DAVID RICARDO (1772-1823). A very controversial figure. Some regard him as possibly the greatest of all the British political economists. Others blame him for holding back the development of economic analysis for up to 80 years.
However, what was ‘represented’ in parliament was not so much people as property and, even more specifically, landed property. As for elections, many parliamentary constituencies were under the direct control of landlords –the voters were his economic dependents- and he could either bribe or bully them to support his preferred candidate (there was no secret ballot at this time, so the landlord would know if his wishes had been denied). Even in those towns where landlords had less direct control, elections were notoriously corrupt, and vote-buying was commonplace. In fact, however, very few urban centres did have representation in parliament: Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds had no parliamentary representation at all! Among the common people, and many in the middle classes (including capitalists) there was considerable dissatisfaction with this political situation. The government response was harsh repression of political dissidents: demonstrations could be put down by the sword, and those convicted of political ‘crimes’ could be imprisoned, whipped, sent for hard labour in the colonies, or publicly executed, sometimes in the most brutal fashion.
This was the age of David Ricardo. Let us now consider the man himself.