Saturday, January 28, 2006

"If I had I wouldn't tell you"

That was the reply given by Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in 1992 when asked by prying journalists if he had ever had an extra-marital affair. It's just about the best answer a politician could give when confronted with allegations that might just have a grain of truth in them. If only Clinton had stuck to this line through his term of office he might have saved himself a lot of trouble.

To cheer up my fellow Lib Dems I can report one Liberal sex scandal that has been disproved. It has often been suggested that the nineteenth-century prime minister Lord Rosebery had a secret homosexual life and was indirectly involved in the scandal that brought down Oscar Wilde. Lord Alfred Douglas's brother worked as Rosebery's secretary and committed suicide. His father the Marquess of Queensberry blamed Rosebery, whom he suspected of seducing his son and this incident drove him mad – leading to the hounding of Wilde. There has occasionally been sceculation that the Liberal Attorney-General's decision to prosecute Wilde was to stop Queensberry levelling accusations at Rosebery (who was prime minister). I am happy to say, however, that Leo McKinstry's biography of Rosebery comprehensively demolished this myth. It establishes that Rosebery, whatever his political faults, was entirely blameless.

Thirty years ago there was of course much speculation about another Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, but he too turned out to be entirely blameless. It was just sheer bad luck that a man whose dog was later shot on Exmoor spent years claiming to have had a gay relationship with him. The New Statesman in this week's backward glance feature includes an article by James Fenton on Thorpe from 1976.

1 comment:

Angus J Huck said...

On the subject of Lord Roseberry, I was under the impression that he had an affair with Sir Edmund Backhouse. If my memory serves me right, one of these men made diary references to it.

In Jeremey Thorpe's case, there is no doubt whatsoever that Thorpe did have an affair with Norman Scott. Right at the very end of the trial, George Carman (acting for Thorpe) conceded this.

Also, there is no doubt whatsoever that Thorpe and three businessmen hired Andrew "Gino" Newton to do something to Scott, but they have yet to tell us what that something was.

You may be writing with a sense of irony. But irony is a dangerous rhetorical tool. Some people take it literally.

PS: I notice that George Carman's son is down as a Chris Huhne supporter.