Paul Murphy MP for Torfaen has done a Lazarus. He is restored as Secretary of State for Wales and reunited with his beloved red boxes, chauffeur driven car and swish Gwydir House. Paul is a politician of mystery. Even after years of service in the cabinet, he is still the unknown politician.
He is Incurably Blairist. Sybaritically fond of classical music and fine food. Blissfully recalls using gold cutlery when guest of the French government. Son of a miner, he loved being Minister-on-call in Hillsborough Castle. Third generation Irish, did not attend a Catholic secondary school and is thus a devout Catholic. Views his political life as a preparation for beatification.
Francophile. Possibly the only politician regularly accompanied by his spiritual adviser when on holiday. Has frontbench low level gravitas. Fierce opponent of devolution in 1979. Passionate on curbing new powers to the Welsh Assembly, tribally Labour, good mimic (especially of Leo Abse), Oxford-educated historian, an enthusiastic cook and bachelor.
In the bad old days of overcrowded offices, I shared a room with seven MPs plus assorted researchers. Order and tidiness were impossible. Desks disappeared under a tip of papers. To compensate, a sign was fixed on the door saying 'A tidy desk is proof of a diseased mind.' We learned to survive in and love our squalor - except Paul Murphy. There was never a scrap of paper on his polished desk. For hours it gleamed mockingly at us. His desk was polished and paperless. A remedy frequently contemplated by the other six of us was homicide.
Paul and I have long suffered the irritation of being confused with each other. I have seen Paul on the television being harangued by an interviewer, ‘Tell me Mr Flynn…'
I gave a talk to the Gwent police some years ago. I was asked to be provocative so I mugged on the then imprisoned Birmingham six and Guildford four. All had been wrongfully jailed because of faulty identification.
The Chief Constable introduced me, ” Good of the local MP to give up his Saturday to talk to us. Give a big hand for Mr Paul Murphy”
It was the best possible introduction, “So much for the accuracy of police identification…” He had made my case for me.
When SOS for Northern Ireland he told the Parliamentary Labour party 'There are pros and cons for this and pros and cons against. '
He was quoting the words of a past Labour Party Chairman in setting out his stall for his tough task. 'As number one, you have no one else to blame' he confessed. A symbolic legacy left behind in the office by John Reid was a 'vegetarian haggis in a jar’.
A few years ago a hideously unfair accusation of laziness was hurled at Paul. He was one of the few MPs left behind to work through a Thursday night on a dreary Finance Bill. The rest of the House had gone home to bed or back to their constituencies for the weekend. Paul had made his fifteenth speech that day and was feeling hard done by.
He rang home to Cwmbran and asked if there was any news. 'Yes' a relative explained,’ the local television company has analysed the workload of the 38 Welsh MPs. They have put them in league table, with the busiest on top and the laziest on the bottom.' Paul was horrified to hear that he had been branded as one of the least hardworking MPs. 'Am I on the bottom of the list?' he shrieked indignantly. 'Not the bottom' his relative consoled him. 'There are two MPS below you. But they're both dead'.
In 2005 the triumph of the election victory turned to sadness for a crop of able ministers including Chris Mullin, Paul Murphy, and Dennis MacShane. By universal consent they were all performing superbly well. Each had the usual call, 'Sorry, I'm going to have to let you go. I need your job.' Their replacements are able and talented and will give the Government new vigour. There remains the puzzle of why blameless ministers are churned and cast aside in a process of perpetual renewal.
In the first publication on MPs' expenses, the Argus announced that Paul Murphy MP had claimed more than £18,000 in travel expenses. This made him the top spender for Gwent. There was a picture and a headline. The true amount was nothing. There was a minute correction a few days later but no apology. They had confused him with Scottish MP Jim Murphy.
The British-Irish Parliamentary body has been meeting for 16 years now. Composed of British and Irish MPs, TDs, AMs, and MSPs, it has bridged many of the deep misunderstandings of politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea. It has succeeded in sweeping away many of the old prejudices.
The only absentees have been the Ulster Unionists and the DUP. Their contribution is vital. Pictured is DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson addressing the 'Body' with Paul Murphy chairing on the platform and Sinn Fein TD Arthur Morgan (with glasses) listening intently. It's substantial progress.
Since early childhood Paul Murphy and Don Touhig have been pals. They bonded like brothers. Their shared Labour Party loyalties got them both elected to Gwent County Council. They stood shoulder to shoulder in opposition to devolution in 1979. Now they are both Papal Knights.
Paul Murphy was a reluctant convert to a weak brew of devolution when he was a Shadow Welsh Office Minister. As the new Welsh Field Marshal, he tried to rally his army at the Bournemouth Conference in September 1999 with a unique battle cry. It was not ‘Forward to battle, troops! ‘ or even ‘Full Retreat!’. Rather, it was, ‘Stay exactly where you are’. He described the present wretched, weak and unstable Welsh devolution as ‘settled’.
An MP once did a party charade in which he invited others to guess ‘Who am I?’ He then opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish, shifted from one foot to the other while gazing at the ceiling. The answer to this conundrum was ‘Paul Murphy, singing the Welsh National Anthem’.
Paul’s antagonism to the Welsh language is not skin deep. He shares with MPs Alan Williams (Swansea West) and Llew Smith a tribal phobia of Welsh. His high office will inhibit him. He did a splendid job in Northern Ireland where his sincere devout Catholicism was no impediment in his work with all denominations. Miraculously he won the respect pf Ian Paisley who teased him about where he parked his Papal Knight sword. Both set aside their religious views in side silos and cooperated well in a bigotry-free space of their own creation. Paul earned the admiration of all sides. He will do the same again in Wales.