From the archive: 2 February 1976: Liberal MPs show Thorpe the exit

Liberal MPs are now almost certain that Mr Jeremy Thorpe will cease to be the party's leader before the end of the year

Liberal MPs are now almost certain that Mr Jeremy Thorpe will cease to be the party's leader before the end of the year. It became clear over the weekend that Mr Thorpe is now the only Liberal MP at Westminster who believes that he will lead the party into the next general election. The main question remaining is the timing. Mr Thorpe appears to be safe for the next few months at least, because of and not in spite of, the allegations of a relationship made last week by Mr Norman Scott and criticism of Mr Thorpe in a Department of Trade report. The MPs do not wish to see Mr Thorpe dismissed because of this unsupported allegation. But privately they agree that Mr Thorpe would have been in grave danger of being ousted this year in any case.

Yesterday, the MPs who will discuss the matter at their weekly meeting on Wednesday, were saying that the only thing which could rescue Mr Thorpe would be a spectacular performance at the forthcoming by-elections at Carshalton, where the sitting Tory, Robert Carr, has been ennobled, or the Wirral, where the Speaker, Selwyn Lloyd, is retiring. Mr Thorpe is still fairly confident, and believes he is able to cope with the Scott allegations as well as the Department of Trade report into the London and Counties Securities Bank. He is telling friends that he believes that the worst is over, and is already talking about his role in the next general election. Mr Thorpe is pointing to his many formidable successes as Liberal leader in the past 10 years. He has doubled its total of MPs, taken its vote from two to five millions in elections, and raised some half million pounds for party coffers. He has twice saved the party from bankruptcy.

All this looks unlikely to cut enough ice with the Liberal MPs who, under the present system are the people who choose the party leader. Liberal MPs yesterday confirmed that Mr Thorpe had promised in 1971 that he would leave the leadership if the Scott allegations became public and proved to he damaging to the party. Many of them feel that he will go quietly if this can be shown to be the case. Liberal MPs now see three or four possible scenarios by which the departure might be effected. First, Mr Thorpe could resign suddenly in the next week or so. This appears to be unlikely since he has made it clear both publicly and privately that he intends to hang on.

Secondly, he could, in effect, be ordered out of office by the unanimous decision of the parliamentary party. Thirdly, the reality of his position might be borne in on him and he could then resign in a few months' time, with as little fuss as possible. Or he could stay on and hope to secure victory by winning a massive vote of confidence at the party conference. The difficulty of his position was illustrated to some extent this weekend, when he addressed the Young Liberal Council in London. He was warmly cheered and applauded and the "smear campaign" against him roundly condemned. But yesterday the council passed a resolution fully supporting Mr Thorpe in his resistance to the "slurs and innuendoes" but expressing perturbation at his lack of judgement revealed by the London and Counties Securities report. The Young Liberals have asked their officers to raise the matter "with the party's leader."

These archive extracts, compiled by the Guardian's research and information department, appear online daily at


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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