The difficulty of bringing in any Reform Bill makes it probable enough, then, that the Government may decide against making the attempt. Let us consider, always from their point of view, what the effect of such a step might be. To bring in no Reform Bill would subject them to the chance of being turned out upon an amendment to the address, or by any other summary process; though there is also a chance that a different view might prevail. Suppose, however, that the Government were turned out, how would matters stand then? The old Government would be restored without any additional strength so far as can be seen, and with the pleasing prospect before them of having to do this year what they proved themselves to be unable to do last year. The Liberal party is in such a condition that a certain interval of opposition appears to be almost necessary for its consolidation. If such an interval is denied it, will its discipline and its prospects of carrying its characteristic measures be in the least degree improved? Does it appear probable that Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone will begin the next session with a larger, a more compact, a more resolute following than that which they had at the beginning of last session? Is it not very possible that, after defeating the present Government by some such coup as we have imagined, they might in a few months be again making room for the Conservatives, or at all events dissolving Parliament? and would not such a result give increased force to the cry that Reform is a practically impossible and insoluble question for the present, and that it is the part of wisdom and common sense to postpone it, for a while at least, to matters on which some sort of result may be attained?
This consideration of the state of the prospects of the two parties which are struggling for the mastery over us naturally suggests another question which it is impossible to leave in the background, and that is the prospects of the country at large. A certain disposition to cry, "A plague on both your houses," and even to wish for a moment--if so blasphemous a thought may be forgiven--that Prime Ministers, like American Presidents, held office for four years certain, will sometimes rise in the human mind when these matters are brought under its notice. When we consider the importance of the questions which this constant see-saw holds in abeyance, and the amount of national discredit, danger, and suffering which may arise from it at any moment, it is difficult not to feel disposed to curse the whole system of party Government with its vacillations, its weakness, and its absorption in topics which after all are important principally as means to ends. Amongst other questions before us there are the subjects of the army, the poor laws, education, the reform of every branch of the law, yet all these are hung up indefinitely by the question of Reform, and there is no sort of reason to suppose that the forthcoming session will do more for them than the last. We can even imagine that the existence of the question of Reform may be made a plausible reason for postponing their consideration. It will be said, perhaps, these are topics which are specially interesting to those who are about to receive the franchise; had we not better wait to legislate upon them till we can find out what their views about them may be? There certainly is some plausibility in such a question. It would tell on the platform; it would have a certain weight in answer to an appeal in favour of practical reforms from a Conservative Minister anxious, as all Ministers are, to continue in office; but it surely ought not to convince the public at large, for if it were true it would stultify all the measures of practical reform which have been passed since 1832. Indeed the answer to it is obvious. Whenever a Reform Bill is passed, the then constituencies will have undisputed control over the whole government of the country, and they will be able to amend, alter, or abolish altogether whatever has been done by their predecessors.
We do not pretend to suggest a solution of the various difficulties of which we have indicated the existence, but one proposition we do feel perfectly competent to affirm in the most emphatic manner, and that is, that whoever is in and whoever is out, and whether we do or do not succeed in hatching a Reform Bill, we stand in the most urgent need of a variety of reforms of a totally different kind, the postponement of which, from whatever cause and by whatever mishap, may do us all injury of which it is impossible to calculate the amount.
Pall Mall Gazette, January 22, 1867.