Civic corruption in the twentieth century
The case of Belfast and Glasgow, c. 1920–70
in The many lives of corruption
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Historians of municipal corruption have generally focused on particular ‘scandals’ and ‘affairs’. The corruption scandals that afflicted the Metropolitan Board of Works in the 1880s and the Poulson affair of the 1970s have been especially well served. Such scandals have been seen as a product of multiple factors, among them personal greed and lax morals, confused understandings of ‘corruption’ on the part of key players and insufficiently robust cultures of administrative accountability. Yet the attention lavished on high-profile scandals and the actions of individuals, or groups of individuals, has not been without some costs. In particular, it has obscured the existence of more endemic, durable and, in some respects, more mundane and communal forms of civic corruption, born of peculiarly fractious and divided urban societies. This chapter examines two cities where corruption assumed this more diffuse, socially embedded form: Belfast and Glasgow, from roughly the 1920s to the 1960s. Arguably, they were the most corrupt cities in the UK during the mid-twentieth century; but they certainly shed light on how social and political antagonisms – in both cases profoundly etched with sectarianism – as well as poverty and economic dislocation can undermine civic trust and probity and foster forms of corruption rooted in group loyalty and party faction. The chapter examines each city in turn, before discussing their commonalties and differences in the conclusion.

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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