Jewish, Welsh, gay-rights champion, abortion opponent, socialist, attorney, Member of Parliament, and author, Leo Abse, is one of the more extraordinary late 20th-century politicians who've likely never heard of.
In the 1960's, he led the parliamentary effort to decriminalize homosexuality in Britain, helped liberalize divorce law to allow women to divorce for reasons other than adultery, supported nuclear disarmament, and--quite famously so at the time--dressed in flamboyant, tailored suits on Budget Day--the day each year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents the Government's budget to the House of Commons.
Abse was the first MP to initiate debates on genetic engineering, the dangers of nuclear power generation at Windcsale, and in vitro pregnacies; and he campaigned to change the law which made attempted suicide a criminal act. (The Telegraph)
A champion of Jewish and Welsh causes, he was not beyond criticizing Israeli military excesses and nonetheless opposed Welsh devolution. Though a social reformer and secular, he held a pro-life/anti-choice stance based in large part upon personal conviction relating to his handicapped son.
He was short, of slight frame, fast-speaking, and sported a pompadour hair style.
Besides his political and legal work, Abse also authored various books looking at political or cultural figures or topics from a psychoanalytical perspective, including his 1997 book, Fellatio, Masochism, Politics and Love--an attention-getting title if there ever was one. (While lauding his reformist views on gay rights, many social progressives today would find highly problematic Abse's Freudian-based views on homosexuality's causes; however, such views were much more common decades ago, even among liberal social reformers.)
The founder of the Cardiff-based solicitors firm Leo Abse & Cohen, Abse later in life played a key role in solicitors being granted access to the High Court, access previously reserved for barristers only. (In the UK, the legal profession is split between two types of lawyers: solicitors and barristers.)
Abse served in North Africa during World War Two until he was recalled from Cairo in 1944 stemming from his activities surrounding a "Forces Parliament" that had been set up by RAF servicemen to debate the kind of post-war British society they desired.
In the end, controversy entered his personal life, too, when four years after his wife of 40 years died in 2000, Abse, then 83 years old, married a Polish woman 50 years his junior, and upon his death in 2008, in accordance with his will, she received £1 million while his two children received only a few items and no money.
Abse had far more noted influence on UK law than the vast majority of backbenchers usually enjoy in their careers.
Photo: Leo Abse on a Budget Day in the 1960s.