Eric Joyce and my Lost Key

Poor Eric! Whatever the precise nature of the offences alleged to have occurred late on Thursday evening in the House of Commons, it can’t be pleasant being the Honourable Member for Falkirk at present.

It’s a little known fact that Eric and I go back a long way. And I’ve a lot to be grateful to Eric for. We shared student digs briefly in London in the eighties. It was Eric who strode out and single-handedly prevented the escape of a would-be hit-and-run driver who had hit my car and was about to do a runner. Thanks, Eric. And it was Eric who broke into my ground-floor room for me when I arrived back from Yorkshire without my key. I owe you one, Eric.

Eric was also a good bloke to have in your tutorials. Never afraid to speak his mind (good training for a politician) he was also a pretty sharp cookie and not averse to running intellectual rings around the tutors. Thanks again, Eric. Those spats were the only thing that kept me awake at times.

I don’t think he drank much in the time I knew him. But then, he was training hard – judo was his thing, I seem to recall. Clearly that came in useful later on. For whereas I did the normal thing that people do when they’ve trained to be a teacher – i.e. teach, in a school – Eric joined the Army. Ok, so it was the Education Corps. But still. He was the only one who did.

And then I rather lost touch with him. A few years ago (while still in uniform) he got into a spot of bother writing a pamphlet for the Fabian Society and I had that odd ‘I know him’ moment when I heard that familiar Scottish burr on the Today programme, and later when I saw him – a picture of imperturbability before Jeremy Paxman – on Newsnight. Thanks for that, Eric.

So while all around are tutting-this and whispering-that, I’m here to say – here’s to the good times, Eric. And if you want a character witness…

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