Politics, patronage or public service?
Conservatives at the Foreign Office, 1858–9
in The many lives of corruption
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The complexities of the mid-century reform agenda articulated by the 1854 Northcote–Trevelyan Report have been much discussed. These complexities, however, have rarely been explored in the context of particular departments, or in relation to Conservative ministries. This chapter makes up for this neglect and does so by considering the Conservative administration of Lord Derby (February 1858–June 1859) and its uneasy relationship with reform of the Foreign Office and the ‘corruption’ associated with nepotism. In this era, incoming ministries attempted to get supporters into diplomatic jobs and eject opponents, both to shore up domestic support and to ensure that foreign policy was enacted by sympathetic representatives. The professionalisation of the diplomatic corps gradually changed matters, as competitive examinations arrived. Yet, as this chapter will suggest, the process of change was neither as smooth nor as unchallenged as it might appear. Both Derby and his Foreign Secretary, Lord Malmesbury, had a sense of the requirements of public service; but they were also confronted with a diplomatic service dominated by Whigs, apparently set on a new course in the wake of reforms by Palmerston and Clarendon. They sought to rebalance it; and, as will be suggested, their administration represents a microcosm of a mid-century struggle to achieve equilibrium between nepotism on the one hand and disinterested standards on the other, though such standards were by no means as self-evident as they might now appear.

The many lives of corruption

The reform of public life in modern Britain, 1750–1950

Editors: Ian Cawood and Tom Crook

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