HINTS TO THE NEW MUNICIPAL CONSTITUENCIES. LIVERPOOL—NORWICH—BRISTOL—HULL.
IN our brief opening of this great subject, in last Spectator, we gave as a reason for excluding Tories from the new Town-Councils, that the opinions of the commons ought to be represented in those assemblies: it would have more fully expressed our meaning to have said, that the interests of the whole community, comprised within the municipal limits, ought to be the constant care of its representatives. Now we hold the moving principle of Toryism to be the preference of partial and selfish interests to the general welfare ; and therefore think that it would be hazardous to the well-working of the new system of local government to intrust reputed Tories with a large share in its management. In justifi- cation of this opinion, it will not be necessary to refer to the con- duct of the Tory party in the National Government : it will be equally conclusive, and more germane to the subject at present under consideration, to remind our readers of the almost uniform course of the Tory Corporations,—and, with rare exceptions, all the Corporations in the kingdom are Tory.
For instance, what have been the policy and the general con- duct of the LIVERPOOL Corporation—by no means a bad sample of the class ? On referring to the Reports of the Commissioners, we find that for many years the whole financial and municipal affairs of the borough have been subject to the entire control of a Mayor, two Bailiffs, and thirtyseight burgesses; thn latter termed a Common Council, in which all vacancies were supplied by the parties themselves, exclusively from among High Churchmen and Tories. It did not matter how wealthy, intelligent, experienced, or how highly respected by his fellow townsmen, an inhabitant of Liverpool might be—if he were a Dissenter, or a Liberal, not the slightest chance would he have of attaining to any share in the management of the local concerns of the borough. The late Mr. ROSCOE never, under the old system, would have been elected a Common Councilman. The appointments to the Com- mon Council depend upon connexion with certain influential Tory families, who thus engross the whole power of the Corpo- ration. The property at their disposal amounts to upwards of 100,000/. a year ; and out of this, several individuals of their body have places worth 1000/. to 3000/. a year. Although a very large proportion, perhaps a majority, of the inhabitants of Liverpool are Dissenters, yet it does not appear that one shilling of the public money has ever been devoted to the building of chapels or schools for the Nonconformist body ; while during the last ten years 122,321/. has been laid out on churches of the Establishment ; for which money only one per cent, has been received. The reason ofithis small return seems to be, that the churches are not wanted, as there are plenty of vacant seats to be had in them at the low rate of 17s. 6d. to a guinea each. But then, much excel- lent preferment was thus secured to the nominees of the Corpora- tion.
Upwards of 130,000/. has been paid by the Corporation, princi- pally to members of its own body, for an estate called the Wal- lasey Pool Estate, which was purchased on the pretence of adopting a plan to build docks and a quay on the Cheshire side of the Mersey: it was said that there were difficulties in the navi- gation of the mouth of the Mersey, and that if the Corporation of Liverpool did not buy this land, others would, and Liverpool would be ruined. It is now seven years since the land was bought, and no progress whatever has been made in the proposed dock and quay. In the mean while, 4 and 11 per cent. interest is paid for the money borrowed to buy this property, which yields only one per cent. to its present owners.
About 6000/. a year has been spent in law charges, exclusive of salaries to law officers, for the last ten years.
The debt of the Corporation has been increased, since 1327, from 417,921/. to 792,009/.
Not one sixpence of the money required to support these churches, to defray these law charges, or to pay the interest of this enormous debt so heedlessly contracted, comes by way of tax out of the pockets of the Common Councilmen or burgesses ; while those who are not freemen, and who have no means of acquiring their freedom, pay in town-dues 36,000/. per annum,— enough to discharge the interest of the whole debt. The Corporation of Liverpool have boasted loudly of their public- spirit, and their efforts to extend and improve the trade of the town : yet they have obstinately kept up the wrongful distinction of freemen and non-freemen among the merchants,—thus in effect laying a tax, on the latter amounting in the instances of some in- dividuals to several hundreds per annum, from which the freemen are exempt. In Liverpool, freedom is acquired by birth, servi- tude, and gift,—servitude meaning an apprenticeship of seven years to a freeman. Of course the vast majority of the apprentices belong to the class of mechanics or labourers, and but few of them to that of merchants or the more wealthy classes,—who, unless they have the good luck to have been born sons of freemen, have no means of escaping the town-dues, except by the favour of the Corporation, which is never bestowed on any but thoroughgoing partisans.
Now, we ask whether the men who have been the instruments of supporting this system of exclusion, favouritism, and waste, are fit to be continued in the management of the affairs of such a place as Liverpool ? That is the question which the municipal electors of Liverpool have to decide. The Corporation Bill was passed to put an end to this misgovernment ; but its object will surely be defeated if the old set find their way in any considerable force into the new Councils. And were not this old set Tories to a man ? Did they not do all in their power to aid the Tory candidates for the Parliamentary representation ? and would they not use any portion of influence they may retain or acquire under the reformed system for the same end ? If this be so, (and who can doubt it ?) is it not the duty of the Reformers to look cicsely not only into the conduct of candidates implicated personally with the old Corpo- ration, but also into the politics of those whose prejudices and in- direct connexions lead them to view the old system of misrule with favour ?
If the Reformers of Liverpool have reason to oppose the intro- duction of any of the old corporators into the Town-Council, those of NORWICH and other principal towns should also be on their guard against danger from the same source. In Norwich, the good government of the municipality is looked upon as quite a seconaary affair. The patronage of the Corporation is bestowed invariably with a view to political support. Under the new law, the officers of the Council are to be a Town-Clerk, Treasurer, Col- lector, and two Auditors : but the officers of the existing Cor- poration, independently of the constables, are 92 in number. Among them we find the following ludicrous assemblage of useless trumpery—
Two Mace-bearers, Eleven Sergeants at Mace, r Whifflers One Dragon-bearer and his assistant, Sword-bearer, Two Standard-bearers,
Seventeen Treasurers of different Hospitals,
One Swanner, One Surveyor of Didlers!
All these persons, however useless to the community, are of course zealous Corporation tools. The aim of the governing body has been to create a constituency of paupers. There are about 2676 freemen residing within the city ; of whom about 350 are absolute paupers, and 1100 are not rated. The Reform Act gave the right of voting to 1763 residents excluded by the Corporatio,. from that privilege. The tradesmen employed are all supporters of the Corporation, even although men of the opposite party would do the required work at a cheaper rate. Even the Sheriffs awl Judges of the local courts are frequently elected by bribery, which the Mag,istrates of Norwich do not scruple to encourage. The Police is very inefficient; and in short, M use the words of a banker in Nor eich to the Commissioners', " sin, guilt, misery, wretched- ness, and poverty," are the results of the existing system,
The question for the municipal electors of Norwich to determine is, whether or not there shall be a thorough purgaton of the sink of corruption that now defiles their city ? The Corporation Bill puts the means of reform in their power; but if they elect to the Town-Council the old jobbers, then they must calculate on the continuance of a large part of the existing iniquity. In Norwich the predominant party in the Corporation is Tory ; but any Whip-, jobbers who may be among them should be placed under the same ban of exclusion from the first Town-Councils.
Now let us turn to BRISTOL; where the same system of close, irresponsible, mismanagement of local affairs prevails. Here
again we find the Tories predominant ; and time men who should set an example of decency and respect for the laws, among the most notorious and unblushing promoters of profligacy. In Bristol, time Corporation seems to have considered the maintenance of its own supremacy under any circumstances its pritnarv duty ; and it unfortunately happens that the interests of the ofd Corporations were best secured by a system which is injurious to
the independence, honesty, and u morals of society. There are twelve Aldermen ; who are directed by the charter to live in the city, but of whom only one or two comply with this obligation,—the rest setting, in their own Magisterial persons, an example of openly disregarding the law, from which alone they derive their authority.
tine or the chief duties of a local government is the maintenance of an efficient police ' • but men of all parties allow that in Bristol nothing deserving of name exists. The Aldermen do not visit their wards retrularly ; and after dinner, you may look 14r and wide without finding a Magistrate fit for duty.
The debt of the city has been increased from 36,395/. in 1•25, to 86,204/. iii 1S33. In 1832, the income was 15,474/., and the expenditure 18,3291. Yet, m ith this increasing debt, we find such
items as the fulluwing among the sums expended—
Celebrating the Coronation of his Majesty £215 Deputation to congratulate his Majesty on his Accession fi0 Wine to Digit Steward 82 Law charges in 183-) 3586 In order t) support the wasteful expenditure of which the items we have quoted are a sample, the Corporation has imposed enor-
mous port-charges; the proportion of which to those required to be paid in other places appears from a table in the Commissioners' Report. For instance, we learn that a certain quantity o I twenty- three diftbrent articles of merchandise would be admitted into the port of London on payment of 210,098/.; into Liverpool for 231,800/. ; Hull, 147,587/. Gloucester, 125,100/. ; Bristol, 575,60S/.! It is not surprising that the shipping-trade of Bristol is on the decline: in 1827, the number of British and foreign vessels entered inwards was 489, the tonnage 84,735; but in 1S32 the number of vessels was only 276, the tonnage 52,130.
The Commissioners had grounds for the severe remark, that, " with a sinkire.;. and overburdened trade, the large revenues of Bristol) have been unprofitably expended in the maintenance of an overgrown establishment, and in the display of state magnifi cence ;" and this being the case, it was to be expected, that " among all the quarrels and disturbances of which, unhappily, Bristol has at all times had more than her share, the Corporation has always been the subject of attack and animosity."
The inhabitants of Bristol have now an opportunity of redeem- ing past errors. They should cut up the old Corporation stock and block, and elect representatives who would institute a search- ing examination into the state of the civic property, introduce economy into the expenditure, reduce their port-charges, remove the mud which chokes up the harbour, and give their constitu- ents the benefit of a well-organized police. Can it be expected that the old jobbers in patronage and politics will be ready at this work ? Common sense forbids the supposition: therefore, we say to the Bristolians, discard Alderman DANIEL and Co.
The misdeeds of the Hum. Corporators are as notorious as those of their Bristol and Norwich brethren. They are also vir- tually self-elected and irresponsible. In Hull, universal bribery is the order of the day. The Mayor, Chamberlain, and Sheriffs, as well as the Parliamentary candidates supported by the Corpo- ration, are chosen by bribery. At one election for Sheriff, out of 783 votes 671 were bribed. There are 42 officers of the Corpo- ration, besides the' Mayor, Sheriff, and Aldermen. The Town -
Clerk is also Clerk of the Peace, Clerk to the Magistrates, Clerk of the Civil Court, Clerk to the Coroners, Steward of the Corporation Manor of Myton, Attorney and Solicitor to the Corporation, Clerk to the Aldermen, Custos of the Charter, Records, and Seal.
Ile receives altogether from his Corporation appointments, on an average, 650/. per annum ; but some expensive lawsuits, in which his patrons have been engaged, have recently swelled his profits. There are 18 Auditors (the new Act allows only two) of Corporation Accounts,—which accounts have never been pub- lished : these auditors are generally sons of Aldermen, young men living with their fathers. All the officers appear to be receivers of salaries. Although the Corporation can afford to keep up such an establishment of Auditors and other officers, they have not provided a decent room wherein to hold the sessions of the town ; indeed, the administration of justice is about the last thing the old eorporators attend to. " The (Hull) Magistrates sit in a small room, which will not contain more than about 30 persons. There is a gallery leading to this room, with a chain across it : on the inner side of this chain, is a kitchen, where persons having business at the Sessions attend."
Among the items of expenditure of the Hull Corporation, in
1832, are these—
Pipe of Wine .£ 86 0 0 Monthly Dinner- 112 1 5 Two Public Dinners 1:17 10 4 ('odd and Levitt, Solicitors 1495 12 0 William Wooley, Solicitor 295 5 0
.£2126 8 9 Thus, upwards of 2000/. was spent in law and feasting ; the governing, that is to say the feasting body, consisting only of
thirteen persons, the Mayor and twelve Aldermen. The amount paid for salaries in 1833 was 1700/. 48. The excess of expendi- ture over income in 1832 was 3658/.; and yet the Corporation laid out upwards of 300/. in feasting : the public dinners, however, have been discontinued since 1832.
There have been very large sums received for Corporation pro- perty sold at various times; but all particular information on the subject was refused to the Commissioners—no doubt for sufficient reasons. In some instances it was discovered, that land had been bought, built upon, and sold with the buildings, for less than the prime cost of the land. These are but a few items in the long list of offences that could be substantiated against the Corporation of Hull: they are, how- ever, sufficient to prove the danger of again intrusting the delin- quents with the control of the funds, and the government of that thriving town,—for, in spite of the injury to which it has been subjected by local misrule, Hull is still increasing and prosperous.
None of the above facts, we are aware, can be new to the well- infOrmed ; but it may not be amiss to give even the most vigilant a refresher. Our main object is to put the question fairly to the mu- nicipal electors—whether it would be wise, in any instance, to elect to the Town-Councils men who have been active agents in, or have sanctioned, such abuses as have prevailed under the sway of the Corporations in Liveipsol, Norwich, Bristol, and Hull ? The old corporators have, it seems to us, hada sufficiently long trial. To the very last they struggled for the preservation of their mono- polies, for the perpetuation of gross injustice on the community at large. Whatever may be their politics, all the hangers-on of the now almost defunct corporate bodies—all the participators in their narrow prejudices and misuse of authority—should be care- fully excluded from the Town-Councils. We know that this rule would operate almost exclusively against the Tories, and there- fore that there is not much occasion to make mere Toryism the ground of rejecting a candidate. In our view, however, of the present state of public affairs, it would be wise to choose none but Liberals, where it can be done. We observe that in some places the Reformers talk of setting aside "all party distinc- tions." The same men who would struggle lustily to return a Liberal Member to the House of Commons, are, it would seem, ready to elect a Tory Councillor. But we cannot understand the policy or the prudence of this. The reasons which render a Tory objectionable as a Member of Parliament—namely, his hosti- lity to economy, and a thorough reform of our ecclesiastical institu- tions, his attachment to oligarchical principles of government, and his opposition to this very Municipal Bill—also operate to render a person of the same politics unfit to sit in the first Town-Councils. It was considered fair, prudent, and wise, to give the Ministers who carried the Reform Act an opportunity of conducting the government under the improved representative System. It Wa3 deemed ridiculous to intrust the working of the Bill to those who had fought against it tooth and nail : would it not be equally absurd to give the Tories an opportunity of marring the Municipal Act, especially at this juncture, when they are making every effort to turn out Lord Msairourism and pro- cure a majority in the House of Commons ? We have always looked upon it as no slight advantage of Corporation Reform, that it would destroy much of Tory influence in the election of Members of Parliament ; and we should deplore the neutraliza- tion of this benefit by placing Tories in the Town-Councils.