The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
"The meeting of the Conference on Imperial Federation last Tuesday was one of the few hopeful things which have happened in connexion with colonial affairs for some time. Even if it could be shown that the formation of a good working Federal Union of a simple and flexible kind, and it is probable that nothing more is aimed at, was impracticable, the meeting would not the less have served a very useful purpose. The noisy little clique of economic pedants who were fond a few years ago of preaching to the mother-country and the Colonies on the text, "Let them go," have of late been less successful in getting themselves listened to. They are not, and doubtless never will be, perfectly quiet; but when a body of responsible statesmen work together to forward that friendly union with the Colonies which is certainly desired by the great majority of Englishmen, they stand a fair chance of being reduced to. The melancholy necessity of preaching to one another. The formation of a Committee to promote an Imperial Federation will do something to make the belief that the, Colonies are of vital importance as universal as it was in the times before Mr. Cobden. On every consideration, both of interest and sentiment, the connexion is so valuable to Great Britain that, unless we are to fall wholly under the influence of a so-called practical idea of politics as stupid as it is ignoble, the union will be jealously guarded. It is of equal value to the Colonies themselves, to whom it gives security from attack by foreigners. page 105 From a purely military point of view, a close and friendly union has become indispensable in the interests both of the mother-country and the Colonies. Nobody who is capable of looking facts in the face can hope that England will again possess the unquestioned naval supremacy it enjoyed at the beginning of this century. That supremacy was the result of a century of wars ended by twenty years of unbroken victory at sea, and could never have been won without the help of the disorganisation of some of our rivals and the decadence of others. The balance of power has altered to our disadvantage, and the Empire has become far more vulnerable. In any future naval, war we shall stand in need of effectual assistance from the Colonies. One of the objects of the Committee formed to forward an Imperial Federation will doubtless be to construct some machinery by which this mutual help can be rapidly and effectually given. A great step in advance has been made from the moment that responsible statesmen set themselves to try and find a means of supplying some practical organisation. What Lord Rosebery calls "the inauguration of a crusade," and what less eloquent persons would describe as the beginning of an attempt to do a good piece of work, is in itself a subject of unmixed satisfaction.
"It is all in the favour of the ultimate success of the movement that its promoters have resisted the strong temptation to commit themselves to a cut-and-dried scheme. At this early date a programme is unnecessary, and it would almost certainly attempt to do too much. A moment's consideration will show that any possible scheme of federation must have very strict limits, and that very formidable difficulties must be met in trying to carry it out. The advocates of a closer union with the Colonies who have hitherto published their ideas have generally proposed to form a new Imperial Parliament, or some kind of general Council with powers and functions which have never been very clearly defined. Some among them have suggested that representatives or delegates of the Colonies should be admitted to one or both of the Houses of Parliament. Such plans are mainly fantastic. It may be taken for granted that this country would never allow its Parliament to be swamped by colonial representatives, and the speakers at Tuesday's page 106 meeting were agreed that there must be no tampering with the perfect freedom of local government. A federation for purely Imperial purposes presents difficulties almost as great as a general Parliament, It is certain that the Colonies would expect to have an equal vote, and in a body of that kind it is not easy to see where the ultimate authority would be found. No one of the members would allow a majority to impose upon it a sacrifice of its vital interests. Hitherto the necessary work of supervision has been done by England alone, and the discussion of irritating questions has been avoided. The real lion in the path, however, will be the difficulty of deciding bow far the Colonies would be entitled to interfere in the purely European political troubles of England. They would have to share the risk of a war, and might well be, unwilling to approve of it if undertaken for something which did not immediately interest them. It is, however, obvious that this danger exists already, and that nothing would be lost by providing some means of concerting common action. The habit of acting together may also be found to develop a general patriotism in all the Colonies. Australia has lately given proof that, like the American plantations in the last century, they would be ready to bear a share of the expense and danger of military operations undertaken in defence of its known interests. Meeting the Colonies half-way on occasions of this kind is the best argument to persuade them to return the service at some future time. For the present it is a hopeful sign that a serious attempt is to be made to provide some organisation which will facilitate united action. When the means for gaining this desired object are known it will be time to criticise them. For the moment it is enough to praise the spirit which has inspired the attempt. Without being unduly hopeful as to its chance of success, we may feel reasonably sure that the mere existence of the movement will have a good influence on the present hap-hazard fashion of managing colonial affairs.
"The Ministry and the House of Commons have made haste to supply Mr. Forster and the other speaker at the meeting with an admirable argument in favour of Federation or anything else which shall be as little like the present system page 107 as may be. By far the most pressing colonial question of the clay is the condition of Zululand; and yet, when Sir Henry Holland brought forward a motion on the subject some time ago, neither the Ministry nor the Opposition thought it worth while to make a House for him. When the debate was forced on in Committee of Supply on Wednesday, the speakers only proved that the uniform practice of the Colonial office is, and has been for years, to do as little as possible, to do it too late, and to take it for granted that the duty of a good colony is to cause no trouble in Downing Street. Mr. Dawnay, Sir Henry Holland, and Mr. Forster showed again, for the fiftieth time, that Zululand has been reduced by us to a state of indescribable misery. The Ministerial speakers had nothing to answer except that it would be very troublesome to put it right, and would, moreover, cost money. Mr. Chamberlain descanted on the blessings brought by the Boers to the Zulus; and Mr. Gladstone was indignant when strong language was used about our worthy friends in the Transvaal who have torn up their treaty with us and repudiated their promises to pay. Neither party cared to face the necessity of occupation, the one effectual remedy, and then a majority of fifty-six decided to leave things as they are, Lord Derby is to continue to enjoy the congenial spectacle of anarchy produced by a long course of impartial half-measures and temperate makeshifts. To get rid of Lord Wolseley's settlement, which was not exactly a masterpiece of statesmanship, and for the sake of Cetewayo, a general overturn was brought about. When the historical partial restoration of that unlucky chief ended, as every observer of any common sense foresaw it would, the Ministry decided to allow Zululand to stew in its own juice. It has been doing so ever since. The chiefs massacre one another's followers, and Boer adventurers shoot all parties freely as a matter of business. All this is going on in the immediate neighbourhood of the most vulnerable of English Colonies, and a little handful of British troops stands there to keep the Colonists from putting things straight under pretence of defending them. It is a most characteristic feature of the whole business that the British Government carefully keeps such a stake in Zululand as serves to engage its responsibilities page 108 while it throws every possible obstacle in the way of a real settlement. To scuttle out of the muddle, to leave Zululand to the Boers, whom Mr. Chamberlain admires, and Natal to itself, would not be a magnanimous policy, but it would be thorough, businesslike, and comparatively humane. When once the Boers were masters, they would stop the tribal wars in their own interest, and the people of Natal would probably be able to do the necessary shooting on their own account. Our policy is to remain there without settling anything, but hampering the natural development of things, and sedulously stirring the witches' cauldron."