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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 131


If it be questioned how, if our numbers be too small to return a majority to the Legislative Councils and to place our page: 132 men in office, we propose to influence political life, I would reply, that we neither expect nor, for many years to come, desire to see a Ministry formed of our own men.

The truly Progressive Element in this country is to-day in a minority, of about the same numerical strength as the extreme Retrogressive Party; neither of these parties to-day is strong enough to put into office and to support, even for a time, a Ministry of its own, consistently carrying out its views. Neither of them could command so completely the Intermediate or Colourless Party as to give it a working page: 133 majority, save by bartering away the very principles, the support of which formed the sole cause of its existence.

The extreme Retrogressive Party in this country has maintained its power, as all conscientious minorities must do, by not seeking to grasp in its hands the ostensible reins of Government, and by its leaders being willing to forego the sweets of office for the sake of effectively impressing the views of the party upon successive Ministries.

By such a course of action the Irish Party, composing a minority in the Imperial Parliament, has yet for years made page: 134 itself a power, courted and feared by successive Liberal and Conservative Governments, and has been able to force its views before the public. Had its leaders as individuals thirsted, not for the success of the principles they represented, but merely to attain office in some incoming Government, they would either have had to desert their party, or their party would have been compelled to rest content with the pleasure of saying, “There are Irishmen in the Government,” in place of seeing their aims upheld. Had the people of Ireland set before themselves as their main end the seeing of certain of page: 135 their representatives on the Government benches, they could only have attained it by their representatives ceasing to be Irishmen in everything but name; and the Irish vote would have been annihilated at the very moment of a shallow seeming triumph.

Such would be the fate of the truly Progressive or truly Non-Progressive party in this country, if it should set before itself, as its chief end, the placing of its own men in office.

In a country with representative institutions a minority, unless it uses force or bribery, cannot place its men in office, and maintain them there for page: 136 even the shortest period, without sacrificing its very existence. This is trite and obvious, but we dwell upon it because it appears often completely overlooked in the discussion of political affairs in this country; and the fatuous conception seems to prevail that a party can only affect the country and the course of legislation if some person, or persons, who ostensibly belong to its organisation, at whatever cost to its principles, hold office in the Government of the day.

The truly Progressive Element in this country will not contain within itself the large majority of the inhabitants page: 137 for the next five, ten, or perhaps even fifteen years. If the majority of our inhabitants stand, in fifteen years' time, where the majority of the inhabitants of New Zealand stand to-day, we shall feel that the richest hopes of the Progressives of this country have been fulfilled.

The part which the Progressive Association in this country will have to play, perhaps for many years, is that of a small, united party, strong in its intelligence and determination, and, above all, in the absolutely unpurchasable nature of its members. A small but united body, it would have to be page: 138 reckoned with by each successive Ministry as it took office, and, because it could neither be purchased or bent, would be a thorn in the side of every Government intent upon carrying out measures at variance with its views.

If it be asked by what exact means we could make our influence felt by these successive Ministries, I would reply that we should influence them, firstly, by our free and uncompromising discussion in the Colonial and European press of their methods of action and the measures which they introduced. In a country which is rotten with opportunism, and where page: 139 we have reached a point in which a man dares hardly to give utterance in whispers to his political convictions, and in which hundreds of men and women sit spell-bound, afraid of losing their daily bread if they utter a word in condemnation of existing powers, the fact of persistent and fearless discussion of governmental methods would render the continuance of certain existing lines of action on the part of Government almost impossible. Autocratic Governments have nothing so much to dread as free criticism.

Secondly: Our branches would form centres in every page: 140 town and village for the prompt calling of public meetings to protest against undesirable measures. Had such an organisation been in existence recently when the news reached this Colony of an unpopular appointment, instead of a knot of Progressive men in a few Colonial towns having to organise themselves into small bodies for that particular purpose, it would merely have been necessary to send the news to all branches, and within forty-eight hours, in almost every town and village in the Colony, those men who were opposed to the appointment would have met and discussed the page: 141 matter, and sent forth their protests.

Thirdly: We should influence the political world through our electoral functions.