Thursday, April 02, 2020

60 Years Ago Today - Manny and Me

 Emanuel Shinwell MANNY SHINWELL

As then Secretary of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society it is 60 years ago today since a Day School which I had organised was held at the Easington Colliery Secondary Modern School - where I was then a 23 year old school governor.

The topic was on the issue of the re-nationalisation of the Steel Industry, although the meeting was held in a solid coal mining area. 63 people attended with the Women's Section of the Easington Colliery Labour Party serving food and drinks during the break. I was also the Secretary of the Easington Colliery Labour Party at the time and activists from the Women's Section used to form half of our Branches normal attendance of 30 or so.

The speakers I arranged to address the meeting were (1) Ronald Parker the Vice Chair and Political Education Officer of the Cleveland Divisional Labour Party who had sound knowledge about the Steel Industry and (2) Manny Shinwell our local MP who when Minister of Fuel and Power in 1947 (when I was a 10 year old) had nationalised the Coal Industry.

I am having technical difficulties at the moment, but I am attempting to link into a connection which will show a 60 year old item from the Northern Echo which shows a photo of five of us at the event. These are the two speakers and three of our branch officials - Bill Horsfield our Treasurer, John Alderson our Chair and myself. John had taught my wife English at school, although it would be a further three years before I met her. I will adjust this paragraph if and when I resolve my technical problems. (It is page 89 of the Journal shown here - which is page 91 according to the numbering of the site :   ) 

Manny Shinwell had a big influence on my life. I had gained a clear interest in politics from my experiences of the harsh nature of life for many Iraqi people when I undertook my National Service at Basra in 1955-56. Then I was demobbed in the middle of Suez Crisis and the Russian Invasion of Hungary - a dramatic political era. But as I was not impressed by Gaitskell's leadership of the Labour Party I held on a year before deciding to apply for Labour Party membership. In the meantime, I went to a variety of left-wing political discussion meetings and wrote regular political letters to the Northern Echo, the Sunderland Echo and the Durham Cronicle. I became an associate member of the national Fabian Society (attending their discussion meetings in Durham) and a member of the International Society of Socialist Studies established on an initiative by GDH Cole, whom I heard address them at a meeting in London.

Then Shinwell ran an essay contest for Labour Party members in the Easington Constituency on nationalisation. So I joined them in order to enter. The first meeting I went to was to collect my prize of £3 for coming in second in the contest (my essay being numbered 16). The first prize went to John Alderson who appears on the photo I refer to. It was a packed constituency meeting held at nearbye Blackhall with Shinwell presenting the prizes.

Within a few months of joining the Labour Party I became Secretary of the Easington Colliery Branch of the Labour Party, persuading them to have a speaker with a discussion at alternative monthly Branch Meetings. Then four of us competed for the role of Constituency Secretary and I was the runner up.

The Peterlee and District Fabian Society first meeting was held on 7th February 1958, just over two years before our Day School at Easington. It was addressed by Bill Rodgers the Fabian Society General Secretary, who later became one of the Gang of Four defecting from Labour to set up the Social Democratic Party. I discussed the event with him years later and was impressed by how well he remembered it.  Later speakers included Sam Watson the leader off the Durham Miners, Shinwell and Jack Dormond who was eventually to follow on from Shinwell as our local MP.

During the 1959 General Election I acted as a local election agent, covering the Easington Colliery and Easington Village area on behalf of Shinwell. It was the first General Election in which I had a vote.

Then from October 1960 I obtained a place to study full-time at Ruskin College. Shinwell had written a reference to them on my behalf and pushed my cause. I had earlier been selected to attend the 1960 Labour Party Conference, but backed off as it clashed with the start of my studies and I was substituted. Yet I had moved and carried a ban-the-bomb resolution at our Constiteuncy Party. A stance (amongst many others) which led to Gaitskell making his famious "fight, fight and fight again" speech in the other direction.

Where I now live in Dronfield (although living at Sheffield at the time) I became a member of the Contact Club when it moved to it present and purpose-built facilities. As a Trades and Labour Club it was officially opened on its new site by Shinwell himself on 12 August 1967. Unfortuneately, I missed what was a key event for me because I was away teaching at an Adult Education Summer School at Colegh Harlech at the time. It would have been ideal if the events had not clashed.

I hold five books written by Shinwell. Two contain his signature and another was his gift with a label as a presentation copy. Then I have two other books written about him.   

Shinwell was first elected to serve what was then the Seaham Constituency with the count taking place at the Easington Colliery Infant School in 1935 - the year before my birth. He defeated Ramsay MacDonald who had been the local MP and Prime Minister, but who had defected from the Labour Party. The 1935 count took place at the Easington Colliery Infant School. But there were separate Infants Schools close to each other for boys and girls. So I am not sure if it is the one I later attended.

29 April ; I have just discovered this about Shinwell at Easington. Both the video and the script describing its content are for me exceptional. See here.


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