For a time all went well. But before the campaign was far advanced Government candidates were finding themselves handicapped by the lack of an effective cry. The War Cabinet was demanding a further lease of authority on the ground of having won the war. But partly because the new issues had not yet defined themselves, partly out of regard for the delicate balance of a Coalition Party, the Prime Minister’s future policy was the subject of silence or generalities. The campaign seemed, therefore, to fall a little flat. In the light of subsequent events it seems improbable that the Coalition Party was ever in real danger. But party managers are easily “rattled.” The Prime Minister’s more neurotic advisers told him that he was not safe from dangerous surprises, and the Prime Minister lent an ear to them. The party managers demanded more “ginger.” The Prime Minister looked about for some.
On the assumption that the return of the Prime Minister to power was the primary consideration, the rest followed naturally. At that juncture there was a clamor from certain quarters that the Government had given by no means sufficiently clear undertakings that they were not going “to let the Hun off.” Mr. Hughes was evoking a good deal of attention by his demands for a very large indemnity, and Lord Northcliffe was lending his powerful aid to the same cause. This pointed the Prime Minister to a stone for two birds. By himself adopting the policy of Mr. Hughes and Lord Northcliffe, he could at the same time silence those powerful critics and provide his party managers with an effective platform cry to drown the increasing voices of criticism from other quarters.
The progress of the General Election of 1918 affords a sad, dramatic history of the essential weakness of one who draws his chief inspiration not from his own true impulses, but from the grosser effiuxions of the atmosphere which momentarily surrounds him. The Prime Minister’s natural instincts, as they so often are, were right and reasonable. He himself did not believe in hanging the Kaiser or in the wisdom or the possibility of a great indemnity. On the 22nd of November he and Mr. Bonar Law issued their Election Manifesto. It contains no allusion of any kind either to the one or to the other but, speaking, rather, of Disarmament and the League of Nations, concludes that “our first task must be to conclude a just and lasting peace, and so to establish the foundations of a new Europe that occasion for further wars may be for ever averted.” In his speech at Wolverhampton on the eve of the Dissolution (November 24), there is no word of Reparation or Indemnity. On the following day at Glasgow, Mr. Bonar Law would promise nothing. “We are going to the Conference,” he said, “as one of a number of allies, and you cannot expect a member of the Government, whatever he may think, to state in public before he goes into that Conference, what line he is going to take in regard to any particular question.” But