Stan Newens (1930-2021)

The former Labour and Co-operative Party MP and MEP Stan Newens has died aged 91. Newens was a keen and knowledgeable labour historian throughout his adult life, and remained chair of the Labour Heritage group of which he had been a founder member until his death.

Newens was born in Bethnal Green. He was a conscientious objector to the Korean War during his national service, and was sent instead to work as an underground miner in the Staffordshire pits. He subsequently gained a degree in history at University College London before becoming a history teacher at Edith Cavell school in Hackney.

During his time at UCL, Newens joined the Socialist Review Group led by Tony Cliff, but left in 1959. As a Labour Party activist, he was organising secretary of the Bevanite Victory for Socialism group. Along with other members of the group, Newens became an MP in the Labour general election victory of 1964, representing Epping and becoming an early member of the Tribune Group of MPs.

Newens was an opponent of the Vietnam War, a supporter of the African National Congress and a strong advocate of anti-colonialist and liberation movements around the world. At home, he backed the abolition of the death penalty and was a staunch opponent of racism. In 1970, however, he lost his seat in Parliament and returned to teaching.

Newens would serve as a Labour MP for a second, longer term, representing Harlow from 1974 until the Conservative landslide general election victory in 1983. The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who counted Newens as a friend and comrade, wrote: “In the New Town that he called home, Stan knew every blade of grass, tree, paving stone, and street turning.”

After his defeat, Newens became an MEP for Central London, serving for 15 years from 1984 to 1999. He stood for Harlow again in 1987, but was not successful.

Newens lived in retirement at his family home in Old Harlow. Described as “intimidatingly well read”, he was a lover of antiquarian books, and wrote a number of pamphlets and two books, A History of North Weald Bassett and Its People (1985) and an autobiography, In Quest of a Fairer Society (2013).

Paying tribute, Corbyn said: “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 he 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.”

Stan Newens obituary in The Guardian.
Tribute by Jeremy Corbyn in The Jacobin.