Published: 00:00, 05 June 2017
| Updated: 11:52, 05 June 2017
Allegations of electoral foul play make the headlines every now and then.
But they are nothing new.
Andrew Sargent gives a fascinating insight into how election campaigns were run in Victorian Deal and Sandwich.
Between 1832 and 1885 the Parliamentary borough of Sandwich, which included Deal and Walmer, was a two-member constituency. Elections were rumbustious affairs, with inducements to electors ranging from extensive “treating” – free food and drink – to downright bribery.
When one of the two sitting Liberal MPs accepted a peerage in 1880 it sparked a by-election and the Conservative signalled their intent when the party's agent "arrived from London with a heavy bag of gold and quickly hired no fewer than 71 committee rooms in Deal and Walmer pubs".
The Liberals soon followed suit, but were playing catch-up. The going rate for a room in a pub was £5. This was the equivalent of four months rent or more.
For many in the towns it was Christmas, New Year and Easter all at once. Shopkeepers, publicans, boatmen – anyone who had a vote or might influence someone who did – had a wonderful time. And there is no sign that any of their “betters” – the clergy, councillors and magistrates of the town – raised any objections.
The landlord of the Rose and Crown in Beach Street, Deal, rented the inside of his pub to the Liberals and the outside, for posters, to the Conservatives.
Deal and Sandwich were festooned with banners and bunting: blue for the Liberals and red for the Conservatives. Posters plastered the fronts of pubs, and as many other blank walls as the well paid poster-stickers could get away with.
One way of getting money into the pockets of electors was to pay massively over the odds for services rendered: making a banner, say, or putting up a flag pole, or guarding a flag pole, or even (it was said) for pulling one down so that someone could be amply rewarded for putting it up again.
Henry Spears of the Antwerp (now the Bohemian in Deal) received £108 to bribe in the Conservative interest plus £6 for canvassing and £5 for a committee room.
Stephen Pritchard at the Eagle kept some of the Liberal gold intended for bribes for himself. He earned, in a later cross-examination, the memorable rebuke that “bribery is bad enough, but theft is worse”.
The Conservatives won but the rank corruption was even too much for those tolerant times it the behaviour set off an appeal and even a parliamentary commission was established to investigate. Incredibly it found 128 people had offered bribes and 1,005 voters - half the electorate - had accepted them.
See this week's Mercury to read Andrew's full story.
A full account of the 1880 election scandal can be found in Drinking In Deal: Beer, Pubs And Temperance In An East Kent Town 1830-1914, by Andrew Sargent (Bookseast, 2016).
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