Thursday, 4 December 2014

BREAKING - Former Liberal Party Leader Jeremy Thorpe died this morning

Jeremy Thorpe the leader of the Liberal Party from 1967-1976 passed away this morning according to the Breaking News header on the BBC website.

John Jeremy Thorpe was born  in 1929 the son of  John Henry Thorpe who had been Conservative MP for Manchester Rusholme and Ursula Norton-Griffiths, whose father Sir John Norton-Giffiths was the Conservative MP for Wednesbury until the end of WWI and then Wandsworth Central. However, while he was reading law at Trinity College, Oxford he broke with family tradition and became President of the Liberal Club.

He first stood for Parliament in 1952 for North Devon but failed to unseat the Conservative MP Christopher Peto. he stood again in the 1955 General Election when Peto stood down and halved the majority Peto's successor James Lindsey held. It was in 1959 that Jeremy finally won the seat with a whooping majority of 362. It was a seat he would win 5 more times before losing it in 1979 back to the Conservatives and Tony Speller, his biggest majority being the 11, 072 of the February 1974 election when he was leader of the Liberals.

But considering he was due to have faced trial for conspiracy to murder Norman Scott the week before the 1979 election, although he got a 2 week delay until after the poll, the chances of success must have been slim. Scott had claimed that he and Thorpe had had a homosexual affair from 1961- 63 when such acts were still illegal under UK law. An investigation into this was held by the party in 1971 which exonerated Thorpe. However, when he was being vetted as the possible best man for Anthony Armstrong-Jones wedding to Princess Margaret he was turned down due to homosexual tendencies. The accusations from Scott carried on even after his second marriage in 1973 to Marion, Countess of Harewood, whose first husband was a cousin of the Queen.

In October 1975 Scott's dog was shot by Andrew Newton while the two and the dog were out on the moors before turning to Scott and saying "It's your turn now". The heat was on Thorpe because of a history of allegations and threats with relation to Scott which culminated on his resignation as leader 10 May 1976. He was replaced by Jo Grimond whom he succeeded as caretaker before the election of David Steel as the new leader. On the 22 June 1979 six weeks after Margaret Thatcher had won the General Election that saw Thorpe not returned by the people of North Devon the jury ruled he and his co-accused not guilty of conspiracy.

The then Liberal leader David Steel commented on the verdict hoped Thorpe "after a suitable period of rest and recuperation ... find many avenues where his great talents may be used". Although acquitted the party felt he had not behaved well during the whole affair and refused to allow him to return to party politics. In 1982 he was appointed to Amnesty International as director of their British Section, but soon after he started to show signs of Parkinson's Disease that led to his eventual dropping out of public life in the mid 1980s.

After the merger of the Liberals and Social Democratic Party in 1988 he was made an Honourary President of the newly formed North Devon Liberal Democrat Association. In 1997 his appearance at the Liberal democrat conference led to a standing ovation and in 1999 he finally opened up about the trail in his political memoir In My Own Time.

Ursula his wife and companion for the last 40 years passed away in March this year. His son Rupert from his first marriage to Caroline Allpass, who died in a car crash in 1970, and his step-sons David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood, James and Jeremy all survive him.

John Jeremy Thorpe Politician, former Liberal Party leader  29 April 1929 - 4 December 2014

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