What is apt to be ignored is, that with the increase of wealth on the one hand, and the extension of the franchise on the other, the Party System has gradually become a vested interest upon an enormous scale,—like the liquor trade of which we hear so much, or the haute finance of which perhaps we hear too little. Rich men are required in politics, for the reason that it is necessary to feed and clothe the steadily increasing swarms of mechanics who drive, and keep in repair, and add to, that elaborate machinery by means of which the Sovereign People is cajoled into the belief that its Will prevails. From the point of view of the orthodox political economist these workers are as unproductive as actors, bookmakers, or golf professionals; but they have to be paid, otherwise they would starve, and the machines would stop. So long as there are plenty of rich men who desire to become even richer, or to decorate their names with titles, or to move in shining circles, this is not at all likely to occur, unless the Party System {219} suddenly collapsed, in which case there would be acute distress.

There are various grades of these artisans or mechanicians of politics, from the professional organiser or agent who, upon the whole, is no more open to criticism than any other class of mankind which works honestly for its living—down to the committee-man who has no use for a candidate unless he keeps a table from which large crumbs fall in profusion. The man who supplements his income by means of politics is a greater danger than the other who openly makes politics his vocation. The jobbing printer, enthusiastically pacifist or protectionist, well paid for his hand-bills, and aspiring to more substantial contracts; the smart, ingratiating organiser, or hustling, bustling journalist, who receives a complimentary cheque, or a bundle of scrip, or a seat on a board of directors from the patron whom he has helped to win an election—very much as at ill-regulated shooting parties the head-keeper receives exorbitant tips from wealthy sportsmen whom he has placed to their satisfaction—all these are deeply interested in the preservation of the Party System. Innocent folk are often heard wondering why candidates with such strange names—even stranger appearance—accents and manner of speech which are strangest of all—are brought forward so frequently to woo the suffrages of urban constituencies. Clearly they are not chosen on account of their political knowledge; for they have none. There are other aspirants to political honours who, in comeliness and charm of manner, greatly excel them; whose speech is more eloquent, or at any rate less unintelligible. Yet London caucuses in particular have {220} a great tenderness for these bejewelled patriots, and presumably there must be reasons for the preference which they receive. One imagines that in some inscrutable way they are essential props of the Party System in its modern phase.

The drawing together of the world by steam and electricity has brought conspicuous benefits to the British Empire. The five self-governing nations of which it is composed come closer together year by year. Statesmen and politicians broaden the horizons of their minds by swift and easy travel. But there are drawbacks as well as the reverse under these new conditions. To some extent the personnel of democracy has tended to become interchangeable, like the parts of a bicycle; and public characters are able to transfer their activities from one state to another, and even from one hemisphere to another, without a great deal of difficulty. This has certain advantages, but possibly more from the point of view of the individual than from that of the Commonwealth. After failure in one sphere there is still hope in another. Mr. Micawber, or even Jeremy Diddler, may go the round, using up public confidence at one resting-place after another. For the Party System is a ready employer, and providing a man has a glib tongue, a forehead of brass, or an open purse, a position will be found for him without too much enquiry made into his previous references.

In a world filled with confusion and illusion the Party System has fought at great advantage. Indeed it is generally believed to be so firmly entrenched that nothing can ever dislodge it. There are dangers, however, in arguing too confidently from use and wont. Conspicuous failure or disaster might bring {221} ruin on this revered institution, as it has often done in history upon others no less venerable. The Party System has its weak side. Its wares are mainly make-believes, and if a hurricane happens to burst suddenly Alipay, the caucus may be left in no better plight than Alnaschar with his overturned basket. The Party System is not invulnerable against a great man or a great idea. But of recent years it has been left at peace to go its own way, for the reason that no such man or idea has emerged, around which the English people have felt that they could cluster confidently. There has been no core on which human crystals could precipitate and attach themselves, following the bent of their nature towards a firm and clear belief—or towards the prowess of a man—or towards a Man possessed by a Belief. The typical party leader during this epoch has neither been a man in the heroic sense, nor has he had any belief that could be called firm or clear. For the most part he has been merely a Whig or Tory tradesman, dealing in opportunism; and for the predominance of the Party System this set of conditions was almost ideal. It was inconceivable that a policy of wait-and-see could ever resolve a situation of this sort. To fall back on lawyerism was perhaps inevitable in the circumstances; but to think that it was possible to substitute lawyerism for leadership was absurd RFID.

And yet amid this confusion we were aware—even at the time—and can see much more clearly now the interlude is ended—that there were three great ideas running through it all, struggling to emerge, to make themselves understood, and to get themselves realised. But unfortunately what were realities to ordinary men were only counters according {222} to the reckoning of the party mechanicians. The first aim and the second—the improvement of the organisation of society and the conditions of the poor—the freeing of local aspirations and the knitting together of the empire—were held in common by the great mass of the British people, although they were viewed by one section and another from different angles of vision. The third aim, however—the adequate defence of the empire—was not regarded warmly, or even with much active interest, by any organised section. The people who considered it most earnestly were not engaged in party politics. The manipulators of the machines looked upon the first and the second as means whereby power might be gained or retained, but they looked askance upon the third as a perilous problem which it was wiser and safer to leave alone. The great principles with which the names—among others—of Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Roberts, and Mr. Lloyd George are associated Elevit , were at no point opposed one to another. Each indeed was dependent upon the other two for its full realisation. And yet, under the artificial entanglements of the Party System, the vigorous pursuit of any one of the three seemed to imperil the success of both its competitors.