In Memoriam Jeremy Thorpe
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th December, 2014
Jeremy Thorpe, who has died aged 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease, was a politician of great charm and brilliance who was brought down by a persistent streak of recklessness that prevented him achieving his full potential. The scion of a family steeped in Conservatism, he dressed like an Edwardian but identified himself as a radical at a time when the Liberal Party — saved from oblivion by the canny and charismatic Jo Grimond — was distinctly unfashionable. 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? But he very nearly destroyed the Party he loved by his feasting with panthers (as Oscar Wilde would have put it), though in Jeremy’s case it was not a young Scottish aristocrat who would prove to be his nemesis, but a stable lad and sometime male model, Norman Scott, who became the target of an extraordinary plot by some of Jeremy’s associates, which famously led to the death of Rinka the dog. It should be stressed that in the subsequent trial Thorpe himself was found not guilty of conspiracy to murder, but the case against him could hardly have been more damaging to his political cause. Yet he rashly thought (wrongly) that the people of North Devon might forgive him and re-elect him. Jeremy was bisexual, but too traditional to admit that publicly, and the lies he told to some of his parliamentary colleagues to cover up his true nature made him persona non grata with some in the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats who never forgave him, though others of us remained faithful friends. His second wife, the concert pianist Marion Stein — who predeceased him — was amazingly resolute in her support for him and it was always a pleasure to visit them at the beautiful house in Orme Square that she had received in settlement from her previous husband, the Earl of Harewood. The last time I saw them together was at Jeremy’s 80th birthday celebrations at the National Liberal Club, when they were both in wheelchairs, and one had to get very close to Jeremy to hear what he was saying. But his brain remained razor sharp till the end.