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Paul Flynn would've 'hated news' about Labour resignations, writes Adrian Masters

Credit: PA Images

Even though he was politically more in tune with Jeremy Corbyn and the left of the party, he also loved the fact that Labour was big enough to encompass a range of views.

The reason I say I think he would have hated it is because I remember the amazing speech he made to Labour conference in 2016 when he passionately urged those who had left Corbyn's shadow cabinet to put their differences behind them and return to the front benches.

It was one of two occasions around that time when I was guilty of misjudging him. The illness which has now claimed him had been having a noticeable impact and he looked physically frail. That conference when he was briefly, surreally, Shadow Welsh Secretary I'd seen him struggle out of his wheelchair to introduce Jeremy Corbyn at the conference's annual Welsh night event. Physically frail maybe but the following day he belted out a speech that was powerful, unifying and electrifying.

The other time when he reminded me not to judge by his appearance had been at a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee. These meet rarely but when they do the 'action' (such as it is) is in the morning session when MPs interrupt each other. The afternoon sessions tend to be sedate and sometimes, well, not the most exciting of debates. But on that occasion I'd watched from the press area as Paul Flynn struggled to his feet but then without notes, delivered a passionate, witty, angry and eloquent speech.

He may have been physically frail but he was still one of the best speakers in the Commons.

He was funny about his health problems too. After an earlier incident a few years ago in which an ambulance had had to be called to parliament, he told me that he'd been carried out by paramedics and was wearing an oxygen mask. A fellow MP stopped and said, "Paul are you alright?" As he described it to me he'd removed the oxygen mask, looked at the chair and the paramedics and said, "On balance probably not."

My working relationship with Paul Flynn goes back a long way, in fact, he's the politician I've been interviewing longest. I first met him when I was training to be a journalist. I interviewed him on the Commons terrace and he gave me as much time and respect as a trainee as he did over the years when I was doing the job professionally.

He was of course a great interviewee. As a backbencher he was outspoken and never worried about upsetting any leadership and never shied away from the consequences of the positions he took, even when he was wrong.

One such time happened recently. When Rhodri Morgan died in 2017 I went to his house to film his tributes to his former colleague. He had a store of anecdotes and perceptive analysis but we also fell to gossiping about the General Election he was fighting. His front room was filled with boxes of leaflets and he was in full election mode but was pessimistic. At that stage of the campaign the Conservatives were way ahead and he felt there was a real chance he might lose Newport West.

"By any sensible consideration, I’m toast," he said, adding that he’s told his staff to be prepared to be out of work. He'd written to Jeremy Corbyn as "an old friend and colleague" to warn that "'it ain’t going to happen and it’s because of you'. That’s what they’re telling us on the doorstep - it’s him, that they just don’t like him, the not wearing a tie, etc. These things matter to our voters more than any others."

In the end he comfortably won Newport West and Labour performed better than expected. I wanted to include what he'd told me privately in my book about the election and contacted him to check if he minded me breaching that confidence. He didn't even give it a second thought. "It's what I said and did after all," he said, adding ruefully, "It wasn't my finest hour."

Paul Flynn appearing on ITV Wales' Face-to-Face

He never objected to being challenged but we had one on-air disagreement which could have soured our good working relationship. In a live interview I'd questioned his voting record based on some too-hasty research on the parliamentary voting site 'They Work For You.' I thought I'd found a way of catching him out but I'd misread the data. It was a cross interview but when I double checked and realised my mistake I called him to apologise. He answered with a cheery "Is this about the on-air calumny?". It taught me to do my homework more thoroughly.

Although he wasn't my constituency MP he represented my home town of Newport and was proud of it even though it was his adopted home. Early on in my career at a commercial radio station we'd cooked up an April Fool's story about plans to merge Cardiff and Newport.

He played along enthusiastically giving us clever and funny clips expressing his fears about "the Balkanisation of South Wales" and saying that "Cardiffians are very nice people but you wouldn't want your daughter marrying one."

We knew lots of people in common and often found ourselves at Newport events, particularly art events. We spoke a lot about books, including his own. He promised that if he'd lost the election in 2017 he'd write about his short time in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet and what really happened when he left it again. I hope he has recorded it somewhere. He also said that if he'd lost in 2017 he would start writing another book, a novel, the day after it. He couldn't contemplate not having a project.

I've often wondered what waspish comments he would have made about the Brexit crisis in parliament. I know that until the last he stayed up to date, taking what his wife Sam described to me as "a perverse pleasure in watching every move."

Over the last 25 years, thanks to his good nature, honesty and generosity, Paul Flynn helped me become the journalist I am and, in helping me understand what makes politicians tick, learn how to cover politics in all its seriousness and absurdity. I knew that when I spoke to him he was telling me the truth even if it didn't reflect well on him.

I'll very much miss those insights but I'll also very much miss the funny, passionate and principled man whom I came to know well, to like as well as respect.

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