Reg Freeson -2006

Member of Parliament for Willesden and Brent East 1964 – 1987, died in November 2006 at the age of eighty.

Reg was born in St Pancras in 1926, the grandson of refugees escaping the Russian pogroms in Poland. He volunteered for the RAF and after service in North Africa and Italy he was selected for the Inter Services Publications Unit where he developed his interest in writing and the Middle East.

Once demobbed he used his experience to become a journalist writing publications such as Tribune and the Daily Mirror. He also became the editor of the anti-racist paper Searchlight, marking the beginning of one of his abiding political passions. Around the same time he joined the Labour Party. By 1952 Reg was a local councillor, and by 1958 was the Leader of Willesden Council. He gained a reputation as someone who combined very left wing politics with an instinct for practical solutions and a total integrity.

He won the marginal Parliamentary Seat of Willesden East in 1964, a critical result providing Harold Wilson with one of his majority of five. He was quickly promoted becoming PPS to Tom Fraser Minister for Transport. He moved on to become a junior Minister in the Ministry for Power . His integrity was perhaps most in evidence in his attitude to race relations. A chair of Poale Zion and later labour Friends of Israel, his passionate anti racism and anti fascism led him to speak out on all types of discrimination. Although a bit of a leftie, Wilson had a soft spot for him and promoted him again to Minister of State for Housing and Local Government. Freeson was an extremely effective and informed Minister, and stayed in that role all through 1970-74, as shadow minister, and as Minister again from 1974-79. When Labour was defeated in 1979, he was the longest serving Housing minister ever.

However, his reputation as a left winger did not save him from the open warfare breaking out in the party. In 1983, supporters of Ken Livingstone tried to deselect him, and although the NEC ruled the attempt out of order in 1983, it was obvious that it would be difficult to prevent another attempt in 1987. Some said that by stopping Livingstone serving in parliament in the crucial 1983-87 parliament, Freeson did as much as anyone to decide the battle for the direction of the party. However, he was unable to prevent deselection in 1987, and accepting the inevitable chose to stand down and set up an urban renewal consultancy.

A dedicated campaigner, an able minister, a zealous reformer and a man of immense passion and decency, Reg never stopped campaigning and in 2002 he even became a councillor again in Brent, serving until May this year.

Divorced from his first wife, he leaves two children, Jeremy and Ruth and his second wife, Charlotte.

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