Friday, January 27, 2006

Passing rapidly over Loulou Harcourt

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. It was written before Simon Hughes hit the headlines, so it has turned out to be even more topical than I intended.

This reminds me of a Liberator cover we chose late in August 2001. As Charles Kennedy had been largely invisible since the general election in June, we had a picture of him with a speech bubble saying "Did anything happen while I was away?" While that issue was at the printers 9/11 happened, making it a very satirical cover indeed.

Anyway, here is the column.

And also...
A French visitor asked John Wilkes, the 18th century libertarian and libertine, how far the liberty of the press extends in England. He replied: “That’s what I am trying to find out.” Well, we found out this week.

When things look bad, history can be a great comfort. And Matthew Parris’s Great Parliamentary Scandals proves Liberals have come through darker days than these.

Take Sir Charles Dilke, once the great hope of the Radicals and a possible successor to Gladstone. In 1885 Dilke was cited in a divorce case. He protested his innocence, but when he produced his diary in court it had holes cut in many of the pages. He claimed this was his usual practice after completing an engagement. It did not save his career.

Then there is Horatio Bottomley, financier and publisher – the Edwardian Robert Maxwell. This Liberal MP served five years for his swindles. Found working on mailbags by a visitor, he was asked, “Sewing, Bottomley?” “No, reaping,” he famously replied.

A more exotic figure is Trebitsch Lincoln. Parris sums him up: “Fraudster, spy, Anglican curate, German revolutionary, journalist, secret agent, international outlaw, Chinese cult leader and – in 1910 – Liberal MP for Darlington.”

Passing rapidly over Loulou Harcourt, who had amassed Europe’s largest collection of child pornography by the time of his suicide in 1922, we come to Mr Gladstone himself. Some thought Gladstone’s habit of seeking out prostitutes, praying with them and then whipping himself sinister. They did not include the women themselves, amongst whom he was known as ‘Daddy-do-nothing’.

I have played safe, mentioning long-dead politicians. But a Captain Peter Wright published a book on Gladstone 29 years after his death and still ended up in court.

Wright said Gladstone: “founded the great tradition … in public to speak the language of the highest and strictest principle, and in private to pursue and possess every sort of woman.” One of Gladstone’s sons replied with a vicious attack on Wright, who sued for libel. The case turned on the Grand Old Man’s reputation and Wright lost.

Since I published my account of Paddy Logan’s fight in the Commons here just before Christmas, I have heard from three of his great grandsons and a great great granddaughter. Fortunately, they all rather liked that column.

1 comment:

Peter Pigeon said...

Dilke did return to Parliament after the scandal - a Liberal member for the Forest of Dean. But he did not hold office again.