FOR the first time since Botha died, Smuts was firmly in the saddle. He had a good working majority. He could count, as one Johannesburg newspaper said, on being "virtual dictator for the next five years." He was determined to be dictator and to rule as he saw fit. But in his strength lay his weakness, for it was by the votes of the English Party that he was in power.
Hertzog saw the chance. This English Party, he explained at his meetings, consisted of the friends of Rhodes and Milner. It had been organised by Jameson the Raider. It was full of Jingoes and Imperialists. With these men, who had tried to destroy the Dutch, with these enemies of South Africa, Smuts, a Dutchman, had allied himself. Many who had stayed with Smuts as the successor to Botha began to leave him. Botha, they said, would never have agreed to this.
And Hertzog's second criticism, that Smuts "wanted to have a foot in two continents," that he held a dual position and had a dual allegiance, had enough truth in it to hurt, for half his heart and more than half his thoughts Smuts kept in Europe.
Smuts had two completely different, even antagonistic personalities: the Smuts in South Africa, disliked and distrusted, impatient and easily irritated by administrative details, reserved and haughty to arrogance, often descending to political tricks and often petty; and the Smuts in England, the illustrious statesman, calm and deliberate, giving wise and wide-visioned advice, trusted and listened to by a whole nation with attention that amounted almost to veneration.
In the spring of 1921 he left Cape Town to attend another Imperial Conference in London. Up to the time he sailed, he was trying to answer, and with considerable irritation, various criticism of his actions, and he left with the Opposition snarling close behind him, and himself snapping back at them.
In London he was met with friendly applause. He spoke at big meetings on European affairs and was listened to with deep attention. His advice was sought by important people. The King invited him to stay at Windsor Castle and asked his advice on various points in a speech he was to make when he opened the new Ulster Parliament House. The Cabinet discussed the same speech with him.
All through the south of Ireland the rebels were fighting with the English soldiers and the police, but the rebels were nearing their end. They could with difficulty and for an emergency turn out three hundred gunmen, and even of these three hundred they could not be sure. They were almost beaten. Their leaders sent to Smuts through Tom Casement, an Irishman who had served under him in German East. Smuts spoke to Lloyd George and offered to go over and see the leaders. Lloyd George was glad to let him go, so tong as it was unofficial, but doubted if he could do any good.
Smuts saw the leaders, Arthur Griffiths, de Valera, Erskine Childers, desperate and suspicious men, but they listened to him. He gave them fatherly advice. "The English are a queer people," he said. "If you are outside their family group, they suspect you of the worst. Inside the family you can do anything you like, and you can get anything out of them. I know, for I've been in both positions. So come into our family, our Commonwealth of Nations. You'll find it your best policy."
He returned to England. "I feel as if I am back from the fourteenth century," he said, but he told the Cabinet that a solution was possible. It had become more "a human than a constitutional problem." He persuaded some of the die-hard ministers, such as Winston Churchill and Birkenhead, that a truce and a conference were best; and he left for South Africa feeling that he had done a fine piece of work; and he left acclaimed as a great statesman.
He landed in Cape Town feeling unwell; he had been seasick for nearly all the voyage. On the quay and in the streets were crowds of unemployed, who hooted and booed him: he was aggrieved. In the House he was asked sneering questions: what he had done in England, looking after other people's affairs, "clearing up other people's messes"; and he snapped back with little wisdom. He was visited by deputations with complaints, deputations of taxpayers, of civil servants asking for their war bonuses back, of railwaymen protesting at cuts of pay, of natives, of miners, and of the trade unions. He often answered them curtly and abruptly, without any of the calm judgment he had shown in Ireland, and sent them away more dissatisfied than before. And behind all these deputations were the beginnings of a big industrial upheaval, which, handled wisely at once, might have been avoided.
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