Back to Democracy.
"You need not rear a lion in your city,
But if you rear him, you must all obey."
This has been New Zealand's experience. With a true instinct, in which Carlyle, at any rate, would have rejoiced, the people selected their strongest man, put him in power, and Let him stay there. In return he rendered them, as we have said, some splendid service, and he always showed himself very attentive to their wishes; but now that the strong man has gone, and left no successor of comparable strength, the question for those who cannot dismiss democracy as contemptuously as Carlyle or Cromwell, is whether this is not a suitable time for it to assert its independence, and to insist upon its feebler rulers reverting to more constitutional and democratic paths.
According to the theory of our constitution and to the political cant which has continued to echo theory long after a contrary practice has been established, Parliament is the highest tribunal in the land; but what measure of [unclear: ind] pendence has either branch of the Legislature enjoyed during recent years? According to the theory of our constitution, the Cabinet is a committee of competent men, each of whom controls the affairs of his own department and shares with his colleagues a joint responsibility to Parliament; and here again, how can practice dare to look theory in the [unclear: fac] Both Parliament and Cabinet have [unclear: sa] ficed their individuality to the [unclear: sa] great personal ascendency. One by one the most precious privileges of the House have been whittled away the control of the country's finances, the right to a thorough knowledge [unclear: of] affairs, the power of initiative [unclear: and] a large extent of free criticism, and even the blessing of staying awake [unclear: wh] its most important business is [unclear: tra] acted. The Ministry in case [unclear: after] has usurped what once belonged to Parliament; and the whole duty of its supporters is to vote as they are told and when they are told, and to draw their own salaries and a fair quota of the public money for their respective [unclear: d] tricts in return. As to the Legislative Council, it would be impossible for the most deferential of men to speak [unclear: of] with respect if he has any regard [unclear: at] for the truth. It has become a [unclear: sort] political scrap-heap, a refuge for [unclear: th] rejects, the misfits, and the unknown of political life. Redeemed by a [unclear: f] striking exceptions, mostly dating [unclear: fr] an earlier day, the Chamber [unclear: whi] ought to represent the mature wisdom and independence of the country has become a byword for [unclear: incompetence as] subservience; and this has [unclear: happe] not because capable men were not [unclear: av] able, but because the same [unclear: strong] who had succeeded in imposing [unclear: hit] upon the popular branch of the Legislature could not submit to [unclear: have] page 3 thwarted by the other. We must reserve for a subsequent article the further investigation of the weakening effect which the centralising of power in one pair of hands has had upon all other authorities; and the moral which we shall endeavour to establish is this—that the temporary exigencies of a one-man power such as is not likely to be repeatd for many generations must not be allowed to establish a permanent standard of government, and that Parliament-and the country should take the first opportunity of intimating to the weaker men who must now carry on the work that the same liberties are not to be tolerated from them. They must be content to lead us back to democracy, or to make way for others who will.
—27th June, 1906.
The Executive and the Legislature.
In our leading article yesterday reference was made to the steady growth which recent years had witnessed of the one man power at the expense of both cabinet and Parliament, Of the personnel weakness of the Cabinet outside the first two or three places a good deal has been said from time to time, both within and without the ranks of the Government party; but it is only during the last few days that the fast has made a really deep and vivid impression upon the public mind. It had always been open to anybody to discover from the list of portfolios that Mr. seddon himself held no less than five, of which four were of the very highest importance—namely, those of Colonial Treasur, Minister of Defence, Minister of Education, and Minister of Labour; that Sir Joseph Ward also held five; and that the remaining six members of the Cabinet held ten between them. It was also obvious from the course of administration and the proceedings of the House that even in their own departments the lesser lights of the Ministry could be said to rule and Mr. Seddon to govern. It was he and not they who announced any important change of policy affecting their departments; it was he and not the Ministers nominally responsible who would take charge, for instance, of any land Bill or tariff Bill which was not of the simplest possible character. But it has required the current speculation on the subject of Cabinet reconstruction to bring home to the average man the amount of dead-weight which Mr. Seddon's herculean powers enabled him to carry with impunity in his Ministry. Referring to the proposal to jettison some of this superfluous matter, the North Otago Times says: "It possibly is the most peculiar position that has been created under constitutional government. Here is a Government that has held office for fourteen years, and as soon as its chief is removed by the hand of death, it is discovered that his Cabinet, with the exception of two, are unfit for the position they have held so long." Our contemporary adds the suggestion that "possibly the active force at the back of all this is the desire for office by a large section of the party," and an estimate which allows the Ministry only two capable men is certainly subject to discount on the score of bias; yet we venture to say that there are at least three members of the late Seddon Ministry who could not conceivably have acquired their positions by any popular or representative vote, and who would hardly venture to defend their title to them before any caucus of the party.page 4
Yet while important positions in the Cabinet have thus been filled with' matter utterly devoid of force or distinction, the organisation as a whole has, as we mentioned yesterday, been steadily gaining power at the expense of other parts of the constitutional machinery. To a certain extent this unwholesome development, this unwelcome intrusion of the bureaucratic element into the stronghold of democracy, represents a common tendency of the age, for we find that discerning observers of the Mother of Parliaments complain that the House of Commons is being steadily edged out of many of its traditional functions by the expanding powers of the Cabinet. But in New Zealand this tendency has been far more deliberate and has been carried much further. In Great Britain the same evolutionary process which brought the Cabinet into being by the force of custom and convenience without any express legal sanction has continued to direct its growth, and it is possible that some legal check may be found necessary to limit a power which in its origin provided a valuable restraint upon the Royal prerogative, but having practically possessed itself of that prerogative on behalf of the people, is now encroaching on the rights of Parliament. In this colony, however, Parliament has regarded a similar process with the utmost complacency. Not only has it taken no steps to protect itself against the steady aggrandisement of the Executive power, but it has encouraged and stimulated the process whenever the issue has been directly raised. In Bill after Bill the Ministry has asked for what are nothing but legislative powers, and in statute after statute a subservient Legislature has granted the concession. Parliament first declares what the law shall be on a particular subject, and then by a final and stultifying clause, which threatens to become as normal a feature of our important statutes as the short title or the interpretation clause, empowers [unclear: th] Executive to alter it. What else is [unclear: th] meaning of the clause empowering [unclear: th] Governor-in-Council to make [unclear: "reg] tions" which when made have the [unclear: for] of statute law, and serve either to [unclear: fill] essential gaps in the structure erected by Parliament or even to pull down [unclear: wh] has been already built? Judicial [unclear: fu] tions, also, affecting without appeal [unclear: p] perty rights of enormous [unclear: value,] often entrusted to the Ministry by [unclear: the] same clauses.
What is the union of executive, legislative, and judicial powers in the [unclear: sa] authority but tyranny of a very though-going and dangerous character No revolution or coup d'etat has been needed to bring about this extraordinary change; the independence of Parliament had been steadily sapped by the [unclear: do] ance of one overmastering will, [unclear: Ve] frankly was the effect of Mr. Seddon strong personality upon his party in [unclear: th] House described by one of them [unclear: in] statement which was published a [unclear: fe] days ago. "It is something like [unclear: wh] I imagine schoolboys must feel in the presence of the schoolmaster," he said.
When he was in the House [unclear: we fe] that we were subservient to his wishes and when he was temporarily [unclear: absent] felt the removal of the restraint, [unclear: but] soon as he returned we were schoolboy again and did what he desired." It is a different attitude and a different type of member that must be encouraged [unclear: no] A Parliament which was erected [unclear: as] barrier against tyranny has [unclear: become] direct instrument of tyranny [unclear: when] servience to a single man is [unclear: cond] acknowledged as the position of a [unclear: maj] ity of its members; and a weaker [unclear: lead] bids fair to give us a stronger Parliament. It is universally conceded [unclear: that] page 5 man that is left is strong e no ugh to carry on his back the dead-heads of Mr. Seddon's Cabinet as he himself carried them for years; and public opinion should make equally clear that the time has also passed when deadheads can be tolerated in either branch of the Legislature. Not the placement of any man or any organisation ready to do what they are told and draw the country's money without asking questions, but independent men who have opinions of their own and are afraid to express them, are what the country needs. With such representative the proper balance of the Constitution would be speedily restored, but without awaiting such a striking change, the Ministry that is to be will fortunately have to make some concessions to freedom from the sheer lack of power to tyrannise. Minister is the Latin for servant, whilst tyrant is Greek for absolute master, and in a country which little store by the classics, it is not altogether surprising that the distinction between the two has not always been kept sufficiently clear. But the people should see that the line is drawn now and never again obliterated.
—28th June, 1909.
A Growing Tyranny.
We referred in our leading article on Thursday last to the steady encroachments of Executive upon the powers of the Legislature during recent years, and to the obliging manner in which the Legislature had acquiesced or actively [unclear: assisted] the proces. The rule of one man or of a body of men whose will is superior to the law of the land as laid down by Parliament and interpreted by the courts is tyranny, and it is to this consummation that our political institutions have been gradually approaching under the guidance of the strong hand that could brook no restraint upon its powers. "A tyrant," says Milton, "is he who, regarding neither the law nor the common good, reigns only for himself and his faction." Nobody could truthfully say that this definition exactly fits the kind of Government to which we have been recently accustomed in New Zealand. An entire disregard to the common good has certainly not been characteristic of it, nor could it have continued all these years if it had not done many things that were-beyond question for the common good, and many more which were so regarded by the popular humour. But in what would appear to be the two most essential points of the definition, at any rate in its application to any tyranny that, having no foreign or military force behind it, is driven to pay homage to the forms of freedom and to the demands of public opinion, the correspondence between the definition and the facts of our case has been remarkably close. Our Government has not been entirely above the law, but in innumerable instances after the fashion already detailed it has been allowed to become a law unto itself, it has secured express legal enactments giving it an absolute power of legislation in matters of vital concern, and it has not hesitated to defy and make light of the law where lawlessness seemed more convenient than obedience. And as to the other branch of the definition, which speaks of the tyrant as reigning only fox himself and his faction, here also the correspondence is very close. Political colour has fortunately not been the only consideration which has influenced the appointments of the Ministry, but it has been potent enough to fill hundreds of offices with occupants who have no other claim whatever.page 6
Of the direct abandonment to the Executive by the people's representatives of one of their primacy functions, the most obvious specific instance is the much-debated section 4 of the Public Revenues Amendment Act of 1900. Section 3 of the same measure, which empowers a snatch vote of the House on the Estimates to override statute law, has naturally made a deeper impression, on the popular imagination, because on, the very a same day on which it passed it was taken advantage of by members of the House to vote themselves the sum of £40 by way of "sessional allowance" in addition to the salary fixed by law, and without notice of any kind to the constituencies. If tine passing of that clause and the snatching of that money—both carried out at the instance of Ministers who, as an obvious part of the same bargain, also got an increase of their own salaries during the same session—must be regarded as one of the foulest blots which the public morality of the colony has ever suffered, the passing of clause 4 undoubtedly marks one of the most deplorable of constitutional or unconstitutional innovations. In the early days of the British Constitution, when the only tyranny to be guarded against was that of the Sovereign, and the leaders of Parliament were the champions of the popular opposition to it. It was natural that a marked contrast should arise "between the jealous susceptibility displayed by the House of Commons in asserting their exclusive right to grant tie supplies and the indifference with which (until very lately) they have abandoned the final appropriation of the supplies, when granted, to the unchecked discretion of the executive Government." But recent authorities note that in Great Britain of late years "the constitutional control of Parliament over the public expenditure has been exercised with [unclear: gr] vigilance and effect." These seem [unclear: to] several good reasons why this constitutional control should be [unclear: still] jealously guarded and tightened in New Zealand, but it has been one of Mr. Seddon's distinctions to reverse the process both by statute law and administration practice.
The facts that ours is a more democratic community than that of [unclear: Gre] Britain, that we have no [unclear: monarch] privilege or superstition to be [unclear: on] guard against, that the only [unclear: tyra] to be dreaded is that of the Ministry and that the uncontrolled disposal moneys for public works would form strongest possible buttress for such tyranny, are surely sufficient [unclear: reasons] the jealousy of which we [unclear: speak;] section 4 of the Public Revenues Amendment Act is evidence of how Parliament has discharged its obligations the matter. There had previously [unclear: b] a power on the part of the [unclear: Execu] to transfer the unexpanded [unclear: surplus] a particular vote in aid of a [unclear: si] vote in the same class, but in clause of the Public Revenues Bill of [unclear: 19] which only reached its second [unclear: read] on the third day before the close of very exhausting session, Mr. [unclear: Seddon] plied for power to transfer the [unclear: wh] of any sum voted by [unclear: Parliament] any particular purpose to any [unclear: oc] item in the same class. Very [unclear: prope] the clause was denounced by Mr. [unclear: I] ner as "a most monstrous provision but it went through, [unclear: nevertheless,] another Government supporter [unclear: who] now a very likely candidate for a [unclear: p] folio, bus since referred to it [unclear: as] wickedest thing of all." The [unclear: pract] effect of the clause could hardly [unclear: be] ter put in a brief compass than [unclear: by] Tanner in his speech on the [unclear: sec] veading:—"Complaint has often [unclear: h] page 7 made of the way in which large sums are amassed under a single vote, that vote being only one vote in one class. Why, there are single votes under the Appropriation Act of last year; some of which run to £30,000 and £40,000. When one speaks of a particular class he can soon find votes of half a million. If the money available under any one vote is to be made available for any other purpose indicated in that class, it practically means placing £500,000, £600, 000, or even £800.000 in the hands of the Government to spend on any one or other of the lines or works that they choose" The total amount voted for railway construction in the last Public Works Estimates was £860,500, the items ranging from £1000 for "land-claims," etc., to £300,000 for the North Island Main trunk. Every item has its sum duly allocated by the House, but the allocation may be disturbed at the uncontrolled discretion of the Ministry under this extraordinary clause. The House may talk; and vote, but Ministers govern, and the money will be spent as they desire. Is this sound business and rational control? or is it a moat dangerous increase of the alarming; powers already enjoyed by the Government to treat the public money as their own?
—30th June, 1906.
The "Machine" and the Civil Service.
"No question of internal administration," wrote Mr. Theodore Roosevelt some ten years ago, "is so important to the United States as the question of Civil Service Reform, because the spoils system which can only be supplanted through the agencies which have found expression in the Act creating the Civil Service Commission, has been for seventy years the most potent of all the forces tending to bring about the degradation of our politics. . . . Civil Service reform is not merely a movement to better the public service. It achieves this end, too; but its main purpose is to raise the tone of public life, and it is in this direction that its effects have been of incalculable good to the whole community." As one who bad just served six years on the Civil Service Commission of which he speaks, Mr. Roosevelt enjoyed an exceptional authority, which has since been increased by his persistent and fearless antagonism as a politician to the power of the machine and the spoils system, and by his practice as President squaring with his professions as a free lance. Through the labours of such men as he, the politics of his country are steadily emerging from the degradation into which the spoils system has plunged them for so many years; but it cannot be alleged by the most ardent admirer of Mr. Seddon's rule that he has helped the polities of New Zealand along the same path. The name of spoils system has never become acclimatised in this country, but the thing itself has struck its roots very deep in our soil nevertheless. "The essential features of the system are," says Mr. Bryce, "that a place in the public service is held at the absolute pleasure of the appointing authority; that it is invariably bestowed from party motives on a party man, as a reward for party services (whether of the appointee or of some one who pushes him); that no man expects to hold it any longer than his party holds power; and that this gives him the strongest personal reasons for fighting in the party ranks," The professional politician is described as the first crop of the spoils system, and the boss as the second—the boss who page 8 "wins and holds power by the bestowal of patronage."
Everybody who knows anything of our politics will recognise in this description the symptoms of our own disease; and though we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we are still far from the depth of corruption which has been reached in America, our complacency should be disturbed by the reflection that conditions are as obviously growing worse here as in America they are growing better. Twenty years ago the freedom of American practice was sufficient to allow the Vice-President of the United States to say that he "wished to take the boys in out of the cold to warm their toes," meaning thereby, says Mr. Roosevelt, "that he wished to distribute offices among the more active heelers." In New Zealand our politicians have never been quite so outspoken, but the farming of billets has nevertheless become one of their principal functions. On one occasion of especial candour Mr, Seddon went so far as to say that "other things being equal" he believed in giving appointments to men of his own party, and, though the higher offices have on the whole been well filled, the "other things" have been so often equal in the case of the competition for the humbler positions that the service has been packed with the friends and supporters of the Ministry whose tenure, like that of the American "heeler" whom the boss invites to come in out of the cold, is contingent upon a continuance of their political allegiance. Of the activity of that allegiance the experience of every contested election in this city or its suburbs during the last ten years has provided sufficient evidence. The Civil servant proper, whose primary qualification is that of competence, measured by examination and not political subservience, wisely exercises a silent vote on these occasions; but the temporary clerk, who is appointed without examination to-day and may be removed by Ministerial [unclear: d] favour to-morrow, is restrained [unclear: by] such scruples. He has, on the contrary as Mr. Bryce says, "the strongest [unclear: per] sonal reasons for fighting in the party ranks," and he fights side by side with other Government employees as well as with many who are not yet [unclear: privileged] draw the public money for party service but are proving their right to do so.
To give specific instances of [unclear: what] nevertheless a patent and notorious [unclear: ev] would be a task equally unpleasant and unnecessary. Nobody who possess [unclear: a] deeper acquaintance with our [unclear: politi] than could be gleaned from the [unclear: Lond] papers would deny that for years [unclear: th] passport to Government favours [unclear: h] been the profession of Government politics, and that for years the profession has been habitually made by hundred who, on principle, were diametrically opposed to the Government, but [unclear: ce] formed for the sake of the good things that conformity alone would [unclear: bring] return of the number of temporary clerks in Government employ—clerks pointed in evasion of the Civil Service. Acts to the exclusion, as a rule, of those duly qualified by examination—would astonish the country, but without waiting for that, we can cite chapter and verse from the statute-book of the [unclear: cou] try to prove that the Government [unclear: ha] actually had to reinforce its wide power of maladministration in this respect by special enactments. When Mr. Seddon don took office, cadets could not be given a larger salary that £100 a year unless they had passed the Senior Civil Service Examination; but section [unclear: 3] the Civil Service Examination Act of 1900 extends the minimum to [unclear: £200] year, and substitutes for the standard examination "such examination as is prescribed by regulations to be made under this Act by the Governor-in-Council." page 9 In other words, Ministers have an absolutely free hand with these appointments up to £200 a year, and even above that amount they can prescribe such examination as they may think fit for their friends who have not brains enough to pass the Senior Civil Service Examination.
But it was by an unregarded and apparently formal clause in a Bill of last session that the Government most clearly showed its hand, and confessed the need of special legal ratification of appointments which had been made in disregard of the Law. The ostensible object of what is now section 15 of the Civil Service Classification Act, 1905, is to give the Governor power to make regulations for the employment of persons temporarily as experts; but an astounding proviso is added which declares that any persons employed in any department ai the time of the classification scheme coming into operation shall, if and when they have completed five years' continuous service, "be deemed ipso facto to be and to have been from the date of their last engagement members of the civil Service permanently appointed and subject in all respects to the laws relating to the service." By this monstrous enactment permanent validity was given, as we observed in our review of the Act, "to the appointment of every person of the right colour who has been jobbed into the service without passing the prescribed examinations"; and the result is secured by what is tantamount to a retrospective repeal of the Civil Service Acts in favour of Ministers and their friends. The Americans are laboriously emerging from the slough of corruption with the aid of a Civil Service Commission Act under "which an examination test applied by an independent board is steadily reducing the scope of political influence; and is it not equally plain that by a directly opposite process this colony is deliberately plunging itself more deeply in the mire?
—4th July, 1906.
Bribed with their Own Money.
To the city voter the doctrine that "to the victors belong the spoils" finds its most persuasive expression in the enormous number of offices at the disposal of the Government, and habitually and in growing disregard of the Civil Service Acts, as we pointed out yesterday, distributed among its favourites; and the same powerful argument also appeals, though in a smaller degree, to the rural elector, whom Ministerial benevolence, untrammelled by any statutory cheeky may suddenly transport from the wilds of Westland to a happy position in the Government or Parliamentary Buildings over the heads of men who have grown old in the service. But to the country electors generally the Ministry is able to appeal in a much more comprehensive fashion through the control which it possesses over the Public Works Fund. The actual expenditure from that fund in the year 1904-5 was £1,208,933; and almost double that amount—to be exact, £2,286,719—was voted last session for the year 1905-6. Under the specific heading of "Construction and Maintenance and Supervision of Roads, Bridges, and other Public Works," £226,462 was spent during the year 1904-5, and no less than £513,969 was voted on the eve of the general election in the following year. It would be no exaggeration to say that ninety per cent, of the members of the House had no idea, and in the nature of things could form no idea, of the merits of ninety per cent, of the expenditure proposed under the last-mentioned head. The duty of the rural representative page 10 is to obtain a liberal proportion of this expenditure for his own district; and his only chance of achieving even a moderate success is by turning an indulgent eye on the similar demands of his fellow members. In so acting, the politicians are simply conforming to the test of statesmanship applied by their constituents; for if roads and bridges are not rural politics, they are not far from it. Beyond all question they are the most powerful weapons that the rural politician can wield, and "happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them"—happy indeed, and well-nigh invincible !
In such a condition of our administrative system, and such a tendency of the public mind, the part to be played by the masterful and ambitious personality of Mr. Seddon, as trustee of the Public Works Fund, was a foregone conclusion. He impressed the country constituencies with the notion that a district which did not favour the Government need not expect the Government to favour it, and the doctrine was proclaimed as openly as the conventions based upon a more wholesome state of things would permit, and sometimes a little more so. In his last electoral campaign a minimum of statesmanship was so eked out by a maximum of Public Works Fund that opponents went down like nine-pins before the man who could scatter promises of roads and bridges broadcast about the country, and was believed to have the power to make them all good. In the strength of its central conception, in its relentless vigour, and in its unqualified success, that campaign may fairly be described as Napoleonic; and in another of its aspects it recalls one of Napoleon's triumphs in civil administration. It was Napoleon who bequeathed to France the highly centralised system which was admirably contrived to serve the purposes of [unclear: despot] government, but has proved less suitable for a Parliamentary regime; while Mr. Seddon, by a converse process, has been showing how admirably a centralised administration of such a matter as public works may be made to serve the end of despotism under democratic forms will indeed at once set our own troubles is true perspective, and point the [unclear: way] the true remedy, if we realise [unclear: that o] is not an isolated case.
Though the spoils system of the United States might, as we have seen have stood as a model for our own [unclear: in] application to the Civil Service, it [unclear: is] France and Italy that we must turn for the best parallel to the disastrous [unclear: an] degrading part which is played by [unclear: ros] and bridges in New Zealand politics Expressing his acknowledgment to the careful examination of the question by Italian statesmen, M. de Laveleye, [unclear: o] of the greatest of French authorities diagnoses the evil as follows;—"Political works give rise to a new species of political corruption, whence results an [unclear: ev] use of the revenues of the State. [unclear: T] secure the votes of this district or [unclear: th] locality, it is given a wharf, a [unclear: railroo] a church, or a canal. Other district claim in their turn, and thus [unclear: works] which there is very little need [unclear: abso] enormous sums, and the budget is marked for regular contributions, The Government makes public works, [unclear: distributed] favours, an almost irresistible [unclear: means] influence in electoral contests, This [unclear: is] to be seen in all countries where the rules of Parliament is found combined [unclear: with] centralised administration." The remedy which M. Laveleye prescribes for a [unclear: disea] which every candid observer will [unclear: ad] to be exactly our own is an [unclear: extens] of "le self-government local," which [unclear: w] delegate to local control all purely [unclear: loc] page 11 works and reserve for the central administration only those exceptional undertakings which concern the whole country equally. Thirty years ago in this colony the same remedy was advocated andp as he thought, supplied by one of the ablest of our statesmen. Sir Julius Vogel, whose first Budget after the abolition of the provinces contains the following remarkable statement: "I dreaded doing away with the provinces because I thought we should have to sit here in judgment on works, and that gradually we should find creeping upon us the demoralising system of mutual compromise called by the Americans 'log-rolling.' But we have avoided this difficulty. If our system be carried out, the name of any particular road or "bridge—of any work, indeed, but the building of the Government and the main railways of the colony—should rarely be heard in this House; at least not for purposes of supplication, though it might be as the subject for congratulation at the triumph of the form of local government that could give to the country the works it required without the necessity of Parliamentary intervention."
It was the Counties Act of 1876 which Sir Julius Vogel believed to have achieved this happy consummation, and his prophecy must now be classed among the bitterest ironies of our history. Not Sir Julius Vogel's prophecy, but that of Burke about the probable degradation of national representation into "a confused and scuffling bustle of local agency," has been realised in the demoralising scramble which has converted roads and bridges into a political synonym for loaves and fishes. "What are we here for if not for the offices?" cheerfully enquired a Texas delegate at a Republican National Convention some years ago. With the same engaging candour the average Government supporter from the country districts might ask at any Parliamentary caucus of the party during the last ten years,. "What are we here for if not to get roads and bridges for our districts and to serve as ballot-papers for the Ministers who enable us to get them?" This scandalous system, which gives the Premier of the day the privileges of an American boss ladling out the "sugar" to the "boys," enables him to bribe the country constituencies with their own money, and to stuff Parliament with political commission agents and errand boys pledged to do his bidding, is a disgrace to a democratic country; and despite the failure of Sir Julius Vogel's prophecy, the soundness of his principle is unimpeachable. To delegate local public works to local control is the only way to purge our political life of its most virulent poison.
—5th July, 1906.
From Despotism to Democracy.
We have been endeavouring in a series of articles spread over the last week and a half to sum up the effects of the Seddonian regime upon constitutional practice and political morality in a manner more nearly resembling the impartiality of the historical spirit than the prevailing fashion which during the last few weeks has in many quarters transformed a virulent opposition into an equally extravagant adulation. In our own case there was fortunately no virulent opposition to suffer this strange metamorphosis, and the excellence of out personal relations with the late Premier was sufficiently testified by the kind thought which inspired his cablegram to us from Australia just before he embarked on his last voyage. Our general estimate of his policy remains at any rate exactly what page 12 it was while he was still the uncrowned King of New Zealand, nor can we help thinking that those who find themselves in a different position should be able to give some better reason for their change of faith than that he has since paid the debt which nature exacts from us all without altering one iota of the work accomplished by us before the summons came, or the principles by which in death as in life it must be judged. On its Imperial side, Mr. Seddon's work was as acceptable to us as it was to his average fellow-colonist, and we could hardly say more. Occasionally marred by a bombast and a truculence which it would be absurd to ignore, his sturdy Imperialism was strong enough nevertheless to secure a more than respectful hearing all round the Empire, and the present generation at any rate is not likely to forget what a stimulus to the national sentiment was given by the offer of help which he induced this colony to make, and to make good, to the Mother Country during the South African War. It was also our privilege to support him on the general lines of his advanced legislation; and though even the best of it cannot yet be regarded as secure of the favourable verdict of history, it is not for us any more than for the people of this colony in general to blame him for leading where on the whole we have all been glad to follow.
But anybody who casts an impartial eye upon Mr. Seddon's administrative record, and upon the changes which he has introduced into the working of our institutions, the personnel and spirit of our politics, and into the popular attitude towards public affairs and civic duty, will surely have little difficulty in anticipating the verdict of history upon this far-reaching phase of his activity. Democracy under Mr. Seddon's guidance has trampled upon many ancient privileges and has seemed to trample upon [unclear: ma] more; and there are few, if any, of them privileges that we at least would recall But the popular victories have been [unclear: w] at a terrible cost. It is as poor a bargain for a democracy to gain the whole world and lose its own soul as for an individual, and the finest crop of model [unclear: l] in the world will ill compensate a people if it has thrown away its self-respect and taken to cringing, crawling; devious ways in the search for them. The plain truth is that the victories of our democracy have been won with a despot at its head Years ago a man who combined scholaship and politics in a manner that the advancing tide of democracy renders more and more difficult made the striking remark that "the best history of New Zealand that has been written is that of Grote"—meaning thereby that the vagaries of democracy recorded by the historian of Greece supplied an exact parallel to its course in this colony. Never was this happy paradox better illustrated this during the last ten years. In the days when oligarchical or aristocratical government was the rule an Greece, it [unclear: was] common thing for an ambitious politician to raise the cry, "Down with the oligarchs !" to hound the people on to cut their throats, to get himself installed in power instead, and in due course by means of a bodyguard which he was supposed to need for protection against his enemies, to substitute a despotism for as oligarchy. Has not our own case been as like that of ancient Athens as modern customs will permit ? Have not we seen a popular champion returned to power by the popular vote, and then consolidating it by means of a bodyguard into an absolute despotism?
And the weakness of a despotism however benevolent it may be and what page 13 ever immediate benefits it may provide, is that it ruins every other authority and leaves its subjects morally and politically-poorer than they would be with a much more meagre provision from a free Government. "He that seeketh to be eminent amongst able men," says Bacon, "hath a great task, but that is ever good for the public But he that plots to be the only figure amongst ciphers is the decay of an age." The decay of all other political institutions is the price we have had to pay for the wonderful ascendency of Mr. Seddon; and it has been the aim of our previous articles to prove this in detail. The Cabinet was never weaker, as people realise now that its commanding figure is gone, and even its own supporters are considering how many of the ciphers left behind must be dropped to make way for things of some intrinsic value; things that will not owe their whole importance to their position, but will be strong enough to strengthen any position by their own merits. The Legislative Council was never weaker; here again the ciphers look incredibly small now that the figure has been removed from in front of them. Of this strange collection of fossils and mediocrities which instead of representing the intellect and independence of the nation really stood for the will of a single man would it be unfair to say that with a few exceptions, mostly survival from pre-Seddonian era, they are individually insignificant and collectively contemptible? The House of Representatives was never weaker; meekly it has allowed itself to be stripped of privilege after privilege, so that it like the Cabinet, should become the tool of a single strong man, and the electors have been content to return representatives whose chief qualifications were to serve as commission agents for their constituencies and ballot-papers for the autocrat in charge of the cash-box. The doctrine that a seat which can only be retained by Government patronage really belongs not to the member nor to the constituency, but to the Government, has become as clearly established as the right of an English nobleman a century ago to the pocket borough which had come to him by descent or purchase.
The Civil Service was never weaker. The protection which was provided for it by previous Ministries of opposite colours has been removed inch by inch; the dignity of the service, contingent upon a nice gradation of self-respecting and responsible authority, has been sapped by incessant Ministerial interference in the pettiest details of administration the lower positions have been systematically allocated for political purposes; and as we have seen, almost the final act of the late Parliament was to empower the Ministry to give to every one of its hangers-on who had been jobbed into the Civil Service in defiance of the law the full status of a Civil Servant after five years' service. The general public morality was never weaker. Whole districts have been bought by a judicious administration of the Public Works Fund, which lends them to believe that their wants will not be attended to unless they vote for a Government candidate; and throughout the whole community—whether it is a country settler who wants a road, a ne'er-do-well a billet, a merchant a contract, or a lawyer a brief—the notion has been impressed upon every class that public office is not a public trust to be administered with strictness and detachment but the perquisite of the ruling party, and to be farmed as such among favoured applicants in return for value receivd in the shape of political service. The scope and the intensity of the evil have been augmented by the com- page 14 bination of a time of great prosperity, a leader of a bold and buoyant spirit, and a general belief in the universal capacity of the State. When the State sets up as a sort of universal providence, the allocation of its bounty necessarily becomes an instrument of enormous powers and in the hands of an astute and autocratic manager it has proved irresistible. Proportionate to his strength has been the weakness of the parasitism which has fastened and fattened on it; and of this wholly unlovely growth we must hasten to get rid now he is gone-for the democrats who can only advance by riding on another man's back there is now no room. Men who can stand on their own legs, express their own opinions, and fight their own battles, are what we want and to spread the people's power among many depositaries instead of concentrating it in one means more democracy and not less, "More life, and fuller—that we want"; and to get it we must go back to democracy from the despotism which has recently prevailed.
—7th July, 1906.