Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Blair and Lloyd George

A piece of history from the Irish Student Law Review. You may care to consider the parallels between Blair and Lloyd George as leaders without parties:

The sale of honours became particularly blatant and reckless under Lloyd George. The reason was that while he had won the 1918 general election he had broken with the Liberal Party, the coalition government he headed having a Conservative majority. In order to fight the next election he needed to found his own political party, which would need an enormous campaign fund. To sell the necessary honours he set up a brokerage system with a go-between, J. Maundy Gregory, who would have a near monopoly on official patronage. Lloyd George was the first Prime Minister to set fees for the sale of honours, which were publicly revealed by the Duke of Northumberland in the House of Lords on July 17, 1922: £10-12,000 for a knighthood, £35-40,000 for a baronetcy.

King George V was, according to one of his biographers, seriously disturbed concerning four aspects of the distribution of honours in the period 1917-22: "They were the failure of the Prime Minister to consult him before promising titles to certain political and financial supporters; the number of honours recommended by the Prime Minister; the character of the recipients; and the use of go-betweens to sell the royal prerogative in the market-place."

Despite the misgivings felt from the King down, things did not come to a head until the Robinson scandal. The honours list published to mark the King's birthday on June 3, 1922 included the names of five new peers, of which four were met with derision. The most controversial was the South African mine-owner Sir Joseph Robinson, who had paid £30,000 for his peerage. He had chaired a company to which he had sold, at an inflated price, mining freeholds, which he had previously bought in his own name. The South African courts had ordered him to pay £500,000 compensation and his appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was lost in November 1921.

The Lords, some of whom had sat in judgment on him, were furious at this new addition to their number, Lord Harris laying before them all the details concerning Robinson on June 22, 1922. The King was also furious and the storm was such that Lloyd George forced Robinson to decline the honour. This brought the scandal of the sale of honours to the surface and was a factor in Lloyd George's fall from power.

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