Michael Vestey

Honours and rebels

Honours and rebels

With the government and the opposition flogging peerages to raise money for party funds, Radio Four decided to look back at the 1920s master of this practice, the former Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, and J. Arthur Maundy Gregory, the crook he used to negotiate prices (The Man Who Sold Peerages, Easter Saturday). Matthew Parris told the presenter Shaun Ley that it was one of the three worst political scandals of the 20th century. We don’t know for how long the present government has been doing this and the exact going rates it charges, but back then a knighthood would set you back £10,000, a huge sum, more than £25,000 for a baronetcy and goodness knows what for a hereditary peerage.

Lloyd George’s problem after the first world war was that he was estranged from the Liberals, governing with the Conservatives in a coalition, and he needed money for his election campaigns, which was collected in an account known as the Lloyd George Fund. Still popular as the man who brought the war to a close (having voted in Cabinet for Britain to join in the war to support Belgium and France) and for the dubious distinction of having started the welfare state he was, eventually, partly brought down by the scandal. But from 1917 to 1922, when Lloyd George left No. 10, 120 hereditary peers alone were created. He invented the OBE and handed out 25,000 of them. Ley said there were so many knighthoods dished out in Cardiff that it became known as the ‘city of dreadful knights’.

He kept his distance from Maundy Gregory, the son of a clergyman in Southampton, using intermediaries to deal with him. Maundy Gregory had an office at 38 Parliament Street, opposite Downing Street, where he published a monthly magazine called the Whitehall Gazette; he fooled people into believing that it was a government publication (there was a liveried attendant with HMG printed on his outfit).

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