Stan went from the mines to a seat in the Commons
Former MEP had represented London Central for many years
12 March, 2021 — By Regan Scott
Stan Newens represented Islington at the European Parliament
STAN Newens, who has died aged 91, was known as a dogged socialist campaigner and politician who was not scared to face up to the electoral consequences of his sometimes unpopular principles.
He had been a long-serving MEP for the London Central constituency – covering Camden and Islington – after a career as MP in Essex.
He faced opposition in a disarmingly quiet and reasoned way, but determidely and within the constitutional processes of the Labour Party.
This ran him into problems, losing him his first parliamentary seat of Epping, then after coming back to Westminster as the MP for Harlow, he faced attempts to get him deselected.
He was stigmatised by career(ist) politicians and the British political establishment as a predictable, malcontent and permanent backbencher.
He had in fact refused posts under the Wilson-Callaghan governments of the 1970s.
When defeated in Harlow in 1983, the then Labour leader Michael Foot offered him elevation to the House of Lords but instead he came back into electoral politics by winning his seat in the European parliament.
Aside from my occasional local Hampstead Labour Party contact with Stan, I got to know him through the Transport and General Union’s European work.
As secretary of its Labour MEP group, Stan worked closely with my friend MEP Ken Coates of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and Workers Control repute.
Both had been conscientious objectors to national service, doing their time as coal miner in the 1940s – Stan in Staffordshire, where he was born.
He was by profession a graduate in history and saw himself as a Marxist.
He was independent-minded too. When post-Wilson Labour politics really rifted, he was not enamoured with Tony Benn’s challenge for the deputy leadership, though eventually voting for him.
He took the initiative to resist Tony Blair’s seminal attack on the Labour Party’s foundational Clause 4, which set out the socialist principle of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
With Ken Coates, Stan’s initiative resulted in a full-page Guardian advert. Blair was reportedly livid, doing a demarche to Strasbourg to read the riot act to the British Labour Group.
Publicised in advance, he received a polite tea party reception, no hard words exchanged. So much Blairism was stage managed for the media: that was how the iconic leadership was produced.
As a long-serving MEP, Stan reflected the major shift in inner Labour Movements European politics.
In the British Labour Group, there were some outright anti-Europeans, but most saw the necessity and potential of the European dimension for extending British labour movement ideas and influence.
There was routine cooperation with Greens and the Communists and the United Left Group (GUE) and occasionally with honourable Christian democrats.
It was a welcome lesson in fluid, issue-led political alliances compared to the Westminster two-party, loyal opposition model.
Brexit politics is unavoidable. Over the years of atrophy of general socialist principles in the Labour Party, attitudes about Europe shifted from seeing its trajectory as a capitalist common market to a view of a broader and necessary political alignment in an increasingly hostile, overwhelmingly capitalist and authoritarian world.
A political necessity, but also an opportunity. Stan was, I sense, in line with that policy shift, which was never starry-eyed or deferential to establishment politics.
There were some good things already going on through that European door, Stan involved in them.
He was always there: Around the European Nuclear Disarmament movement, the European Full Employment movement, and union supported, resisting a backdown from Keynesian full-employment policy in the European Treaties to assist a monetarist launch of the Euro.
Stan can be seen as an expression of the other, alternative, true Essex man – and woman. Essex had socialist strongholds: the housing tenants movement in the new estates decanted during the London blitz; the “Not Epping Likely” campaign to stop developers encroaching on Epping Forest; the stalwarts who unionised Ford at Dagenham in the 30s; the strong CND branches; the Daily Worker sellers and campaign leafletters outside the tube stations out there on the end of the London tube line.
• Regan Scott was formerly T&GWU National Secretary for European Co-ordination
Corbyn: ‘He dedicated his whole life to social justice’
I FIRST met Stan in 1970 when he was campaigning for Labour in Shropshire, and I got to know him very well as one of the leading lights of the London Cooperative society, then as Chair of Liberation, and much later as the Member of the European Parliament for Central London, which included Islington North.
Stan was born in the East End and was a conscientious objector against National Service in the 1940s and was thus sent to work in a coalmine in North Staffordshire. During his years down the pit there, he became a local activist in the National Union of Miners (NUM).
Stan was very much a self-taught historian and a brilliant teacher in schools in Hackney before he became the Member of Parliament for Epping, in 1964.
During the parliaments up to 1970 he was a trenchant critic of the Vietnam war, and a great supporter of peace and social justice.
He returned to parliament as MP for Harlow and knew and loved every blade of grass, every tree, every paving stone, and every turning in the town. He later wrote a wonderful history of Essex, along with many other historical works that he undertook.
He self-published his own book on his life, and we presented it to the House of Commons Library, entitled In Quest of a Fairer Society: My Life in Politics.
Stan had personal sadness when his first wife Anne died at a young age. His marriage to Sandra has been long and happy.
He brought a sense of humanity and internationalism to all of the debates he spoke in.
As a former chair of Liberation, the wonderful internationalist organisation founded by Fenner Brockway in 1954, Stan was always active and supportive.
He brought to us all much knowledge of so many different parts of the world from his mini-travels, and via his meetings of people living in exile hoping for better times in their home countries.
It was my honour to host a 90th birthday party for Stan in the Leader of the Opposition’s office in February 2020.
He was a man who gave his life to social justice, the labour movement, and the people who elected him to parliament and the European parliament.
• Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North and a former Labour Party leader