The Dominion, Tuesday, June 30, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: From the Ladies' Gallery — Where the Money comes from: The first No-Confidence Trick
Sometimes, in moments of morbid introspection, I think that we uninitiated folk don't appreciate the sacrifices that the statesmen of this country make on our behalf: we're too busy grumbling about the sacrifices that we have to make to enable the whole concern—meaning Parliament—to keep on running. But there are greater degrees of unselfish devotion even than this.
What, for instance, but an almost unholy passion for duty could extract the weary M.P. from his lair on a night when all really respectable citizens were toasting their toes in front of a good old-fashioned fire? Yet, forth he comes, defying the elements with no more deadly weapon at his command than an umbrella, which, like as not, seizes the very first opportunity to blow inside out. You know Wellington. Some of us—I'm not speaking of men, who know everything, and are therefore beyond mortal aid, but of women, who are admittedly shameless little ignoramuses—are under the impression that a nice, well-oiled, tractable country like this could safely be left to run itself for once in a while. Well, it can't. I suppose there are dwellers in heathen darkness—even in this comparatively civilised land of ours—who have never even heard tell of an Imprest Supply Bill? H'm. I thought as much. To be perfectly frank with you—just for this once—I hadn't myself until half an hour ago.
I know for a fact that quite 50 per cent. of my benighted sex, and, say, 90 per cent. of those more enlightened, believe that the Government has practically a blank cheque on the financial reservoirs of this country. They don't know, and can't and won't believe, that if Parliament didn't pass an Imprest Supply Bill now and again, the whole country would be turned upside down and round about. They certainly don't credit the fact that not one penny can be extracted from our National Treasury—even under chloroform—without the sanction of the whole House. I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't sat in the Ladies' Gallery yesterday evening, watching Cabinet Ministers trying to persuade the Labour members to be good.22
Briefly, the position was this (nobody puts things briefly in Parliament, so I have to leave out dozens of really interesting irrelevancies); if, by hook or by crook, and despite the knavish tricks and well-aimed bricks or the afore-mentioned Labour benches, the Government did not succeed in passing the Bill in question (very much in question, it seemed to me) the Civil servant, his aged mother, invalid wife and seventeen children, would all be waiting on the mat, cap in hand, at the beginning of next month, simply because there wouldn't be any money to pay them with. And that, you must admit, would be a calamity of national importance—distressing for the Civil servant (who would probably reverse gear and become exceedingly uncivil), embarrassing for the Government and annoying to the people as a whole. At a crisis like this, you'd think that even a Labour member would act first and talk afterwards. But they didn't. With Labour there is no time like the present for talking, no time like the future for acting, and no time at all for thinking.
Nevertheless, though the Labour benches are largely occupied by enfants terribles—the naughty boys of an otherwise extremely sedate and respectable family—I really think that the old House would feel very dull without them. One never knows just what they are not going to do next.
Take an example: The House had received His Excellency's message with reference to the proposed Bill with due pomp and ceremony. Ministers were just getting ready to take off their coats, roll up their sleeves, and really get to business—and there and then began the deluge.
Labour arose en masse from the benches whereon it had been sitting, apparently lost in "maiden meditation fancy free,"23 and moved a No-confidence Motion.24 It didn't say just exactly what it objected to in the present mode of Government, but generally gave the world at large to understand that it Did object, and that its objections were many and various. I think, but won't swear to it, that from somewhere on the Government benches I heard a muffled "Tut, tut."
Slowly, with the dignity of conscious virtue, the entire Liberal benches arose and firmly declined to have anything whatever to do with such childish quarrels.25 Slowly they drifted through an open door, leaving one lone but courageous member26 like Casabianca, on the deck whence all but he had fled.27 From the Labour benches came a sigh, which might have been either disappointment or relief. At least that intrepid party knew just where it wasn't now.
One member, looking over to the all-but-deserted Liberal wing, remarked:—"Never saw the Liberal benches look better in my life."28 I think the Government was half inclined to agree with him.
The motion was put to the vote, and great was the fall thereof.29 Defeated but undaunted, the Labour Party, with a tenacity worthy of a better cause, set out to place large and unwieldy obstacles in the way of that unfortunate Bill. At supper time, when the House adjourned for a breath of fresh air and a very well-earned cup of tea, they were still at it, and looked as if they had red hearings ad infinitum tucked away in their kit bags. (My metaphors are just a trifle mixed, but if you've ever seen the Labour benches at play you'll know what I mean).
Afterwards, to a sophisticated politician who lent a sympathetic ear to my feminine wonderings about this and that, I asked the reason of Labour's, to me, incomprehensible performance. "My dear young lady," he said, in a fatherly voice—can anyone explain to me the obvious fatherliness of our politicians?—"when you grow up and become sophisticated like me, you will understand that in politics, as in everything else in this wicked world, there are wheels within wheels. That No-confidence Motion was a little trap set by the gentlemen of the Labour Party, for the gentlemen of the Liberal Party. The spider, you know."
"Oh, I see," said I. "But the fly was too fly!"
"Precisely," said he.
Which merely proves to me that politicians, be they ever so grown-up, are just children after all.
I didn't see that Bill passed, nor do I believe that any other frequenter of the Ladies' Gallery witnessed its installation.30 Labour had a we-won't-go-home-till-morning31 look in its eye when last I saw it, and the weary members of the Liberal Party had composed themselves for sleep on the humanely upholstered couches.
But I left the Bill in the hands of the Government with entire confidence. The Cabinet Ministers and their faithful followers looked as if they had braced themselves to stand anything. Labour or no Labour, the world, the Civil Service and the country's business will go on.
22 The debate on the Imprest Supply Bill on 29 June 1925 can be found in Hansard 206: 22-44.
23 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, act II, scene i, lines 161-64.
Oberon: But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quenched in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon,
And the imperial vot'ress passèd on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005). See also the column for 10 July 1925.
24 When Parliament began considering the question "That the House forthwith resolve itself into Committee of Supply," Savage said: "I have an amendment to move at this stage. I wish to move, That all words after the word "House" be omitted, and that the following words be substituted in lieu thereof: "has no confidence in the administration of the Government."" (Hansard 206: 22).
25 Wilford, the Leader of the Opposition, declined to vote either for or against Fraser's motion as his party was in negotiation with the government on the possibility of parliamentary cooperation and withdrew his causus; see Hansard 206: 23.
26 i.e. Poland. See “Political Notes,” Evening Post, 30 June 1925, p. 5.
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled
Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials, ed. Susan J. Wolfson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
28 This remark is not recorded in Hansard, but was noted, in slightly different wording, by members of the Press Gallery; see for example “Government’s First Victory,” New Zealand Times, 30 June 1925, p. 10.
29 Cf. Matthew 7 v. 27.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
30 The House adjourned at 11:12pm.