Preston (The Dig, 2016, etc.) revisits the 1970s scandal involving Jeremy Thorpe, Member of Parliament for North Devon and leader of Britain’s Liberal Party.
In what could be a juicy, salacious tale, the author chronicles what seems to have been a brief encounter dragged out over more than 20 years in the paranoid mind of the Parliamentarian and his pathetic victim. Thorpe met Norman Josiffe, a confused, mentally unstable young man, at Thorpe’s “friend’s” home, where Josiffe was working in the stables. Thorpe gave him his card and an invitation to turn to him if he ever had “problems with Van”—Brecht Van de Vater, Josiffe’s employer. Soon, Norman went to Thorpe intending to return a collection of insurance letters Van de Vater had saved. For their first meeting, in 1961, Thorpe invited Josiffe to stay with him at his mother’s house, where they began a short-lived affair. Josiffe’s life comes across as a mess of mental institutions, prescription drug addiction, and constant attempts to recover his National Insurance health card. In England, employers pay the premium for the card; in Josiffe’s case, responsibility lay first with Van de Vater and then Thorpe. Neither of them bothered to pay, and Josiffe’s fragile mind and desperate economic situation drove him to desperation. Enter Thorpe’s MP colleague, Peter Bessell, who stepped in to protect Thorpe by paying small sums to Josiffe. In Parliament, there is an unwritten law that a man’s private life is his own business. Thus, Josiffe’s accusations were swept under the table by everyone. Thorpe and Bessell, desperate for money for the party and themselves, found a savior in Jack Hayward, a Bahamas-based millionaire who provided them with cash. Still, Thorpe’s paranoia about Josiffe grew, and he proposed a murder plot. It was an absurd plan, but apparently not absurd enough to throw the affair into the news and the courts. Indeed, many readers may wonder why it’s necessary to revisit the whole episode now.
A story of establishment and judicial misconduct that’s no longer pertinent—or even interesting.