30 July 2020, The Tablet

‘I’ve never left Labour and I never will’

The Tablet Interview

‘I’ve never left Labour and I never will’

Sir Patrick (left) with Pope John Paul II


What matters most in politics is electability, says the economist, wartime pilot and former minister Sir Patrick Duffy, who recently turned 100

Sir Patrick Duffy was only in his early twenties when a priest gave him the Last Rites after his Fleet Air Arm plane had crashed near Scapa Flow in the Orkneys during the Second World War. It was one of five “narrow squeaks” with death he remembers from during the conflict. The burns that he suffered still need regular medical care to this day.

He didn’t let it get in the way of a political career in which he served for a quarter of a century on the Labour benches in the House of Commons, a handful of them as Navy Minister under Jim Callaghan in the late-1970s, as well as a long stretch subsequently as a shadow minister during his party’s wilderness years. A few weeks ago, he celebrated his 100th birthday.

His survival, he says quietly but firmly, is down to faith in God. Not smoking and always walking everywhere – he did the Camino six years in succession when in his eighties – may, he concedes, have played a part. Always having a good book on the go helps, too, but most of all it is God. “Otherwise I can’t explain how I have survived. It was mid-winter in the Orkneys and I was lying there for a day and a night before they found me, but I didn’t even get frostbite. It is about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

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