28th September 1920. Honours Scandal.
‘Cash for Honours’ has gone on since time immemorial, often via a nod and a wink in gentlemen’s clubs. What changed with David Lloyd-George was the brazen manner in which it was done.
Few people have heard of Albert Victor Grayson, Independent Labour MP before the First World-War, but behind his disappearance Today in 1920, lay scandal in high-places, for he had threatened to name the man behind Lloyd-George’s ‘Cash for Honours’ scandal.(1)
The fact that Grayson was last seen entering a house belonging to Honours ‘Broker’ Maundy Gregory, has led to many unsubstantiated theories as to whether he had been murdered.
Grayson had discovered that Liberal Prime-Minister, Lloyd-George had been using Gregory, amongst others, to sell honours, which Grayson said could be ‘traced back to No 10 Downing Street, and to the monocled dandy in Whitehall, and one day I will name him’.
Sometime actor and theatre producer, the scented and smarmy, socialite, Gregory had managed to become a political ‘fixer’, by wheedling his way into the heart of power.
Grayson, on the other hand, had become a repository of unwelcome-for the government-information concerning those who had received honours for cash and was accordingly spied upon by Special Branch, as a supposed agent of both Russia and the IRA.
It appeared also that in 1918, Sir Basil Thompson Head of Special Branch asked Gregory to spy on Grayson.
We need to examine the background to this scandal in war-time Britain. In 1916 Lloyd-George had replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister now of a Coalition, along with the Tories.
The Liberals split into Asquith, ‘Squiffites’ and Lloyd-George’s Coalition Liberals. However the Asquith Liberals controlled the Party finance, and Lloyd-George needed money, thus the idea of selling peerages, from knighthoods to dukedoms.(2)
Matters came to a head with the 1925 Honours (Prevention of Abuse) Act, though Gregory still still continued to take cash, but without ‘delivering the goods’. Obviously any retaliatory action would have fallen foul of the legislation.
However Gregory went a step too far in 1932, by offering a peerage for £12,000, to a Commander, Billyard Leake, who reported the matter to the authorities.
It resulted in Gregory’s being fined a nominal £50 and given 2 months imprisonment, the only time anyone has been charged under the 1925 Act.
Being to hot to handle, and with cash inducements, Grayson could have been spirited out of the country, certain Gregory was, but only to be interned in France where he died 1941.
It appears MI5 still have relative documents, so much of the affair will continue to be well, just rumours and hearsay.
Finally, where no state aid is given to political parties, moneyed people will always be looking for titles in return for financing politics, as long as we continue with our antique Honours System.
(1) Knighthoods were offered from £10,000, to £40,000 for higher honours such as dukedoms.
(2) Asquith was known as ‘Squiffy’, owing to his excessive drinking habits.