Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Liberal Views

There is a three part series running on BBC1 about Jeremy Thorpe, once Leader of the former Liberal Party into the 1970's who died recently in 2014 (born 1929). It deals with matters we did not know at the time rather than the complex politics of the period. A man was murdered and the case is still open.

What I did not understand about Thorpe is why he went to the Liberals. Admittedly, in the 1950's there were many who thought that the party was a sleeping giant which potentially could rise again and supplant one of the other two. But which was the question. Theoretically, the Conservatives might have been the one to go but Labour was seriously divided.

Had Thorpe gone to Labour as one of the Westminster elite with the right education and background he could well have made himself one of the intellectual cadre around Hugh Gaitskell. These were men born to rule and often Sons Of The Raj. He could have been a Prime Minister in waiting.

If he had followed his family and lined up with the Tories then given the choices in that party in 1974 when Heath bit the dust again he could have been one of their candidates for Leader. Instead as Liberal Leader in 1974 after a tied election he was made an offer he couldn't refuse by Heath, but did and we finished up with Wilson and his minority government and then Callaghan.

The 1970's was a strange world in our politics reflecting the times and not a good one. Wilson was a number cruncher who could not add up who was forced to spend too much time keeping the Labour party act together as the Stalinists and the social welfare elements fought it out at conferences and in the constituencies.

Heath, a former Brigadier lost to Aldershot, is best thought of as the Lord Cardigan (as in the Charge of the Light Brigade) of British Politics. He would attack the wrong targets at the wrong time in the wrong way. Our fears were that he was capable of starting a nuclear war rather than admit he was wrong about anything, notably British Rail.

It was an age of three channel TV leaned on heavily by the major parties and a Fleet Street whose newspapers were usually far more fiction than fact with stories that were days old and experts with not only limited expertise but opinions based on getting their stuff printed and paid for according to the whims of the owners. Trying to read the press of that period is a grim business and the politicians could be certain of protection rather than publication.

We had lost our Empire, the Commonwealth was becoming an uncommon collection of dictatorships, military appointed leaders and others who were there for the conferences. We were a secondary state in the United Nations and NATO. The USA regarded the Special Relationship as a kind of debt deferred fix.

We did not know where were going or indeed where to go and in the confusion looked for any friends anywhere with Thorpe at the front of the fleeing mob. So we rushed into the arms of Brandt and Schmidt and Pompidou and d'Estaing and Europe sparing the peasants the details.

None of whom liked us or wanted us. But they did sell us cars, like the Fiat 132 in the background of the picture from 1974. The 1800 model was flashy and good for the ton on the motorways.

The teenage toughs seem to be wearing Thorpe style clothing. This might tell us more about Thorpe than about them.


  1. I think you are probably right about Thorpe and the Liberals - he may have thought the party was a sleeping giant.

    He was never telegenic though - maybe he thought that didn't matter for Liberals.

  2. As far as I recall, nobody was murdered. The charge was conspiracy to murder. The potential victim's dog was killed and that inspired the late Auberon Waugh to found the " Dog Lover's Party" to stand against Thorrpe. I can't recall the details but believe his election address or some of his leaflets were suppressed - rather in the way that news about the fate of Tommy Robinson was judicially suppressed more recently.