The Unsolved Mystery of the Money Tree
- In My Own Time: Reminiscences of a Liberal Leader by Jeremy Thorpe
Politico’s, 234 pp, £18.00, April 1999, ISBN 1 902301 21 8
Jeremy Thorpe has long been the non-person of modern British politics. Never mind that 25 years ago he attained for the then stand-alone Liberal Party more votes (over six million) than Paddy Ashdown achieved for the by now merged Liberal Democrats (five and a quarter million) at the last general election. Discretion, if not sheer political cowardice, decreed that his faintly saturnine presence should be air-brushed out of any contemporary history of Britain’s third party. The man who at one moment seemed set to inherit the mantle of Lloyd George became instead a kind of gruesome ghost haunting any Liberal feast.
[*] SCM, 336 pp., £19.95, 1 December 1998, 0 3340 2745 4.
Vol. 21 No. 18 · 16 September 1999
Anthony Howard, in his review of Jeremy Thorpe’s reminiscences (LRB, 19 August), awakens memories best left sleeping. I was a member of both Amnesty’s executive committee (EC) and the selection committee (SC) involved in the appointment of Thorpe as its director. For the record, he was not merely nominated. He was put forward by the SC to the EC as their candidate for the post. He was interviewed by the EC, who voted overwhelmingly to offer him the job, which he accepted. Then came the backlash. One by one, the committee members were persuaded by assorted outside forces, including David Astor, to try to change their decision. Only two or three of us held out, believing that decisions can't be negated because you don’t like the outcome. Eventually, Thorpe rescinded his acceptance. He would have made a good director of Amnesty’s British Section. He had the required persona for national media coverage (‘a born showman of the hustings’), the contacts necessary to get the job done, managerial experience and a solid human rights pedigree – a member, like Astor, of Amnesty from its infancy. He was badly served by many, some of whom let their outrage overcome their democratic sense (oops, my bias is showing). My unforgivable part in the debacle was to have been too naive to have foreseen the vitriolic reaction to the appointment and therefore to have contributed to his public humiliation.