Scandal over an alleged gay relationship destroys a political career


Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe

Jeremy Thorpe was the leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976.  He stepped down after an extraordinary scandal that gripped Britain at the time over allegations he had a gay relationship with a man called Norman Scott – and was then involved in a conspiracy to have Scott murdered.

The allegations had seeped out during the trial of Andrew Newton, a man who’d driven Scott out on to Exmoor and shot his dog – Rinka – a Great Dane. He then tried to shoot Scott but the gun was said to have jammed.

Scott used his appearance in court to reveal his relationship with Thorpe – claiming it happened in the early 1960s when homosexuality was still illegal.

That was bad enough in the homophobic 1970s but worse came when Newton emerged from prison in 1977 to claim he had been hired to kill Scott.

There was then the hideous spectacle for the Liberal Party of its leader and deputy Treasurer David Holmes being put on trial with two others – just weeks before the general election of 1979. Thorpe had already stepped down as leader before Newton’s release – replaced by David Steel.

The electors of Devon North didn’t return Thorpe to parliament and as you can see in the video below, he cuts a miserable figure behind the victorious Tory. It’s not inconceivable that he might have lost in the Thatcherite tide but the trial certainly didn’t help.

A week after losing his seat, Thorpe and the others were put on trial for attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. A former Liberal MP testified against Thorpe claiming Scott had been a target. But on the 22nd June, 1979 – the ex-leader and the rest were acquitted.

Michael Foot – a great intellectual, not such a great party leader


I once heard Michael Foot give a speech at the Gay Hussar restaurant in London just a few years before his death. He talked to a small gathering about a conversation he’d had with the Soviet ambassador in the restaurant about World War Two and as he went on, I realised he was talking about a chat he’d had in 1939!!

Foot was a great journalist, writer but had a tougher time as a politician. He led the Labour Party after James Callaghan threw in the towel. Within Labour, the left and right were at war and the leadership embarked on a series of expulsions of members of the Militant Tendency – none of which helped the party’s electability.

After leading Labour to a shocking defeat in 1983 – he stepped aside for Neil Kinnock. His style of rhetoric was deemed to be old fashioned, over-intellectual and essentially a relic from another age. Listening to his clashes in the Commons with Thatcher – I think he was better than the media reported at the time. But he was an easy target for poison pens on Fleet Street and his image was cruelly lampooned.

Here’s Private Eye sticking the boot in.