A celebration of the life of Tony Lynes was held yesterday. I was grateful to his widow Sally and daughter Hannah for an allowing me to pay this tribute.'
"Parliament is many things – a snake pit for the ambitious, a playground for charlatans and crooks; it is also a giant mechanism for doing good. That’s the parliament that Tony Lynes inhabited.
On a happy day in 1988, a guardian angel weaved his way between the desks in an office I shared with
seven other MPs. He was a strange figure resembling an Old Testament prophet: thin, with a long black beard. ‘I’m Tony Lynes,’ he said, ‘I work for Margaret Beckett. I think I may be able to help you.’
Tony was the best stroke of luck I have ever had in 27 years of parliamentary life. I had just been jettisoned from Neil Kinnock’s Welsh frontbench team to the Social Security frontbench – from day one instant mastery of the impenetrable encyclopedic social security regulations was expected. Tony was a life support system for me as he had been for dozens of past Labour Governments, ministers and shadow minister for decades. One of the country’s greatest experts on Social Security, he was ex-civil servant who then become first director Child Poverty Action Group. He could have effortlessly enjoyed a career as a top civil servant an academic or a journalist. But he never sought wealth or status. He single-mindedly devoted his prodigious intellect and energies to improving the efficiency and justice of social security.
He drafted more (and better) amendments to social security bills than anyone else, alive or dead. We know that to be true because he wrote it himself and he was modest man.
Tory was my hero and mentor. I rapidly grew to admire his awesome work on the committee stages of the bills that dominated our lives.
Opposition Social Security teams are scourged with at least one bill every year. I was hopelessly out of my depth. Tony Lynes kept me afloat with briefings that were authoritative, clear and infallible. As each clause was debated on bills, teams of different civil servants would troop in to advise the minister. Margaret Beckett, later Clare Short and I relied on Tony alone. He never let us down. It was the army of Civil Servants who were outclassed by Tony’s memory, skill and guile. Tony was the brain: we were the glove puppets. So confident did I become in him that I happily stood my ground when ministers told me I was wrong. When Tony was nodding his head at me at the end of the committee room I was never caught out.
Decisions were being taken that would drastically affect millions of people on tiny disposable incomes. Try telling that to the world outside. Journalists know and care about mortgages. They all have mortgages. None of them were on housing benefit, or income support or a state pension.
There were millions more people on each of housing benefit, income support and state pensions than had mortgages. But it was close to impossible to capture the interest of the hacks
It’s impossible to catalogue a Tony's lifetime achievement. It is made up of the micro surgery of tens of thousands of reforms, from the small changes in Government terms such as restoring the disability facilities grant that had not been uprated for four years to the mammoth error of the Tory Personal Pension calamities in the eighties that cheated and impoverished seven million pensioners. There were many further horrors of useless, malign and damaging bills that became law.
Tony was especially proud of his successful destruction of a Tory Denial of Information stunt in the eighties. Confusingly next step agency questions were printed in Hansard but the answers were not published in Hansard. Tony Lynes and I published a monthly selection of answers called Open Lines sent to all MPs. After two years the Government nationalised our private enterprise venture. Full Hansard service was restored. A significant victory by Tony had been scored for the Legislature over a secretive Executive. An achievement rewarded with the Freedom information award for 1991.
He set a fine example of how to grow old productively-how to stay angry and fighting. He adored the spirit of Barbara Castle, almost blind, feeling her way around the corridors of the Lords but exploding with inspired conviction. A grateful Labour Party should have elevated Tony to the Lords. They did not. He never complained. He was a man of depth and sincerity who was steadfast and strong even in grief and adversity.
He was a kind, gentle, creative, practical man who enriched all our lives and gifted Parliament with his honesty and integrity. We are all bereaved. All those who never knew his name but who struggle on minute incomes are bereaved.
A frequent regret on sudden bereavements is that we never said how much we appreciated the one we have lost. I am comforted this morning because I said the following about Tony in a published book.
“He taught me the concept of excess earnings. He had been receiving at one time in his life more money than he needed to survive. He set up a trust to hold the ‘excess’ cash so he could later give it away to worthy causes, Gratefully I served as one of the trustees to redistributed our excess wealth.
Tony is one of the very few saints that I have ever known”.
Rest in peace, beloved Comrade!
A Thanksgiving and Celebration of the Life of
3 October 1929 – 12 October 2014
The Conway Hall
25, Red Lion Square WC1R 4RL
Thursday 23 October 2014 at 12.30pm
WELCOME The Reverend Canon Cecil Heatley
FAMILY Hannah Lynes
FRIENDSHIP 1946-2014 Marie-Magdeleine Amory
‘How lovely are thy dwellings fair’
From A German Requiem – Johannes Brahms Opus 45
A LIFE WITH MUSIC Peter Smith
PRAYER/POEM? John Lynes
SCHOLAR AND CAMPAIGNER
Jonathan Bradshaw CBE, FBA
Professor of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
LIFE IN PARLIAMENT AS A POLITICAL ADVISER
Paul Flynn MP Member for Newport West
CONTRIBUTION TO SOUTHWARK AS A PENSIONER
Councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle MBE
Cabinet Member for Adult Care, Arts and Culture,
London Borough of Southwark Ward: Camberwell Green