Posts Tagged ‘J.F.S. Ross’

Corruption and the Sale of Tory Seats in the Early 20th Century

February 27, 2016

From contemporary political corruption in America, to political corruption here in Britain. In the early 20th century parts of the Conservative party were scandalised by the cynical way safe seats were sold to the highest bidder by the local Conservative associations. These charged for the time exorbitant fees to prospective candidates. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymus author of the anti-Tory book, Your MP, devotes a whole chapter to the corrupt sale of seats, and the massive preponderance of the rich in the Tory and National Liberal parties. However, this passage in particular on pages 27 to 28 makes the point.

Now we go deeper still: we find one of our witnesses, one of Major Patriot’s Tory colleagues, saying that “it is lamentable that Tory seats should be sold to the richest candidate.”

And, turning back, we find a reference to a “financial burden not within the capacity of all” potential candidates (East Toxteth), and another M.P. complaining that “a married man with an income of £2,000 a year” cannot afford to be an M.P. (Spelthorne).

There is plenty of evidence on this. P.W. Donner (Basingstoke) was reported by the Morning Post, 28.6.35, to have said that he “had been forced to leave Islington, his present constituency, on the grounds of health and economy. The Hampshire Executive (of the Tory Party) had asked him for a subscription less than half what he was now paying in Islington.”

The Hon. Quintin Hogg (Oxford) wrote in the Nineteenth Century, January, 1934, that “the local Tory associations are rotten to the core”. In one agricultural constituency, he wrote, prospective Tory candidates have been informed they need not apply unless they can subscribe to the organisation the fantastic sum of £3,000 per annum.

In a northern industrial city, £600 a year is the least annual subscription that the Association will consider.

According to the a valuable study recently published, Parliamentary Representation, by J.F.S. Ross, the average amounts of election expenses for contested elections in 1935 were in round figures:

Conservative candidates……£780
Liberal candidates. ………£520
Labour candidates…………£360

One Conservative candidate, Mr. Ian Harvey, published in January, 1939, a memorandum headed “A Plutocratic System,” which goes so far as to state that “in nearly every case” (when candidates for Tory seats are chosen) “the question of finance is of primary importance.” He estimated that men “have always an excellent chance of being adopted “if they are willing “to pay all their elections expenses (anything between £400 and £1,200) and to subscribe between £500 and £1,000 (a year) to the local Association.”

The Federation of University Conservative Associations, meeting in London as Mr Ian Harvey’s memo was published, passed unanimously a resolution deploring the influence on the choice of candidates of “considerations of personal fortune”.

In the book by Mr Ross there are further examples, from Frome in Somerset, Hendon, and the University of London Conservative Association. Mr Ross calculates that only one person out of each 1,150 of the adult population has the income necessary to have “an excellent chance” in Mr Harvey’s phrase, of being adopted as a Tory M.P.

When Mr R.A. Brabner, (Hythe) was chosen as candidate, it was stated in the London Press that he “will pay £500 a year to the Conservative Association, and his election expenses. That is a fairly moderate contribution for a safe seat near London” (Evening Standard, 27.6.39).

The same inquisitive newspaper noted, about Lt.-Col. F.G. Doland (Balham and Tooting(, that his is “an expensive seat to fight. The Conservative candidate’s election expenses are between £700 and £700 … I understand that the Conservatives expect their candidates to find this money out of their own pockets, and, in addition, to provide a ‘subsidy’ of about £600 a year” (13.7.36).

Sir Derek Gunston (Thornbury), one of the very few Tory M.P. on the Executive of the League of Nations Union, spoke more recently on the subject of “purchasable seats’:

“Rich, safe seats, with ample resources that could be tapped, are too lazy to make the effort so long as they can find rich men who, while willing to go through the mill of fighting an election, are nevertheless prepared to pay for a safe seat. In practice you find the able but less well-off candidates fighting the hopeless seats. It is the rich, safe seats which demand the highest contributions (Evening Standard, 2.10.41).

Let us try to be clear what all this evidence amounts to. it does not mean that every Tory buys his seat. It means that enough of them do so to matter a great deal – to matter so much that very many other Tories protest, are uneasy, try to get the matter altered. (But do not succeed in doing so).
(My emphasis).

It therefore comes as no surprise that 95% of MPs are millionaires. Nor is it surprising that contemporary grass roots Tories complain about being sidelined in favour of rich donors. This type of corruption also became endemic in New Labour, when various businessmen ostentatiously switched from the Tories to Labour, and then were parachuted into safe Labour seats in preference to the local parties’ preferred candidates. And there has always been an element of corporate corruption in politics, where Corporations have bought influence by contributing to party coffers. It’s rife within the modern parties, and particularly the Conservatives, where the Tory party conference was largely funded through sponsorship and donations by rich corporations seeking a slice of public contracts. For example, Jeremy Hunt last year moderated a discussion about the future of the NHS in a talk sponsored by a private healthcare firm.

While the effective sale of Tory safe seats may not exist, or proceed in quite the same form, this passage shows how cynical the Tories were in choosing the richest as their preferred candidates, and the influence money could get you in the party.

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