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The Defeated Government

Karl Marx

London, February 3.

On December 16, 1852 the first point of Disraeli's budget—extension of direct taxation, initially house duty, was defeated by a majority of 19 votes. The Tory Government resigned. After ten days of intrigues the Coalition Government was formed. It consisted of a section of the Whig oligarchy the—Grey clan was excluded this time—of the Peelite bureaucracy, an admixture of so-called Mayfair Radicals, such as Molesworth and Osborne, and finally the brokers of the Irish Brigade who had decided the issue on December 16—Sadleir, Keogh, Monsell—and were accommodated in subordinate ministerial posts. The Ministry described itself as the "Cabinet of All the Talents". And in fact it did include nearly all the talents that had been relieving one another in government for thirty years and more. The Times proclaimed the "Cabinet of All the Talents" with the words: We have "now arrived at the commencement of the political millennium." The "political millennium" had in fact dawned for the ruling classes the moment they discovered that their party formations had dissolved, that their internal contradictions were only due to personal whims and vanities, and that their reciprocal frictions could no longer grip the nation's interest. The Coalition Government represented no particular faction. It represented "all the Talents" of the class that has hitherto ruled England. It is therefore important to cast a glance in retrospect at its achievements.

After the fall of the Derby ministry Parliament adjourned for the Christmas recess. It then adjourned again for the Easter recess. Not until then did the real session of 1853 commence, almost completely taken up with the debates on Gladstone's budget, Sir Charles Wood's Bill on India and Young's Bill regulating the relations between landlords and tenant-farmers in Ireland.

Before introducing his budget Gladstone announced major operations to reduce the national debt—both floating and consolidated debts. The operation regarding the former consisted in a lowering of interest on Exchequer Bills from 1½d. to 1d. per day, and that at a time when the market rate of interest was rising. The result was that first he had to redeem 3 million Exchequer Bills, and then he had to reissue them at a higher rate of interest. Even more significant was his experiment with that monster, the consolidated national debt. The ostensible aim was its reduction. He acted so skilfully that at the end of the financial year he had to buy back 8 million South Sea notes at par, though at the current stock exchange price they were only worth 85 per cent. At the same time he launched on to the stock exchange a new security invented by himself—Exchequer bonds. He had got Parliament to authorise him to issue £30 million worth of these securities. With some difficulty he got rid of £400,000 worth. In a word: his operations to reduce the national debt resulted in an increase of the capital of the consolidated debt, and an increase in the rate of interest of the floating debt.

His budget, the pride of the Coalition, consists of various heterogeneous elements. Parts of it, such as the reduction of tea tax, of excise duty (except that he reduced it on soap, and Disraeli on malt) and the increase in direct taxation, have been borrowed from the budget of his predecessor. The other and most important provisions such as imposition of death duty on land, the abolition of tax on newspaper advertisements, etc., were forced on him since he twice failed to get his counter-proposals approved by the House. Other constituents of his plan, such as the new regulation of the licensing system, he was obliged to withdraw entirely. What he brought to the House as an encyclopaedic system emerged as a mish-mash of heterogeneous and contradictory items. His only remaining original contribution is the passage in the budget in which The Times is exempted from paying £30,000-40,000 p.a. as a result of the abolition of stamp duty on the supplements that The Times is the only one of the newspapers to publish. He insisted all the more firmly—and thus gained the goodwill of The Times to that it will not want to miss him in a new Administration either—on the retention of stamp duty for the main part of the newspaper. Those were Gladstone's masterpieces from which the Coalition derived its sustenance throughout the whole of the 1853 session.

The charter of the East India Company expired on April 30, 1854. England's relations with India thus had to be regulated anew. The Coalition intended renewing the charter of the East India Company for another 20 years. It failed. India is not to be "leased out" to the Company again for decades. It now exists only by "proclamation", which Parliament can send it any day. This, the only significant feature of the India Bill, was passed despite the Government. With the exception of a few marginal reforms in the Indian judiciary and the opening of civil posts and scientific military posts to all qualified applicants, the actual kernel of the India Bill may be summarised as follows: the salary of the minister governing India from London (President of the Board of Control[a]) has been raised from £1,200 to £5,000 p.a. Of the 18 directors the government will henceforth elect six, and the meeting of share-holders of the East India Company only twelve. The salary of these directors has been raised from £300 to 900 and that of their two managers from £400 to £1,000. Moreover, the office of Governor of Bengal (together with his board of control) is in future to be separate from that of Governor General of India; a new President, plus board, is likewise to be created for the Indus district itself. The Indian reform of the Cabinet of All the Talents is limited to this raising of salaries and creating of new sinecures.

The Bills concerning relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland had been taken over by the Coalition Government from its Tory predecessors. It was not to be outdone by them. It adopted the Bills and carried them through the House of Commons shortly before the end of the session after a ten-month debate, or to be more accurate, allowed them to pass. In the House of Lords, on the other hand, Aberdeen consented to the rejection of the very same Bills—on the pretext of scrutinising them more closely and taking them up again in the next session.

The ministerial Bills for parliamentary reform, education, legal and judicial reforms were postponed by request of the Cabinet until the next session. The great work of "all the Talents"—the Bill regulating the cab-drivers of London—actually became law, but had scarcely crossed the threshold of Parliament before it had to return again to be refashioned. It had proved to be impracticable.

Finally on August 20 Parliament adjourned. Palmerston summarised the foreign policy of the Ministry during this session when he dismissed Parliament with the words: It could adjourn without anxiety. He had full confidence in the honour and character of the Russian Emperor, who, he said, would evacuate the Danubian Principalities voluntarily.

Palmerston's public intervention in foreign policy was limited in the 1853 session to this declaration; to a parliamentary speech a few days before the adjournment of the House of Commons in which he treated the blocking of the Sulina estuary of the Danube by the Russians as a bad joke; and finally to the admission extracted from him in the sitting of April 15, 1853—on the occasion of the so-called Kossuth Powder Plot—that on behalf of continental courts he was employing the English police for the surveillance of political refugees.

Written on February 3, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 63, February 7, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW

[a] Marx used the English term.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.638-641), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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