At the luncheon given by Lord Londonderry after this business conference, Carson took occasion to refer to a particularly contemptible slander to which currency had been given some days previously by Sir John Benn, one of the Eighty Club strolling seekers after truth. It was perhaps hardly worth while to notice a statement so silly as that the Ulster leader had been ready a few weeks previously to betray Ulster in order to save the House of Lords, but Carson did not yet realise the degree to which he had already won the confidence of his followers; moreover, the incident proved useful as an opportunity of emphasising the uninterrupted mutual confidence between Lord Londonderry and himself, in spite of their divergence of opinion over the Parliament Bill. It also gave those present a glimpse of their leader’s power of shrivelling meanness with a few caustic drops of scorn.
The proceedings at Craigavon and at the Conference naturally created a sensation on both sides of the Channel. They brought the question of Ireland once more, for the first time since 1895, into the forefront of British politics. The House of Commons might spend the autumn ploughing its way through the intricacies of the National Insurance Bill, but everyone knew that the last and bitterest battle against Home Rule was now approaching. And, now that the Parliament Act was safely on the Statute-book, Ministers had no further interest in concealment. During the elections, from which alone they could procure authority for legislation of so fundamental a character, Mr. Asquith, as we have seen, regarded any inquiry as to his intentions as “confusing the issue.” But now that he had the constituencies in his pocket for five years and nothing further was to be feared from that quarter, his cards were placed on the table.
On the 3rd of October Mr. Winston Churchill told his followers at Dundee that the Government would introduce a Home Rule Bill next session “and press it forward with all their strength,” and he added the characteristic injunction that “they must not take Sir Edward Carson too seriously.” But that advice did not prevent Mr. Herbert Samuel, another member of the Cabinet, from putting in an appearance in Belfast four days later, where he threw himself into a ludicrously unequal combat with Carson, exerting himself to calm the fears of business men as to the effect of Home Rule on their prosperity; while, in the same week, Carson himself, at a great Unionist demonstration in Dublin, described the growth