—The First Measures of The New Ministry.
—News from India.
London, February 16. The farce of Mr. Sidney Herbert's re-election as Member of Parliament for the southern division of Wiltshire took place yesterday in Salisbury Town Hall[a]. Even among the English counties Wilts is notorious for a concentration of land-ownership which has turned the whole area into the property of fewer than a dozen families. With the exception of some districts in Northern Scotland, the land has nowhere been so thoroughly "cleared" of inhabitants, nor the system of modern agriculture applied so consistently. Except when family feuds happen to break out among its few landlords, Wilts never sees an electoral campaign.
No rival candidate had been put up against Sidney Herbert. The High Sheriff[b], who presided over the election, therefore declared him re-elected by all the forms of law at the very beginning of the meeting. Sidney Herbert then rose and addressed a number of very worn-out platitudes to his tenants and vassals. Meanwhile there had gradually gathered in the Town Hall an audience of townspeople who were not entitled to vote but whom the English Constitution fobs off with the privilege of boring the candidates at the hustings[c]. Scarcely had Sidney Herbert sat down than a barrage of questions volleyed about his venerable head. "What about the green coffee-beans served to our soldiers?", "Where is our army?", "What did The Times say of you yesterday?", "Why did you spare Odessa?", "Does your uncle, the Russian Prince Vorontsov, own palaces in Odessa?", etc. Naturally not the slightest notice was taken of these unparliamentary questioners. On the contrary, Sidney Herbert availed himself of the first lull to propose a vote of thanks to the Sheriff for his "impartial" conduct of the "proceedings". This was accepted amidst applause from the parliamentary audience, and hissing and groaning from the unparliamentary. There then followed a second volley of ejaculatory questions: "Who starved our soldiers? Let him go to war himself! etc." No more result than before. The Sheriff then declared the play, which had lasted little more than half an hour, to be over, and the curtain fell.
The first measures of the re-constituted ministry were by no means received with approval. As Lord Panmure, the new Secretary for War, is an invalid, the main burden of his administration falls to the Under-Secretary for War. The appointment of Frederick Peel, the younger son of the late Peel, to this important post arouses all the more displeasure since Frederick Peel is a notorious mediocrity. Despite his youth, he is the living incarnation of routine. Other men become bureaucrats. He came into the world as one. Frederick Peel owes his post to the influence of the Peelites. It was therefore necessary to balance the scales with a Whig in the other pan. Sir Francis Baring has therefore been appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Melbourne's Whig administration and at that time bore the well-deserved nickname of "Mr. Deficit". The most recent army appointments all remain true to the system of gerontocracy. Thus the octogenarian Lord Seaton has been appointed to the command of the army in Ireland. Lord Rokeby, old, gout-ridden, and deaf, has been dispatched to the Crimea as commander of the Brigade of Guards. Command of the Second Division there—formerly under Sir de Lacy Evans—has fallen to General Simpson, who is no Samson but on the contrary occupied a fitting retirement-post as veteran Lieutenant-Governor of Portsmouth. General Somerset, already a Brigadier in 1811, has been sent to India as commanding General. Finally Admiral Boxer, "that anarch old", as The Times calls him[d], who threw the whole transport service into utter confusion in Constantinople, has now been ordered to Balaklava to put that harbour into "proper order".
"We fear," says The Times, "we must look elsewhere for Ministerial vigour. [...] It is vain for us to appeal to those who do these things against such cruel and wanton squandering of the best resources of the nation. Were they not infatuated by a long course of power, which only shifted from one portion of their own [...] class to another, they would scarcely have chosen this moment at least for the exhibition of such wanton and short-sighted selfishness. The instinct of self-preservation would have taught them better, but we solemnly ask the people of England whether they will suffer their countrymen to be thus sacrificed at the shrine of cruel apathy or helpless incapacity." The Times threatens: "It is not a Government, nor is it even a House of Commons. It is the British Constitution that is under trial.
The latest news from India is important because it describes the deplorable state of business in Calcutta and Bombay. In the manufacturing districts the crisis is slowly but surely advancing. The owners of spinning-mills of fine yarn in Manchester decided at a meeting held the day before yesterday only to open their factories four days a week from February 26 and in the meantime to call on the manufacturers in the surrounding area to follow their example. In the factories in Blackburn, Preston and Bolton notice has already been given to the workers that there will henceforth only be "short time". The fact that in the past year many manufacturers have tried to force the markets by circumventing the commission-houses and taking their export business into their own hands means that bankruptcies will be all the larger in number and in size. The Manchester Guardian admitted last Wednesday[e] that there was overproduction not only of manufactured goods but also of factories.
Written on February 16, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 85, February 20, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the newspaper
Published in English for the first time in MECW
A report on the re-election was published in The Times, No. 21979, February 16, 1855.—Ed.
E. L. Clutterbuck.—Ed.
Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
The Times, No. 21979, February 16, 1855. The passage quoted below is from the same issue.—Ed.
February 14, 1855.—Ed.
On February 14, 1855, The Times (No. 21977) published a letter signed "A Colonial Reformer" which asked why Sidney Herbert was not being allowed to continue as Secretary of War if he really possessed the merits attributed to him by his supporters, and was, instead, being offered a high post in the Colonial Office if he really was responsible for the plight of the British wounded in the Crimea, as claimed by his opponents.
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
(pp.20-23), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980