The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
"What Lancashire thinks to-day England will think to-morrow" was a proud boast of the great manufacturing county, and thirty years ago it was a true one. But thirty years ago the English Parliament had not taken the "leap in the dark" which was to confer the franchise on those whom Mr. Lowe contemptuously called "the persons who live in these small houses," still less was it in contemplation that the toiler in the fields, the lodger, and the domestic servant should have electoral rights equal to those of the Manchester manufacturer.
Every extension of the franchise has brought about a corresponding change, and as each class has felt its predominance in the Legislature it has enacted laws to further its own interests. In 1867 the artisans obtained the franchise, and in 1871 Trade Unions were legalised, the law of conspiracy was abolished, and the relations of the servant to the master put on a footing of equality,
The electoral privilege has now been so far extended as practically to constitute manhood suffrage.
At the present day we appear to be approaching a period of our history when the Labour interest, hitherto so little regarded by Par- page 7 liament, will not only engross the major part of its time, but will command the direction of the policy of the State. In such a case the most interesting subject to which the statesman can apply his study are the aims and demands of those who have acquired such great political power. In this country as yet those aims and demands can hardly be said to have been clearly formulated. The representatives of Labour have indeed sought to shape current legislation for the advantage of labour, but they have not as yet exhibited any unanimity in their platform—even in the demand for shorter working hours.
We cannot affirm more at present than that the labourer wants in some manner to lead a brighter life and to increase the comforts of his home. No distinct scheme for the attainment of those objects has been put forward, certainly not by the labourer in the rural districts. Most heartily do I wish that it were so, for none is so uneasy as the man who only knows that he is wretched, but has no scheme for improving his position. All that those who lead the labourers have pointed to is the regulation of the conditions of labour by the State under the direction of a Parliament dominated by a Labour electorate. In the meanwhile we are witnessing on the part of statesmen of both parties in England the gradual abandonment of the doctrine of "laisser faire," the gradual recognition of the principle that, in addition to the accepted duty of the State to protect life and property, there is a further duty to make life endurable—even to make it happy.
The State no longer looks passively upon the struggle for existence, but endeavours to make existence possible under conditions less severe than those of constant struggle; as a New Zealand statesman put it, "We are commencing a struggle against the struggle for existence."
If, therefore, we desire to ascertain the policy, and to speculate on the future legislation of the new democracy in England, we must no longer look to the successors of Bright and Cobden, or hearken to the teachings of what is known as the Manchester School, to understand what is working in the minds of those who are now the masters of this country, but we must look to the best educated men who work with their hands, to those who having similar aims and ambitions are able to satisfy them without destroying ancient institutions to which people have become accustomed; institutions which are revered by many—even of those holding advanced views.