Election Mania | Daily News

Election Mania

The present is definitely not the time to hold any election Local Government, Provincial Council, Parliamentary General or Presidential.

As United National Party Chairman and Member of Parliament Wajira Abeywardena said no one can get elections by agitating because it is the Constitution that governs such matters and as Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said recently it is greed for power that dictates election mania.

Whatever the reasons are, the country today is undergoing a period of grave economic crisis, as experienced by the United Kingdom so long ago as the 1780s due to the American War, when the National Debt stood at nearly an unprecedented 250,000,000 Pounds Sterling, to solve which William Pitt known as Pitt the Younger as Tory Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 and 1804 to 1806 carried through important fiscal and tariff reforms.

The appointment of William Pitt, second son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, to be Prime Minister took place in December, 1783. Pitt came into office at the request of King George III, after the fall of the Charles James Fox-Frederick North coalition. All the other members of his Cabinet were peers, so that he alone sat in the House of Commons to defend the policy of his Government. He was only twenty-four years of age and had no majority behind him in the House.

The Opposition jeered at him, defeated him again and again, and expected his resignation almost daily. Although Britain has never had a written Constitution the constitutional course of action for a defeated Government is to resign or to dissolve Parliament and, and if no majority is obtained in the new Parliament, to resign forthwith.

Refused to Resign or Dissolve Parliament

Pitt refused either to resign or to dissolve Parliament. He thought that a general election at once would go against him, but that, in a few weeks or months, public opinion would change, and he would obtain a majority. He proved to be right. He held on for some time in spite of defeat, and when the election was held the Whigs lost a very large number of seats. Tories and the King’s friends gave Pitt so substantial a following in the House that he was firmly established in power.

Like Lord North, Pitt was supported by George III throughout his term of office, but he was not subservient to the King as North had been. The real ruler while North was Prime Minister was the King. Pitt, and not the King, was now the director of national policy, although, he might have yielded to the King’s wishes only on minor points.

He equalled his father in his contempt for corruption and his desire for Parliamentary reform and in his dependence on popular rather than party support. Though his private means were small he refused to accept a lucrative sinecure post, the Clerkship of the Pells, which became vacant soon after his accession to office.

The task before Pitt was that of restoring national prosperity and national prestige after the disasters of the American War. The National Debt stood at nearly 250,000,000 Pounds a Sterling figure without precedent. National credit was low; the price of Government stock in the City of London was no more than fifty-seven. Taxation was burdensome, and year by year before Pitt’s advent to office, the budget failed to balance.

The position could be saved only by a statesman who was prepared to reconsider the whole basis of national finance. Pitt proved equal to the task. He was inclined to distrust the whole theory of Mercantilism, which regarded the regulation of trade and the maintenance of favourable balances of trade as essential to national prosperity.

With Adam Smith, he realized what the Mercantilists would not admit, that volume of trade is in itself advantageous, and that an increase in trade was beneficial to both buyer and seller. Their interests, in fact, were not opposed, but were identical. To sweep away the mass of duties which restricted trade was out of the question. Had he proposed such a course Pitt certainly would not have retained the popular confidence on which he relied.

Pitt made many substantial reductions in indirect taxation, and simplified the collection of customs duties by an extension of the system of bonded warehouses. To increase taxes he devised the assessed taxes which were direct taxes on servants, on racehorses, on windows – they were paid by well-to-do people who could afford luxuries.

The tax on windows could not be defended on modern principles, because the admission of sunlight is now regarded as essential to the maintenance of health, and such an impost would be a tax on health. But houses with six windows or less were exempt, and the tax had at least the merit of being roughly proportional to wealth of the people who paid it.

Pitt carried on the movement towards Free Trade. He had read Adam Smith’s remarkable book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ advocating Free Trade and was convinced by its theory, although it is probable that he thought it unlikely that Free Trade would ever become an accomplished fact.

Pitt established a sinking fund for the extinction of the National Debt. He had no liking for and no faith in the system of political corruption which characterized the eighteenth Century the system by which at first the Whigs and afterwards the King secured power, as stated in ‘A Text Book of Modern English History (1783-1954)’ by George W. Southgate a textbook prescribed for students of the University Preliminary Class in the 1950s. The facts herein can, mutatis mutandis, be applied to Sri Lanka today.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose father Esmond Wickremesinghe was an active member of the Trotskyist, Lanka Sama Samaja Party, can be equated to William Pitt the Younger.

Epilogue: Philip Gunawardena’s last words to his University Students’ Union leader were: “I lost my son, too!” Asked what he meant, his reply was: “Why Indika joined the Communists?”

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