It was reading this lovely tribute to the late Paul Flynn by ITV’s Adrian Masters, that put me in mind of my own first encounter with Paul.
He was actually the first MP I ever spoke to, as a Labour Party volunteer in the 2001 election campaign. I had been tasked with ringing around all the MP’s offices and asking them for a Top 3 of big local issues, to include in briefings packs for visiting Ministers and party bigwigs.
This seemed like a simple enough task, but that wasn't the case at all. I got passed from pillar to post and was generally fobbed off with a call back that never came. If I got lucky, I got to speak to a good researcher who could give me the info I needed. Now, given I was working through the constituencies in alphabetical order and I still hadn’t actually spoken to a sitting MP by the time I called the Newport West office, my hopes weren’t high.
And yet, quick as a flash I was passed on to Paul himself who greeted my opening question with the following cheery reply:
Issues? Issues? We don’t want issues. We’re miles ahead in the polls, we don’t want any visitors, or issues. You need to be stirring up the apathy, nobody needs issues!
He was, of course, joking. It was the first joke I’d heard that day — I can’t tell you what a relief it was as an office flunky to then be regaled with more jokes, stories, anecdotes and yes — actually serious issues relating to his beloved constituency. I can still remember most of the history lesson relating to the steelworks at Llanwern. It was a pleasure to listen to him. Paul had a captivating voice and a hinterland to match it. Many times after that day I enjoyed hearing his reflections on the radio, in the Commons and at various party events.
During the 17 years I’ve been involved in Welsh politics, I always enjoyed my occasional meetings with Paul. Although it is fair to say that over that time he caused me plenty of professional discomfort too — not so much straying over the party line, as creating his own unique political path. But, it was never about ego with him, just an authenticity you couldn’t help but admire. And the kindness and interest he’d shown me on that first day at work (and always continued to show others) meant I always regarded him with warm affection — and it is a lesson I hope that I didn’t lose in my own time working in politics.
Taking a bit of time, and showing an interest in new people. It was a good and simple lesson, not so much in how to be an MP, but just how to be a good person. He’ll be sorely missed, in Parliament, and right across Wales. I offer my sincere condolences to his immediate family, and to his huge extended Labour Party family in Newport and beyond.