1920s >> 1928 >> no-290-october-1928

Corrupt America and Pure England

There is one thing for which we, as Britishers, can never be sufficiently grateful, and that is the white-souled purity of our political institutions. In this, of course, we are unique among nations. In the U.S.A. politics and graft have long been interchangeable terms. France, it is well known, is a seething hotch-potch of franc speculators, anti-clericals, Bourbonists and a score of others. Italy is in the grip of a tyranny worse than Nero’s, and Spain is making revolution a habit. Germany—bah, you can’t trust these Junkers ; and Russia (pause, for snarl and baring of teeth) has changed the knout and Siberia for the Cheka and sudden death. Only we, the fortunate dwellers in this little isle, set in a silver sea, remain as we have ever been, pure, unspotted, a pattern for the world. Was it not we who invented that institution now known as the Mother of Parliaments? Very well, then. Let us remain as we have endured down the ages— pure, unsullied, immaculate, above reproach ; the envy of a world filled with foreigners; a secret and holy joy to ourselves.

And what is this man Baker doing? Surely he must know all this ! Surely he will have weighed the wild and whirling words with which he besmirches the reputation of our Parliament House ! And yet the painful fact must be faced. Hansard, we cannot permit ourselves to doubt, else follows chaos and confusion. And that patient record of our rulers’ murmurings recounts that, on August 2nd of this present year, Mr. Walter Baker rose in his place in the House of Commons and delivered himself of the following scandals. He said the Government was proposing to transfer its Beam system of telegraphy to a private firm, and that the circumstances leading up to that decision were disgraceful and scandalous. He reminded them that he had previously stated that the merger between the cable companies and the Marconi Company was a calculated attempt to force the hands of the Government, and that it was accompanied by a treacherous threat to let the cables go derelict. He mentioned the enormous cash reserves, £14,000,000, which, with the aid of Government subsidies, the cable companies had built up; and then he turned to Marconi’s. After referring to continued serious charges made against the methods of the directors of that firm, he made the remarkable statement that the Marconi Company had been engaged in selling shares in the Spanish and General Corporation for about l½d. each, shares which were now worth 38s. 6d. He asserted the latter firm had no assets of any value, and the tremendous jump in price was attributable to pure manipulation. What he wished to learn was why a certain newspaper persistently quoted these shares as “Spanish Marconi,” when the company had nothing to do with wireless; why the Marconi Company had found it necessary to sell them at l½d. each; and why the shares had experienced the tremendous rise to 38s. 6d. whilst the firm had no assets of any value. He further mentioned how uncomfortable he felt at finding an M.P. (the junior Member for Norwich) as one of the new directors of the Spanish and General Corporation. As for the Marconi Company, he recalled to the House the fact that this company had recently written down its capital by about 50 per cent. As a result of a powerful circular to the shareholders, the reduction was agreed to, and the shares had a sensational fall to 12s. The circular was signed by Sir William Plender, Sir Robert Kindersley, the Hon. Charles White, Dr. E. Ofenheim and the Earl of Leicester. It was not disclosed to the shareholders, he said, that Sir William Plender, in addition to being auditor for the cable companies, was the cable companies’ negotiator in the transactions between them and Marconi. Further, at the date on which Sir Robert Kindersley signed the circular, he was not the registered holder of a single share. But through the Cushion Trust, a subsidiary of Lazard Bros., he was acquiring thousands of shares at a low price during March and April, 1927. By October 25th, 1927, those shares were quoted at 38s., and on March 14th, 1928, they had reached 67s. 6d.

Civil servants will be glad to hear of a process which will render them independent of wage cuts based on fluctuations in the cost of living. Railwaymen will gather new hope when they discover how to more than compensate themselves for relinquishing 2½ per cent, of their earnings. Listen to this.

Mr. Baker next recounted that on December 31st, 1925, the Marconi Company held 1,238,658 shares in the Canadian Marconi Company. The Marconi directors wrote down the value of those shares to 2s. 1d. a share, and then sold the shares to Sir Robert Kindersley, that is, to the Cushion Trust, at 4s. 2d. a share. To-day they are quoted at about 30s. The Cushion Trust, the nominee company of Lazard Bros., who held 5,485 shares in the Marconi Company at the end of November, 1927, had increased their holding at the beginning of 1928 to 51,800 shares.

Mr. Baker then dealt with a few of the personalities involved and their associations. There was the hon. and gallant member for Ripon (Major Hills), who on a previous occasion had expressed his concern at the danger of the Government losing the taxpayer’s money by continuing its control of Beam wireless. Besides “other interests,” he was discovered to be a director of the group which controls the most important financial papers in the City of London. There was Viscount Wolmer, who, after three years as Assistant Postmaster-General, made an attack on the Post Office as a State enterprise. This attack curiously enough coincided with this campaign, and, equally curiously, with the publication of the Hardman Lever Report, a report which went beyond the terms of reference of the Committee and attacked State management of the telegraph services. The Chairman of this Committee is a director of the Daily Mail Trust, and the Daily Mail has hopes of becoming the greatest newspaper in the world, through the medium of wireless. The father of Viscount Wolmer, Lord Selborne, is Chairman of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, More than a third of the shares of this Company are owned by the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company and the Globe Telegraph and Trust Company, both members of the merger. Lord Selborne is a director of Lloyds Bank, which shares a director with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, besides being a director of the Peninsular and Oriental Banking Corporation, another director of which sits on the board of the African Direct Telegraph Company and the Eastern Telegraph Company. Sir Robert Kindersley was formerly a director of the Eastern Telegraph Company. He is now one of the directors of the Bank of England and managing director of Lazard Bros., who purchased the shares of the Canadian Marconi Company.

With which interesting information we propose to close down just here and publish a further contribution next month. After all, the long winter evenings are approaching, and we hope we are performing a public service by providing something to fill the blank hour on Sundays when the sky pilots are groaning from 2LO. Perhaps some worker may be stirred into thinking that the forces of capital are by no means asleep; that they will not be fought by grudged shillings in a trade union box and occasional pence to a political party. Socialism, the alternative to Capitalism, will not ”come of itself.” Its achievement will require effort, hard unremitting effort. Sympathy is not enough. It is work that counts ; planned, disciplined work. Come in.

W. T. H.

(Socialist Standard, October 1928)

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