Thorpe and the lost weekend…

5 Dec

British politics has attracted some odd people over the years. None perhaps odder than Jeremy Thorpe. Remember this , as some MPs are currently trying to avoid the real issue ( as he did as well ) , as Menzies-Campbell is talking of his “ enforced resignation..” as Clegg is reminiscing, even as more scandal and tales may come out, remember Thorpe is one of the most scandalous and devious leaders there ever was.

I predict many will try and sidestep the issue that Thorpe was in trouble because of his sexuality. He wasn’t then and isn’t now. There’s more to it than that. There had been a rather Father Ted-esq incident of electoral expenses resting in his account, a directorship of a failed bank , the potential cover up of Smith, the sexual relationships …and then the conspiracy to murder charge. Thorpe in his awful memoirs concentrates on the legal performance, never really addresses the charge and it reads like a dull law report. The rest of the book reads like a dull memoir.

Thorpe played a role in one of the oddest episodes of 70s politics though. British politics lost weekend in March 74. Heath in Number 10, hoping to cobble a majority together with the Liberals, while Wilson (whose Labour party had the most seats) sat outside. Patiently telling anyone that he wouldn’t form a coalition with anyone else and leaving Heath to “swing in the wind”.

What went on between Thorpe and Heath however is unclear. Thorpe claims to never have asked for coalition and never raised offices. Heath heard something different. That gossip of old, Clark writes of an offer of the Home office. He also believes the special branch dossier would have been clear about Thorpe’s personal life. What is clear is that Thorpe asked for PR but had no real strategy for achieving it. Steele, who was his chief whip ( and was more guarded in his own memoirs on Thorpe’s personal issues), knew nothing of Thorpe’s visit to Number 10 until he heard it on the radio …and also that he was going too.

A more rounded view of the negotiations, and it is clear they were, comes from the Armstrong memorandum. Robert Armstrong head of the private office and key contact with the Palace. Armstrong gives a tale of broken telephones, lunches at the giulietta romeo in Soho, more lunches, the wonderful “it was not a happy occasion “comment about a leaving drink. However the real thing is that the Liberals were completely underprepared in how to negotiate or what to negotiate for, had no strength or proposals and the Conservatives understood the stark reality that without the numbers you’re doing something other than “swinging” in the wind.

Heath was clearly advised by Armstrong to offer a cabinet post to Thorpe and maybe one other this was offered and Thorpe discussed the favourite 70s parrot of a grand coalition.

Thorpe backtracks after the meeting and puts electoral reform above the economy and wants Heaths head as the price of coalition. Heath doesn’t give much ground in the next meeting but offers the wet lettuce of a speaker’s conference on electoral reform.  And there it ends…Thorpe had no blueprint and no mandate from his party. How different 2010 seems in comparison.


Alan Clark The Tories

Jeremy Thorpe In My Own Time

Davis Steele Against Goliath

Robert Armstrong’s Events Leading to the resignation of Mr Heaths Administration March 1974 from the National Archives.

Peter Hennessy Muddling Through.


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