Book review: Jeremy Thorpe by Michael Bloch

jeremy-thorpe

Since the Second World War, two third party leaders have been in a position to determine the balance of power in a Hung Parliament. Five years ago, Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg secured his party a position in government but ultimately failed to achieve a proper cabinet position for himself or any of his party’s aims in office.

Liberal leader Jeremy Throrpe in February and March 1974 antagonised his Liberal colleagues (notably Chief Whip David Steel) by negotiating with Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath without consulting them first. Thorpe ultimately rejected the trappings of office and emerged with his reputation enhanced.

Few politicians would wish to emulate Jeremy Thorpe today, however, as Michael Bloch’s excellent biography reminds us. Indeed one wonders if the real reason future Liberal Democrat leader Jeremy Ashdown changed his name to “Paddy” was to avoid comparisons with the earlier Liberal? Today Thorpe, who died last December, is chiefly remembered for scandal and for being accused and found not guilty in a notorious murder plot. It was one of the biggest political stories of the Seventies and totally destroyed Thorpe’s career. Although only fifty in 1979, he was practically invisible for the last thirty-five years of his life which were also made worse by Parkinson’s disease.

The contrast with Thorpe’s earlier days could not be more striking. Thorpe was a dazzling figure who seems to have charmed almost everyone he met . Born in 1929, he joined the Liberals at the time of their great post-war crisis when they came close to extinction around 1950. Thorpe nevertheless determined to one day be Prime Minister, used his boundless energy to secure a seat in parliament in 1959 and obtained the party leadership while still in his thirties in 1967. As leader, he was always popular with the public (seeing the party through blows the 1970 election which coincided with the death of his first wife Caroline in a car accident) and highs (almost getting into government in 1974).

Ultimately, it was Thorpe’s compulsive risk-taking and his numerous homosexual liaisons which proved his downfall.

Jeremy-Thorpe-2

Jeremy Thorpe

Michael Bloch

Published by: Little Brown

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Is Judge Dredd gay?

ImageSo Judge Dredd is gay. Or rather, he probably isn’t.

The latest Dredd story Closet which featured in the long running comic 2000AD, appeared to show the 22nd century Mega City One lawman entwined with another man in a gay club. The caption read: “I guess, somehow, I’d always known I was gay. I was just too scared to admit it.”

Judge Dredd, lest we forget, is an ultra-macho big chinned lawman of the future has been appearing in the British comic 2000AD since 1977. Inspired loosely by the characters Clint Eastwood played (particularly the Dirty Harry films) but transferred to a futuristic setting, Dredd dispenses instant justice to the masses of Mega City One, a chaotic post-apocalyptic metropolis built on the ruins of New York. Dredd is just the foremost of many “Judges” who are effectively imbued with the powers of police and judiciary and can sentence “perps” on the spot.

So is Dredd gay? Certainly, I never remember much about him having any sort of love life when I read the comic. But it seems not. Apparently the character in the strip is not Dredd at all but someone in fancy dress as the judge, at a gay club. As Dredd never removes his helmet and all judges look pretty much the same with their helmets on, this would actually be a fairly easy disguise to perfect, assuming you had the requisite chin. Presumably the story was a ruse to boost sales just as the second film version of Dredd comes out on Blu-ray/DVD.

The news is a bit disappointing in a number of ways. Firstly, the current author of the strip, Rob Williams has said Dredd “may well be gay, straight or bi” but that was secondary to his passion for the law.

“Although, can you imagine what would happen if that repression ever fell away, just for an instant? Sure, Dredd could be gay,” Williams said.

So why not make him gay then? Dredd is often referred to as a “fascistic” anti-hero but only in the sense that civil liberties and democracy are ignored in his world. Sexuality rarely comes up in 2000AD. And making Dredd gay could have been a major coup for the comic. It is a missed opportunity.

Worse still, is the reported reaction of some fans to the news of Dredd’s possible sexual orientation. Some have apparently threatened to burn their 2000ADs.

I’ve always liked to think sci-fi fans are an open minded, liberal bunch. Unfortunately a fair bit of evidence suggests that at least some of them are anything but. Witness the absurd reaction to the news that Star Trek Voyager was to feature its first woman captain in the 1990s.

Similarly, some seem to have missed the satire of a story set in a fascistic future by reacting to the news of Judge Dredd’s rumoured gayness by responding in a decidedly fascistic way themselves.

It is odd that science fiction fans so accustomed to stories set in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries, so often still seem to have attitudes rooted in those of the 19th.