Leo Abse


We all have views that jump to mind when we speak of politicians – they are some of the least trusted of professions. It’s easy to be cynical when power is on the table, so to speak.

So taking the lead from Aethelread’s touching tribute, I think it is only right to remember Leo Abse, a politician and social reformer who died yesterday at the age of 91.

The Telegraph mentions in his obituary that

He was… a skilled parliamentarian, with no ambition for office, who used parliamentary question time, backbench motions and the private members’ bill procedure to great effect.

The debating chamber of the British House of C...Image via Wikipedia

‘with no ambition for office’ – just dwell on that for a while as we consider the nature of politics today.

During his time as an MP he pushed through more Private Members’ Bills in his 30 years in the House of Commons than any other parliamentarian.

He will be best remembered perhaps, for sponsoring the 1967 Sexual Offences Bill which decriminalised homosexuality in the UK (edit: Aethelread points out in the comments ‘One minor point though – the 1967 Act only decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, not the UK as a whole. It wasn’t decriminalised in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland until 1983.’ – sorry, Scotland and NI..)

He featured heavily in promoting the liberalisation of divorce laws and sponsored the 1975 Children’s Act.

I can’t recreate some of the obituaries that have been published today, for there are many to choose from. Tam Dalyell, himself a former MP from South Wales writes in The Independent

Policies, for Abse, cannot be disengaged from the policy-makers. The drives and psychological needs of the politicians invade and distort the panaceas they offer to the electorates. If more objective assessments are to be made of policies, assessments must be made of the men and women who expound them. Abse himself deserved to be remembered as one of the most significant social reformers of 20th-century Britain

Lots of words and lots of history. It’s rare to see a politician so universally praised though.

I wonder if we will see a similar type of politician emerge again – one who is not a slave to the party line. We need more like him, I’d say.

‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!’

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

4 thoughts on “Leo Abse

  1. Thanks for being so nice about my post. :o)

    One minor point though – the 1967 Act only decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, not the UK as a whole. It wasn’t decriminalised in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland until 1983.

  2. Ah, thanks… I will edit appropriately with credit (although the comments stay!). and you inspired me to write so it’s only right… !

  3. I love that Kipling piece you ended with. I think it’s going on my bulletin board. So why is humility so hard anyway? I wish somehow we could force more people with no ambition for office to run the show.

  4. You should search out the entire poem if you can (it’s called If). I was going to quote it in whole but then got nervous about copyrights.. it was hard cutting it down so much. It is good stuff.
    And I wonder about if he was of a different generation of politicians.. but one can always hope.

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