It was with great sadness that we learnt Paul Flynn, MP for Newport, died this weekend aged 84.
Paul was, among his many achievements, a titan in the UK drug law reform movement. When Transform was established back in 1997 Paul was the first MP to offer his support. He became a patron of Transform when it wasn’t fashionable and certainly not career-enhancing. His support was passionate, determined and principled. Over the years he asked numerous oral and written Parliamentary Questions at our request, tabled early day motions and private members bills, hosted events in Parliament for us, and doggedly raised the issue of drug law reform in the house in a series of memorable barnstorming speeches.
On the drugs issue he was often seen as an eccentric by his fellow parliamentarians. But this would be to misrepresent him: he was quite simply a very courageous early adopter – saying in public what increasing numbers of MPs thought in private. He certainly ploughed a lonely furrow in Transform’s early years – but it is a great testimony to him that he was never cowed by his critics into withholding what he believed.
Even when the worst populist instincts of his own party manifested in ugly drug war posturing, he would not be silenced – if anything he sensed the importance of being even more vocal.
He has, of course, been vindicated in his principled leadership. He was delighted to see reforms to the drugs laws spreading around the world: cannabis legalisation across the Americas, pragmatic harm reduction, and ending the criminalisation of people who use drugs across the world. He revelled in the reforms now sweeping the UK: diversion schemes that mean people who use drugs can avoid prosecution, drug testing at festivals, and heroin assisted therapy. He vigorously supported them all even as his health was failing.
Paul was particularly proud to see the law finally changed on medical cannabis in the UK last year. Newcomers to the debate certainly helped that issue over the finish line, but it was Paul who, almost single-handedly, got them within sight of the finish line in the first place. His private members bill to legalise access to medical cannabis (the latest of many such efforts) was still making its way through parliament when the Home Secretary finally succumbed to public clamour and changed the law.
As his wife Sam said late last year: “The very last time Paul spoke in the Commons was on 23rd February when the [medical cannabis] Bill was talked out again. It was an appropriate way to leave the green benches with his usual mix of rage and passion.”
Before the All Party, Labour and Tory groups for drug law reform; before the Liberal Democrat and Green Party pragmatic drug law reform positions; before the Times, Economist, BMJ and Lancet showed support for legalisation and regulation; even before Transform – there was Paul Flynn, doing what he believed, showing leadership, and being proved right. He was a warm and lovely man, a good friend and a great inspiration. We will miss him.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.