From the September 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
The recent debate in the House of Lords on the subject of the sale of parliamentary honours is of decided interest to those who are not acquainted with the inner workings of the political machine. Raised in debate by the Marquis of Salisbury, the ensuing discussion brought out some really delightful admissions of corruption in legislative channels. The admissions hardly come as news to seasoned Socialists, but this is one of the first occasions where the subject has been discussed at any length, many previous attempts to raise the matter, especially in the lower house, having signally failed.
The party funds, let it be here stated, are moneys contributed by financiers and rich business people for the purpose of securing recognition in “birthday honours" lists and the like for services rendered or expected. In the course of the discussion, however, mention was made as to the way in which the party funds were expended. Hilaire Belloc, a well-known character in jingo journals, has said that he resigned his seat in the Commons some years back owing to his disgust at party politics and “the party system generally".
In the course of his short career as a member of the Commons Belloc tried hard to raise the question of the expenditure of the party funds by asking for an audit, but needless to say, he failed. In his book The Party System is dealt with at some length, and much that we knew of legislative corruption is proved to the gaping world.
One of the richest morsels of the recent discussion came from Lord Curzon, who said with all the impudence possible:
The idea of a commercial transaction, of disposing of a peerage like a parcel of goods across a counter, is a horror to all right-thinking men. When such things are spoken of some of us are moving, however, in a world of which we know nothing. I know no foundation for these public rumours.
—“Daily Express," 8.8.17.
His talk of “moving in a world of which we know nothing" may in a sense be true, for has not the great patriot Bottomley just said that “Sir Edward Carson is under the impression that the Rhine is the border of France and Germany” (“Sunday Pictorial,” 12.8.17), and that Mr. Balfour has “never beard of the kingdom of Bohemia” ? (Same source.)
Just previously, however, the noble earl had said:
. . . that but for the aid of party funds he would have been unable to enter political life, as neither his father nor he at that time was able to afford a parliamentary contest .—Ibid.
From which it will be seen that if he did not know where the party funds came from and why, he was not altogether ignorant of where they went and why.
Evidence that elections are contested by means of such funds was handed out by another noble lord, for listen to this:
Lord Charnwood said that he had contested several expensive elections and received help from the party funds, and was not in the least ashamed of having received it .—Ibid.
This, therefore, is the way the present-day politician rejoices in the sickening fraud of party politics. The average member of the back benches is merely a pawn in the political game, the real power coming from the front benches and the Ministers. In the matter of choosing the members of this front bench the workers have no part whatever. Small wonder that Ministers themselves were found describing the whole thing as “despicable.”
When will the workers awake to a consciousness of their surroundings and, taking over the political machine in their own interests, sweep the whole tainted system from public life?
The present brief criticism is but a detail. Pages might be written in condemnation of the stinking mass of corruption. I will be content with quoting that clever reflection of Oscar Wilde’s, who, upon the subject of “Critics and Criticism” said: “Surely in order to test the quality of a wine it is not necessary to consume the whole cask.”
B. B. B.