A Very English Scandal by John Preston

4 and half 1

This is quite a fascinating and almost unbelievable story of Jeremy Thorpe’s rise to leader of the Liberal Party. It is told over a few years at the height of Thorpe’s parliamentary career, through to his self inflicted, reckless demise.

Told in the main from the perspective of Peter Bessell, this is an absolutely riveting story of the dangers of homosexuality by a member of Parliament at a time that it was illegal. Being illegal, any whisper of homosexual behaviour was open to blackmail and, in this case, led to attempted murder.

A Very English Scandal

Jeremy Thorpe obviously had a charm and charisma among his Party members and constituents which back in the 1960s and early 1970s would not be easily visible to viewers on television news programmes or radio reports.  The book starts roughly at the time that Thorpe met his nemesis, Norman Scott (or Joliffe as he was in the beginning.) Norman Scott seemed to be under Thorpe’s spell, yet at the same time he appeared to be a sponger, always going back to the moneyed man when he was broke with the same excuse of the missing National Insurance card – why didn’t he speak with the relevant employment office of the time and request a new card for himself? Once the ‘get rid/murder’ words had been spoken, there was an unease that they were truly meant – they were, but because this was so unbelievable from an MP I wasn’t sure that the intent was the actual killing of someone.

The highlight of the book is Part 4, set later in 1979, in which the court case takes place. We are introduced to George Carman QC representing Thorpe, and Judge Peter Taylor. The summing up is so biased that it is embarrassing, giving further validation of the accusation of an establishment cover up.

I thought it was alarming the ease of which money intended for the Liberal Party disappeared to Thorpe’s private funds, and that corruption was probably rife in those days. It is also disturbing that there were known cover ups which have since come to light from that time of Jeremy Thorpe, Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith who seemed to have been well acquainted, were reported and covered up.

The book is well written in a sensible chronological, almost diary form in parts, which makes for easy flowing reading. If this were fiction, readers would say it was too far fetched to be believed. A really good memoir of politicians without the politics.


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