Honest, Georgian elections

The vigorous elections of the Georgian Age are a matter of legend and literature: the riotous county elections, the backroom nod in the pocket boroughs (and the evictions of those who voted the wrong way), the language of public debate that caused lynch mobs to surge through the street, and – first and foremost – the bribery.

The Georgian Age brought Britain untold wealth, some of it generated in the hell-hole slave plantations, but most not; most was honestly earned through industry and trade. It brought us a flowering of culture, celebrated today in endless Jane Austen adaptations, and these give some glimpse of how the British world was growing. All this was in a time when political turmoil was the norm.

It was more honest though.

As I read the literature, there were three ways to get elected to the House of Commons in the Golden Age before the Reform Acts: an open election in a county or a populous borough; appointment to a pocket or rotten borough owned by a patron; or bribery – heavy bribery. A pocket borough was effectively what we call a ‘safe seat’ these days, one of those ones where they votes for the usual party even if its candidate tortures puppies for fun.

Bribery now, that is familiar to us today. We pretend to look askance at dishonesty but millions change hands to buy votes – the voters insist on it.

In the Eighteenth Century the candidates were more honest that ours: the candidate paid heavy bribes from his own pocket. In our day he pays from the voters’ pockets.

Books

Author: AlexanderTheHog

A humble scribbler who out of my lean and low ability will lend something to Master Hobbes

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