John Belcher (politician)

John William Belcher (2 August 1905 – 26 October 1964) was a British Labour Party politician, the first to resign in disgrace over a political scandal.

Political career

A railway clerk, he was sponsored as a candidate at the 1945 general election by the Railway Clerks Association. He was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the Sowerby constituency in West Yorkshire, defeating the sitting Conservative MP Malcolm McCorquodale.

In 1946, he was appointed to a junior ministerial post in the government of Clement Attlee, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. Belcher was keen to win support for the government in the business community and networked widely, coming into contact with fraudster, illegal immigrant and undischarged bankrupt Sidney Stanley. Stanley held himself out to the business community as a "fixer" who could obtain governmental favours for a fee. He arranged gifts for Belcher including a suit, a cigarette case and holiday in Margate, alongside entertainment at various sporting events. He did not pass on the cash he received from such as Harry Sherman, a football pool promoter who was facing prosecution and was seeking government intervention.[1]

An enquiry led by Sir George Lynskey subjected Belcher to searching investigation by Attorney-General Sir Hartley Shawcross. The enquiry concluded that Belcher had been influenced in his conduct as a minister and the police were of the view that he could be charged though Shawcross argued that a prosecution would not be in the public interest so long as Belcher resigned.[1] Businessman and World War II internee Robert Liversidge was also implicated but exonerated of all wrongdoing.

In 1949, he was appointed Steward of the Manor of Northstead, effecting his resignation from government and from Parliament. He was the first Labour politician to resign over questions of propriety. In his farewell speech to the House of Commons, he said, "I have not at any time in the course of my official duties been conscious of any deviation from the path of morality or rectitude. When the tumult and shouting have died, when the Tribunal and its Report have faded out of the memories of most people, I shall still have to live with my conscience because in my conscience lies the whole truth." The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, said "The whole House is conscious of the terrible tragedy which has overtaken him. He has spoken with dignity and courage."[2][3]

Belcher returned to work as a railway clerk, later becoming an Assistant Goods Agent. He suffered ill health and died in 1964 at the age of 59 years.[1]


Lewis Baston's entry for Belcher in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography concludes thus:

Belcher was a bright, idealistic, working-class socialist, who was harshly treated for his naïve attempts to forge a good relationship with business and became a martyr to the puritanical standards of conduct in public life in the austere Attlee era.[1]



External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Malcolm McCorquodale
Member of Parliament for Sowerby
Succeeded by
Douglas Houghton
Political offices
Preceded by
Ellis Smith
Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
John Edwards
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