Jeremy Thorpe – ‘one of the bravest men in British politics’

On Monday night, the National Liberal Club was the august venue for the AGM of the Liberal Democrat History Group, followed by a talk by Ronald Porter entitled “Jeremy is innocent”.

The full title of the talk, which was presented personal views from Ronald Porter (who is an obituarist and food/wine writer for the Independent and other outlets) was:

The life and times of Jeremy (1929-2014) and Marion Thorpe (1926-2014) by Ronald Porter with some splendid help from Duncan Brack.

Michael Steed chaired the talk and Duncan Brack helped provide photographs for it.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, held in the Lady Violet room, with a very interesting talk, some fascinating photos and attractive music. This was my first visit to the National Liberal Club. I was blown away by the grand surroundings. It was all very “Lord Bonkers-ish” – I looked around in vain for the stained glass window commemorating the Bonham-Carter victory in the 1958 Torrington by-election.

So did the talk tell us anything we didn’t know? Well, I have to say that Ronald Porter presented a vast array of facts and anecdotes about Jeremy and Marion Thorpe. It was a very well rounded and interesting talk. It particularly gave me a much better awareness of Marion Thorpe – with her highly distinguished musical background and her first Royal marriage. This part of the talk certainly gave me new information. Who knew, for example, that Queen Mary had to eventually consent to the then Marion Stein’s first marriage, followed by assent from King George VI?

Mr Porter told us about the judge at Jeremy Thorpe’s trial, who was critical of witnesses for the prosecution. He mentioned that Peter Cook lampooned the judge by saying, assuming the person of Justice Cantley:

You are now to retire, as indeed should I, to carefully to consider your verdict of “Not Guilty”

Ronald Porter gave a very appreciative portrait of Jeremy Thorpe, outlining his many attributes and his championship of many causes. He ended by observing that his research for the talk had led him to conclude that Jeremy Thorpe was:

….one of the bravest men in British politics.

After the talk, there was a question and answer session which involved recollections from several people with deep knowledge of Jeremy Thorpe, who were his friends and colleagues.

You can find out more about the Liberal Democrat History Group here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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16 Comments

  • Chris Bertram 10th Feb '17 - 2:01pm

    “Mr Porter told us about the judge at Jeremy Thorpe’s trial, who was critical of witnesses for the prosecution.”

    Well, they were a rum lot, weren’t they? An ex-MP with financial ‘issues’, a dog-killing gunman of questionable skill with reasons not to be totally honest about his involvement, and a principal witness who was all too easily painted as a fantasist given his tendency to embellish his life story. The judge’s summing-up may well have seemed biased, and Peter Cook’s parody was a good one, but there was never much chance of a conviction while the prosecution rested on the evidence of those three.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Feb '17 - 2:09pm

    Paul , this interests me. I would have liked to have gone to it , I was at the similar Liberal Democrat History Group event about Roy Jenkins, a particular favourite of mine, in the Summer at the House of Lords , and after speaking at it , and popping in a few impressions , as I do, was delighted none other than Lord Steel , one of the main speakers came over to me to compliment me on my impression of Tony Benn! What a nice fellow, that man of Steel !

    I am perpetually baffled by Thorpe. I remember him well in the era when I was not much more than a tiny tot, and still in primary school when he was all over the news scandal and all. Was he innocent ? I have read and viewed stuff that makes me go from , of course , to, who knows ! As a leader he was interesting , entertaining and imaginative.But not an ideas man at all, like Grimond. He was certainly wreckless even if innocent, to think he could stand for and be leader with a double life.

    His mistake was not coming out as bi in an era when that would have been possible but difficult. Had he , in the seventies resigned because he had been blackmailed, and explained what truth there was in the past association with Scott, he would have become a LGBT hero.

    Brave ? Of course … not ? Who knows?

  • Tony Greaves 10th Feb '17 - 2:18pm

    Hm.

  • Mark Smulian 10th Feb '17 - 2:35pm

    “It was all very “Lord Bonkerish”. I think you mean ‘Lord Bonkers’, Liberator’s celebrated columnist. I shudder to think what ‘Lord Bonker’ might have been commemorated for!

  • The court case against Thorpe was given page after page in the Times. (until the newspaper suspended publication) Way overblown.
    When I met him he struck me as very much being rather too personally motivated. So much for having heroes.

  • And a Hmmmmm from me.

    One of the few advantages of advancing age is one remembers and had personal dealings with personages unfamiliar to modern political babes in arms. Perhaps the nicest was dear old Lucy Masterman whose husband was in Asquith’s cabinet. You’d have loved her, Lorenzo.

    And, then there was John Jeremy T.

    Jeremy undoubtedly had charm, wit and humour….. when it suited him….. and he could make a good speech…. though not as rousing as Jo. For the rest, as Deep Throat advised at Watergate…….. “Follow the Money!”.

    My personal sympathy is reserved for Rinka.

    Jeremy Thorpe: The Silent Conspiracy – YouTube
    Video for you tube jeremy thorpe▶ 37:07

  • Hi Jonathan,

    I wish I could tell you much more. I met Mrs Masterman in 1963/64 when I was a very young employee of the party in Victoria Street in the Youth Office and doing odd jobs for my MP (Donald Wade, Huddersfield West). Victoria Street was a hub of gossip (Willie Rushton of ‘That was the Week That Was’ fame did cartoons in ‘Liberal News)’. He had a big fall out with Lady Violet and did a somewhat vulgar semaphore cartoon in Liberal News in retaliation.

    I had to attend Party Council Meetings in the National Liberal Club and for some reason Lucy used to come and sit next to me to chat and I would get coffee for her (maybe that’s why she sat next to me). She was in her eighties then and looking back on it now there are so many questions I wish that I’d asked her. I know she was on the radical side of the party and would tut tut at some of the more right wing characters on Party Council of those days. She told me she knew LLG very well when her husband had been working on the welfare aspects of the 1909 budget.. She was quite tiny and somehow I felt protective towards her (though I’m sure she was more than capable of looking after herself). She always made one feel important which is a great gift………… it was only later that I discovered she was General Lyttleton’s daughter. A lovely lady.

    I gather CFG got involved with propaganda in WW1 (presumably MI7 with Buchan and Milne etc. ?) . I’m a bit surprised at that because given his radicalism I would have thought he had more in common with Charles Trevelyan. Of course he died far too young from too many drinkies. Lucy obviously loved him despite his difficulties and wrote his biography which I’m now going to buy thanks to you.

    Could you write an up to date one ? I think her papers still exist in Cambridge. A Ph.D. there waiting to happen ?

  • Dear Paul,
    I’m glad you’ve now visited the NLC and enjoyed the surroundings. Non-Club members will be made most welcome at this year’s Orpington Dinner on Tuesday, 14th March which is the date of polling day back in 1962. This year’s speakers are Tom Brake, Sal Brinton and Sarah Olney. Tickets are £65 for a drinks reception (7 p.m.) followed by a three course meal with wine. This price also includes a small donation.

    The Club’s Orpington Circle exists to raise funds for Westminster by-elections and we have covered every deposit (and sometimes donated more than £500) since 2008.

    Places may be booked with Louisa Pooley at the Club ([email protected])

  • Richard Underhill 10th Feb '17 - 8:29pm

    Hopefully Lord Bonkers is well. I well remember his remarks on the outcome of the 2015 general election, at a time when we had only eight MPs.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Feb '17 - 2:53pm

    One or two little-known facts.
    (1) The Rushton cartoon strip in the Liberal News featured a character called Brimstone Belcher.
    (2) The cod semaphore strip (a 7 letter expletive) was the last one, after Rushton had been sacked by the powers that be. I have a copy somewhere.
    (3) I decided to join the Liberal Party after hearing Thorpe speak at the Freshers Meet of the Oxford University Liberal Club in the autumn of 1960.
    (4) I first met David Raw in the Liberal Party youth office in the basement of Victoria Street circa June 1964.

    My comment on this thread remains “Hm”.

  • Jonathan, I’ve tried to locate it without any apparent success, but I would welcome a chat about C.F.G.Masterman and dear Lucy. Became familiar with MI7 when I did my Masters with Gary Sheffield. Also interested in the UDC, Morel, Trevelyan, as well as Jack Pease and the FAB.

    Given the circumstances if Caron et al pick this up, I’m happy for them to disclose my email address to you.

  • Adding to a little known fact.

    Yes, I first met Tony Greaves when I worked in the Liberal Party Youth Office in the basement of Victoria Street circa June, 1964. He was, and still is, three weeks older than me – though he has less hair now….. otherwise he is unchanged (thank goodness).

  • Simon Banks 12th Feb '17 - 8:11pm

    Jeremy Thorpe’s agent once told Devon & Cornwall activists she needed all candidates’ biological details. It is suspected she meant biographical.

    Jeremy was an immensely effective leader of a small party, full if energy and pizazz. He espoused some brave and radical policies. But I always felt uneasy that the performance seemed to take priority over the content and more than uneasy when he deflected questions about a secret fund by stressing how much he had sacrificed for the party. Few people present had not made sacrifices for the party and some hadn’t got much in return.

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