THE little town of Sale, where I live in the southern suburbs of
Manchester, has been in a state of shock since last week, after the
sudden death of our MP, Paul Goggins, at the age of only 60 (News, 10
The sense of numbed disbelief can be detected everywhere - on
the streets, in the shops, in the pub, at the library, in the gym,
and even across the great divide with which football enlivens the
multiple identities of the great city of Manchester.
Everywhere, everyone is saying the same thing. We have lost a
man who was a beacon of decency, generosity, justice, and kindness.
But these are more than tributes to a fine man. What local people
are saying goes to the heart of an important truth about modern
Paul Goggins's virtues were recognised everywhere that he worked
- from the children's home he ran in Wigan, before he became an MP;
to the Stormont office where, as Minister of State for Northern
Ireland, implementing the Good Friday agreement, he won the trust
and respect of all sides.
He did the same in Westminster. One political editor said that
he had never known such generous cross-party Commons tributes at
the death of an MP. He was called a true champion for the
disadvantaged and dispossessed, a good and wise man, principled and
hard-working, and utterly without ego or personal ambition.
But it was the plain people of Sale whose memories told the real
story. The wife of a man dying from asbestosis spoke of his
unflagging commitment to obtaining justice. A housing expert spoke
of the precision of his insight that the Coalition's "spare-bedroom
tax" would hit the north hardest. The mother of a child with
leukaemia recalled the MP's unexpected visit to her home to offer
support. The manager of a community centre in the constituency's
poorest area in Wythenshawe called him a man with no side, no airs
or pretensions, who treated everyone the same.
Beneath all this was a deep faith. Although Goggins gave up in
his youth the ambition to become a priest, his faith and his
politics were inseparable all his life. The passion and compassion
that they inspired made him the exemplar of what a modern
politician should be.
In an age when government ministers waffle about their "values"
to draw a veil over the detail of their dubious policies, Paul
Goggins did the opposite. He did not need to proclaim his values,
for it was easy to deduce them from his actions and concerns. He
pressed for change on children in care, homelessness, prison
reform, and poverty in the developing world. His was a commitment
to justice that knew no bounds, as one friend said.
It made him not just a good guy, but also a very effective
politician. As David Blunkett said: "He managed to achieve things
by persuasion and personality that some of us have to do by
hectoring and force."
But here in Sale, we remember not only the politician, but also
the man. One man told me that Goggins's only failing was to support
the wrong football team. He was a lifelong Manchester City fan,
while his wife Wyn was a keen Everton supporter. As a Northern
Ireland minister, he was forced to spend long periods away from
home. So, when he did get back to Manchester, to maximise their
time together, he bought himself a season ticket for Everton, so
that he could go with her.
Paul Goggins was, in the very best of senses, a man who was on
everyone's side. But it is perhaps only here, on the streets of his
constituency, that it is clear how many lives this extraordinary
man has touched.
Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics and
Media at the University of Chester.www.paulvallely.com