Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Thorpe’

Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

Related link: http://www.libdemvoice.org/graham-tope-a-life-in-politics-25133.html

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Remembering Mike Harskin

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th October, 2012

A dozen or so of us gathered in the Guest Room at the House of Lords this evening, courtesy of Lord (Chris) Rennard, to celebrate the memory of Mike Harskin, former editor of Liberal Democrat News, who died at a tragically young age 20 years ago. My contact with him was that between editor and contributor, which was enough to make me realise how unconventional his approach was, sometimes concertina-ing a whole week’s production schedule into one marathon day-and-night session. Mike fought the Brent South parliamentary seat, unsuccessfully, and for a while could be found in the Liberal Whips office in the House of Commons, but he will better be remembered for being one of the key activists in what were dubbed the ‘Green Guard’ of the National League of Young Liberals who sometimes were such a headache to David Steel. These were an ecologically-minded antidote to the previous libertarian socialist Red Guards of Peter Hain & Co, who had made life hell for Jeremy Thorpe, and brought together such figures as Felix Dodds (now in the US) and a literal household of young Liberal activists including Carina Trimingham and Louise Bloom and up-and-coming political stars such as Martin Horwood MP. All of the aforementioned (except Felix) were there tonight, along with Peter Chegwyn, David Boyle and others. It was a delightfully incongruous setting for such an assemblage, but Mike would have enjoyed the irony. He didn’t live long enough to experience the full flowering of the Internet revolution and social media, alas, but I have no doubt he would have revelled in it if he had.

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Jeremy Thorpe Unveiled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th July, 2009

Avril Vellacott and Jeremy Thorpe's bustThe great, the good and the sometimes naughty of the old Liberal Party were out en masse in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House at Westminster this evening, for the unveiling of a portrait bust of former party leader Jeremy Thorpe, as well as a preview of the three latest (and final) acquisitions of busts of 20th century Prime Ministers intended for the Commons lobby: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Andrew Bonar Law and Neville Chamberlain (the most stunning portrayal being that of Neville Chamberlain, apparently only on loan from Birmingham, but hey). The evening was introduced by Hugo Swire, MP, Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader — barely old enough to remember Jeremy’s halcyon days as a politician — gave an amusing and  nicely-balanced speech,  while his predecessors Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy and David Steel brushed shoulders with various Grimonds and Bonham-Carters. The Thorpe bust will be displayed in the Grimond Room in Parliament.

John Bercow, the new Mr Speaker, was both gracious and genuinely enthusiastic in his lauding of JT as one of the political stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Mr Bercow unveiled the bust — a cast from an original by sculptor and Twickenham Rugby Club enthusiast, Avril Vellacott, which she made shortly before JT’s first marriage to Caroline Allpass (who was tragically killed in a car accident) and which still graces the Thorpe home in Orme Square — by pulling on one tassled cord while Jeremy, in a wheelchair, tugged gently on another. Jeremy, despite long years of crippling Parkinson’s disease, then astonished everyone by giving a 10-minute speech, via a lapel mike. He paid particular tribute to his second wife and loyal companion, Marion (who was sitting slightly tearfully in another wheelchair beside him) and declared firmly that he intended to campaign vigorously for the LibDems in the run-up to the forthcoming general election. Indomitable, or what?

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Jeremy Thorpe’s 80th Birthday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 29th April, 2009

jeremy-thorpeThe former Liberal leader Jermey Thorpe is celebrating his 80th birthday today, though a big party in his honour at the National Liberal Club in Westminister actually took place last night. It was attended by over 150 people, including his political successors David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg. Nick gave the first of several tributes to the man who by common consent was the most flamboyantly charismatic leader the Party has had in recent times. Alas, he was brought down by the scandal of his trial in May 1979 on charges of conspiracy to murder, of which he was found not guilty. Nick said that Jeremy’s witty but trenchant speech in favour of the then European Community in 1967 was the best political speech he knew, though he admitted he hadn’t heard it live, as he was only a few months old at the time. I can vouch for the oratory power; Jeremy came down to speak at the Oxford Union when I was Secretary of the Oxford University Liberal Club and had the audience eating out of his hand.

After his downfall, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which has left him physically wasted and wheelchair-bound, though mentally still remarkably alert, confounding the medical experts’ predictions regarding his longevity. That is undoubtedly in large part due to the devoted care of his second wife, Marion, herself also now in a wheelchair. At the NLC party, the pair received a steady stream of well-wishers at one end of the magnificant Smoking Room.

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