Friday, 17 August 2001
A Sinner Recognises A Saint
I am not really sure of all the qualities that are required to elevate a person to the status of a saint, but I did have the great privilege of meeting a man that had wonderful saintly ways - the late Lord Longford.
Prime Minister Tony Blair described this exceptional man in the following terms,
Join the club of truly privileged members, Prime Minister.
Lord Longford, who was the seventh Earl to hold the hereditary title, was a Christian and a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
He was born Francis Aungier Pakenham on December 5th, 1905, the second son of the 5th Earl of Longford, and the great-great grandson of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel.
After graduating from Oxford University he became a teacher before working in the Conservative Central office. He joined the Labour Party shortly before the Second World War. He was invalided out of the army suffering from a nervous breakdown in 1940.
I believe he was a totally genuine conscience objector, but at that extremely sensitive time for a member of one of the leading families in the land to express such a view would have caused uproar. On his discharge from the army he committed himself to the Roman Catholic Church.
He stood for Labour in the 1945 General Election, but another candidate polled more votes. He was then made Baron Pakenham, of Cowley.
He later became a Lord-In-Waiting, and government whip. In 1972 he was made a Knight of the Garter. In the same year he was appointed to head the group charged with investigating the effects of pornography on Society and, which published the controversial Pornography Report.
The report challenged the view of the permissive society that pornography was harmless.
To appoint such a totally committed Christian as Lord Longford to head the investigation into pornography was at best foolish, at worst malicious and a deliberate attempt to ridicule him. The report earned him the unofficial media title of 'Lord Porn'.
You wouldn't ask John Player or the Marlborough man for their views on smoking if the intention was to seriously question the medical effects of smoking, now would you?
Or for that matter it wouldn't be sensible to ask a Tottenham Hotspur FC supporter to be the final judge on whether it was it correct for footballer Sol Campbell to join Arsenal FC.
Look Who's Coming To Dinner
He married the writer Elizabeth Harman in 1931 and they had four sons and four daughters. Between them they founded a very successful literary dynasty. One of the children Lady Antonia Fraser, a society beauty married one of our foremost authors the top-flight politician, Hugh Fraser.
I remember Lord Longford asking me if I was related to Hugh. I did not know the answer, but he was very interested to learn that my Grandfather married a Red Indian woman, a very radical happening at that time. So, perhaps, there is a connection.
Lady Antonia divorced Hugh Fraser to marry Harold Pinter, a Jew.
For a devout Catholic to have a divorced daughter, who then married out of the Catholic faith to marry a Jew could have been totally unacceptable, but the good lord took it in his stride, and who was prominent at the funeral of Lord Longford? Yes, it was his son-in-law Harold Pinter with Antonia. Conclusive proof that the human kindness of Lord Longford was always verily Christian.
Another daughter the successful novelist Rachel married Michael Billington, the theatre critic.
A son is a Queen's Counsel.
In 1969 the family were struck by tragedy when a third daughter Catherine was killed in a car crash aged 23 in 1969.
The Christian Has No Option
Over the years I have met many people who consider that they are Christians, but Lord Longford was the only true Christian I have ever met.
When he was castigated, and often ridiculed by fellow Christians, for bearing the cross of Jesus when he publicly forgave Myra Hyndley, serial killers Peter Sutcliffe, David Neilsen, and any other that had committed horrendous crimes, these sadly misguided critics chose to forget that as a Christian Lord Longford had no alternative but to forgive.
Any Christian that is unable to forgive is not a true disciple of Jesus Christ. A committed follower of Jesus does not have the privilege to pick and choose, he is obliged to seek the good in everybody regardless of the extent of the sin that a person may have committed.
Those that say that it is not possible to forgive people guilty of satanic conduct did not know the blessed Lord Longford.
This kind man often stood alone for his principles, and people who were not fit to clean his shoes dared to stand in judgement upon the nearest person to a saint that I will, probably, ever meet.
Hypocrites were always anxious to join the firing squad made ready to shoot down this crusader for compassion and forgiveness, but he courageously stood defiant and steadfast.
His commitment to justice and prison reform came at a heavy personal loss. His political career was seriously overshadowed when he served in the Labour governments of Prime Minister's Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. The quality views of the noble Lord stood in the way of the ambitions of these two ordinary men, and his fellow cabinet ministers.
He played a very important part in drafting the 1941 Welfare State Report, and was Leader of the House of Lords between the years of 1964-1968.
Former Labour firebrand MP Tony Benn, who served with him in the government of Harold Wilson, remembered Lord Longford as a "kindly and thoughtful man.
He added, "His concern for people, and for prisoners in particular, was genuine."
Very true indeed, Tony.
Former Cons Pay Their Respects
It was a full house at Westminster Cathedral when Lord Longford made his final visit to this fine religious monument.
People who had been caught breaking the law and went to prison, rubbed shoulders with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the Pakenham family of academics, other dignitaries, and those yet to be caught for their wrongdoings.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor told a humorous story of finding the scholarly Lord Longford on a railway station pulling everything out of his suitcase in a search for his ticket. "Then there were the two us, the Bishop and the Lord on all fours hunting for the ticket," said the smiling Cardinal.
Of course, it could not truthfully be denied that in the nicest possible way his Lordship was eccentric, the friendly word 'dotty' is not misplaced. It was an innocent, loveable quality that was peculiar to English people, and like so many of the qualities that distinguished the winsome antics of English people it is now a rare trait.
To cast Lord Longford with Alistair Sim, Margaret Rutherford or the League of Gentlemen, and other Ealing comedy actors would have been inspirational.
The critics of Lord Longford would gleefully say that Lord Longford failed with people like me, and other villains. Once again they are wrong.
We failed Lord Longford. He did his utmost to encourage us see the light, but our circumstances meant that we believed we had no option but to spurn his teaching. Like the incoming tide that defied King Canute we were convinced we were not for turning back.
There is little doubt that the tide was right not to obey the Monarch's order. Had he been a wise man Canute would have first had a rehearsal. Probably we too needed a rehearsal.
Goodbye good friend. This world's loss is Heaven's gain. R.I.P. your Grace.