“Welsh pixie” who fought for the “you” in Labour
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Paul Flynn, the UK Member of Parliament for West Newport in Wales, who died on February 17 at age 84, knew how to spell Labour and also what it meant. For those who believe a Labour Party — whether you spell it with a “u” or not — ought to represent working people, Paul Flynn was a big loss. His was, for a while, a dying breed. Now he has died, there may not be enough of his ilk to keep a genuine Labour Party alive. Already, defections are happening. There are those in the Labour Party today who dread success if it is led by a Socialist. Flynn was one. Current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is another.
The defectors hail from “New Labour” but now call themselves “Independent.” New Labour was an artifice of former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a tactic to move the party rightward. It sowed the seeds of destruction for the Labour Party which is now, like its Tory counterpart, riven with dissent. It threw bus drivers, and other working people, under their own bus.
Flynn, a consummate and lifelong backbencher, didn’t like New Labour one bit. Writing about Flynn in The Guardian in March 2001, Andrew Roth said Flynn derided New Labour as “a malign alien force [which] could infiltrate a political party with beautiful people reared in public schools [and] fed an idealism-inhibiting diet”.
Flynn described himself as “Hyper-assiduous, Welsh-speaking, green-leaning off-beat semi-hard Leftist, fears Labour Party is being taken over by ‘Midwitch Cuckoos’.”* He saw the death knell that Blair’s regime would sound on “old” Labour, writing in 1995 that ‘We will win the election but lose the Labour Party”. Which is pretty much what happened.
Roth led his 2001 article with a vivid opening description: “Bearded Paul Flynn is an unlikely Welsh-speaking pixie with bags of Irish charm. The charm coats a tolerant left of centre MP who has served for years as a one-man awkward squad. His well furnished mind enables him to quote poetry in Chaucerian English as well as Welsh. He uses his wit as a cattleprod, pushing for answers to his most persistent questions.”
After he died, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, respectfully recalled that cattleprod when he said of Flynn: “He spoke his mind, he did it his way, he did it with eloquence, with knowledge, with character and often – as we all know – with mordant wit.” Eventually, rheumatoid arthritis was to hobble Flynn. Roth pondered: “Perhaps the rheumatoid arthritis, which makes him limp, makes it difficult for him to bend the knee in deference to New Labour.”
For the anti-nuclear community, Flynn was an all-too-rare ally. In fact he was more than that. As David Lowry, who worked with and for Flynn for many years, reminded us in an email, “In April 1980 Paul Flynn MP, Les and Judy James, organic farmer Peter Segar, and environmentalists from the Central Wales Energy Group, came together to establish an alliance that would pull together groups and individuals across Wales who were concerned about all matters nuclear.” This became the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance. Flynn helped get all 22 local authorities in Wales to sign up to the aspirational “Nuclear Free Wales Declaration” in 1982.
Lowry summed up Flynn’s contribution to the anti-nuclear cause — through vehement opposition to both nuclear power and nuclear weapons — in a letter to the Western Mail written after Flynn died:
“According to the Parliamentary Archives database, Paul asked 1,410 parliamentary questions on nuclear issues during his time as an MP. Indeed, his very first three questions as an MP (in July 1987) were posed on nuclear safety.
“He opposed the Hinkley C plant in Somerset, opposite his constituency across the Bristol Channel, to the end, and insisted the plans for new nuclear plants in Wales at Wylfa and a small modular reactor at Trawsfynydd were expensive white elephants, while backing ‘clean, green, eternal’ tidal power in the Bristol Channel.”
Sean Morris, Secretary of the UK Nuclear-Free Local Authorities (NFLA), also paid tribute to Flynn as “a true advocate for a nuclear free world.”
Wrote Morris: “”He was a strong supporter of the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and consistently challenged the need for Trident replacement in Westminster debates. He was a principal speaker at the annual Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorative services at Tredegar Park for over 30 years.
“For example, Paul said:
“’I cannot think of any conceivable use that nuclear weapons could have, apart from the prestige they give us. They also undermine our position in international talks. How dare we tell Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, when we are going ahead with updating ours?’
“On nuclear power, Paul Flynn shared the NFLA’s concerns over new nuclear build, the problems associated with radioactive waste and nuclear safety, and the safer, cleaner and cheaper renewable energy alternatives that now exist.”
According to Morris, Flynn said of the Hinkley Point C new nuclear project:
“The nuclear industry has never paid its way; it has always been an economic basket case. Why are we so committed to future nuclear power technology when we know that it will fix another financial albatross around taxpayers necks?”
Our movement was founded by those who are now elders — and by many who are already gone. While we continue to search for those younger to whom we can pass the torch, we do well to honor and remember those who laid the stepping stones on which we now walk.
*The Midwich Cuckoos is a 1957 science fiction novel written by the English author John Wyndham. It tells the tale of an English village in which the women become pregnant by brood parasitic aliens.
Headline photo of Paul Flynn courtesy of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.