Party Politics - Vol. 1

Party Politics - Vol. 1

Party Politics - Vol. 1

Party Politics - Vol. 1

Excerpt

'There may be occasions,' said William Pitt on 21 April 1800, 'but they will ever be few, when an appeal to the people is the just mode of proceeding on important subjects.' Seven years later Canning said: 'I defy you on this motion and on all other motions which you may make: I defy your majorities. I stand by the Crown and shall appeal to the people.' But the cynical Creevey in 1810 reminded the House of Commons that they were elected under 'Old Corruption'. 'To talk of a dissolution of Parliament as an "appeal to the people",' he said, 'was mere mockery and imposition. It was perfectly well known that a dissolution of Parliament was not an appeal to the people, but to the Treasury.'

Oddly enough, they were all correct. The British Constitution was, as usual, in a state of transition. In the first decade of the nineteenth century an election was both an appeal for 'popular' support and an occasion for the use of all the electioneering devices of the eighteenth century. The 'people' were, of course, very few, except in a few towns a small class, rather like the English-educated class in a Commonwealth country of Asia or West Africa. But on the one hand Pitt or Canning could appeal for the support of the independent country gentlemen and other electors on the ground of political principle; on the other hand somebody in the Treasury had to organise the election, with a view to a Government majority, by mobilising the men of influence in the counties and the patrons of boroughs, by looking for likely men who by reason of their local influence or well-filled pockets could hope to win county or borough seats, by using the Treasury or Admiralty influence wherever it existed in spite of the legislation of 1782, by using a little money to help to purchase a borough or to subsidise a candidate who lacked money enough to fight a contested election, by the exercise of judicious patronage or the promise of a step in the peerage or a ribbon, and generally by assuming that political principle was a matter of no importance.

The two styles of electioneering, the old and the new, went on . . .

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