Matthew Oakeshott was there at the beginning, when Labour lost the “gang of four” and the SDP was born. This group at first allied itself with the then Liberal Party, and later most of it – but not David Owen, who still wanted to lead a party dedicated to Himself Personally Now – merged with the Liberals, the result then becoming the Liberal Democrats. He may also be there at the end.
Because, following the news that Oakeshott was the one who commissioned opinion polls showing the Lib Dems would lose a number of constituencies if Corporal Clegg remained leader – including Sheffield Hallam, Clegg’s own seat, as well as Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander’s home turf – he has resigned from the party and made one singularly incendiary revelation.
Firstly, as Politics.co.uk has noted, “Vince Cable knew about Matthew Oakeshott's polling, the peer has revealed, as he quits Westminster with a defiant call for Nick Clegg to resign. Oakeshott, who has issued a statement making clear the party is ‘heading for disaster if it keeps Nick Clegg’, will have damaged his long-time ally Cable in the final act of his political career with the revelation”.
And, if that were not bad enough, he followed up with this: “When Charles Kennedy rang to make me a peer ... he said he wanted me to shake up the Lords. I’ve tried – my bills to ban non-dom peers are now law – but my efforts to expose and end cash for peerages in all parties, including our own, and help get the Lords elected have failed”. Cash for peerages and Liberal Party together?
It took the scandal of Maundy Gregory, a political fixer who sold honours for money, for legislation to be brought in banning the practice. Gregory, whose name will forever be associated with then Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had demanded around £40,000 for a baronetcy, an hereditary title, which in today’s money is well over a million notes.
Although Gregory appears to have paid over money to both Liberals and Tories, it is to the Liberals that the mud stuck, helping to speed the decline in the party’s fortunes, which were also harmed by a split between those loyal to Lloyd George, and those who supported Herbert Asquith, his predecessor as party leader. And now Oakeshott is suggesting that his party has been involved in the practice again.
So, given that the 1925 legislation made selling honours for money illegal, and that Oakeshott has said all parties – presumably this means Labour and the Tories as well as his own – were at it, will we now see the rozzers rocking up at his place to request that he assists them with their enquiries? After all, he must have sufficient proof to make the assertion, given that it is loaded.
But, as he was a Lib Dem, it will be that party that takes the hit. As it did in 1925.