Who was Lord Longford?
Frank Longford said often during his life that he would like his epitaph to be 'the outcasts' outcast'. It summed up a long career as a politician, writer and campaigner on social and prison policy which was all about standing up for the unpopular, the unloved, the underdog and those on the margins of society. He was first a minister in Clement Attlee's post Second World War Labour government, where as Deputy Foreign Secretary he played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of West Germany. From 1964 to 1968, he was a member of Harold Wilson's Cabinet.
He started visiting prisoners in 1930 and continued until his death. He was assistant to Sir William Beveridge on his landmark report of 1942 which laid the basis for the Welfare State. In 1956 he founded New Bridge, one of the first organisations in Britain seeking to create links between prisoners and the community, and in 1963 chaired the committee on crime whose recommendations led to the establishment of the parole system. On leaving the government, he launched New Horizon, a charity for young people in need.
Though he continued to visit prisoners until his death, traveling long distances by public transport (he never learned to drive) despite his failing eyesight, he was most often associated in the public mind with his unpopular campaign to to win parole for the Moors Murderer, Myra Hindley. What was seldom remarked on was the larger context within which his (ultimately unsuccessful) work with Hindley fitted - namely a profound belief that every offender, whatever their crime, could potentially be rehabilitated. The writer Bernard Levin remarked in 1990: 'Everybody asks the wrong question about Lord Longford, viz., is he barmy? The question is not worth asking: of course he is barmy. What we should be discussing is something quite different: is he right?'