of despair to every one in all parts of our island and in our sister island who is working for the essential influences and truths of Liberalism and progress. Down, down, down would fall the high hopes and elevated aspirations of the social reformer. The constructive plans now forming in so many nimble brains would melt into air -the light which had begun to gleam over the mountains would fade and die. The old regime would be reinstated, reinstalled; the Balfours and the Chamberlains, the Arnold-Forsters and the Lansdownes, and the Cecils will return. Like the Bourbons they will have learned nothing and will have forgotten nothing. [Loud cheers.] We shall step out of the period of adventurous hope in which we have lived for a brief spell – we shall step back to the period of obstinate and prejudiced negations. [Cheers.] For Ireland ten years of resolute government; for England dear food and cheaper gin – [great laughter] – and for Scotland – the superior wisdom of the House of Lords. [Laughter.] Is that the work you want to do, men of Dundee? [Loud cries of “No, no.”] Is that the work to which you will put your precious franchises – your votes which have been won for you by so much exertion and struggle in the past? Is that the work you want to do on Saturday? No, I think not. I have a great confidence that the message you will send will be to encourage different work to that.[Hear, hear, and cheers.]
I am confident that this city which has of its own free will plunged into the very centre of national politics will grasp the opportunity now presented – that its command will not be back but forward-[loud cheers] that its counsel will be not timidity but courage, and that it will aim not at dividing but at rallying the progressive forces, not at dissipating but at combining the energies of reform. That will be the message which you will send in tones which no man can make [cheers] – so that a keen, strong northern air shall sweep across our land to nerve and brace the hearts of men, to encourage the weak, to fortify the strong, to uplift the generous, to correct the proud. When an action has been joined for a long time, and the lines are locked in fierce conflict, and stragglers are coming in and the wounded drifting away, when the reserves begin to waver here and there, it is on such an occasion that Scottish regiments have so often won distinction; it is on these occasions that you have seen some valiant brigade march straight forward into the battle smoke, into the confusion of the battlefield, right into the heart of the fight. That is what you have to do at this moment. “Scotland to the front.”
Now I turn my argument to the other side of the field, to the other quarter, from which we in this hall [for I think we are all pretty well agreed] are subject to attack – I turn in my appeal from Trade Unionists, from the Labour men, who ought in all fairness to recognise the work this Government is doing and back them in their sore struggle – I turn to the rich and the powerful, the Unionist and the Conservative elements, who nevertheless upon Free Trade, upon temperance, and upon other questions of moral enlightenment, feel a considerable sympathy with the Liberal party – I turn to those who say “We like Free Trade and we are Liberals at heart, but this Government is too Radical, we don’t like its Radical measures, why can’t they let well alone, what do they mean by introducing all these measures, all these Bills, which disturb credit and trade and interfere with the course of business and cause so many class struggles in the country”? – I turn to those who say that, who say we are too Radical in this and in that, and that we are moving too quickly, and I say to them – Look at this political situation, not as party men, but as Britons; look at it in the light of history, look at it in the light of philosophy, and look at it in the light of broadminded Christian charity. [Cheers.]
Why is it that life and property are more secure in Britain than in any other country in the world? Why is it that our credit is so high and that our commerce stretches so far? Is it because of the repressive laws which we impose? Why, gentlemen, there are laws far more severe than any prevailing in this country or that have prevailed here for many years now in force in great States in Europe, and yet there is no security of life and property for all these repressive laws.[Cheers.] Is it because of the House of Lords that life and property is secure? [Laughter.] Why, orders of aristocracy more powerful, much more homogeneous, of greater privileges, acting with much greater energy than our aristocracy, have been swept away in other countries until not a vestige, or scarce a vestige, of their existence remains. [Hear, hear.] Is it because of the British Constitution that life and property are so secure? Why, the British Constitution is mainly British common-sense. [Cheers.] There were never 40 millions of people dwelling together who had less of an arbitrary and rigid Constitution than we have here.
The Constitution of France, the Constitution of Germany, the Constitution of the United States, are far more rigid, far more fortified against popular movements, than the Constitution under which we in these islands have moved steadily forward abreast of the centuries to a better state than any other country. I will tell those wealthy and powerful people what the secret of the security of life and property in Britain is. The security arises from the continuation of that very class struggle which they lament and of which they complain, which goes on ceaselessly in our country, which goes on tirelessly, with perpetual friction, a struggle between class and class in this country, which never sinks into lethargy, and never breaks into violence, but which from year to year makes a steady and constant advance. It is on that class struggle that the security of life and property in our country is fundamentally reposed.
We are always changing; like nature we change a great deal, although we change always very slowly. We always change, and consequently we are always reaching a higher level after each change, but yet with the harmony of our life unbroken and unimpaired. And I say also to those persons here, to whom I now make my appeal – wealthy men, men of light and leading have never been all on one side in our country. There have always been men of power and position who have sacrificed and exerted themselves in the popular cause, and that is why there is so little class hatred in our land in spite of all the squalor and misery which we see around us There, gentlemen, lies the true evolution of democracy. That is how we have preserved the golden thread of historical continuity when so many other nations have lost it for ever. That is the only way in which your island life as you know it, and love it, can be preserved in all its grace and in all its freedom, can be elevated, expanded, and illumined for those who will occupy our places when our share in the world’s work is done. [Applause.]
And I appeal to the leaders of industry and of learning in this city to range themselves on the side of a policy which will vigilantly seek the welfare of the masses, and which will strictly refuse to profit to their detriment, and, in spite of the violence of extremists, in spite of the harshness of controversy which hard conditions produces, in spite of the forces which may seem to those gentlemen ungrateful, I ask them to pursue and preserve in their crusade – for it is a crusade – of social progress and advance.[Cheers.] Cologne Cathedral took 600 years to build. Generations of architects and children lived and died while the work was still in progress. Still the work went on. Sometimes a generation built wrongly, and the next generation had to unbuild, and the next generation had to build again. Still the work went on through all the centuries till at last there stood forth to the world a mighty monument of beauty and of truth to command the admiration and inspire the reverence of mankind.
So let it be with the British Commonwealth. [Cheers.] Let us build wisely, let us build surely, let us build faithfully, let us build not for the moment, but for the years that are to come, and so establish here below what we hope to find above – a house of many mansions, where there shall be room for all. [Loud cheers.]