Yet guiding action in an alliance of which he was not the head was delicate work. A clumsy speaker in debate might do infinite mischief. When a party is in opposition, all its members can talk, and are encouraged to talk, to the utmost; little harm can be done to one’s own side by what is said in criticism of measures proposed. Support and exposition is a much more ticklish business. Add to this the fact that under the fully developed system of parliamentary obstruction—that is, of using discussion to prevent legislation from being put through—the best service that a member can render to Government is to say nothing, but vote.
The tactics of limiting discussion to chosen speakers in important debates and of discouraging sharply any intervention which might help to delay a division were pushed further in the Irish party than elsewhere. We were there under different conditions from the rest; our objective was as clearly defined as in a military operation: and we all understood the position. We recognized also that negotiation must be a matter for Redmond and his inner cabinet of three, and that many things could not be usefully discussed in a body of seventy men. But the net result was that the bulk of the party lost interest in their work, and, which was worse, that Ireland lost interest in the bulk of the party. It followed, not unnaturally, that the constituencies held one voting machine to be as good as another, and they did not generally send any men who could have been of service in debate. They did not any longer see their members heading a fiery campaign against rents, or flamboyant in attack on the Government; they heard very little of them at all. They knew little and cared less about the work of education in British constituencies, which had to be carried on through the mouths of Irish members.
Redmond has often been blamed, but quite unjustly, for failure to attract men of talent into his ranks. Parnell had that power. He had, and used, the right of suggesting names. But under the constitution of the United Irish League (originally the work of Mr. William O’Brien when reunion was accomplished in 1900) the machinery of local conventions was set up and no interference with their choice was permitted to the central directorate—which could only insist that a man properly selected must take the party pledge. Whether this machinery was inevitable or no, cannot be argued here; but Redmond himself complained repeatedly in public that it worked badly. Candidates were often chosen purely for local and even personal considerations, and seldom with any real thought of finding the man best fitted to do Ireland’s work at Westminster.