| Paul Flynn |
|Born||Paul Philip Flynn|
9 February 1935
|Died||17 February 2019 (Age 84)|
Paul Flynn (9 February 1935 – 17 February 2019) was a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Newport West from the 1987 General Election until his death. He briefly served as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons during 2016.
At the Newport West by-election on 4 April 2019, Ruth Jones was elected to succeed Paul Flynn, on a turnout of 37.1 per cent with 23,615 votes cast, significantly down on the 2017 General Election when 67.6 per cent of the electorate turned out. Mrs Jones took 9,308 votes, giving her a majority of 1,951 over the Tories (Matthew Evans), with UKIP (Neil Hamilton) in third place.
Speaking ill of the dead
There is a convention not to speak ill of the dead; so when a politician dies it is somehow a breach of decency to point out that they may have said or done some remarkably unpleasant things. Instead, we are to sit quietly with bowed heads and honour their memories, glossing over any iniquities.
But I find myself unable to do so in the case of Paul Flynn.
Mr Flynn, the Labour Member of Parliament for Newport West, died on Sunday at the age of 84, and the tributes paid to him were effusive and predictable.
The Labour Whip’s office described how “His humour and wit was used to great effect campaigning for Social Justice”.
The Welsh Labour party and its leader, Mark Drakeford, went further, calling Mr Flynn:
- “One of the most effective communicators of his generation… But it was Paul’s willingness to speak up for causes beyond the political mainstream, which marked him out as a politician of real courage and integrity.”
- “Good friend… an independent thinker who was a credit to the Labour party.”
I remember Paul Flynn rather differently, and I imagine I’m not the only British Jew who does. For me, he was one of a number of indicators over the years as to the morass of antisemitism into which the Labour party was slipping.
For those who may be unaware, in 2011, parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee was questioning Sir Gus O’Donnell, then head of the Civil Service, about Adam Werritty, the controversial adviser to former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, regarding alleged meetings between Mr Werrity and Matthew Gould, then the UK’s ambassador to Israel. Mr Flynn was a member of that committee, and his comments on Matthew Gould raised eyebrows and lowered spirits:
- "I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service," said Mr Flynn.
He went on to say that two anti-Israel activists who had been briefly imprisoned in Israel had met the ambassador:
- “They strongly believe… that he was serving the interest of the Israeli government, and not the interests of two British citizens," he told the committee.
By making such an accusation and repeating these remarks, Mr Flynn was effectively suggesting that Mr Gould was a traitor to his country.
But it went further than that. Because Mr Gould is Jewish. And when the JC asked Mr Flynn to clarify his comments, he claimed that previous ambassadors to Israel had not been Jewish "to avoid the accusation that they have gone native", and that Britain needed "someone with roots in the UK [who] can't be accused of having Jewish loyalty".
Suggesting or insinuating that Jews have dual loyalty, that they put the interests of co-religionists above those of the country they live in, is an age-old antisemitic trope, which is why it was very prominently included in the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
What happened? Initially, the Labour MP refused to apologise for the remark, describing the idea that it could in any way be seen as antisemitic as “ludicrous”.
This led to an apology from Mr Flynn for “any offence caused”, in which he went on to say: “There is no reason that anyone of any race or religion should be debarred from public office. That has always been my opinion. The comments were made in a heated exchange in a select committee discussion on probable warmongering.”
And that was it. No other action was taken against an MP who had effectively accused a Jewish ambassador to this country of treason, treason based on his faith.
But action should have been taken. Because five years later, when a Labour-voting Jewish constituent told a canvasser that he was concerned about antisemitism in Labour, Mr Flynn took the time to e-mail him, saying the following:
- “We hear these accusations made in parliament along with many other nasty smear stories… The accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are among the wildest and least accurate of insults… Having been in the Labour Party since childhood I have never met an antisemite in the party.”
So much for “humour and wit”. So much for “real courage and integrity”.
And this is why I, and imagine a number of others, cannot find it in ourselves to mourn Mr Flynn. For us, he was a harbinger of Labour’s current situation, where today a Jewish MP resigned from the Labour party due to the horrendous abuse she has received from members and the leadership’s utter disinterest in dealing with it.
But I guess, as far as Mr Corbyn is concerned, an MP who said the things Paul Flynn said would indeed be considered a “credit to the Labour party.”
But such a Labour party is not one, I think, which an increasing number of people would care to associate with.