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Corruption and Influence

26 March 2012

Photographers Capture the Tribunal's Opening Day

As pressure mounts on David Cameron to disclose more detail regarding his private meetings with donors in the wake of Peter Cruddas’ resignation, what better time to explore a historical example of corruption and influence?

Cruddas – the former Tory co-treasurer – resigned over the weekend following a Sunday Times sting which secretly recorded him claiming that a £200-250,000 donation would allow ‘premier league’ access to leading Conservative Ministers and hinting at the influence this would have on policy making.

Although Cameron  has criticised Cruddas’ actions, Labour spokespeople have continued to push for an independent inquiry. Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Conservative Party Chairman, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, has in turn attempted to implicate  Labour’s relationship with the unions.

Sixty four years ago, in October and November 1948, a similar scandal occupied political headlines as an independent tribunal was established under the High Court Judge George Lynskey to probe accusations of corruption within the heart of government.

Accusations centred on the action of Sydney Stanley – a fraudster and self-styled ‘contact man’ who built a business around his ability to influence individuals in key government departments. During the tribunal, it emerged that Stanley had built up a relationship with George Gibson – a Director at the Bank of England – and John Belcher – a Junior Minister at the Board of Trade – in an attempt to circumvent the complex bureaucracy of post war economic controls.

Working on behalf of Sherman Brothers – a small football pools company struggling to make a profit due to its limited allocation of paper – Stanley had arranged for meetings with Belcher, taken him for dinner and  gifted him an ‘off the ration’ suit in a bid for additional paper licences to be made available.

The tribunal – enlivend by the exotic Stanley – briefly captured the imagination of the British public and led to the resignations of both Belcher and Gibson. Despite the quaintly insignificant stakes, this was arguably one of the most important examples of political corruption in twentieth century Britain. More importantly, it is evidence that attempts to gain ‘influence’ have always been at the heart of government.

See also: 

Mark Roodhouse, ‘The 1948 Belcher Affair and Lynskey Tribunal’, Twentieth Century British History, 13:4 (20020), 384-411.

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