I was sadly unable to attend yesterday’s funeral of former Norfolk MEP Paul Howell who sadly died in a plane crash in Mozambique ten days ago. What a terrible blow for his family it must have been, to lose Sir Ralph and his son within a year. I first met Paul in the 1983 General Election when I was chairman of UEA Conservative students. He was a tremendously inspiring figure for me and my colleagues, who at that point hadn’t really met many politicians. It was hugely enjoyable to join him canvassing and he was full of hilarious stories to keep us entertained. His goal, of course, was to persuade us to help him win his own election for the European Parliament a little later.
Campaigning with Paul was fast paced. If there was a garden wall to leap over he leapt over it with gusto. If there was a fight to be had with a political opponent, he’d be in there all guns (and sometimes fists) blazing. He was a true defender of Norfolk in the European Parliament and his achievements were many. It is true to say that the Yarmouth Outer Harbour Project would never have got off the ground without Paul Howell’s inspirational, and some would say obsessive, backing.
But Paul’s political life was never fulfilled. He was desperate to get into the House of Commons to serve alongside his father. It never happened. He applied for a whole raft of seats in Norfolk but was always overlooked. He became increasingly disillusioned with the Conservative Party’s increasingly Eurosceptic stance. He used this as an excuse for leaving the Party, but the truth is that he left because he realized his own political ambitions would never be fulfilled. He joined the Liberal Democrats but not before he had tried to defect to the Labour Party. They, however, rejected his overtures. He was never happy outside the Conservative Party and when I met him during my own election campaign in North Norfolk it was clear to me that he was looking for a way back. But too many bridges had been burned and it was never going to happen.
Paul Howell has been called a buccaneer and a swashbuckler in the many obituaries which have appeared over recent days. I shall remember his as charming, energetic defender of the county he loved.
(From my Eastern Daily Press column today)