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The first thing that strikes one on looking at this black list is the number of Cathedral cities in which there is evidence of excessive corruption. In Canterbury, Gloucester, Chester, and Oxford, corrupt practices are reported by the judges to have prevailed extensively, and Commissions will, in the regular course of administrative business, be issued to inquire into the extent and character of this corruption. But these four venerable places are not the only cathedral cities on which suspicion has fallen. Hereford, Salisbury, Worcester, and Lichfield have also come under the ban. The petition at Hereford was withdrawn, and its withdrawal had a tranquillising effect upon the nerves of many who had suffered from excitement during the negotiations connected therewith. The petition at Salisbury was dismissed ; and that at Worcester has been postponed, while at Lichfield the member who was returned has been unseated, but his opponent has not ventured to claim the seat. But though the transactions in two of those cloistered retreats have escaped disclosure on the present occasion, the traditions of the first and third at least do not point towards absolute electoral purity, and the trial at Salisbury, if it showed nothing else, made it apparent that it is possible to sail very near the wind and yet, through the astuteness of counsel and the obtuseness of witnesses, both moral and intellectual, to escape the penalty of the proceeding.
Another point of interest suggested by a consideration of this list is the fact that it is the old and not the new constituencies that are most corrupt. Of the new towns—that is, of the towns which have been enfranchised since the Reform Act of 1832, Macclesfield is the only one in which corrupt practices are reputed to prevail extensively. The Wigtown Burghs, though they have escaped the notoriety of Macclesfield and the four cathedral towns, and will not therefore be visited by a Commission, seem from the evidence to have passed a good preliminary examination in the lessons of corruption, and to be in a fair way to become apt scholars in the art of milking the suitors for their electoral favours, and this is all the more remarkable as there was a wholesome tradition that the constituencies of Scotland are above suspicion in these delicate transactions. We can only trust that the Wigtown Burghs form an excrescence, and if so it might be well worth consideration whether this excrescence might not be lopped off from the electoral system in Scotland when the matter of a redistribution of seats comes up for settlement.
There is yet one other matter which strikes the observer on looking critically at this black list, and that is, that all the constituencies in which corruption has been shown to prevail contain, comparatively speaking, a small number of electors. They range from Dungannon, with its teeming multitude of 288 registered electors, to Oxford with its 6,056. It would appear therefore from this consideration that the limits of what is bribable are reached when a constituency numbers as many as 7,000 electors, or, to put it generally, the corrupt element which undoubtedly exists in all borough constituencies is swamped
when you get into five figures, and this is a consideration which deserves the attention of those whose duty it will be to frame a new Reform Bill.
It has been currently said and very generally believed that the Liberal party was endowed with fabulous sums of money to fight the election of last spring. Lists of Liberal Montechristos and affluent Whig Peers, with their respective donations, were printed in some of the butterfly periodicals which appear once a week in London, and these imaginary sums have become stereotyped in people's minds, and are now regarded as trustworthy. The Saturday Review'even went the length of founding an argument on these fictitious figures, and made a statement to the effect that the amount of money actually forthcoming on the winning side at the last election was far larger than that forthcoming on the losing. There is not one particle of evidence to bear out this statement, because the audacious conjectures of the society journals could hardly be regarded as evidence even by the staid contributors to the Saturday Review.' On the contrary, the only evidence that is available on this matter goes to prove the very reverse of this statement. That evidence consists of the published returns of expenses incurred by the respective candidates, and the disclosures of the election petition trials. From the first of these sources it seems patent that much more money was spent throughout the country by the Tory than by the Liberal candidates. If you run your eye down the columns in these returns you see at once that the Tory expenditure rises from 25 to 30 per cent. over that on the other side. And if you examine the figures more carefully, it will appear that where the expenditure of the Liberals exceeded that of the Tories in one case, the expenditure of the latter exceeded that of the former in two cases. If there are fifty cases on the whole catalogue in which the Liberals exceeded, there are a hundred cases in which the Tories exceeded. And looking at it from the second available source of evidence, the inference is even stronger. The funds out of which election expenses are paid, as has been already stated, come from two sources, the central or party fund and the local or candidate's fund, and while we have no suggestion even in the evidence elicited in the petitions of any contribution from a Liberal central fund, if there be such a thing, we have, on the other hand, that incriminating letter from the Chichele Professor of History at Oxford to the Public Orator, urging the necessity of some one subscribing 5001. towards Mr. Hall's expenses, in addition to the not inconsiderable sum of 3,0001. which the Carlton Club' had already granted for the purpose of preventing the unopposed return of the Home Secretary when he went for re-election on taking office. It is to be hoped that the Commission which will have to inquire into the irregularities of this constituency will investigate with rigour and impartiality the electioneering eccentricities of these two academic dignitaries.
But while there is no evidence of subsidies passing between
Liberal centres and Liberal candidates, there is evidence of activity, and it may have been misjudged activity, on the part of the managers of the victorious party in the circular from the Liberal Office, regarding the conveyance of onlookers in boroughs, to which Mr. Justice Lush directed attention in his judgment in the Harwich petition. This is a very different affair from the contribution of 3,000l. from the Carlton Club' to the expenses of a five days' election in a small constituency like Oxford ; yet we do not mean to defend it, and ii may be open to challenge, although hardly deserving all the cruel things that have been said of it by learned judges on the bench and partisan lawyers in the House of Commons. The circular which we give below appears, from the date attached to it, to have been issued shortly before the dissolution of Parliament. If our recollection serves us right, it was at this time—that is, in the expiring days of the late Parliament—that the Government of the day were hurrying with indecent haste a bill through Parliament to enable candidates to use carriages and cabs in boroughs for the purpose of conveying voters to the poll. This hasty legislation was in progress during the time that candidates were engaged in their constituencies making preparations for the decisive struggle. The law was being changed from day to day, and no one out of London could tell the effect of the changes. It was known that it was lawful to employ conveyances in counties and in certain scheduled boroughs, and to pay the travelling expenses of non-resident voters. But it was not known what would be the effect of this new law, which was passing through its stages in Parliament.
Was the effect of it to legalise the same payments in all boroughs, or what alterations was it intended to make ? What were the penalties for the infringement of this new law, and what steps were to be taken if either side infringed the law? These questions were being mooted in every borough constituency in England, and it does not seem unnatural to the ordinary mind that an office, calling itself the Central Office, should be interrogated on the subject. It appears to have been so interrogated, and to have formulated its answer in the circular below. There seems nothing irregular either in the interrogatories or in the answer to them. The answer might have been more carefully worded, but it does seem to imply an undue amount of acumen, almost amounting to what might
1 Some misapprehension prevails as to the effect of the new Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Act as regards the conveyance of Borough Voters. What the Act does, is to repeal the 36th Clause of 30 & 31 Vict., cap. 102, so far as it prohibits payment of any money on account of the conveyance of any voter rithin the borough, leaving the clause in full effect as prohibiting the payment of money on account of the conveyance of any borough voter who may chance to be residing beyond the limits of the borough. Be it observed that payment in the latter case is an illegal payment, subjecting the party making it to a fine of 403. under section 7 of the 17 & 18 Vict., cap. 102, but, if not accompanied by any promise or condition, will not affect the validity of the vote or the return of the candidate for whom such vote is given. By Order. Liberal Central Office, 41 and 42 Parliament Street,
London, March, 20, 1880.
be characterised as morbid, to scent out either a misdemeanour or anything approaching to a misdemeanour in this, to our minds, innocuous document. Professor Burrow's letter is a much more serious matter. From that letter it comes out as clear as daylight that the · Carlton Club, whatever that may be, has at its disposal very considerable sums of money, and, if so large a sum as 3,000l. could be given to a constituency of 6,000 electors, it is obvious that money was distributed with a lavish hand.
No one who has attended to this question can doubt the fact that there was a good deal of bribery on both sides during the electoral excitement of the spring. Seats were won by Liberals as well as by Tories, and by Tories as well as by Liberals, through corrupt practices. Twelve constituencies returning Liberals have lost the members elected by them in spring as against seven which returned Tories. And, taking into consideration the large majority of the constituencies which returned Liberals, the excess of unseated ones is not disproportionate. But there is another point to be considered in this calculation. If we look back upon the unpleasant sequele of former general elections, it appears that it has been more habitual, in recent times at least, for the Tory party than for their adversaries to invoke the aid of the law to settle their election differences. After the general election of this year, after that of 1874, and after that of 1868, more petitions have been filed by the Tory party than by the Liberals. Not tha there were not cases in abundance against the successful candidates of the former party which might have been brought before the courts. But petitioning appears to have been discouraged on the Liberal side unless, as in the cases of Oxford and Boston at the present time, it was thought that an effort should be made to cleanse the constituency from widespread corruption. And in the interests of the party in any given locality this policy is not without merit. Putting it on the lowest ground, it does not pay to petition. It is an almost universal rule that after a petition the seat is regained by the party whose candidate was unseated. The voting on the second election follows the money expended on the first. To that extent at least there is some gratitude in politics. This being so, it is no gain to the party to unseat an opponent, and unless it is necessary to purge the constituency, even at the risk of a commission, or unless there are special grounds in any particular case, it is more worldly wise to take your defeat and save your money for another contest. But, however this may be, it must be admitted that neither side can throw stones at the other. The houses in which both parties live are made of glass, and it is impossible to say that one set of houses is more brittle than the other. The real matter to be considered is how this state of things can best be remedied. Next session it is to be hoped that the question will be taken up in earnest, and that the present House of Commons may have the credit of dealing with a great and increasing scandal in a thorough and serious spirit.
There will be no lack of advisers as to so serious an evil when the time comes, because electioneering, like education, is one of those subjects on which everyone regards himself as an authority, and there will be great diversity of advice. Some of the judges have already given their suggestions, but these amount merely to this, that only a limited number of agents are to be employed by any one candidate, and these agents are to be named to the returning officer. The learned judge who volunteers this advice has recently had some experience in this matter, and his opinion is consequently entitled to attention. But to the non-judicial mind it would appear that a definite limitation of the number of responsible agents increases the opportunities for irresponsible agency. If this suggestion were carried out, it is to be feared that the bribing of the future would not be done by the acnowledged agents, just as it is not done at present by the candidate. But it would be done by friends of the acknowledged agents, and the only effect of the limitation would be that agency could not be proved, and the candidate who through his unacknowledged agents had debauched his constituency would retain his seat. Something more effective will have to be devised if bribery is to become a thing of the past. But it becomes more difficult every day to say what is and what is not bribery. If the law is to be interpreted in the light of the judgment in the Boston case of 1874, it is bribery to give coals to the poor in the middle of a bitter winter. But if we are to follow the judgment in the recent Plymouth case, it is not bribery when a man sits himself down before a constituency, flaunting his wealth in the eyes of the electors, distributing lavish 'gifts' of food and clothing to the tune of several thousand pounds a year, and doing everything in his power to prevent a less wealthy candidate than himself from having a chance with the poorer and more needy portion of the constituency. He may do all this, and yet be declared to have done nothing to invalidate his election, but only to have acted the part of a charitable and benevolent friend of the poor. In the light of judgments given in other cases a candidate may employ any number of local lawyers, and buy their influence by preposterous fees, but he may not have a number of watchers at ten shillings a day, nor engage public houses at five guineas apiece. Nay, it is possible, as we know, in certain small and scattered constituencies to buy up beforehand all the usual agents of the sitting member, and to have everything secretly prepared by their help, even to the extent of forming local associations, in favour of a new candidate whose only recommendations are money and impudence. But what difference is there between bribing an active solicitor who has a number of voters under his thumb with a fee of some hundred guineas and bribing a publican with a five-pound note or a watcher with half a sovereign ? It is notorious that in nine constituencies out of ten—and this applies to counties as well as boroughs—the candidate must employ one of the local solicitors and his partner or partners, and two or three subordinates, at enormous fees, or allow him and his influence to be