Another name from the past… November 10, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Fascinating interview here on Slate with John Preston, author of a new book on Jeremy Thorpe – entitled ‘A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the heart of the Establishment’. Thorpe, who by the by had an Irish grandfather, comes across as a rather tragic figure, a man well ahead of his time trapped, in a way, by the fact that although Britain was beginning to change a little, it hadn’t changed anywhere near enough.
He represented a new breed of politician. If you look at the standard-issue British politician of the 1960s and ’70s, they were overweight, gray-haired, doughy-featured men in badly fitting suits—and they’re all men until Mrs. Thatcher came along. Thorpe was dashing, he was charismatic, and he had an air of great charm and irreverence. He didn’t seem to take things as seriously as his colleagues did, and that was very attractive. He was a genuinely liberal figure; he wasn’t a hypocrite. He voted for the Homosexual Law Reform when it came up in the House of Commons; he was very, very opposed to apartheid when a lot of British politicians—including Mrs. Thatcher—were either tacitly or overtly for it.
I wonder though at one point Preston makes:
And Thorpe had this ostensibly mad dream of leading the Liberals back to the prominence they’d enjoyed back in the 1920s. The bizarre thing is he almost made it, because when Britain collapsed into almost-bankruptcy and near-anarchy in the 1970s, Thorpe was within touching distance of power. He could’ve been deputy prime minister in a coalition if he’d played his cards a bit more adroitly. And yet just five years later he goes on trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. It’s an amazing arc.
Is that likely that the Liberal’s could have made it into government then? It appears he could have done it. At one point Edward Heath was attempting to persuade the Liberals to join a Tory led coalition in February 1974. The sticking point was electoral reform.
And by the by, Preston’s book clearly underlines just how oppressive it was for gay men (and of course all LGBTQ people) during this period. And points to some terrible aspects of the situation where some of Thorpe’s most voluble pursuers were themselves gay and some were themselves being blackmailed. The human misery of those times is difficult sometimes to engage with, isn’t it? And as Preston says, if homosexuality was legal none of this would have happened.
One other thought. Back in those days the Liberal MPs would fit quite comfortably in a… well, I don’t know, a small van, with really just a handful of them elected. In between their numbers went up to a dizzying 57 or so at its peak. And now? Back down to 8.