After Old Corruption
Westminster scandals and the problem of corruption, c. 1880–1914
in The many lives of corruption
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This chapter argues that the problem of corruption mutated in some key respects during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, it argues for the development of a new and essentially vigilant culture of reform, based on the assumption that all public office-holders, of whatever party-political stripe, were: (a) inevitably sustained by – and at the very least exposed to – networks and relations of financial self-interest; (b) thus always and necessarily at risk of acting corruptly; and (c) as such, constantly exposed to a speculative, cynical watchfulness on the part of the press and their political opponents. In short, though few regarded corruption as inevitable, it was at this juncture that the culture of liberal-patrician reformism that had done away with Old Corruption was surpassed by one that took it for granted that corruption formed an ever present object of party-based agitation and public cynicism. One example of this, the chapter suggests, is the new premium placed on ‘conflicts of interest’ and ensuring that there were no grounds whatsoever even for public suspicion (the ‘rule of Caesar’s wife’). But the argument is also developed through an examination of three key scandals centred on the Westminster elites: the Hooley affair (1898), the Kynoch affair (1900–01) and the Marconi scandal (1912–13). Overall, it suggests that the turn of the twentieth century should be seen as a key moment of transition in the politics and politicisation of corruption in public life.

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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