It is one of "life's little ironies" that the twentieth century, so often hailed as the era of internationalism and more perfect accord between nations, should be marked by a recrudescence of high tariffs and protectionism which are the very antithesis of association. The present agitation for protection in England is merely part of a general movement which reached its apex in the Fordney Tariff.
England has always been regarded as the high apostle of free trade. Dependent on foreign nations for its foot, it has been committed for eighty years to the practice which supplies that food at the lowest price and leads to the greatest development of international trade. Twenty years ago Joseph Chamberlain, fresh from his triumphs as Colonial Secretary took up the cry of protection and carried on a whirlwind campaign which ended only in the smashing Conservative defeat of 1906. Led by Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, the Liberals just recovered from the divisions of the Boer war, rode to their greatest victory of the century on the horse of free-trade--a victory they are hoping to repeat by the same means next month.
Protection has never been a popular doctrine in England and despite the extraordinary condition of unemployment and the tendency to dump foreign goods in the only free market of the world, it is likely that the Conservatives would be doomed to defeat were it not for the peculiar political situation. True, the National Liberals and those who were at one time dubbed as the "Wee Frees" have united in the persons of their leaders. But the great Labor party, the official opposition, remains out of the fold. "Divide et impera" have thought the Conservatives, and they have fitted their actions to their thoughts.
It is fascinating to speculate on the possibility of union between the Liberals and the Laborites. Macdonald as Prime Minister with Asquith a peer and on the Woolsack and Lloyd-George Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged to carry out the principle of a capital levy, has all the elements of romance and perhaps just a slender element of possibility. At any rate Mr. Lloyd-George is more concerned in attacking the Conservatives as a "scratch crew of third rate mariners whose sole qualification for their post is that they are also mutineers" than in maligning those who may soon be his bedfellows.
Certainly the Conservative party has much to answer for. Apart from its new fiscal policy it is sure to be attacked for its weakness in handling the European situation. "Tranquility" has meant little else but indecision and procrastination.
And one may be sure that the Liberals and the Laborites will not be slow in pointing out the shortcomings of His Majesty's Government.
Nevertheless that either one of the opposition parties should win a clear-cut victory seems well-nigh impossible. Then, if the Conservatives fail to retain their majority, the world may be treated to the spectacle of political legerdemain resulting in a coalition of strange associates, soon to be followed strange associates, soon to be followed by another general election. At any rate England seems to be in for an interesting time of it.
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