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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64

VIII.—On Politicians "Wise and Otherwise

VIII.—On Politicians "Wise and Otherwise.

What a wonderful Legislature we should possess if every man who thinks himself qualified to become a Minister of the Crown, and who feels slighted that he has not been offered the opportunity to become one, were to join the Cabinet! Truly, there would be very little tail to either party; the rank and file would form quite a select coterie, outnumbered by their officers, as were those in Fairshon's army, which, if I recollect rightly numbered some

Five-and-twenty fighting men,
And six-and-thirty pipers.

Of those whose merits have been thus over looked, there stands prominently William Montgomery. Had he been recognised by the page 15 [unclear: Ministry] he would probably not [unclear: have] one of that deluded little [unclear: party] was so gracefully laid bound at [unclear: t] of Sir George Grey by [unclear: Mr] He probably might have received [unclear: ce] then, but he has apparently had [unclear: a] that he could not work sO amicably [unclear: in] with the irascible ex-Governor as could [unclear: t,] easy-going Mr Fisher. Even now [unclear: ing] the chains which bind him to a [unclear: d] set of associates whom he [unclear: cannot] extremely galling; and he, [unclear: like] will take eager advantage of the crea-[unclear: any] new combination which may [unclear: lead] an easy gradation, back to the paths [unclear: t] But what are Mr Montgomery's [unclear: s] to office? I should never [unclear: have] of his having any, had he not [unclear: so] shown his own opinions on the sub [unclear: ance] would seem to be his [unclear: strong] but, if so, may heaven preserve us from [unclear: ing] him debate his weak ones! His [unclear: ccent] which, together with a thick-[unclear: utterance], mars his speech, is not [unclear: his] but there Nature's responsibility ceases. [unclear: tentiousness,] the assumption of [unclear: superior] the tiring prosiness, and dreary [unclear: s] with which he afflicts the House, [unclear: his] own coining. But, for [unclear: some] twists in his mind and the [unclear: assumption] spoken of, Mr Montgomery would make [unclear: ble] member—if he held his tongue, [unclear: upright], and generous in all his rela-[unclear: be] is one of the few men in [unclear: the] if it can be called a party—[unclear: still] follows Sir George Grey into the [unclear: r] whom the members of the House [unclear: ly] have a high respect; and [unclear: that] would be greater if he contented him-[unclear: h] the humble position of a silent mem-[unclear: It] would be rash to predicate of Mr [unclear: ery] that he will never attain a [unclear: seat] Cabinet—who may not? But it is [unclear: e] to say that, if he obtained in [unclear: the] all that his merit deserved, he [unclear: would] higher post in Parliament than he does [unclear: ent]

[unclear: Sunders] merits notice from the pro-[unclear: in] which he places himself occa-[unclear: He] is an irreconcileable, splenetic, [unclear: ous,] and politically perverse. [unclear: e] of making himself thoroughly [unclear: able] to those against whom [unclear: he] he is incapable of quietly fol-[unclear: any] leader. He is fond of stirring up [unclear: g] questions, and revels in waking sleep-[unclear: He] is fond, too, of casting reflections [unclear: ding] fault; and he is implacable in [unclear: ing] out and following up what, in his [unclear: t] crochety mind, he considers an abuse. Incapable of following, he is incapable of leading; and it will be an unfortunate day for his party if, by any accident, he should find himself on the Government benches.

Must we go on forever scanning the roll of the Representatives without meeting one name to inspire us with hope that we have found a man with sufficient capacity to grasp the reins of office? No; there is one man, possibly as hopeless as the rest, but one who has not yet had an opportunity of shattering our fond delusions. It is Mr Stevens, a Colonial Treasurer in embryo, too, and the only possible Treasurer in the House besides Major Atkinson. Had Mr Stevens represented any other Provincial District in the colony, he would have been a Minister years ago; but he has been always handicapped, like other Canterbury members, by having so many co-representatives from the game province capable of holding, and entitled to hold. Ministerial posts. Could manage colonial finance with the same reserve, coldness, cautiousness, tenacity and determination with which he has conducted his own affairs to a position of affluence, he would be a highly successful administrator. Perhaps it is the charm of that great gift so sparingly bestowed upon our legislators—the gift of silence, which makes it possible that Mr Stevens' capacities may be here overrated; but the impression still remains that he really understands subjects about which that army of irrepressibles—of which Mr Seddon and Mr Speight form the vanguard—are content to talk. As Chairman for some years of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Stevens has had an opportunity of grasping, and I believe he has grasped, the difficulties of colonial finance. So long as he remains a supporter of Major Atkinson, he can have but little hope of wresting from him the keys of the Treasury; but, in the days that are coming, I shall look to see Mr Stevens a member of a Ministry of sufficient strength, capacity, and independence to manage the affairs of the colony without the assistance or pity of their political opponents. Mr Stevens has shown no power of oratory, but when he does speak he is master of the subject he speaks on. Could he conquer a manner which conveys a feeling that he is not sincere—that he is inwardly laughing at his audience; could he subdue that cold, bloodless smile which seems to speak sarcasm and contempt—his speeches would carry even more weight than they deservedly do now.

Members of the House may be aptly divided into three classes—those who are useful, those who are useless, and those who are worse than page 16 useless. Under the first category may be ranked such men as Mr Richardson (the ablest Public Works Minister the colony has ever had), Mr Bo wen, Mr Swanson, Col. Trimble, Mr Levin, and others. Of those who are practically useless the enumeration would be somewhat long and tedious; but of one or two of those who may be ranked under the third heading I have a few words to say, and of these perhaps Mr Macandrew claims first notice. Casually, he may seem a man of no great importance, but he is still no mean power in the House. It is to me an insoluble problem why he should be such, but he is. One of the oldest members still in Parliament, he has held his own in good report and in evil report, and it is only now that his power of work is weakened that his influence is decreasing. It would require more space than that at my command—the use of stronger expressions than I care to commit myself to; it would require greater credulousness on the part of my readers than the usual steps of a successful man's career demands—were I to relate the various incidents of Mr Macandrew's life in Otago, together with its lights and its shadows, until the time when he had lived down opposition, and, Scotchman among the Scotch, had become Superintendent of the province and member for the City of Dunedin. However repulsive may be Mr Macandrew or his politics to some persons, it cannot be denied that the man did possess a power almost mes-meric—like Sir George Grey's—which kept the mob faithful to him during all the troubled times he went through. He was credited with ability in an official capacity, until, as Minister for Public Works, he showed his utter reck-lessness in finance and incapacity in administration which formed the distinguishing marks of that Cabinet of many promises and no performance, of much talk and no fulfilment, of great expectations and no results: of that Ministry "whose sole achievement was to leave undone." Since then Mr Macandrew was elected leader of the Opposition, and moved a vote of want of confidence in proof of his position, but by degrees the old knight has quietly supplanted him again, and Mr Macandrew is once more in the background. There, as a rule, he keeps as politically slothful, and as apparently little noticed, as a large black spider; but he only watches his opportunity to obtain his restoration to power, and hie very presence in the House is a standing menace to the fixity of the seat of Government and the unity of the colony.

I had intended dilating upon Mr De Lautour, but what is he? His "Young New Zealand Party," begotten in a fit of [unclear: dis] faction at the leadership of Sir George [unclear: G] was, after all, but "a weakling that's [unclear: stran] at birth."

There will be a Young New [unclear: Zeal] Party some day, and that day [unclear: is] very distant; but it will not be [unclear: such] party as Mr De Lautour got around him; [unclear: unless] the gods be very cruel, will [unclear: Mr] Lautour be its leader. He is perhaps [unclear: t] most unpleasant man in the House to [unclear: list] to. The deliberate tones of his discordant [unclear: v] would be bad enough alone, but add to [unclear: th] a "tongue in venom steeped," levelling [unclear: car] ing criticisms and petty insinuations [unclear: a] charges against his opponents, and you [unclear: h] an exhibition of as annoying a [unclear: tende] as any speaking in the House. Mr. De [unclear: La] tour is, perhaps, celebrated for nothing [unclear: e] except that he has exchanged the [unclear: editors] of a country journal for a clerkship with Mr W. L. Rees, and that it is his desire to combine bine Legislative duties with the service [unclear: of] articles that prompted the introduction of [unclear: t] Law Practitioners Bill lately rejected by [unclear: t] Upper House.

Mr Gisborne and Mr Reader Wood may be treated together, for one prominent [unclear: qua] which they possess in common—that of suiting their political convictions to the necessities of the hour. With Mr Biglow, we may say that each of them—

Not the fellers that sent him, but them on the [unclear: f]
Impartially ready to jump either side,
And make the fust use of a turn of the tide."

Mr Gisborne, like a shuttlecock, tossed from the Legislature to the Civil Service, and from the Civil Service to the Legislature, always lights on his feet, and his feet very frequently happen to find themselves in some Government office of pecuniary emolument. One never feels angry or surprised at Mr Gisborne changing sides so often. His purpose is so palpable and so open that the surprise would be if he did not. But Mr Wood attracts more attention; he poses dramatically, he speaks fluently, he votes steadily—until he rats, which he does with an ease and a success, only [unclear: to] acquired by long practice and experience Next to Sir George Grey, he is, perhaps, the best speaker in the House; and could he once take a leading part in the formation of party or the construction of a Cabinet, he might find a place that suited him in the political [unclear: fir] ment, and become a fixed and brilliant star is some Ministerial constellation.