Jeremy Thorpe

From Academic Kids

The Right Honourable John Jeremy Thorpe (born April 29, 1929) is a British politician, former leader of the Liberal Party.

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Jeremy Thorpe, Leader of the Liberal Party 1967-76

The son and grandson of Conservative MPs, he was educated at Eton College and then at Trinity College, Oxford, where he was President of the Union. He was called to the bar in 1954, working back-to-back as a TV interviewer, and entered parliament in 1959 as Liberal MP for North Devon. In 1965 he became Liberal Party Treasurer. In 1967, he was elected party leader by 6 of the 12 Liberal MPs after the resignation of Jo Grimond. Thorpe's style, in contrast to Grimond's intellectualism, was youthful and dynamic, and was sometimes ridiculed as too gimmicky.

A colourful character, Thorpe was renowned for his assortment of Edwardian suits, silk waistcoats and trilby hats, as well as being a noted raconteur and impressionist. Critics argued that he was little more than a political lightweight, but Thorpe was undoubtedly a popular figure. When he became Liberal leader, his party commanded 8.5% of the vote. By February 1974, it commanded 19% of the vote, with some opinion polls even placing it as high as 30%.

The 1970 general election was a disaster for Thorpe's Liberals, as their number of MPs more than halved from 13 to 6 (with 3, Thorpe included, only surviving on tiny majorities), which lead to opponents' jibes that the entire parliamentary party could fit in one taxi -- a joke which was expanded to two taxis after the election of the extremely corpulent Cyril Smith as MP for Rochdale. But between 1972 and 1974, Thorpe led the Liberals to an impressive string of byelection victories, at Rochdale, Sutton and Cheam, Ripon, the Isle of Ely, and Berwick. In the two general elections of 1974, the Liberals gained 14 and 13 MPs respectively.

In the hung parliament of 1974, Thorpe was offered a seat in the Cabinet as Home Secretary by Prime Minister Edward Heath, as part of a coalition deal, but declined when it was clear the Liberal Party and many who had voted for it were not enthusiastic about keeping Heath in power.

Following the death of his first wife Caroline in a car crash, Thorpe married Marion, a former concert pianist and ex-wife of the Earl of Harewood.

However, in 1976, Thorpe was forced to resign the party leadership after being accused of a homosexual relationship with Norman Scott, to whom he had written a letter including the memorable line "Bunnies can and will go to France". Scott claimed that Thorpe had tried to murder him after the end of their affair. It was not disputed that at one point, while walking his labrador dog called "Rinka" on Exmoor, Scott was confronted by Andrew Newton, a former airline pilot, who was armed with a gun. Newton shot and killed the dog, then pointed the gun at Scott, but it apparently failed to go off.

Thorpe was subsequently one of four defendants in a court case, accused of conspiracy to murder Scott, because Scott had apparently been persistently trying to blackmail Thorpe. They were all eventually acquitted. In the opinion of some commentators, there had been a conspiracy, but it had simply been a conspiracy to frighten Scott rather than kill him.

Although it had been an open secret in some circles that he was gay, or at least bisexual, in his constituency of North Devon it had been common knowledge for years beforehand.

His political career could not withstand the scandal, and he lost his parliamentary seat at the general election of 1979, which came just a week before his trial. The election is remembered for the unsuccessful candidacy of Auberon Waugh, representing the "Dog Lovers' Party". Not long after the end of the trial, Jeremy Thorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and retired from public life. For the past twenty years, it has been at an extremely advanced stage.

Preceded by:
Jo Grimond
Leader of the British Liberal Party
1967-1976
Followed by:
Jo Grimond
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