British general election (4): how a chocolate soldier has riden to the rescue of the Centre-Left

“Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the general election only 105 days away. Will we vote Tory or Ukip for Euro referendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long-term peace and security at risk?

Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led government with Ed Miliband as prime minister?”

This is a quote from Matthew Oakeshott, now an independent member of the House of Lords, who – as explained in this news item  – has just announced that he is donating £600,000  to 30 Labour and 15 left of centre Liberal Democrat candidates in the forthcoming General Election.

Now, some 40 years ago, I knew Matthew Oakeshott because we both obtained Political Fellowships from the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust to work for Labour Party Opposition Frontbenchers – he was with Roy Jenkins and I was with Merlyn Rees – and indeed we both fought the General Election of 1974 as Labour candidates. The media at that time called us – because of the source of the funding – “chocolate soldiers”.

Always idiosyncratic, Matthew’s life went in a very different direction to mine. He became a rich investment manager and left the Labour Party at the time of the Social Democratic Alliance. I became a trade union official and am still a member of the Labour Party. As regards the forthcoming General Election, however, i guess that our aspirations are quite similar.


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