Thursday, December 04, 2014

Jeremy Thorpe remembered

The fall of Jeremy Thorpe had already taken place by the time I joined the Liberal Party, but he was its leader when it won the by-election victories in the early 1970s that helped get me interested in politics.

In his pomp Thorpe was a dazzling figure - though without the intellectual appeal of Jo Grimond - and Jonathan Fryer was from just the generation to be dazzled by him:
I first met Jeremy when I was Secretary of the Oxford University Liberal Club about 1971 and he came to speak at the Oxford Union, as Liberal Leader. He was funny and gracious, a scintillating speaker and at heart a great showman. Which other party leader in those days would have dreamt of conducting an election tour by hovercraft?
As Jonathan goes on to say, Thorpe  nearly destroyed the Liberal Party by his "feasting with panthers". Legend has it that some Young Liberals were so alarmed by the company he was keeping and the risks he was running that they went to the chief whip.

There were others who disliked Thorpe because of the way he ran the party and its finances, though the details of those arguments are probably lost in time by now.

Then came the court case at the Old Bailey where he was tried for conspiracy to murder and acquitted. Thorpe's Telegraph obituary has the basics of this, though several books were written about the case and Thorpe's wider career.

Thorpe's career was very much an act, and that act was a little too blatantly Eton and Oxford Union for my tastes - though if you read that obituary you will find his background was a little more complicated than he made it appear.

Auberon Waugh, who enlivened the 1979 contest in North Devon by standing for the Dog Lovers' Party, once said he disliked Thorpe because he dressed exactly like the bucks at his own public school.

Let's leave the last words with Nick Harvey, the current MP for the constituency:
In North Devon he was a greatly loved champion of the community and is remembered with huge affection to this day. 
It would be wrong to recall only the tragedy of his downfall - where in hindsight he can be seen largely as a casualty of the era in which he lived. Instead we should celebrate a towering force in shaping the political landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

The Telegraph obituary remarks: "Yet he was never tempted to appeal to wavering Tory voters by trimming his Liberal views on issues such as South Africa or capital punishment."

Will any of the current lot earn such a tribute?