Corruption and the reform of public life in modern Britain
Ian Cawood and Tom Crook
This introductory chapter sets out the aims of the volume and how it develops and challenges an existing body of work on the history of corruption and public life in modern Britain. Broadly speaking, it proceeds in two parts and is designed to help readers new to the subject negotiate what has become a complex field of study and historiography. The first part introduces readers to the concept of corruption and provides a brief survey of how the term has been used in British public life from the early modern period through to the modern period covered by the book. Critiquing recent literature on this subject, it argues that although ‘corruption’ underwent a process of conceptual and regulatory refinement after roughly 1800, it remained highly politicised, reflecting the persistence of different ways of understanding the public good. The second part introduces readers to the key elements of British public life traversed in the chapters that follow and is more straightforwardly historical. These elements are the central administrative state; the civic realm of elections and municipal government; and, finally, the party-political domain of ministers, MPs and parliament.
Rethinking public politics in the English Revolution
Peter Lake and Jason Peacey
This chapter offers a substantial historiographical introduction, reflecting upon the debates of the last fifty years, upon the ‘fate’ of the English Revolution, and upon the possibilities for reasserting the significance of the events of the 1640s and early 1650s, not least in response to ‘revisionist’ scholarship. Arguing that responses to the revisionist challenge have in many ways been less robust regarding the ‘course’ – as opposed to the ‘causes’ – of the civil wars, it builds upon the most important recent work in the field – much of it by contributors to this volume – by highlighting the need to analyse the conduct and content of ‘public politics’, as revealed in and transformed by developments in print culture. This makes it possible to reflect not just upon issues like ‘mobilisation’ and the ‘creativity’ of contemporary politics, but also to revisit issues like localism and radicalism, and to reconfigure our appreciation of the dynamic processes of contemporary debates. In other words, while the chapters are informed by analysis of print culture, they seek to integrate print culture into different aspects of public life, in order to rethink the fissures and fault lines within contemporary society, and to reframe how these affected political and religious change. Finally, the introduction sets such work in the context of, and in dialogue with, the work of Ann Hughes, in whose honour the volume has been produced.
This chapter re-visits the handful of puzzling episodes in which officers were murdered by troops enrolled to fight the Scots in 1640–1. Bringing new evidence to their study and exploring the micro-politics of each episode, the chapter sets these incidents within the context of what it argues was a more general level of violence triggered by the mustering of often recalcitrant troops. In offering a thick description of the performative violence with which the officers were killed, the paper challenges existing explanations for the killings. Exceptional as these episodes were, an attention to what was said and done suggests that they can provide valuable evidence of more widely held beliefs (about religion, politics, honour and masculinity) which challenges not only existing explanations but also a continuing tendency to reproduce contemporary (and elitist) judgements about an apolitical people.
The many lives of corruption begins the task of piecing together the bigger picture of how corruption has undermined public life in modern Britain. It offers a uniquely expansive perspective, which stretches from the Old Corruption and ‘unreformed’ politics of the eighteenth century through to the mass democracy and welfare state of the twentieth. Conceptually, as an object of thought, as much as practicably, and as an object of reform, corruption has proved tenaciously problematic and protean. This volume engages with both of these crucial aspects, arguing that it is only by grasping them together that we can fully understand how corruption has shaped the making of a democratic-capitalist state in Britain and given rise to new ideals of public service. It examines the factors that have facilitated and frustrated anticorruption reforms, as well as the various ways ‘corruption’ has been conceived by historical agents. It does so across a range of different sites – electoral, political and administrative, domestic and colonial – presenting new research on neglected areas of reform, while revisiting well-known scandals and corrupt practices. The many lives of corruption is essential reading for all scholars interested in understanding how the pursuit of purity in British public life has evolved over the past two and a half centuries – and why corruption remains such a pressing issue today.
Although socially and culturally Milton and Winstanley perhaps appear improbable bedfellows, this essay begins by reviewing possible interconnections through the intermediary context of the London radical scene in the mid-1640s. It goes on to consider their contrasting achievements as arguably the most creative and innovative interpreters of the Edenic myth in the early-modern literary tradition. Winstanley’s ‘man called Adam, that disobeyed about 6000 years ago’ and Milton’s ‘Offspring of heaven and earth, and all earth’s lord’ go head-to-head in a comparative analysis designed to refine our understanding of the heterodoxy of both authors.
Parliament and electoral corruption in the nineteenth century
Despite hopes that the 1832 Reform Act had ushered in a new era of electoral purity in Britain, bribery and other forms of corruption remained persistent problems at elections in subsequent decades. Historians have tended to focus their attention on the major reforms intended to curtail electoral malpractice in the nineteenth century, notably the 1854 and 1883 Corrupt Practices Acts and the 1872 Ballot Act, neglecting the wider trajectory of legislative proposals to improve electoral morality. This chapter aims to redress this gap, demonstrating the ongoing extent of contemporary concerns about this issue by considering the amount of parliamentary time it occupied, both in the Commons chamber and in the committee rooms. It explores the wide range of potential remedies which legislators discussed, including the disenfranchisement of constituencies, curbing election spending by candidates and reforming the system of election petitions, and it reassesses the rationales shaping MPs’ priorities and concerns in their often abortive attempts at reform. It argues that for MPs grappling with this problem, the growing demands on their own pockets due to their constituents’ expectations regarding election spending – corrupt or otherwise – served as a crucial incentive to take decisive action on this question, with the landmark 1883 Corrupt Practices Act eventually tackling the twin evils of electoral corruption and excessive election spending.
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.
Since the work of J. G. A. Pocock, the tension between commerce and virtue has been a prominent analytic framework for understanding the Scottish Enlightenment. A large literature has developed that stresses the tensions in the social and political thought of the period, and places thinkers such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Adam Ferguson on a spectrum ranging between civic republicanism and commercial liberalism. This chapter reassesses the usefulness of this approach as a lens for interpreting the thought of the period. It does so by focusing on the analysis of corruption and the defence of public service provided by Adam Ferguson. Ferguson is often seen as the foremost Scottish sceptic of commerce, whose analysis of corruption serves as a foil for Hume and Smith’s more optimistic view. However, such readings often fail to consider the fact that Ferguson was broadly favourable towards commerce and had a developed theory of public service and education that he regarded as a suitable palliative for the corruption of eighteenth-century Britain. By grasping this we get a very different view of the Scottish Enlightenment’s attitude to virtue and corruption in a commercial society.
This chapter focuses upon the polemical career of Thomas Bakewell, a baker and Presbyterian ruling elder of middling wealth who traded from a shop in Hanging Sword Court, just off London’s Fleet Street. Like the more famous Thomas Edwards studied in Ann Hughes’ works, Bakewell was a devout religious Presbyterian whose commitment to Reformed ‘orthodoxy’ led him into a series of disputes with Antinomians, Separatists, Baptists, Congregationalists to Fifth Monarchists that formed part of the struggle to demarcate the boundaries of religious ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heterodoxy’ during the period. Bakewell’s mid-seventeenth-century printed polemics, however, were grounded in the face-to-face experience of oral and private lay religious disputation dating back to the early 1630s and his narratives illustrate another dimension of the struggles of the Puritan underground to maintain orthodoxy identified in the recent work of Peter Lake, David Como and Ann Hughes. The chapter will analyse the engagements between Bakewell and his opponents to gain an understanding of the ‘rules’ of lay religious debate and polemic. In addition it focuses upon how originally oral debates between disputants who were known to each other on a face-to-face basis within the relatively small geographical area of mid-seventeenth-century London were expressed in print and how this ‘lived experience’ structured the literary forms, and genre experimentation, used to communicate religious disputation to a wider audience. As such, the chapter builds on Ann Hughes’ contribution to this area of historiography and thus, I hope, presents a fitting tribute to her work as a historian.
Conservative responses to nationalisation and Poplarism, 1900–40
The chapter is concerned with the politicisation of ‘corruption’ during the early twentieth century. It contends that corruption remained a contested concept long into the twentieth century, when – much as before – it was deployed to support a variety of political arguments and objectives. It does so through a focus on Conservative objections to nationalisation and so-called ‘Poplarism’, a term used to stigmatise the efforts of high-spending left-wing local councils in the 1920s to provide generous levels of outdoor relief and unemployment compensation. The Conservative critique of nationalisation rested on the argument that public ownership was anathema to good government. Shorn of commercial imperatives, socialist politicians sitting on the boards of nationalised industries would grant privileges to trade union officials and bribe working-class electors with promises of material benefits. Infused by similar anti-democratic assumptions, Conservatives opposed Poplarism on the grounds that it was corrupt and even, some suggested, analogous ‘to the open and extensive bribery which prevailed in elections in the good old days’. The Poplarist credo of generous outdoor relief was felt to be demoralising and inimical to the spirit of self-help, constituting a flagrant violation of orthodox Poor Law principles. Whereas in previous centuries condemnations of corrupt practices were often bound up with radical demands for a more representative polity, they now, at the start of the twentieth century, registered a profound unease with the realities and ramifications of universal suffrage.