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1906 Conservative Party General Election Manifesto

Arther Balfour's Election Address

The party with which I am connected, and the Government of which I was a member, after being in power for ten years, has been replaced by the late Opposition. The task the constituencies have now to perform is to choose between them. It should not be a difficult one. So far as we are concerned your information is ample; our legislation, our foreign policy, our Colonial policy, are before you, and there are such as need cause neither shame in us nor regret in you. The same principles on which we have based our actions in the past will serve as their foundation in the future, and in the future as in the paast they will promote peace among nations, closer union between different portions of the Empire, and social legislation at home which is not likely to be less beneficient to the community because it is mindful of individual rights.

Your information about the new Government and its supporters is no doubt more limited. You know them chiefly as critics, and it must be owned that their criticism has been singularly unscrupulous - as in the case of Chinese labour - and sometimes singularly perverse - as in the case of the Prime Minister's famour attack on the humanity of our Army. But, after all, we are not restricted in our survey to the performances of his Majesty's present advisers while they were in Opposition. Some of the most distinguished of them have held office before, and as they boast an unrepentant fidelity to the views which they entertained in 1892, we must anticipate a return to the policy they then attempted, but were fortunately too feeble to accomplish. There are many things still obscure in the long catalogue of revolutionary changes advocated by the new Ministers, but some things are plain enough - Home Rule, disestablishment, the destruction of voluntary schools, and the spoliation of the license-holder have lost none of their ancient charm in the eyes of Radical law-makers, and to the troupe of old acquaintances is now added a procession of shadowy suggestions respecting which we hardly yet know enough to say whether they are dangerous or merely useless.

On one subject only does change, nay, even to hint of change, seem to them abhorrent. With a light heart the Radical leaders are prepared to destroy the Union, to uproot an ancient Church, to banish denominational religion, or even all religion, from the elementary schools. But one thing is sacred, and that is the fiscal practice of this country. The conditions of international trade may alter, the relation of Britain to other industrial communities may be utterly transformed, her Colonies may press for closer commercial union with the mother country - it matters not at all. The fiscal creed of the new Radical is that what was good 60 years ago must not only be good now, but must for ever be incapable of improvement. I take a more conservative view. I believe in the wisdom of adapting our policy, in fiscal matters as in all matters, to the changing conditions of a changing world, and I hold that the time has come when such adapting is urgently required. Should you return the Unionist party to power, it is to the reform of our fiscal system that its attention ought first to be directed - a task worthy of the efforts of a great party.

To the foreign policy of the new Government we might seem justified in looking with more satisfaction than to its legislative projects, for apparently it is designed to be a continuation of our own. But, confident as I am of the capacity and patriotism of Sir Edward Grey, I doubt the successor his imitation. A foreign policy which is to be pacific, honourable, and consistent, requires not merely a Foreign Minister of ability, but a Foreign Minister who has two conditions in his favour. The first is a strong defensive naval and military force, without which diplomacy in time of serious stress degenerates either into buff, or into appeals for mercy, or into a haggle over blackmail. Whether this condition will be fulfilled some recent utterances of the Prime Minister leave me in anxious doubt. But there is a second and not less important condition of success whcih the new Foreign Secretary cannot hope to secure, and that is the support of a united Cabinet dependent on a United Party. On their legislation the Ministers may have come to some working agreement - time will show - but no agreement on the unforeseen problems of international statesmanship is possible among men who will look at them when they arise from such different points of view as those of the "Little Englander" and "Liberal Imperialists". But the differences in the Cabinet, serious as in this connexion they cannot fail to be, are nothing compared with the differences which divide the confederation of parties on which the Cabinet depends. In Imperial matters the gulf which divides, say, Mr Perks from Mr Redmond is immeasurable; no formula can conceal it, no compromise can bridge it; and if the new Government survive the general election, and if during their term of office their country becomes involved in international difficulties, the Foreign Secretary may find himself labouring under conditions which are favourable neither to his own fame nor his country's welfare.

Such, in brief outline, are the public grounds on which I venture to recommend my candidature to your favourable consideration. Other grounds there are - ancient friendship, mutual confidence, long habits of loyal co-operation - to which I might make appearl; but if the personal side of the question is to be touched at all, I have, perhaps no right to do more than ask whether, during the 20 years in which you have extended to me an ungrudging support, I have not done political service which may make me not unworthy of your continued confidence.

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