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It was proposed to render these periodical valuations compulsory upon all registered societies, and to record the results, and place them where they could be studied by hesitating investors.
He anticipated that many of the real objections would be “kept in the background.” Many astute persons had a personal and pecuniary interest in “ clipping the wings of the bill.” Many would be jealous of all Government interference. Yet the moderation of the bill, on the other hand, would“ render many ardent reformers indifferent to it. Its opponents would be bitter, its supporters lukewarm.”
Indeed the ‘Times' described the bill as modest, if not timid. “The measure was a compromise, and its provisions were mainly permissive.” For, as it happened, the societies were not subjected to compulsory supervision. It had always been Sir Stafford's principle “to interfere as little as possible with the voluntary action of those who are managing Friendly Societies.” “It is better that the societies should not be governed as well as they might be, than that Parliament should do anything in the way of governing them beyond what was absolutely necessary.” What he thought they most wanted was “proper facilities for action, and, above all, they want proper information,” which his bill gave them. The 'Times 'justly remarked that “a storm of unpopularity” would have been the result of securing the members of Friendly Societies too effectually against their managers. And it is, or was then, a free country. Nolenti non fit beneficium !
The Liberal historian of the period," with his love of intrepid enterprise, calls the bill “the mild and timid result of the long inquiry which the previous Government had carried on.” At least one of the “inquirers” produced the bill. It was permissive, but the permission it gives has been acted on—which these sorts of permissions rarely are. Sir Stafford, indeed, was “told continually that the measure was inadequate and delusive." He believed it was “ nothing of the sort. In those respects in which it was said to fall short, it was not from any weakness or timidity that it so fell short, but from a deliberate view that the only and true way of bringing about a development of the virtue of providence amongst the people was to make them work it out for themselves, and that our great desire ought to be to give fair play, and full play, to those institutions which have sprung from the people themselves; but not on that account do we mean to shirk our own duty in this matter.” 2
The Friendly Societies were true to their name when Lord Iddesleigh died. The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows sent a letter of condolence to Lady Iddesleigh, “expressing the sad and irreparable loss the Friendly Societies had suffered by the Earl's death.” The London members of the Ancient Order of Foresters did the same. And the Manchester Grand Master spoke for upwards of 600,000 members, when he said " that England has lost one of the greatest supporters of voluntary thrift, as exemplified
1 Mr Clayden, in 'England under Lord Beaconsfield.' 2 Speech at Manchester, December 8, 1875.
in the working of Friendly Societies and of kindred institutions."1
The years 1872-73-years of comparative peace and rest at home and abroad—did not contain any events of much biographical note or interest. There were the usual flittings from Pynes to London and the House of Commons, and in 1872 Sir Stafford went on a yachting cruise with Lord Carnarvon among the Scilly Islands. A riding tour in Devonshire occupied in the same way the leisure of early autumn in 1873. The letters of this time are of merely domestic interest, and the work done was mainly on the Friendly Society Commission and at the Hudson Bay Company. We may pass over the times which, being happy, had no history of mark, and may reach the days of Mr Disraeli's Conservative success at the poll, and the appointment of Sir Stafford to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. With the single exception of Mr Gladstone, there was no living statesman so fit for the tenure of that arduous and rather thankless office—the stewardship of English financial affairs.
1 Mr Stoddrell's letter in the 'Times,' January 20, 1887.
CHARGES OF “FRITTERING AWAY” MR GLADSTONE'S SURPLUS
CONSIDERED—SIR STAFFORD'S FINANCIAL PRINCIPLES — HOW
The years of Sir Stafford's stewardship of English finance are full of “lessons.” No lesson among them is more prominent than that of party criticism and its unkindness. The charges brought against his administration of finance remind one of the stripes with which the Arcadians
1 In a letter to a friend (May 3, 1876), I find Sir Stafford saying: “ Case-hardened as I am myself, and accustomed to the injustices and the discouragements which a public man has to undergo, I can recall many occasions on which I have felt, as keenly perhaps as you now feel, the bitterness of official life. It has been hard to learn the lesson, virtute mea me involvo." Perhaps the good-humour and self-restraint of public men is the most engaging feature in public life.
visited the statue of Pan, when he brought them no luck. They whipped Pan with nettles, for matters of which he was entirely guiltless. In the same way, Liberal critics denounced Sir Stafford for having “frittered away "—that was the consecrated expression—"a magnificent surplus,” and for having, in a spirit of Conservative malignity, raised the expenditure, and lowered the income of England.
In opposition to this view, one may quote, from a letter (April 1875) to Mr Welby (now Sir Reginald Welby), Sir Stafford's principles of financial policy—the ideas to which he strove to be true. They are thus expressed :
"1. Prudent but not deliberately under estimates.
“3. The retention of the income-tax at a low fixed rate, not to be disturbed for anything short of a national emergency.
“4. The appropriation of a fixed annual sum to the charge for debt.
“5. The avoidance of new taxes; and, “ 6. As a corollary I must add, toleration of old ones.
“Parliament and the country ought really to make up their minds to deal frankly and courageously with these matters, to eschew sensationalism, and to act on steady principles.”
The truth was, of course, that Sir Stafford's Chancellorship of the Exchequer fell in the lean years that followed the fat years, and he was no more responsible for their emaciation than was Pharaoh's chief butler or baker for