Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties - Vol. 1

By M. Ostrogorski; Frederick Clarke | Go to book overview

NINTH CHAPTER
THE CRISIS OF 1886 AND THE FINAL DEVELOPMENT OF PARTY ORGANIZATION

I

IRELAND, which had long been like a thorn planted in the body politic of England, had at last worked its way into the heart of her parliamentary system. The representatives of irreconcilable Irish opinion had gradually become so numerous in the House of Commons that they stopped the regular working of the old party system by interposing between the two parties, or even paralyzed the activity of Parliament by their systematic obstruction. The price which they demanded was Home Rule, the political autonomy of their country. But nearly the whole of English opinion and English statesmen, Conservative and Liberal, would not hear of it. Mr. Gladstone, therefore, at the general election of 1885 asked the country to return a Liberal majority strong enough to deal with the Conservatives and the Irish together, and thus make the latter powerless. This wish was not gratified; the Irish Home Rulers came back in greater numbers than ever, and it was only by the aid of their votes that the Liberals would be able to overcome the Conservatives and dislodge them from power, which they had held for some time. Mr. Gladstone then took a sudden resolution in which, as was always the case with him, the calculations of a parliamentary tactician and of a party impresario coincided with the impulses of a generous nature and the aspirations of a lofty mind: he decided to offer the Irish Home Rule in order to secure a majority and put an end to the enmity between the two nations. But would he be followed in this abrupt change of front? Would his great authority and the wonderful prestige of his name be strong enough to carry with him the whole body of

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