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Evening Star, Issue 15672, 10 December 1914
The speech of Mr Downie Stewart on Tuesday night struck an important note. He expressed what we believe to be a growing impatience of the public with the excesses of Party Government. Bo long as men differ in political opinion they will group themselves in parties for the advancement of their creeds. This is not only inevitable, but to be approved. Generations ago Edmund Burke, that political philosopher of pre-etninent wisdom, said that parties were associations of men who thought alike on cardinal questions and desired to unite their efforts in promoting the policy upon which they were agreed. No one would complain at such a party spirit animating our politicians. Unfortunately, however, the true ground of division has been largely abandoned. Often men are to be found in opposite camp 3 who hold the same opinions on the matters which chiefly engage the minds of electors. Often men are to be found in the same camp who entertain th« most opposite opinions on the vexed questions of the day. Subject the two dominant parties in New Zealand to a faithful analysis, and abundant confirmation of the above-mentioned truth will Le furnished. Let a dozen members of the party led by the Hon. Mr Massey be selected, and wo would undertake to match thoia in policy with a dozen followers of Sir Joseph Ward. One might obtain practical unanimity on all the outstanding subjecU of contention. It is impossible to gainsay Mr Stewart when he says that on the ground of legislative policy there is no substantial difference between the "Reform" and the Liberal parties. In the course of the years they have drifted together. It is true that Sir Joseph Ward is offering for this election a more progressive programme than Mr Massey. Ibis is largely the result of the exigencies of the campaign and the pressure of the Labor interest. But, after all, the programme contains no clearly-defined principle which marks off the Liberal party as separate in aim and method from the "Reform" party. At the most one party are simply going a little faster than the other on the same linos. Take the
Land Question as typical. Both parties emphasise the Graduated Land Tax as an effective weapon for promoting settlement; both uphold the freehold; both are solicitors to impress the public with their achievements in facilitating close settlement on the same lines. There is -thus a I large measure of truth in Mr Stewart's conclusion that the difference between the i parties is really one of administration. Of course, this is not entirely 60. Sir Jcseph Ward is definitely pledged to Proportional [Representation for the Lower House. This may be eakl to be only a difference in detail, because Mr Massey, while denying the reform to the Representative Chamber, has adopted the principle and applied it to the Legislative Council. One cannot help realising, nevertheless, that the presence of Proportional Representation in the programme of the Liberal party instead of in that of the i Reform party is an accident. There is no ' real cleavage on principle represented by it. Without doubt the contest to-day between Sir Joseph Ward and Mr Massey is little more than a contest between the "ins" and the "outs." Mr Stewart finds a ground for preferring Mr Massey in the quality of his administration. It must not be forgotten, however, that the mis'-, givings which occupied the minds of electors three years ago with reference to the acts of the Ward Administration have been found to be groundless. In the matter of borrowing, public works expenditure, weight of taxation, and conduct of proceedings in Parliament the public are not sensible of any considerable improvement arising from the change of Government. When such is the case what reason can there bo for perpetuating the present sharp division of parties? The only assignable reason is the personal ambitions of the members of tho two parties. Mr Massey and his followers want office because they want the power it confers. Sir Joseph Ward and his upholders want office for the same purpose. Because of personal ambitions in which tho average elector has little concern the country is deluged with the .acrimonious utterances of candidates whose chief employment is that of vilifying each other instead of expounding social problems. A rare, but on that account notable, exception is to be found in Dunedin West, where both candidates have scorned the petty heats of mere party controversy. What is the solution? Mr Stewart suggests that the two parties should come together, and as ono means to this end he proposes the Elective Executive. His scholarly treatment of this reform well deserves the careful attention of electors. We have long pilloried the abuii'dity of denying to the House the election of its own executive. But the reform is not to bo upheld merely because of its conformity to the democratic theory. The important question is: What will be the practical effect? It will enable Parliament to elect a Minister from the ranks of the party in minority. It will enable tho decision to rest upon merit and qualification for office. The Parliament just expired should have had tho power to appoint Sir Joseph Ward to a Ministerial post. Why should it be precluded from making use of his administrative experience if it so wished? Such an appointment woald have done much to allay tho bitterness of party strife. In this way the Elective Executive would be a useful corrective of party rancor, and would hush somewhat the din of personal recriminations, which must be sickening to members of Parliament, as well as disgusting to tho public Many people, we believe, have but a markedly inadequate conception of the extent to which personal resentments, personal jealousies, and lust for personal power control political conduct. The Elective Executive would place in the hands of Parliament an efficient weapon for undermining these insidious influences. We consider it would result in a virtual amalgamation of the Liberals and " Reformers." This would lead to tho only natural division of Parliament—namely, into a Liberal party and a Labor party. Such would be a division based upon conviction and policy, and not upon a liking for this man or a disfavoring of that man. Both the Massey and the Ward parties are inheritors of traditional antagonisms which had their origin in real political differences. The political differences havo really disappeared, but the antagonisms remain, and givo rise to all tho more acrimony because the foundation has gone. It is high time that the leaders of the parties, who havo lost their legislative distinctions, composed their childish quarrels and addressed themselves unitedly to the many acute problems to which the European war is giving rise.
Evening Star, Issue 15672, 10 December 1914
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