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Individual or Class Representation. 35
representation, which is in fact a growth of the present reign, is one among a variety of important political consequences which are the result of a series of social and economical changes which have rapidly been brought V about during very recent times. These changes express themselves in a high differentiation of labour, in a novel distribution of employments and occupations of all sorts, perhaps even in an increased domesticity and privacy in the conduct of life, and in the vast variety of pursuits, tastes, desires, and dispositions, which modern inventions and contact with foreign countries are increasingly bringing about. Such a progressive transfer of political importance from the class to the individual person, is a typical instance of the more general phenomena now recognised as characterising the history of all the parts of an advancing community. It is useless, then, to seek, as is often done, by strained interpretations of history, to find an explanation of Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill of 1867 in any broad principles of representation which really prevailed before 1832. All that is in common between the notions of the past and the notions of the present is, that the House of Commons is and continues, in theory at the least, a representative Assembly; that freehold property in land continues to be the most conspicuous of all bases of the franchise; and that, both now and of old, the weight of the land interest and the municipal corporations taken together far overbalances, in fact, any aggregate force which might be presented by a combination proceeding from any other represented class. What is of moment here is, not so much the political alteration which has been brought >about, as the new starting-point from which all future reforms of the House of Commons will proceed. These
reforms will ever keep primarily in view the claims of citizens as individually excluded from the exercise of the suffrage; and whatever tests may be taken of the electoral capacity of the voter, those tests must theoretically be regarded as applied to the members of the excluded body one by one, and not to the body as a whole. There may always remain vast numbers of persons who, for some reason or other, will be without a vote; but these persons will be less and less capable of description, for purposes of political inclusion, by reference to any group, body, class, profession, occupation, or sex to which they belong. To make this more clearly understood, it is only necessary to refer to the debates which take place, session after session, on proposed alterations of the franchise. In discussing, for instance, the claims of farm-labourers to the franchise, little attention has been paid by the advocates of change or their opponents to supposed interests or rights of the / general body of farm-labourers as an aggregate mass distinct from other groups of the population. The argument almost invariably turns upon the grounds of distinction between the political situation of a typical farm-labourer, taken as an individual specimen of the class and viewed amidst all his surroundings, domestic, social, and educational, and other persons in the community,—as, for example, lodgers and workmen in towns, —to whom the franchise has been already conceded. It is a particular and personal contrast, man by man, and not class by class. Of course, the numbers of the class, the general depression or elevation of its members in the social scale, and even its comparative worth when placed side by side with other classes, are always held relevant to the inquiry; but the argument always re
Clmracteristics of the Transition. 37
solves itself at the last into the question whether it is for the good of the community (or, in other persons' mouths, whether it is a normal development of the Constitution) to allow persons to be registered as voters, who are generically described as fulfilling certain conditions of competency, and not as belonging to any more or less clearly determined class or group in the community.
It is an inquiry of the utmost importance whether the notion of representation itself, and of the representative character of the House of Commons, has undergone, or is undergoing, any changes arising from the altered aspect in which it is thus seen that the constituencies throughout the country are being regarded. This inquiry, however, will be more conveniently deferred till after certain distinct changes have been adverted to, which are the direct consequence of the new and strong light cast of late years upon individual political claims and responsibilities, as contrasted with the interests and claims of broad but ill-determined classes. These changes have expressed themselves in the Parliamentary Elections Act (constituting electionjudges) of 1868, and the Ballot Act of 1872.
With respect to both these Acts it may be noticed that the extravagant growth of bribery and corruption which it was their chief object to arrest or punish was a natural consequence of a lengthened process of transition from the older theory of representation by classes to the modern theory of the representation of individual persons. It was not unnatural, nor out of harmony with other historical vicissitudes through which the country has passed, that a period should intervene during which the class unity of interest and of political conviction had lost its reality, and yet the conscience" of individual voters had not yet been sufficiently informed and roused into healthy and independent activity. This was a period at which it might be expected that all sorts of narrow and indirect influences, sometimes under the most specious titles, might dispute for the ascendency over the minds of dependent or indigent voters. Even where these influences have not taken the scandalously immoral form of direct bribery, a variety of social relationships, at times and in some parts of the country preserving much of a feudal shape, have annihilated the individual voter, without compensating him, as in the older time, by upholding the corporate interests in which he was concerned. Indeed, even immediately after the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, when the great blow had been struck at the supremacy of the aristocracy over the borough constituencies, the theoretic legitimacy of the indirect influence of property was still openly maintained in the House of Commons by so conscientious and cautious an authority as Sir Robert Peel. In opposing the introduction of the ballot in 1833 he said: 'It has been said 'that the ballot would destroy the influence of property. 'I will confidently assert that if the influence of pro'perty in elections were destroyed, the security of all 'property and the stability of all government would be 'destroyed with it. It is surely absurd to say that a 'man with ten thousand pounds a year should not have 'more influence over the legislature of the country than 'a man with ten pounds a year. Yet each is only 'entitled to a single vote. How could this injustice, 'this glaring inequality, be practically redressed except'ing by the exercise of influence? How could the
'Government end but in a democracy, if the influence 'were merely according to numbers ?'1
It is not necessary to say more in reference to this now obsolete notion, than to advert to the fact that the main argument by force of which the Ballot Act of 1872 was finally carried was, that in order to secure the individual independence of voters it was necessary to do all that could be done to strike at the root of the influence, direct or indirect, which could be exerted by large landed proprietors, or by the employers of labour generally.
Other effects of the Ballot Act, whether contemplated or not, have undoubtedly told in the same direction of isolating the voter from a variety of kinds of pressure under which he was often overwhelmed, and leaving him to consult nothing else, in judging between candidates, than the dictates of his own conscience and deliberate political convictions. It was said indeed by Mr. John Stuart Mill, and is still felt by many of those who are the most earnest vindicators of political liberty, that the effect of the Ballot must be to impair political conscientiousness, by hiding out of sight the fact that the franchise is at least as much a trust to be publicly exercised as a right to be privately enjoyed. With every deference to the fine moral susceptibility which alone could dictate this reasoning, it may be said that it is a question of fact whether, in the particular circumstances of a country, and at a particular time, a public trust can be exercised at all by the bulk of the population. The Ballot is a machinery to protect the individual voter, not against the nation on whose behalf
1 Guizot's Memain of Sir R. Peel, p. 64.