Tag Archives: jeremy thorpe

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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A Very English Scandal

There are two incontrovertible facts concerning the Thorpe saga. First, that the dog Rinka was shot dead. Secondly, that Norman Scott wasn’t. Everything else depended upon the various and varying accounts of a number of highly unsatisfactory witnesses.

The BBC theme music swings with a jauntiness which matches Jeremy’s brown titfer. The story is based upon Peter Bessell’s discredited account in court. Bessell was extracted from California to give evidence on the promise of an immunity from arrest for fraud, and with £25,000 in his pocket from the Telegraph plus the promise of a further £25,000 if Jeremy were to be convicted. From the prosecution point of view, he was a nightmare witness but they called him anyway, more in hope I would think, than with any confidence he could withstand George Carman’s withering cross-examination. What material for a defending counsel! Bessell bombed. One anecdote must have gone down well with the jury: he told them that Thorpe had initially proposed to have Scott poisoned in a pub but that when it was pointed out to Jeremy that it would not look good if Scott fell off his barstool dead, he replied that the hired hit man should simply enquire of the barman the way to a convenient mine shaft. Even though the BBC show was played as farce, that revealing gem of Bessell’s evidence was omitted.

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Lord Martin Thomas writes….Jeremy and me

We are going to hear a lot of adverse things about Jeremy in the next few weeks. But I doubt even Hugh Grant can portray the style of Jeremy as he really was. He was a terrific campaigner. It was typical of him to swish in on a helicopter to support me in West Flintshire in 1970, to make a speech on the stump and to swish out again, leaving the gathering gasping for breath and hugely impressed.

He had one amazing political attribute – an abiding memory of your name and always, …

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A bit of Lib Dem history

Embed from Getty Images

The sad passing of Jim Davidson recently brings back memories, as I write this here in Aboyne in  the heart of his former constituency.

“We can’t have another Welshman as leader of the Liberal Party” said Jo Grimond. When Jo resigned as leader in 1967, there were two contestants to replace him: Emlyn Hooson and Jeremy Thorpe. The electorate was the Parliamentary Party of twelve Liberal MPs. Initially, Hooson had the support of  six of them which, if he voted for himself, would make him the clear winner.

Jo took aside Jim Davidson, the pleasant and talented recently elected Member for Aberdeenshire West, who was a Hooson supporter. Jo’s wife Laura had not forgiven the Welsh wizard, David Lloyd George, for supplanting her grandfather, Herbert Asquith, as Prime Minister in 1916 and splitting the Party.  Another Welshman as Leader was unthinkable. Jim succumbed to Jo’s pressure and with misgivings, as a memoir of Jo and Laura revealed in 2000, promised his vote for Thorpe.

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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.

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In pictures: Leaders from the archives

Just delving about in the Getty Images archive, I happened upon these great images of our current leader and some of our past leaders*. Please click on the images to read the captions.

* includes predecessor parties.

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Book review: Michael Bloch’s “Jeremy Thorpe”

jeremy thorpe book coverThe publication of this book was reportedly delayed until after the death of its subject. Some might have expected, therefore, a ‘hatchet job’. (In fact, the delay was at the insistence of Jeremy Thorpe, who co-operated with the author to the extent of meeting him around twenty times to discuss his life). Instead, it seems a balanced, comprehensive, fair, even (in its concluding chapter) affectionate, portrait of its subject.

Nevertheless, the book pulls no punches in relating the events before, during and after the famous Old Bailey trial at which Thorpe and his fellow defendants were unanimously acquitted by a jury. It presents an apparently honest and complete account of Jeremy Thorpe, including some astute observations as to his character, such as his tendency towards fantasy and need for danger.

The Norman Scott thread and the trial for conspiracy to murder takes up about a fifth of the book. Bloch lays out, in sometimes mesmerizing detail, the labyrinthine unravelling of the story.

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Five party leaders at the funeral of Jeremy Thorpe

Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg, David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell attend the funeral of former Liberal Party party leader Jeremy Thorpe at Saint Margaret’s Church on December 17, 2014 in Westminster. The eagle-eyed will also spot Tim Farron on the right.

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Tribute to Jeremy Thorpe

NPG x167152; Jeremy Thorpe by Walter Bird, Copyright National POrtrait Gallery, London some rights reservedJeremy Thorpe’s funeral was held last Wednesday at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. It was attended by around 400 people including all five leaders of the Liberal party and the Liberal Democrats who succeeded Jeremy Thorpe: David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg. There was a gathering afterwards at the National Liberal Club. The following tribute was delivered at the funeral by Nick Harvey MP, and is reproduced here at his suggestion.

It is a great honour to be asked to say a few words today about the political life and times of Jeremy Thorpe, though I do so with considerable humility as many present here witnessed and lived the Thorpe era first hand, whereas I was still at school at the time.

To describe Jeremy’s footsteps as giant ones in which to follow in North Devon would be a huge understatement.

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Jeremy Thorpe – a life in videos

As a companion to my earlier picture post, here are some videos embedded from YouTube featuring Jeremy Thorpe.

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Jeremy Thorpe – a life in pictures

There are a host of fantastic photographs of Jeremy Thorpe in the archives. He had a real sense of showmanship to which photographers responded. Here are a few images which reflect his life.

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LDVideo: Crosstalk with Jeremy Thorpe (BBC1, 24 March 1974)

With thanks to Ed Stradling, here’s a 40 minute interview between Jeremy Thorpe and Richard Crossman, originally broadcast on BBC1 on 24th March 1974.

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Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe dies

jeremy thorpe_2The party website records the passing of former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, who died today aged 85:

Mr Thorpe died today (4 December) at his home in London. He had battled with Parkinson’s Disease for more than 35 years. He was elected as Liberal MP for North Devon in the 1959 General Election and held the seat for 20 years. Following the retirement of Jo Grimond, he was elected as leader of the Liberal Party in 1967. He was a fervent supporter of Britain’s membership of the the EU

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6 British Pathé video clips of ex-Liberal leaders from 1931 to 1967

Sir John Simon speaks to the Nation. “Let us give to the Prime Minister a firm mandate in the name of the whole nation” (1931)

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Lessons of Coalition (13): what do the Lib Dems need to learn from the first 3 years?

ldv coalition lessonsLibDemVoice is running a daily feature, ‘Lessons of Coalition’, to assess the major do’s and don’ts learned from our experience of the first 3 years in government. Reader contributions are welcome, either as comments or posts. The word limit is no more than 450 words, and please focus on just one lesson you think the party needs to learn. Simply email your submission to [email protected] Today David Allen shares his thoughts.

If It Won’t Work, Walk

In 1974, Ted Heath called on Jeremy Thorpe to join the Conservatives in a historic …

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How Jeremy Thorpe (and then Nick Clegg) broke the electoral system

Democratic Audit this week published its latest analysis, its depressing conclusions summed up by The Guardian’s headline British democracy in terminal decline.

A fascinating aspect of the Audit, even for those of us still scarred by the rejection of electoral reform in the 2011 referendum, is its detailed dissection of how the First-Past-The-Post system is failing democracy. And in particular the pinpointing of the year when FPTP started to go bad: 1974, and the Liberal insurgence under Jeremy Thorpe, when the party increased its support from 7.5% in 1970 to 19.3%.

This, say the Audit’s authors, marked a turning point in the UK’s electoral history, a moment when ended the dominance of the ‘Golden Age’ of FPTP (1950-70) and introduced instead its ‘Dysfunctional Age’ (1979-2005):

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Eric Lubbock: From Orpington Man to Buddhist Monk?

For many years Adrian Slade has interviewed prominent Liberal Democrats. To mark his recent decision to make his archive of the interview recordings available to researchers and other interested parties, Lib Dem Voice is running a selection of his write-ups of interviews from over the years. The latest is from 2002 and is with Lord Avebury, formerly Eric Lubbock – victor of the 1962 Orpington by-election, MP for eight years and chair of the parliamentary human right s group from 1976 to 1997.

For a few astonishing days in March 1962, the Liberal Party led the Conservative and Labour parties in the opinion polls, the only time it had ever done so since polls were invented.

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Chris Rennard writes… 50 years after the Orpington by-election

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LDVideo | Party political broadcasts from the 1960s: Bonham Carter, Thorpe, Grimond & friends

Round 2 of our trip down PPB memory lane. Yesterday we trawled the 1950s, and today it’s time for the 1960s to take centre-stage…

Liberal Party election broadcast 1964 (with Frank Byers, Mark Bonham Carter, Jeremy Thorpe and Margaret Wingfield — alas, with some sound issues)

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LDVideo | Election archive special… the 1960-70s

It’s Saturday night, but forget the X-Factor… Enjoy instead some classic election clips from the archives…

Jo Grimond campaigns in the 1966 general election

(Available on YouTube here.)

Election Campaign, Feb. 1974 (including a rare clip of Jeremy Thorpe at 2:20).

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Opinion: The Morning after the Night Before … February 1974

On Friday 19 February 2010 from 9am until midnight, the BBC Parliament channel gave us the chance to relive the February 1974 election by broadcasting the whole of Election Night 74, hosted by Alistair Burnett.

When I stumbled on the coverage at 6 pm, the programme was reaching 1.00 pm on Friday 1 March, the day after polling day.  By that stage, 600 results were in and the Conservatives were a dozen seats and a few thousand votes behind Labour.  The swingometer, operated by Robert McKenzie, showed a 2% swing to Labour from the Conservatives but this failed to register the real flow of …

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What the papers say…

Civil  servants are as bad as bankers … The Telegraph trumpets Gladstone’s anniversary … Tories support Labour’s school Sats Tests … Another dodgy Tory donor exposed … Labour split on voting reform … Lords skim expenses cream … BBC to make film on Thorpe tragedy … what Chris Huhne thinks of Prince Charles … Unions sit on money for Labour … look at who says Hauge is Vauge …and the only thing the final polls of the year can agree upon is that Liberal Democrat support is holding up

Now Civil Servants join bankers in ludicrous bonuses – Daily Mail,, 24.12.09

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YouTube ‘cos we want to: Jeremy, David and Paddy

Another instalment in our occasional series rounding up political videos doing the rounds – for this special Friday night edition, we’re delving back a little further into the archives to recall three of the great Liberal leaders of the past few decades.

First up, here’s the only clip I can find of Jeremy Thorpe, being questioned by a studio audience alongside Jimmy Saville (how times change):

By the way, if you’ve never seen Peter Cook’s magisterial ‘biased judge’ summing up from 1979 at the conclusion of the Thorpe trial, click here and enjoy 12 minutes of the finest satirical comedy ever staged.

Second’s up is David Steel, here represented by the famous excerpt from his leadership speech in 1981 – yes, that’s right, the “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government” one:

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Nick’s pick of the greatest Parliamentary speeches in the last century

A big tip of my hat to Michael White in today’s Guardian for his feature, Greatest speeches in parliament of the past 100 years, 1909-2009, which links to a number of the Hansard transcripts of Parliamentary speeches nominated by ’46 distinguished figures, mostly living peers and MPs, plus a few officials and observers’.

It’s well worth browsing lazily through – as, incidentally, is the Hansard website, which you can access here. You can, for instance, search on speeches by “Jo Grimond”, and read ‘Major Grimond’s’ (as he then was known) maiden speech from March 10, 1950

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