Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, April 03, 2017

For England May Keep Faith

Just a random little thought.

The Liberals in the United Kingdom proposed Home Rule bills three times (four times if you count the legislation enacted in 1920 under a joint Liberal-Conservative government). The first one failed in the Commons, the second in the Lords. By the time of the third bill, the Lords could be bypassed if the Commons passed a bill three times, which they did, so Home Rule became the law of the land. But World War I broke out, the Act was suspended before it went into effect, and obviously by the time the war was over, the "facts on the ground" had changed quite a bit. The fourth bill became law, but by then Ireland was in open rebellion, and so it was largely a dead letter.

Anyway here's my thought. The Liberals took hard votes for Home Rule. The first one led directly to the dissolution of Parliament, and in the ensuing election of 1886 the Liberals lost over 100 seats and the Conservatives took over the government. The second one did not lead directly to the dissolution of Parliament, but Gladstone resigned the next year, and the Liberals suffered large losses in the election of 1895. I don't know the electoral consequences of the third one, which in any case presumably faded to the background as World War One took center stage.

But in any case, my point is basically (A) whatever the details of these bills, the Liberals were doing the right thing, and might have avoided a lot of bloodshed if they had succeeded, and (B) the Liberals paid a huge electoral price for their efforts on behalf of Home Rule. I'm sure there was some pragmatic calculation in these bills, but the votes were largely votes of principle. And the Liberal principles were right! And they paid a heavy price. This wasn't what killed them—that would be the rise of Labour, which in some distant recesses of time was a respectable and effective party. But I would cite those votes by the Liberals as remarkable acts of political courage, unrewarded except by our veneration of them.

As a side note, I wonder if that third bill, suspended for the duration of WWI, was what Yeats was referring to in these lines from "Easter 1916":

Was it needless death after all? 
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
Maybe! Although by the time Parliament passed a Home Rule bill, it was not enough for the Nationalists, and I'm not sure it would have been enough in 1914.


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