From virtue to venality

Corruption in the city

Peter Jones
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From Virtue to Venality examines the problem of corruption in British urban society and politics between 1930 and 1995. It is not a conventional study of the politics of local government since it seeks to place corruption in urban societies in a wider cultural context. It reclaims the study of corruption from political scientists and sociologists for historians but provides theoretical explanations of the causes of corruption testing them against real cases. The legacy of the municipal gospel, public service ideals and ethical principles are analysed to show how public virtues were eroded over time. It argues that the key counterweight against corruption is a strong civil society but that British civil society became detached from the city and urban society allowing corrupt politicians and business men licence to further their own ambitions by corrupt means. Britain’s imperial past deflected political leaders from the evidence before them contributing to their failure to develop reforms. The accounts of corruption in Glasgow – a British Chicago – as well as the major corruption scandals of John Poulson and T. Dan Smith show how Labour controlled towns and cities were especially vulnerable to corrupt dealings. The case of Dame Shirley Porter in the City of Westminster in the late 1980s reveals that Conservative controlled councils were also vulnerable since in London the stakes of the political struggle were especially intense.

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