Wales

Obituary: Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn

Paul Flynn and Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Paul Flynn was appointed to Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet when the Labour leader faced a rebellion of his MPs

Paul Flynn was the MP for Newport West for over thirty years.

Although he served briefly in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet in 2016 after several Labour MPs quit the front bench, he treasured the role of backbencher and was a serial rebel.

He campaigned on issues including medicinal and illegal drugs, benefits, animal welfare, devolution and the modernisation of Parliament.

He wrote books, had a lively blog and was a prolific tweeter.

The early years

Paul Flynn was born and brought up in Cardiff. His father had been injured as a soldier in World War One and died when the young Paul was just five years old.

His mother raised him and his four siblings in poverty, but he has described having some very happy memories of his childhood.

He learned Welsh while a pupil at St Illtyd's College and said he fell in love with the language at that time.

Image copyright Labour Party
Image caption Paul Flynn was first elected to represent Newport West in 1987

After leaving school, Paul Flynn worked in the steel industry as a chemist for almost 30 years, first at East Moors in Cardiff and then at Llanwern in Newport.

In 1974 he stood for Parliament for the first time, as an unsuccessful Labour candidate in Denbigh in the second general election of that year.

After leaving the steel industry, he became a researcher for Labour's Llew Smith when he was a member of the European Parliament in the eighties.

Backbencher

Paul Flynn was elected to represent Newport West in parliament in the 1987 general election, and successfully defended the seat at seven subsequent general elections.

As an MP he won the Spectator magazine's backbencher of the year award in 1996 and wrote a book entitled 'Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher' the following year.

In the foreword, his colleague the late Tony Banks said Paul Flynn was "one of Westminster's sharpest of brain and tongue" with a "well-merited reputation for forthright and controversial views".

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Media captionPaul Flynn joked that his temporary promotion to the shadow cabinet was part of a 'diversity project'

In 1999 he published another book, Dragons Led By Poodles. It was an account of the contest between Rhodri Morgan and Alun Michael to lead Welsh Labour in 1999.

In it, he said that the trade unions had helped engineer a "stitch-up" that delivered victory for Mr Michael.

Following Labour's disappointing result in the first elections to the National Assembly for Wales, Alun Michael's critics often repeated the poodle label when referring to the then-first secretary.

Paul Flynn's comments sometimes got him into trouble. In 2012 he was thrown out of the House of Commons after claiming that Philip Hammond, then the defence secretary, was lying to Parliament over the conflict in Afghanistan.

In 2011 he apologised after he was criticised for asking if the British ambassador to Israel should be Jewish.

Personal life

Paul Flynn married Anne Harvey in 1962.

The couple had a son and a daughter, Rachel who died suddenly in 1979, aged 15.

He later said it was impossible for anything worse than that to happen to a person, and that her death had given him the strength to do good.

After his first marriage ended, Paul Flynn married Samantha Morgan, who he said shared his political ideals and had gave him a perfect relationship of happiness and peace. She worked for him as a senior secretary.

He was diagnosed with arthritis as a child - the condition was the reason he retired as a chemist. He said the best approach was to ignore it, although sometimes he had difficulty walking.

He spoke about bouncing off walls, and joked that he did not drink alcohol at all because he sometimes looked like he had had a skinful when he hadn't.

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Media captionCome to Parliament and break the law, Paul Flynn urges drug campaigners

Shadow cabinet

In the summer of 2016 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a wave of shadow cabinet resignations in protest at his leadership and calls for him to resign.

Paul Flynn wrote on his blog: "It's a disgrace that political parties are playing self-indulgent games with orchestrated resignations on the hour as part of an organised treachery."

In the reshuffle that followed he became shadow leader of the house, and shadow Welsh secretary.

He joked that his appointment was part of a "diversity project" to promote "octogenarians".

He remained in the shadow cabinet for only a few months. When he returned to the backbenches, he said his period on the front bench had been a "worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable" experience.

Mr Flynn campaigned for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use. In 2017 called for users to come to parliament to break the law.

"We have to call on those who put up with the barbaric stupidity and cruelty of a government policy that denies seriously-ill people their medicine of choice to perform acts of civil disobedience," he told MPs.

Speaking to Radio Cymru's Beti a'i Phobl programme in 1995 he said the best description of him had been one by the late political sketch-writer Simon Hoggart who had said he was "the thinking man's Dennis Skinner".

He thought that could be his epitaph.