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Review: A very English Scandal

I was glued to the screen for the three instalments of “A Very English Scandal” – not least because I was at party headquarters during the later years of Jo Grimond’s leadership and am the last remaining active member of the small cabal that tried, somewhat quixotically, to prevent Jeremy Thorpe becoming leader in January 1967. I was also a party officer in the later stages of his leadership. Our opposition to Jeremy at the time had nothing whatever to do with his homosexuality, which simply did not figure in any discussion. It was entirely to do with his lack of political depth and his capricious authoritarianism which was difficult, and at times unpleasant, to accommodate. I was glad that there was coverage of Thorpe’s principled stand on anti-colonialism which was always commendable. A lot of the reminiscences since the film stress his undoubted communication skills and his showmanship but, alas, these are not key attributes of leader. Also, it is clear that there was the most remarkable compartmentalisation with the Norman Scott saga being contained entirely within the parliamentary party separate from the problems we had to cope with at headquarters. My obituary of Jeremy Thorpe can be found here. 

Taken as a whole the programmes covered the period well. There was inevitable compression of the material which sometimes gave a skewed perspective, and Russell Davies’ “dramatic licence” led him to treat some of the rumours and speculations of the period as facts. The one serious misrepresentation is that of Emlyn Hooson who is portrayed as a sly politician always seeking an opportunity to topple Thorpe in order to take over the leadership. He certainly wanted to be leader – he stood against Thorpe in January 1967 – but I know of no evidence that he took any action with a view to causing his resignation for selfish purposes. I went back over all my files and publications and there is no such indication in any of them. In fact, Emlyn’s leading role in discrediting Norman Scott at the now infamous meeting with Scott in February 1971 had the effect of entrenching Thorpe’s leadership. Emlyn was, in fact, a man of considerable intellect and principle.

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