The veteran socialist parliamentarian Stan Newens, who died on 2 March, was a lifelong campaigner for socialism, internationalism, and justice.
As a young man in Shropshire, I first met Stan in 1970 during that year’s general election. But I got to know him very well in his role as a leading torchbearer of the London Co-operative Society, as Chair of Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom), and then—much later—as the MEP for Central London, which included Islington North.
As a young boy in the East End of London, Stan saw the political tumult of the thirties unfold on his doorstep, with fascists and anti-fascists clashing in his area of Bethnal Green. In the late 1940s, he refused to take part in national service on conscientious grounds, and was instead sent to work in the North Staffordshire mines. Down the pit, he became an active member of the National Union of Mineworkers, a formative political experience for him.
Returning down south, Stan became highly active in the National Union of Teachers, as well as in Victory for Socialism, the Bevanite pressure group of which he became the organisational secretary. The group’s successful work in winning selections in left-wing CLPs for socialist candidates led to his selection as the MP for Epping, which he won for Labour in 1964.
In that year’s parliamentary intake, many of Stan’s fellow colleagues—such as Norman Buchan, Eric Heffer, and Russell Kerr—were on the left, backed by the unions, and committed to a firm socialist agenda. They wasted little time in organising to create a socialist parliamentary voice, forming the Tribune Group in the process. There, Stan became a trenchant critic of the Vietnam War, fought in the chambers for racial equality, and was also key in organising for Sydney Silverman’s successful 1965 bill to abolish capital punishment. After losing his seat in 1970, he returned to Parliament as the MP for Harlow in 1974.
In the New Town that he called home, Stan knew every blade of grass, tree, paving stone, and street turning. While he supported anti-colonial causes and pressed home the importance of the British labour movement’s support for organisations such as the African National Congress in South Africa, he was also becoming interested in local history. He wrote a wonderful history of Essex, and also put the historian Raphael Samuel in touch with Arthur Harding, a constituent who was the last survivor of the ‘Jago’ East End criminal slum, and wished to publish his unique memories.
In the Tory landslide of 1983, Labour lost Harlow, and Stan went on to represent the Central London constituency of the European Parliament in 1984. While in Europe, Stan did much to continue the fight for international justice, speaking up for the people of Iraq, Iran, and so many other places. He never failed to bring a sense of humanity and internationalism to all of the debates he spoke in, and continued to fight as a leading figure of Liberation, the internationalist organisation founded by Fenner Brockway in 1954.
After retirement, Stan did not dim in his commitment to the cause of socialism. His home was full of books, and to attend a socialist history school with Stan was an education in itself. A well-travelled and thoughtful figure, he could bring deep knowledge from so many parts of the world to his discussions, and was a good friend to many political exiles in England hoping for better times in their home countries.
In February 2020, just before this crisis hit our country, it was my honour to host a 90th birthday party for Stan in the Leader of the Opposition’s office. The sheer number of people present, of comrades young and old, attests to how many people thought so dearly of him. I am so sad at the passing of my friend, a man who gave his life to social justice, the labour movement, and those who elected him to represent them. In our work in building a better world, he will not be forgotten.