“Closet queen” was a somewhat derogatory term much in vogue in Britain after the Second World War to describe homosexuals who kept their sexual orientation secret, not least politicians and other men in public life. The need for secrecy was obvious, as until 1967 male homosexuality was illegal (unlike lesbianism) but many politicians, in particular, remained in the closet long after that, fearing that revealing their true nature would jeopardise their careers. Some, such as the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, nonetheless continued to satisfy their instincts, even recklessly. According to Thorpe’s biographer Michael Bloch, who has now published a new book, Closet Queens (Little Brown, £25), the danger of illicit encounters explained much of their attraction, even though exposure sometimes led to men’s downfall, blackmail or even suicide. Inevitably, a book that involves a romp through more than a century of British political history means that some of the characters who appear in it get cursory coverage, while others get their due. Though stories about outrageous figures such as Tom Driberg will be familiar to many, other elements, such as the intense friendship between Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland will not. The thing that really holds the book together is the thread of changing public attitudes (fortified by legislation) which led to a situation in which the current House of Commons has over 30 “out” gay and lesbian MPs. However, one shortcoming for me is that the book brings together a motley cast, many of whom I would not consider to have been closet queens at all, either because they were open about their sexuality (like the pioneering Chris Smith) or because they were genuinely bisexual. Though the book is an enjoyable and often amusing read, largely avoiding prurience, Bloch never really comes to terms with the reality and complexities of bisexuality, which in my opinion is our age’s “love that dare not speak its name”.
Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Thorpe’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th June, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2015
Jeremy Thorpe was the Liberal Party’s most charismatic leader since David Lloyd George, whom in many ways he tried to emulate. I first met him when he came to speak at the Oxford Union while I was Secretary of the university’s Liberal Club and I was dazzled by his wit, his talent for mimicry and his genuine interest in everyone he spoke to. All those charms, and more, are evident in Michael Bloch’s magisterial biography (Jeremy Thorpe Little, Brown £25), which means that the reader gets a good idea of the substance of the man before his catastrophic downfall in 1979, when he was a co-defendant in a trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The supposed target of this plot was the sometime model and horseman Norman Scott (né Josiffe), with whom Thorpe developed a most unfortunate relationship, which he then spent many frustrating years trying to shake off. His constituency association in North Devon adored him, as did much of the electorate until his disgrace — and even after that, many friends and political acquaintances stood by him. Very soon after the trial — at which he was acquitted — it became obvious that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but it is tribute to his fortitude (one might even say his cussedness) that he lived for another 25 years, mostly confined to the beautiful house in Orme Square which his second wife Marion received as part of her divorce settlement from Lord Harewood with trips to their other two homes in North Devon and Suffolk. Marion’s loyalty to Jeremy was quite extraordinary and is rightly acknowledged as such in Michael Bloch’s book. Neither Jeremy nor Marion were particularly happy about the book’s being written, and having read it in draft nearly two decades ago, Jeremy insisted that it not be published while he was alive. That was a pity in many ways, as he could not have wished for a fairer and more scrupulous biographer, who over 500 impeccably researched pages gives a brilliant picture of the man, warts and all, critically but ultimately affectionately.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013
Over 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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Tope, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Graham Tope, Islington Liberal Democrats, Jeremy Thorpe, Jo Grimond, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Party, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Sutton, Sutton and Cheam | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Carina Trimingham, Chris Rennard, David Boyle, David Steel, Felix Dodds, Green Guards, House of Lords, Jeremy Thorpe, Liberal Democrat News, Louise Bloom, Mike Harskin, Peter Chegwyn, Peter Hain, Red Guards | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 29th April, 2009
The 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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Steel, Jeremy Thorpe, Marion Thorpe, Menzies Campbell, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, Oxford University Liberal Club, Paddy Ashdown, Parkinson's disease | Leave a Comment »