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The case of Belfast and Glasgow, c. 1920–70
Peter Jones

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.

in The many lives of corruption
Malcolm Crook

Comparative analysis of the history of electoral corruption is practically non-existent. This chapter seeks to establish some of the coordinates around which such accounts might be written and does so by examining the trajectory of electoral reform in Britain, France and the United States, from roughly the late eighteenth century until the eve of the First World War. Above all, it aims to place Britain in the wider context of two countries which also witnessed expanding male suffrage and increasingly competitive elections. Such developments encouraged unprecedented efforts to influence the outcome of elections, thereby prompting reflection on the nature of canvassing and voting, which in turn led to attempts at regulation. New norms of behaviour, however, were by no means automatically endorsed, and it would be wrong to suggest a linear process of electoral purification. In each country reformist aspirations had to contend with deep-seated customary norms, while the meaning of ‘corrupt practices’ was widely contested. Nonetheless, it will be argued that by the early twentieth-century anticorruption legislation had eradicated the most egregious manifestations of electoral malpractice. Old norms of communal interaction and influence gradually gave way to a conception of voting based on the security of individual expression. Crucially, this comparative approach allows for a reappraisal of Britain’s peculiar route to mass democracy: although something of a laggard in other respects, here Britain led the way, and was the first to introduce a fully secure secret ballot and a non-partisan culture of electoral administration.

in The many lives of corruption
Alex Middleton

Existing work has shown that colonial sinecures and agencies were vital stays in the edifice of Old Corruption during the early nineteenth century; but historians have yet to explore in any detail contemporary arguments about the nature and consequences of corrupt rule in Britain’s overseas possessions. This chapter addresses this neglect by focusing on the criticism aimed at the Colonial Office during the period 1820 to 1850, when it administered Britain’s empire outside of India. This critique was not just a Radical project: Conservative and Liberal commentators were equally convinced of the dangers of allowing imperial corruption to continue unchecked. The chapter opens by exploring the various forms of corruption which contemporaries detected in operation under the Colonial Office. It then moves to discuss how these accusations of corrupt practice were linked to wider political arguments about the centralising ‘tyranny’ of the Colonial Office, and the social effects of irresponsible government over distance. The final part of the chapter asks how ‘the Office’ had come by the early 1850s to be seen as a model of administrative probity, worthy of emulation by other departments of government. In this way, the chapter restores the empire as a crucial site of the politics of Old Corruption. It speaks in equal measure to the increasingly rich historiography on the idea of ‘corruption’ and to the wider literature on politics and ideas in early Victorian Britain.

in The many lives of corruption
Abstract only
The British way in corruption
Ian Cawood and Tom Crook

This final chapter summarises the key contributions that emerge from the volume as a whole and develops their significance in terms of how they might be used to rethink the bigger picture of how corruption has informed – and undermined – the making of a democratic state in modern Britain. In particular, it cautions against dominant social-scientific approaches and argues for the essentially political nature of corruption, both as an analytical category and as a problem of governance. It then turns to how the volume opens up new ways of engaging the historic peculiarities of the British case, arguing that existing social-scientific accounts fail to accord enough importance to the British Empire. Once we put the British Empire back into the picture, it suggests, we end up with a decidedly more complex, and above all critical, sense of Britain’s status as a historic pioneer of clean government. It ends by once more affirming the essentially political nature of corruption.

in The many lives of corruption
Corruption and the police, c. 1750–1910
Francis Dodsworth

The chapter examines how the problem of corruption evolved within the context of police reform, from the mid-eighteenth century, amid the first systematic attempts to redefine the nature and organisation of policing in London, through to the birth and institutionalisation of the ‘new police’ during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It seeks to historicise what became – and remains – an established mode of posing the problem of police corruption – that is, corruption as the result of the actions of a handful of malign, negligent officers on the one hand, and corruption as the result of more systemic defects of professional culture and institutional organisation on the other. This emerged during second half the eighteenth century, when it was argued that new forms of organisational ‘system’ would overcome the corruption and inefficiency of what became known as the ‘old police’. At this point, however, the problem was still entangled with more degenerative conceptions of corruption inherited from earlier centuries. Only with the advent of the ‘new police’ from the 1850s did the form of debate change decisively, coming to focus more clearly on problems of individual agency versus the corrupting aspects of institutionalisation itself and the effectiveness of organisational controls for preventing it. Ultimately, as a number of scandals from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods suggest, though the problem of corruption was now posed in recognisably modern, office-based terms, it could appear just as entrenched and opaque as it had been under the ‘old police’.

in The many lives of corruption
Reforming endowments
H. S. Jones

Corruption is fundamentally about the blurring of the distinction between public life and private interests. In Victorian Britain the reform of endowed institutions was a key arena for the renegotiation of these boundaries, and it was one that sharply divided Liberals from Conservatives. A series of controversies pitted the Liberals’ reforming programme against the Conservative defence of endowments. These included the opening up of Oxford and Cambridge to non-Anglicans, the disendowment of the Irish church, the secularisation of the governing bodies of endowed schools under the terms of the Endowed Schools Act of 1869 and the abortive attempt in the 1880s to assert public control over the endowments of the City livery companies. This chapter elucidates the distinctive position developed by Gladstonian Liberals on the question of endowments. It focuses in particular on the stance taken by a number of Gladstonians and their role in endowment controversies, notably through their work on a sequence of royal commissions – among them key figures such as Lord Lyttelton, James Bryce, Henry Roby and Joshua Fitch. In doing so, the chapter deepens our understanding of some of the forgotten dimensions of institutional reform in Victorian Britain, and the distinctive contribution of Gladstonian Liberalism to shaping modern notions of public service and corruption.

in The many lives of corruption
Puritans, conformity and the challenge of Laudianism
Anthony Milton

This chapter takes issue with the idea that Laudianism posed an existential threat to puritanism, and it argues that, despite plentiful evidence about the prosecution of puritan ministers and lay people, of emigration and of exile, there remains scope to rethink the religious issues and divisions of the period. This is achieved by reflecting on debates amongst puritans during the 1640s, as Presbyterians and Independents traded blows over how their rivals had gone too far in accommodating and conforming themselves to, Laudian reforms, and over who had the best credentials as anti-Laudians. These debates, which constitute contests for legitimacy, and which are evident in contemporary printed exchanges, are valuable for shining light upon evidence regarding those puritans who proved willing to contemplate partial conformity with undesirable reforms and policies in the decades before the civil wars. Such conformity involved an awkward and neglected process, and its recovery is important for addressing some of the more problematic aspects of the Laudian experience for England’s godly, as well as for recovering overlooked possibilities that once existed for rapprochement between puritans and the Caroline regime, and for an alternative policy trajectory during the personal rule.

in Insolent proceedings
The transmission of civil war materials, 1642–9
Karen Britland

In late November 1645, a lame soldier was stopped and searched on his way out of Cardiff by the city's Parliamentarian governor. His wooden leg was unscrewed and was found to contain 18 ‘letters of consequence’, including one from Prince Maurice to Prince Charles and another from Secretary Nicholas to General Goring. The letters were sent up to the Commons: the lame soldier’s fate is not recorded. This chapter explores the clandestine transportation of letters by royalists during the English Revolution (in hatbands, gloves, hose, hollow canes, shoes and even in the belly). It investigates how poor men and women’s identities were often of less interest to newsbook writers than the messages they carried, and looks at the ways in which messengers hazarded their lives and bodies for the transmission of texts. Asking at what point information becomes of greater value than an individual human life, this chapter weighs up the ways in which bodies and texts became intertwined during the English Revolution.

in Insolent proceedings
Sean Kelsey

This essay revisits the issue of ‘indemnity’ for behaviour undertaken on behalf of the parliamentarian cause during the civil wars, not least by members of the army. This is an issue that has generated historiographical debate, in terms of whether or not contemporary debates over the issue serve to reveal parliamentarian ‘tyranny’, and in terms of how to understand the ‘rise of the New Model Army’ as a political force in the late 1640s. This essay seeks to draw connections between two different ways of analysing ‘indemnity’, as a practical political issue and as something that raised theoretical and constitutional questions, and builds upon scholarship regarding the need to set soldiers’ concerns within the context of questions about legality, justice, necessity and tyranny. The aim is to stress the importance of placing ‘indemnity’ at the heart of the process by which contemporaries thought about the business of political settlement with the king, of the possibility of bringing him to justice, and of the struggle for the post-war constitution, and to demonstrate that soldiers’ demands regarding indemnity are key to understanding the ideological radicalisation of the army.

in Insolent proceedings
Rethinking public politics in the English Revolution
Editors: Peter Lake and Jason Peacey

These interdisciplinary essays explore new directions in the history of the English Revolution. They are designed to honour Ann Hughes, whose work has transformed scholarship on the mid-seventeenth century, and they are driven by the idea that historians have focused more upon the causes of the revolution than upon its course and consequences. In developing various strands of Hughes’ work, contributors address the transformative effects of political and religious upheaval during the 1640s and 1650s, and revise our understanding of ‘public politics’, in terms of the practices, debates, and communicative strategies associated with the ‘print revolution’, with polemic, and with the mobilisation of opinion. Crucially, these practices and debates are shown to have taken place in the public domain, in front of, but also with the involvement of, various overlapping and intersecting publics, right across the country. Examining these phenomena provides fresh perspectives on political and religious radicalism, from canonical authors to sectarian activists, as well as on relations between ‘centre’ and ‘locality’, and on connections between ideological endeavour and everyday politics. In bridging the divide between ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ politics, moreover, the essays also develop new approaches to participation, by soldiers and members of the parliamentarian army, by ordinary Londoners, and by provincial parishioners. Critically, they also analyse the involvement, agency, and treatment of women, from all walks of life, and in both activism and debate. Collectively, the essays rethink both the dynamic and the consequences of the revolutionary decades.