Last night, John and I attended an 80th birthday celebration for former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe at the National Liberal Club. It was quite a touching event, with speeches from Nick Clegg, Alan Beith and Nick Harvey among others. Why was I there? I got to know Jeremy and his wife Marion quite well about ten years ago when I published a book of his memories called IN MY OWN TIME. It was the first time he had gone into print since the events which led to his political downfall in 1979. Spending six months with him putting the book together was a fascinating experience as he was he key figure in my early political memories in the mid 1970s. Despite the debilitating effects of Parkinson's Disease, his mind has remained razor sharp and we had some fascinating political discussions. I hadn't seen him for a few years and had feared that his health would have deteriorated, but he was as sparky as ever, despite a very weak voice. Following the speeches last night Jeremy also made a short speech. It must have taken a tremendous effort on his part, but he was determined to get through, and he did.
For anyone much younger than me Jeremy Thorpe is a name which is only associated with one thing - the trial. But we should remember that for a decade he was considered to be Britain's most charismatic politician in an age of technocrats. He brought a campaigning verve to politics which few had bettered since.
Yes, in many ways he was a flawed politician, but in many ways he kept the Liberal flag flying against all the odds. His political career ended in the worst possible circumstances, yet he never embraced the bitterness which could so easily have dominated his long years of political exile. The Liberal Party itself was not kind to him. It's easy to understand why, but on a human level it was deeply unforgivable. Jeremy always felt his party would come calling for him once again, if only for wise advice. But those calls never came. The peerage he so desperately wanted eluded him.
Jeremy's life has been full of success and triumph, but it has also been filled with tragedy, self inflicted trauma and a desperate illness. It's been a pleasure to know him and Marion and share in some of their memories, even the more painful ones.