About Francis "Frank" Aungier Pakenham
Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford KG, PC (5 December 1905–3 August 2001), known as the Lord Pakenham from 1945 to 1961, was a British politician, author, and social reformer. He was a Labour minister who attracted much controversy with his unsuccessful campaign for the release of Moors murderer Myra Hindley from prison, and also for his high-profile opposition to the gay rights movement. He was also criticised by the media for touring the sex clubs of Europe which he had attempted to close down. Both of these campaigns led to him being the target of a particularly high level of ridicule and criticism from the tabloid media.
Background and education
The second son of Thomas Pakenham, 5th Earl of Longford, of the second creation, in the Peerage of Ireland, he was educated at Eton College and New College, Oxford, where, despite having failed to be awarded a scholarship, he graduated with a first-class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He became a don at Christ Church. At Oxford he met his future wife, Elizabeth Harman, an undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall.
In 1931, 25-year-old Pakenham joined the Conservative Research Department where he developed Education policy for the Conservative Party. His future wife persuaded him to become a socialist. They married on 3 November 1931 and eventually had a total of eight children. In 1940, after a period of religious unease, he became a Catholic. His wife was initially dismayed by this, as she had been brought up as a Unitarian and associated Catholicism with reactionary politics; however, she herself became a Catholic in 1946.
Pakenham embarked on a political career. In 1945, he was created Baron Pakenham, of Cowley in the City of Oxford, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, and took his seat in the House of Lords. He served as a junior minister in the Labour governments of 1945–1951 and as a Cabinet member from 1964 to 1968. In 1961, he inherited from his brother the earldom of Longford in the Peerage of Ireland and from then onwards was generally known to the public as Lord Longford. He was created a Knight of the Garter in 1971.
Longford was a founding member of New Bridge, an organisation founded in 1956, which aims to help prisoners stay in touch with society and integrate back into it. He was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light of 1971, protesting against the commercial exploitation of sex and violence in Britain, and advocating the teaching of Christ as the key to recovering moral stability in the nation. His anti-pornography campaigning made him the subject of derision as Lord Porn when he and former prison doctor Christine Temple-Saville set out on a wide-ranging tour of sex industry establishments in the early 1970s to compile a self-funded report. The press made much of his visits to strip clubs in Copenhagen at the time.
Over time he gained a reputation for eccentricity, becoming known for his efforts to rehabilitate offenders and in particular campaigning for the parole and release from prison of the Moors murderer Myra Hindley, which led to the soubriquet Lord Wrongford from the tabloid press. It also coincided with Longford's contact with Hindley becoming public knowledge in 1972, and allegations of hypocrisy were frequently made against him. In 1977, Longford appeared on television and spoke openly of his belief that Hindley should now be released from prison as she had repented for her sins and was no longer a danger to the public. In 1985, he condemned the Parole Board's decision not to consider Hindley's release for another five years as "barbaric", and his campaign for Hindley continued even after she admitted to two more murders in 1986 - this development led to widespread subsequent public and media allegations that Hindley's remorse was nothing than a ploy to try and bring herself closer to release.
In 1990, Home Secretary David Waddington ruled that "life should mean life" for Hindley, as did the next three home secretaries. Hindley did make three appeals against her tariff between 1997 and 2000, but the High Court rejected each one. Longford spoke of his disgust that she was being kept in prison, saying that she was a changed woman who was no longer a threat. He regularly commented, along with several other of Hindley's supporters, that she was a "political prisoner" who was being kept in prison for votes, claiming that successive Conservative and Labour home secretaries feared that their party would fall out of favour with the voters if they sanctioned Hindley's release. Hindley died in November 2002, having never been paroled.
Longford met several of the relatives of the Moors victims, most notably Ann West, the mother of Lesley Ann Downey. He regularly condemned the media for manipulating West and feeding her desire for revenge, being particularly critical of The Sun newspaper for their "exploitation" of West - she gave numerous television and newspaper interviews calling for Hindley to remain imprisoned for life, and vowed to kill Hindley if she was ever set free. In 1986, he reportedly told West that unless she forgave Hindley and fellow Moors Murderer Ian Brady, she would not go to heaven when she died. Longford also commented that he was "tremendously sorry for her, but letting her decide Myra's fate would be ludicrous".
The story of Longford's campaign to free Hindley was told in the Channel 4 film Longford in 2006. Longford was played by Jim Broadbent (who won a BAFTA for his role) and Hindley was played by Samantha Morton.
Opposition to homosexuality
Longford was a staunch opponent of the promotion of homosexuality in society. In the 1960s, during the Parliamentary debates that eventually led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, he stated that homosexuality was "nauseating" and that, regardless of any change in the law, it was "utterly wrongful".
In the mid-1980s, Longford was a vocal supporter of the introduction of Section 28 by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government and, during the Parliamentary debates, he famously stated his opinion that homosexuals are "handicapped people". Section 28 became law in 1988, but Longford continued to support it and fought against its repeal when the new Labour government came to power in 1997. Section 28 was ultimately removed from the statute books in 2003.
In a 1998 House of Lords debate concerning equalisation of the age of consent for gay men, Longford remarked that:
“ ...if someone seduced my daughter it would be damaging and horrifying but not fatal. She would recover, marry and have lots of children... On the other hand, if some elderly, or not so elderly, schoolmaster seduced one of my sons and taught him to be a homosexual, he would ruin him for life. That is the fundamental distinction.”
The age of consent for gay men was equalised with that of heterosexuals (16) in 2000.
Longford's highly publicised condemnation of homosexuality in the late 1980s made him a regular target of comedian Julian Clary, who would satirise him in his stage shows and television appearances.
House of Lords reforms (1999)
Under the House of Lords Act 1999 the majority of hereditary peers lost the privilege of a seat and right to vote in the House of Lords. Lord Longford, as one upon whom a hereditary peerage (the barony of Pakenham) had been conferred (as opposed to one who had inherited it), was made a life peer so that he could retain his seat in the Lords. He was thus created Baron Pakenham of Cowley, of Cowley in the County of Oxfordshire.
Known for his interest in Irish history he wrote a number of books on the topic. Peace By Ordeal: An Account from First-Hand Sources of the Negotiation and Signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, published in 1935, is arguably his best known work which documents the negotiations of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 between the Irish and British representatives. His account uses primary sources from the time and is widely recognised as the definitive account of this aspect of Irish history. Longford also came to greatly admire Éamon de Valera and was chosen as the co-author of his official biography Éamon de Valera which was published in 1970 and which was co-written by Thomas P. O'Neill. He also campaigned for decades to have the Hugh Lane bequest pictures restored to Dublin, resulting in a compromise agreement in 1959.
Lord Longford died in August 2001 at the age of 95. He and his wife, who died in October 2002 at the age of 96, had eight children, among them the writers Antonia Fraser, Rachel Billington, Judith Kazantzis, and Thomas Pakenham. His wife Elizabeth was a noted writer herself, her most famous book being Victoria R.I. (1964), a biography of Queen Victoria, published in the US as Born to Succeed. She also wrote a two-volume biography of the Duke of Wellington, and a volume of memoirs, The Pebbled Shore. She stood for Parliament as Labour candidate for Cheltenham in the 1950 general election.