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of these and other definite proposals; our object being to steer clear of details, while bringing out as strongly as possible the principles which should guide us, and the aims we should keep in view, in our extension of the franchise. The end to be sought for once distinctly seen, the means by which it is to be sought become comparatively easy of discovery. We pass over, therefore, all consideration of the ballot, of the abolition of property qualification for members, of the adoption of the municipal or household suffrage, and several other propositions which have at various times been candidates for popular favour. But before we conclude, two important points remain, to which we must direct attention, and which we will treat as briefly as
One of the favourite points of the democratic panacea-the point on which, next to universal suffrage, its advocates have laid the greatest stress-is the division of the kingdom into equal electoral districts (districts that is of equal population), which should return one or two members each. This scheme has a simplicity and mathematical exactness and completeness about it, which renders it, at first sight, very attractive. But since we have shown that neither property nor mere numbers can form a desirable or equitable basis for representation, nor ever did form its original basis in this country, the whole argument on which this favourite recommendation is founded, falls to the ground. If votes ought to be proportioned to property — if property is the thing to be represented-then parliamentary as well as parochial elections should be carried on under Sturges Bourne's Act,' according to rateable assessment. If every man is entitled to a vote-if population is the thing to be represented-then the most perfect theoretical system would be that which should give to every man a vote for the whole 658 members*, and whatever practicable system approached nearest to this in action would be the most defensible. Granting their premises, the reasoning of the advocates of equal electoral districts would be unassailable. But we hold their premises to be unsound; and we believe that they themselves would shrink from some of the practical consequences of their recommendation. In the first place, the number of members allotted to the three divisions of the United Kingdom would be greatly changed. As
*The French approach nearly to this theoretical perfection in their system. Thus Paris returns 34 members, and its 250,000 electors vote for all 34.
A plan of representation which would thus require readjustment every ten years; nay, which, to be carried out with scrupulous fairness, would require readjustment every Parliament, or possibly every Session, would, to say the least, prove enormously inconvenient. But, passing over this, what man is there on this side of the Channel, whether Radical or Conservative, acquainted with the records of the Irish Parliament before the Union, or with the proceedings and character of Irish Members of the Imperial Legislature since that event, who would not look with dismay upon such an increase of their proportionate numbers as either the census of 1841 or that of 1851 would have given them, on the basis of equal electoral districts? At present, in our House of Commons, the solid and reflective English element outnumbers its capricious and volatile Irish companion in the proportion of five to one, and even with that preponderance, has difficulty in reducing it to order. What would be the result, was it only three to one, as by the census of 1851, or two to one, as by that of 1841.
But, in truth, the proposed plan would present anomalies to the full as startling and extreme as any that exist under the present system. Thus the Metropolis alone would return nearly as many members as the whole of Scotland. By the last census (that of 1851) Scotland had a population of 2,870,784, and at the equal rate of one member to 41,500 inhabitants, would be entitled to 69 members:-the metropolis, by the same census, had a population of 2,361,000; and therefore, at the same rate, would return 57 members. That is, one city-already enormously and disproportionately powerful as the centre where all the rank, wealth, grandeur, and genius of the empire are too much concentrated, and especially influential over the Legislature as being the seat of its deliberations, would have all these unconstitutional and accidental advantages enhanced by commanding as many votes as a whole incorporated kingdom. Indeed, throughout the country, the operation of the plan of electoral districts would be to swamp and overpower the quiet, slow, rural element of the English nation, by the pushing, energetic, mobile element which characterises towns and cities.
This would be the needless aggravation of an intrinsic and natural unfairness, so to speak. As it is, and inevitably, forty thousand persons in a city with their faculties brightened, their energies aroused, their ambition stimulated, and all the vehement and restless qualities of their nature excited into preternatural activity, by a life of constant collision and publicity
are an immense over-match for forty thousand others scattered in the country, who are slower thinkers, enjoy more placid and sluggish tempers, and lead a life of comparative dulness and isolation. The greater influence on national feelings and proceedings which will be exercised by the former body, is an indefeasible privilege which cannot be taken from them, but which assuredly needs not to be enhanced by legislative arrangements. Yet the proposed planYet the proposed plan- though as an equivalent to a certain degree, it would absorb small boroughs into the surrounding country constituencies-would enormously increase this disproportionate weight; - would allot seven (or now eight) members each to Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow, six to Dublin, five to Birmingham and Leeds, four to Sheffield and Bristol; while, as we have seen, the Metropolis would have no less than fifty-seven.
We pass over, purposely, all discussion as to the effect which such a division of the kingdom into new electoral districts, would have upon the relative strength of the Liberal and Tory parties in the House of Commons. Considerations of that kind would be beside the mark here. The justice or wisdom of a measure of organic reform cannot be affected by the results it would produce on the preponderance of this or that set of special doctrinal views, and ought not to be argued on any such grounds. But the operation, which the proposed change would have in aggravating what appears to us the chief defect in the existing representative system, deserves more detailed consideration. That defect is the exclusive representation of majorities. At present, it is only by a happy accident that the minority is ever represented at all. Under the actual system, each elector votes for all the members returned by his constituency; for both, where there are two; for all four, where, "as in the metropolis, there are four. The mischievous operation of this will be perceptible and more and more serious, exactly in proportion to the number of members, and the largeness of the district. For example, in Andover there are 252 electors and two members: one hundred and twenty-seven electors may monopolise the whole representation, leaving the almost equal and very possibly much wiser number of one hundred and twenty-five, wholly unrepresented. In Liverpool, again, out of 17,316 electors, 8659 may utterly paralyse, ignore, blot out of
Exclusive Representation of Majorities.
constitutional existence, the remaining 8657.. In London, there are four members: and we find that practically, at the last general election, 6722, the lowest number who voted for the Liberal candidates, had four representatives, while 6719, the highest number voting for the Tory candidates, had no representatives at all. In Paris, the case is still more flagrant. There are 34 members and 250,000 electors each elector voting for the whole number. The contest is generally a very close one; and the result might easily be that the 34 candidates who obtained 125,001 votes should be elected, and the candidates who obtained 124,999 votes should be rejected: in which case an obvious, practical, and mighty wrong would be committed on one half of the constituency.
Now in England, under our present system, we do not, it is true, obviate this injustice, but we, to a great extent, neutralise it by the variety of our constituencies. The minority which loses, by a narrow chance, the representation in the large towns, belongs often to the same party which, by an equally narrow chance, gains it in the smaller boroughs. The defeated moiety in the city becomes the triumphant moiety in the county. Thus an inequitable result in one quarter is practically corrected by a countervailing inequity in another. If, however, the reforming and conservative parties, for example, bore the same numerical proportion to each other in every separate constituency, as they do in the country at large, it is obvious that the whole representation would be monopolised by one party, to the complete exclusion of the other. To take a recent warning suppose Parliament had been dissolved on 'the Papal Aggression question: is there a single English constituency that would have returned Sir James Graham? Yet to say nothing of the fact that Sir James Graham's opinions on this subject were shared by a highly respectable minority in every constituency, no rational politician could see 'Sir James Graham excluded from Parliament without deep 'regret. Our Constitution, in fact, gives no security for the representation in the House of Commons of opinions opposed to the mania of the moment, unless that mania happen to 'divide the town and country constituencies into opposite 6 arrays. In case it array them both on one side, the majority 'not only has its will, but the question at issue cannot be 'argued within the court of ultimate decision, because the 'electoral system does not recognise the existence of minorities.' There is nothing except the variety of our constituent bodies to prevent the entire legislature from being composed of the nominees of one half of the nation (plus one): the other half (minus one) might be, for all political purposes, utterly annihi
lated and forgotten. Such a result would embody so manifest an injustice, that few would defend it in principle, or endure it in practice.
Various suggestions have been thrown out for mitigating or removing this anomaly. Some have proposed that no elector should vote for more than one member. This, where there are two members, would remedy the evil in question, but would involve an unfairness of an opposite kind; since, in that case, the majority and minority might each return one member, and would, therefore, be equally represented, unless the majority should exceed two-thirds of the whole. Others suggest that each constituency should have three members, each elector still being restricted to one vote. But this would involve the disfranchisement or amalgamation of many boroughs, or the augmentation of the number of the House of Commons to a most inconvenient extent. A third proposition has recently been made, of a highly ingenious kind, viz. that besides the local members, there should be a certain number of national members, and that any electors who pleased should be permitted to withdraw themselves from the local register, and inscribe themselves among the voters for these national representatives. The objection to this scheme is its novelty: a discussion of its merits would lead us into too wide a digression for our limits.
Now, from the possible extreme result of the exclusive representation of a small numerical majority of the nation, we are protected only by those very anomalies and incongruities which the advocates of equal electoral districts so mercilessly and inconsiderately assail. If the whole country were one vast 'electoral district,' the perfection of the theory, and the mischief of the practice, would have reached their climax: the larger and more homogeneous the districts, the more nearly are both approached: - the more various the constituencies, on the other hand, the more effectually are both avoided. Now, the proposed plan of equal electoral districts would render the constituencies frightfully homogeneous, and similar one to another. There would be a certain number of purely city constituencies; there would be three or four counties, as Westmoreland, Argyle, and Sutherland, which would afford purely rural constituencies; but all the rest would be mixed and uniform, composed of a blended aggregate from small towns and the adjoining country districts. If the plan, developed by Mr. Mackay in the Pamphlet which we have placed at the head of this Article, were adopted, to all towns with a population of 41,000, and upwards, a member would be given for every 41,000 inhabitants. In
* See a most able paper in the 'Spectator' of October 18. 1851.