16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 6


IN commenting last week upon the proceedings of the Election .Commissions, we pointed out that the evidence altogether falsified the confident prediction of many sanguine advocates of secret voting that the Ballot would put an end to Bribery. But few people could have been prepared for the nature and extent of the disclosures which the further investi- gations of the Commissioners have compelled. It is not too much to say that they have revealed the existence of consti- tuencies in which the mass of the electors are mere hirelings, and the man who gives an honest vote is a noteworthy person. Even where this extreme has not been reached, and the open transfer of votes for money is still avoided, the evidence shows that the more indirect forms of bribery are practised upon a truly heroic scale. It would appear that in the art of corruption, as in the art of advertising, no half-measures are of any avail, and the man who resorts to them merely throws his money away. Of course, as we said last week, this branch of electioneering is necessarily confined to constituencies of medium size. Nowhere else can the process of demoralising the electorate be carried on with the thoroughness and detail which are the essential conditions of success. But in those favoured spots whose area and population are not imprac- ticably large, the golden shower descends at election times without stint in the giver or satiety in the receiver. It is difficult, after all the evidence that has been taken, to feel sure that we know, even approximately, how much money was actually spent at' the last election in any one of the boroughs which are at present on their trial. No trustworthy accounts have been or could be kept, and the witnesses, notwithstanding their promised indem- nity, do not readily acquire the shameless candour without which they cannot bring themselves to speak the whole truth. But, despite these drawbacks, their testimony is full of instruction, and it may be worth while to call attention to some parts of it, not with the view of suggesting remedies or speculating as to causes, but merely for the purpose of making perfectly clear the scale upon which corruption is carried on. It should, however, be remembered that the worst cases rarely see the light, those boroughs in which corruption is most 4-Jeep-seated and wide-spread being preserved by a prudential instinct, which is equally strong among all sections of their in- habitants, from provoking an inquiry which would inevitably load to their disfranchisement. The goose that lays the golden eggs is too precious to be sacrificed even upon the altar of party feeling.

As an illustration of the lengths to which the less repulsive forms of bribery can be carried, the case of Oxford may be selected. No doubt, at the election last May both parties did their worst. Each was in an unusually de- termined and vindictive mood,—the Tories from soreness at Mr. Hall's recent defeat, the Liberals from irritation at the opposition to Sir W. Harcourt's re-election. The consequence was that all scruples were thrown to the winds, and the only question with either side was how to win. Oxford, as one of the witnesses said, is not a place " in which a person would go about with a bag of money and buy votes." The conscience of the town would be revolted by the shameless traffic which goes on openly at Deal and Macclesfield. Cor- rupt.practices at Oxford for the most part take the form either of sham employment, or of paying wages for lost time. The practised eye of Mr. Matthews, the Conservative " Man in the Moon," at once perceived this. He told his inexperienced

associates that it was very improper to bribe, that they must find " colourable employment ' for their people, and that to start with they should try the " flag-and-pole business." The effect was magical. With the money which Mr. Matthews supplied from his mysterious coffers, flags were at once bought, and one hundred men were employed to carry them. "Jericho soon looked like fairyland, and the people forgot their trouble. In the night they robbed each other, and next day application was made for more flags. Ribands were put on horses and oxen, dogs and cats and donkeys were dressed in blue, to represent Conservatives "—a striking proof this last of the zeal of the newly-converted. Of course, the Liberals followed suit, and as the flags and ribbons were bought of voters, made up by voters, and distributed amongst voters, this happy idea of Mr. Matthews's opened out a tolerably wide field of influence. Similar tactics were pursued in the matter of bill-sticking, though here the Liberals seem to have taken the initiative. Mr. Walsh calculates that the Conservatives alone sent out from their committee-rooms 60,000 circulars and placards. There were, apparently on both sides, "electioneering knack- ers," who received good wages for tearing down the enemy's bills and flags. But the most striking thing about the election is the number of men whom both parties managed to hire, at regular wages, for an infinite variety of fictitious occupations. There was a perfect army of messengers, canvassers, clerks, committee-men, " guards," and " lambs," all nominally engaged in the work of the con- test. Twelve hundred persons were so employed by the Conservatives on the day of the election. As Mr. Hall's partner says, " every one expected to be put on." But not even by the most liberal construction of the functions of the offices we have enumerated could the demands of the electors for "work" be satisfied. A Conservative publican took some fifty or sixty men into his temporary service :—" I put some to work on my land ; some I sent to watch the Birmingham men ; some I set to do nothing. I took care that either those I employed, or some of their relations, were voters. I went'on increasing the number every day,—all I could get." Ulti- mately, he had upwards of one hundred of these people under him,—all taken from his own district, and all paid by the day, with the understanding that if their party won, they were to have " a tip at the finish." The same thing was done all over the town by the Conservatives, and on a rather smaller scale by the Liberals also. Add to this a most prodigal employment of cabs, and on the Conservative side an open tap at all the public-houses, and one can form some idea of the value of the test which this, the first great contest after the General Election, was supposed at the time to supply of the feeling of the country. To poll 2,725 votes, the Conservatives spent about £8,000, or nearly £3 per vote. The Liberals did the thing more cheaply, and lost accordingly. Of the 5,400 persons who voted on both sides, it would seem to be no exag- gerated calculation that considerably over a third had been bribed, in one way or another.

But we must turn to places like Macclesfield and the Sandwich Boroughs, to get a glimpse of the old-fashioned, unblushing corruption, which is popularly supposed to be extinct. In these towns, the clumsy fictions by which at Oxford bribery loses a little of its grossness are discarded, and voting is frankly treated as a matter of business. At Macclesfield, the election funds are drawn out of the Bank in silver and half-sovereigns, " as being the most convenient form." " General prices " range from 3s. 6d. to 15s. Out of £2,000 disbursed by a prominent manager on the Liberal side, he admits that only £100 was spent legally. One of the Con- servative captains of the Wards tells us the part which was assigned to him on the polling-day :—" He took each voter that came to him into a pantry, which was rather dark, and made the best bargain he could with them. Then he took each, having paid them individually, to the polling-booth, and saw them inside. If he had let them slip, they would have gone to the Liberal committee-room, and got money there." The statistics of this election are the most remarkable that have yet been published. Out of the 2,672 persons who voted for Mr. Eaton, all but 209 had a direct pecuniary interest in his success,-1,863 having been bribed, and 600 being paid canvassers. In Ward No. 1, no less than 425 of the 625 Liberal voters had received money for their votes. In Ward No. 6, the Liberals and Conserva- tives between them distributed £610 among 605 eleotors. Lastly, in Ward No. 3, the Liberals had bribed or employed 800, and the Conservatives 500, and as only 1,233 voted, it seems probable that not a few had taken the money of • both sides. By far the largest part of the bribery was done on the election-day and during the hours of polling. One of the Maccles- field politicians was invited to work the Irish ward at Sheffield and an "Irish and dock labourer" ward at Liverpool. He was not a little surprised to find that at Sheffield "no voter as much as asked for a glass of beer ;" and at Liverpool no pressure was necessary, as everybody was anxious to vote." His astonish- ment was not unnatural. At Macclesfield, out of every six voters, certainly four, and probably five, vote simply as they are paid. But it is to the revelations of the Sandwich Com- mission that we are indebted for our knowledge of the lowest depth of electoral corruption which has yet been publicly explored. It is believed, or at all events asserted, that 800 men there took money from both sides. "Before the Reform Bill," we are told by one of the witnesses, "every freeman voting at Sandwich got his £1 or his dinner on the day of the election, and that idea has never been entirely eradicated from their minds." On the contrary, notwithstanding the enlargement of the constituency, the market price of a vote has steadily risen, and a contest is re- garded by all classes of the electors as a legitimate source of profit. Many of the Liberals openly assisted Mr. Crompton Roberts, in the fear that if the Conservatives were beaten this time, they would never "come again." Every public- house in the three boroughs appears to have been hired at a nominal price of £5, but at an actual expense, according to Sir J. Goldsmid's calculation, of from £25 to £30. Money was given to all the publicans to distribute among their customers ; they were instructed to keep open house and ask no questions ; and " some made out their accounts by simply taking stock before and after the election." One of these honest fellows acknowledges that he let the out- side of his house to the Conservatives and the inside to the Liberals, and doubtless his example was largely followed. The " flag and pole business " was worked by both parties upon a scale elsewhere undreamt of. A " forest of poles " sprang up, eight voters being employed at a wage of 30s. each in the carrying and erection of every pole. The ground upon which the poles stood was hired from voters. The flags which they bore were made by voters, who in many cases received £5 a head, " irrespective of the work done." The ropes by which the flags were hoisted were bought from voters at fancy prices. Voters were engaged at £1 a man by day and by night in watching the poles. If all the watchers took the same view of their functions as the one who confesses that " he used to look at them when he went up to bed, and again when he got up," it is not surprising that " some of their own side cut them down at night, in order to make another job." Finally, no less than 180 men, presumably voters, were hired before- hand, on the Conservative side alone, to take down the poles when they should be done with. But this was not enough for the Deal boatmen, who hawked their votes about with a frankness and freedom from concealment which tell worlds as to the past history of the constituency. "All of the labour- ing class," says one of the Liberal canvassers, " naturally ex- pected to be paid for their votes." We scarcely went to a house," Sir J. Goldsmid complains," without our being asked, ' What are we going to have V' " The average price of a vote appears to have been £3 cash down, though the more " artful " electors held out successfully for £5. Out of about 2,000 voters, it is possible, though far from likely, that some 300 may have escaped being bribed by either side.