Manny Shinwell, Baron Shinwell

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Shinwell
CH PC
Manny Shinwell 1.jpg
Shinwell in 1920
Minister of Defence
In office
28 February 1950 – 26 October 1951
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by A. V. Alexander
Succeeded by Winston Churchill
Secretary of State for War
In office
7 October 1947 – 28 February 1950
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by Frederick Bellenger
Succeeded by John Strachey
Personal details
Born 18 October 1884 (1884-10-18)
Spitalfields, London
Died 8 May 1986 (1986-05-09) (aged 101)
Nationality United Kingdom
Political party Labour

Emanuel "Manny" Shinwell, Baron Shinwell CH, PC (18 October 1884 – 8 May 1986) was a British trade union official, Labour politician and one of the leading figures of Red Clydeside.

Early life, career and trade union activities[edit]

Shinwell was born in Spitalfields, London, but his family moved to Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a Polish Jew who had a small clothing shop and his mother—a Dutch Jew—was a cook from London.[1] He educated himself in a public library and at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. He enjoyed sport, particularly boxing, and he was the trainer of a local football team. He began his working life as a machinist in a clothing workshop. In 1903 he became active in the Amalgamated Union of Clothing Operatives, and joined the Glasgow Trades Council in 1906 as a delegate of that union.

In May 1911, he was seconded to help organise the seamen of Glasgow at the request of J. Havelock Wilson of the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union (NSFU). He played a prominent role in the six-week Glasgow seamen's strike which began on 14 June and which was part of a nationwide strike. He subsequently became the secretary of the Glasgow branch of the NSFU. In August 1912, he participated in a revolt against the union, which resulted in the Glasgow branch becoming part of the Southampton-based British Seafarers' Union (BSU). He was the local secretary of the BSU until it became part of the Amalgamated Marine Workers' Union (AMWU) in 1922, after which he served as National Organiser of the new organisation. In 1919, he gained national notoriety through his involvement in the Glasgow 40 Hours' Movement. This movement culminated in clashes between police and protesters in Glasgow's George Square. He was afterwards tried for incitement to riot and was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.

Political career[edit]

Shinwell (standing) at an election meeting in 1918

An Independent Labour Party (ILP) member, he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Linlithgowshire at the 1922 general election. He lost his seat in 1924, but was re-elected for Linlithgowshire at a by-election in 1928. In 1929 Ramsay MacDonald appointed him Financial Secretary to the War Office: Cowling says that MacDonald believed he had rescued Shinwell's ministerial career when no minister would take him. From 1930 Shinwell served as Secretary for Mines, an office he had previously held in 1924. He became a critic of Ramsay MacDonald's National Government, and in 1931 he again lost his seat. He returned to the Commons in 1935 for Seaham, County Durham, after defeating MacDonald, whereafter he campaigned vigorously, along with left-wingers such as Aneurin Bevan, for Britain to support the Popular Front government in Spain against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On 4 April 1938, during a heated House of Commons debate in which he had been criticising the government's foreign policy, he slapped the face of the Conservative MP Commander Robert Tatton Bower after Bower told him to "go back to Poland".[2] Shinwell had taken this to be an anti-semitic remark.[3] In May 1940 he refused a position in Winston Churchill's Coalition Government in the Ministry of Food. He became chairman of the Labour Party in 1942.

Shinwell then served in Clement Attlee's government after the Labour victory in 1945 as Minister of Fuel & Power, and he presided over the nationalisation of the mining industry. In connection with this he decided to use his powers to compulsorily mine the picturesque grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse, home of former mine owner the Earl FitzWilliam. Shinwell's mine was deliberately planned to go right up to the back door of the earl's baronial home.

This move was severely criticised, including by the local miners themselves (who threatened to strike in an attempt to prevent it), as the quality of coal was very poor, and because Shinwell's actions were perceived as a vindictive act of class warfare. Unlike most mine owners the philanthropic Fitzwilliam family had for decades made the Wentworth Estate a pleasant haven for all employees. They were welcome to roam the estate in their leisure time, and those in hardship were encouraged to approach the earl for help at any time.

To this day, locals in Wentworth maintain that Shinwell mined the grounds not because he needed to, but because he could. He wished to spite the Fitzwilliams and to emphasize to working class miners that only Socialists could offer legitimate help to the workers.

Shinwell in the 1940s

In 1947, Britain experienced, in an exceptionally severe winter, a serious coal shortage. He was widely criticised for his failure to avert this crisis. Shortly afterwards he took up the position of Secretary of State for War which he held until 1950. In November 1947 an MI5 report alleged that Shinwell had passed secret information to a man named "Stanley" who had passed it on to Zionist paramilitary group Irgun. Shinwell knew self-styled "contact man" Sidney Stanley whom he had approached for help in finding employment for his son Ernie, and Stanley had obtained information on the disbandment of the Transjordan Frontier Force from some government source.[4] His seat became Easington in 1950, at which point he became Minister of Defence. Towards the end of his Commons career, he served as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, 1964-67. Shinwell was awarded the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1965[5] and was made a life peer as Baron Shinwell, of Easington in the County of Durham, in 1970.[6] He continued to be active in the House of Lords until shortly before his death.[7] Shinwell died in May 1986, aged 101, holding the record for the second longest-lived British MP (after Theodore Cooke Taylor) until overtaken by Bert Hazell in November 2008. He became the longest lived peer on 26 March 1986, dying little over a month later on 8 May.

Shinwell sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill for a portrait[8] in clay. The correspondence file relating to the Shinwell portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive[9] of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist. A bronze (accession number S.309) was purchased into the Collection of Glasgow City Art Gallery[10] in 1973.

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Shinwell wrote three volumes of autobiography:

  • Conflict Without Malice (1955)
  • I've Lived Through it All (1973)
  • Lead With the Left (1981)

Shinwell wrote "When The Men Come Home" (1944)

Biography:

  • Slowe, Peter, "Manny Shinwell" Pluto Press (1993), foreword by Harold Wilson. ISBN 9780745307374

Archives[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Kidd
Member of Parliament for Linlithgowshire
19221924
Succeeded by
James Kidd
Preceded by
James Kidd
Member of Parliament for Linlithgowshire
19281931
Succeeded by
Adrian Baillie
Preceded by
Ramsay Macdonald
Member of Parliament for Seaham
19351950
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Easington
19501970
Succeeded by
Jack Dormand
Preceded by
Winston Churchill
Oldest sitting member
(nb not Father of the House)

1964 - 1970
Succeeded by
S. O. Davies
Political offices
Preceded by
George Lane-Fox
Secretary for Mines
1924
Succeeded by
George Lane-Fox
Preceded by
Duff Cooper
Financial Secretary to the War Office
1929–1930
Succeeded by
William Sanders
Preceded by
Ben Turner
Secretary for Mines
1930 - 1931
Succeeded by
Isaac Foot
Preceded by
Gwilym Lloyd George
Minister of Fuel, Light and Power
1945 - 1947
Succeeded by
Hugh Gaitskell
Preceded by
Philip Noel-Baker
Chair of the Labour Party
1947–1948
Succeeded by
Jim Griffiths
Preceded by
Frederick Bellenger
Secretary of State for War
1947–1950
Succeeded by
John Strachey
Preceded by
A. V. Alexander
Minister of Defence
1950–1951
Succeeded by
Winston Churchill