An honourable farewell – Chris Mullin MP

Here is that rare thing, a proper valedictory speech from an MP. Chris Mullin, whose sparkling diaries are advertised in Slugger was a disarmingly honest MP and junior minister even when he was half heartedly pulling a flanker. He doubts if he has made more than “a foot print in the sand” as an MP. Maybe, but he deserves immortality for creating the Department of Folding Deckchairs. And as Harriet Harman once a civil liberties lawyer acknowledged when Chris had sat down, he may be best remembered for his part in uncovering the truth about the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. He began his farewell speech by offering restrained praise for some of the visible achievements of 13 years of Labour government.

Chris Mullin MP
There has been progress, too, in other important areas, such as the environment, criminal justice, and international development, and above all in Ireland, where peace has been achieved after many years of apparently intractable conflict. And who would have thought that we would live to see the day when a new Labour Government took a controlling interest in three major banks with-eventually-Conservative support

Although in some respects my political views have modified over the years, I continue to doubt that there is a long-term future for an economy based on shopping.

One way or another, we have to devise lifestyles that are sustainable, and that may well require changes to our way of life that most people have only dimly begun to contemplate. This I regard as the greatest single challenge facing the new generation of political leaders, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they come from.

The danger for western Europe is that, if the world beyond our frontiers is allowed to disintegrate-as the oceans rise, the rivers evaporate, the deserts expand and populations multiply-the flow of economic refugees from Africa and Asia will gradually become a tide that will gradually overwhelm our fragile social, economic and political systems. I do not say that that will happen, but it must be a possibility that can no longer be overlooked. We are deluding ourselves if we imagine that this process can be halted by increased repression.

..we face is that we live at a time when the public are less inclined to join political parties, do not wish to donate and, above all, do not want their taxes to fund political parties. But-and here is the rub-they all wish to live in a democracy. That is the circle that we poor, despised, inadequate politicians have to try to square. There are no easy solutions, but the one that I favour is for every taxpayer to be given a tax-free allowance of up to, say, £250, which he or she is entitled to donate to the political party of their choice in return for a strict cap on individual donations..

I count it a privilege to have been born in a democracy and to have served in this place. The great thing about democracy is that, although harsh things are sometimes said, we are not actually trying to kill each other. Differences are ultimately resolved at the ballot box. One side wins; one side loses; and the loser lives to fight another day. Mr. Speaker, those are the last words that I shall speak in this place.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): It is, indeed, a privilege for me to reply to this valedictory speech and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). He made wide-ranging and, as ever, interesting comments on the future of this place, noting the good that the Government have achieved and reminding us of some of our shortcomings.
My hon. Friend is noted for his independent mind and passionate commitment to the cause of justice. He will most definitely leave a footprint, not least in the minds of the families of the Birmingham Six, those who campaigned to free the Guildford Four and the men wrongly convicted of killing Carl Bridgewater. But tonight I would like to take this opportunity to honour my hon. Friend’s work, both as a Minister in a Labour Government, no matter how reluctant at times he appeared to be, judging by his diaries, and as a parliamentarian. As an assiduous Back Bencher, he was chair of the parliamentary Labour party’s civil liberties group in opposition and a member of the Home Affairs Committee, serving in a very distinguished way as its Chair from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2001 to 2003.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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