The Town of Ramsgate pub has a new owner. A very pleased Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay is looking over his purchase by the Thames where pirates and mutineers were once hanged at low tide.
"We'll hang George Osborne here when they catch up with him and Coulson," jokes the Liberal Democrat peer, pointing to old iron chains dangling over the water, rumoured to be relics of the Wapping pub's gory past. Despite his sober city suit, Lord Oakeshott is something of a swashbuckler himself, living beyond the reach of the whips and occasionally darting out to raid his Tory coalition partners.
Six months ago he resigned as Treasury spokesman in the Lords rather than hold his tongue about the "pitiful" and "waffly" Project Merlin agreement on bank bonuses and lending. Today, in an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard, he waded back into the battle, warning it will be "curtains for the Coalition" if the Chancellor and David Cameron fail to act on the banks when a landmark report by Sir John Vickers comes out next month. "What would not be acceptable is for Vickers to come out with a radical solution and then the Government not to implement it immediately and in full," he warned. "Every Liberal Democrat from top to bottom is united about that. It will be absolutely critical -- a Lib-Dem red line, bottom line, sine qua non -- whatever you want to call it. That will be crunch time for the Coalition. If the Vickers Report is kicked into the long grass, it will be curtains for the Coalition."
Mr Cameron will take the ultimatum seriously because Lord Oakeshott is extremely well connected, not least to his Cabinet friends Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary. Many have observed that he and Mr Cable tend to think the same thing.
The Vickers Report is due out on September 12, just before the party conferences, and is likely to make radical proposals to split or ringfence so-called "casino" banking from the banks' high street arms. Anger about the banks is growing again, ahead of data out shortly that will show the big five have missed their Project Merlin targets for lending to small and medium-sized firms. Lord Oakeshott is scathing about the behaviour of banks who "have their foot on the windpipe" of struggling companies and are responsible for holding back growth.
But he is also optimistic they will not be let off the hook again. He senses a watershed change in the political landscape in recent weeks that has given the Lib-Dems the upper hand over a Prime Minister and Chancellor damaged by the phone hacking scandal. "The implosion of Rupert Murdoch has strengthened and vindicated Vince, while weakening Cameron and Osborne," he said. Like Mr Cable and Mr Huhne, Lord Oakeshott, 64, began his political career in Labour. He was special adviser to home secretary Roy Jenkins in the Seventies before making a fortune as an investment manager, and founding a company that now handles some Pounds 400 million of investments.
He is unafraid of controversy. It was he who used parliamentary privilege to reveal Sir Fred Goodwin took out an injunction to hide an alleged affair with a colleague at Royal Bank of Scotland. Before that, he forced Conservative treasurer Lord Ashcroft to surrender his non-dom status.
He would have preferred a coalition with Labour and was dismayed when several key figures in that party, including Ed Miliband, showed no enthusiasm after last year's election. …