Tribute: Bernard Jenkin remembers Paul Flynn
Bernard Jenkin pays tribute to Paul Flynn, an ‘extraordinary parliamentarian’, and a generous, determined – and at times exasperating – colleague
“You are totally biased in your chairing of this committee – the worst chair I have ever known.” You can find such statements periodically on the record of the public proceedings of what is now the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Paul Flynn and I were not natural political bedfellows, and it made the job of leading the committee at times very challenging and trying. Unlike me, he passionately supported the EU.
I only got to know Paul Flynn at all well when I was elected Chair in 2010. He was an extraordinarily active parliamentarian, also serving on two or three other select committees, and speaking regularly in the House. Despite the progressive and painful deterioration in his ability to move about, he always took part in the work on our visits abroad. He never complained about anything except the things which mattered politically, and to the people he represented.
Paul could be exasperating, surprisingly insulting and hurtful to people who did not understand his ways, but this belied a generous spirit and an open mind. As part of our Big Society inquiry (the Cameron idea which he naturally scorned), we visited a homelessness charity in South London. He went straight into the attack on the hapless CEO, accusing her of running an industry on the back of the homeless. She recovered, without overreacting, and by the end of the morning, he was enthusing about the work of Emmaus. Similarly, he hated the appointment of William Shawcross as Chair of the Charity Commission, and voted against him at the pre-appointment hearing. It was a highly political choice, but over time, he gave William his respect.
Paul had the uncomfortable knack of opening up awkward issues, about which he developed deep knowledge and understanding. He often raised the pointlessness of the military campaign in Helmand, or the stupidity of continuing the ban on the medical use of cannabis. He pioneered such campaigns with his characteristic zeal and invective, so often to be proved right in the end.
He persuaded the Committee to conduct inquiries into the subjects that some would rather avoid, such as the inability of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to provide much public confidence about the conflicts of interest arising from “the revolving door” (of ministers and public servants moving back and forth public service and the private sector. PASC reported The Business Appointment Rules in 2012 largely at his behest. PACAC returned to the subject again, with a better report in 2016, entitled Managing Ministers’ and Officials’ conflicts of interest: time for clearer values, principles and action. Both these reports are testament to Paul’s exacting standards, and his fearless pursuit of wrong-doing.
This and his other influence have certainly had a lasting effect on me, and the Committee, in our determined mission to ensure that the public should be able to have more confidence in government, parliament and our public institutions. We miss him.
Bernard Jenkin is Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee