Former Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party for attempting to oust Nick Clegg.
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Former Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott donates £300,000 to Labour candidates

Peer also gives £300,000 to 15 Lib Dems and £10,000 to Caroline Lucas in attempt to build a "progressive alliance". 

Labour has long conceded that it will be heavily outspent by the Tories at the election (while arguing that its superior ground operation will compensate) but the party has recieved a rare financial boost tonight. The former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party after his attempted coup against Nick Clegg, has given £300,000 to 30 Labour parliamentary candidates in an attempt to "help save our country from a Tory government cringing to Ukip". Twenty nine of the candidates are contesting Conservative-held marginals and one, Melanie Onn, is seeking to hold Great Grimsby against Ukip. 

Oakeshott, a multimillionaire property investor, who now describes himself as a "non-party social democrat", has also donated £300,000 to 15 Lib Dem candidates, including eight MPs, and £10,000 to Green MP Caroline Lucas. His declared ambition is to build a "progressive alliance" to secure the election of a "Labour-led government headed by Ed Miliband as prime minister". He said:

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? He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous. Scotland shows how referenda, even with 55-45 vote, can settle nothing, just open a can of worms.

Oakeshott's donations bring the traditional issue of tactical voting to the fore. Of the Lib Dems' 56 seats, the Tories lie in second place in 37. If the left divides in these constituencies, the danger is that the Conservative will make enough gains to remain the largest single party. While Labour cannot be seen to advocate support for rival candidates (not least given the Lib Dems' role in government and Miliband's ambition to build a "One Nation" party), shadow cabinet ministers acknowledge that it is a concern. 

Although the left is currently more fragmented than for decades, with the Greens and the SNP eating into Labour's vote, Oakeshott's donation is an example of how Miliband has partially succeeded in reuniting progressives. The peer's gift is the second from a former SDP figure after David Owen donated to the party last year. It would have been unthinkable for either man to aid New Labour in this way. 

Here is the full list of candidates backed by Oakeshott.

Labour 

Jessica Asato (Norwich North)

Catherine Atkinson (Erewash)

Nick Bent (Warrington South)

Louise Baldock (Stockton South) 

Polly Billington (Thurrock) 

Lisa Forbes (Peterborough) 

Victoria Fowler (Nuneaton) 

James Frith (Bury North) 

Sophy Gardner (Gloucester) 

Jamie Hanley (Pudsey) 

Rupa Huq (Ealing Central & Acton) 

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central)

Uma Kumaran (Harrow East)

Peter Kyle (Hove) 

Amina Lone (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Jo McCarron (Kingswood) 

Natasha Millward (Dudley South) 

Lara Norris (Great Yarmouth) 

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) 

Sarah Owen (Hastings & Rye) 

Nancy Platts (Brighton Kemptown) 

Lucy Rigby (Lincoln) 

Will Scobie (Thanet South) 

Lee Sherriff (Carlisle) 

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) 

Joy Squires (Worcester) 

Will Straw (Rossendale and Darwen) 

Sharon Taylor (Stevenage) 

Janos Toth (Cannock Chase) 

Julia Tickridge (Weaver Vale) 

Liberal Democrat

Norman Baker MP (Lewes)

Lorley Burt (Solihull)

Helen Flynn (Harrogate & Knaresborough) 

Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham) 

Ros Kayes (Dorset West) 

Tessa Munt MP (Wells)

Julie Porksen (Berwick-upon-Tweed) 

Jackie Porter (Winchester) 

John Pugh MP (Southport) 

David Rendel (Somerton & Frome) 

Dan Rogerson MP (North Cornwall) 

Adrian Sanders MP (Torbay) 

Vikki Slade (Mid Dorset & North Poole) 

Dorothy Thornhill (Watford) 

Jenny Willott MP (Cardiff Central) 

Green 

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser