By Mike Phipps
Paul Flynn, who died earlier this week aged 84, was a Labour MP for Newport for 32 years. Amid the concerted campaign by Labour MPs in 2016 to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he found himself appointed, at the age of 81, as Shadow Leader of the House. But he was first and foremost an honest, unambitious, maverick backbencher, a staunch republican who moved a private members bill in 1996 to hold a referendum to abolish the monarchy.
Paul was famously off-message during the Blair years. An opponent of nuclear power and a supporter of legalising cannabis, he was also witheringly sarcastic about the spin and media manipulation that characterised the Blair project. Paraphrasing George Orwell’s 1984, he observed that the past was ever-changing – only the future was certain.
In 1998, he authored Dragons Led by Poodles: The Inside Story of a New Labour Stitch-Up, an early piece of online publishing. Drawing on his inside knowledge of Welsh Labour politics, he branded Blairite placeman Alun Michael, who was drafted in to replace the popular Rhodri Morgan, “an incurable do-gooder, low on humour, earnest, irrationally ambitious…tetchy when provoked.”
I got to see Paul close up when he was Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Afghanistan. In 2012, he was suspended from the House of Commons for saying the government’s policy on Afghanistan was similar to World War One, where “politicians lied and soldiers died”. This unparliamentary language cost him a month’s pay.
He told me later that this had not been a premeditated decision, but once he was asked to withdraw the palpably true comment , he felt he could not. Probably he hoped to get some media coverage on the scandal of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the notion of an MP sacrificing his salary to highlight the Afghan quagmire did not fit the cynical media’s narrative about greedy parliamentarians.
His integrity will be sorely missed.