Obituary: Stan Newens, co-operator who served the movement as MP and MEP

A lifelong advocate of social justice who also served as president of the London Co-operative Society

Arthur Stanley (Stan) Newens, who has died at the age of 91, was a committed co-operator and  life-long advocate of social justice who took the co-operative cause to both the House of Commons and the European Parliament.

Born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End in 1930, he was proud of having been born within the sound of Bow Bells making him a genuine Cockney. 

When he was nine, his family moved to North Weald, near Epping in Essex – on the fringe of the conurbation and close enough to see the city ablaze during the Blitz and to know the fear of the doodlebug flying bombs.

At school, Mr Newens grew increasingly interested in politics. After Labour’s stunning victory in the 1945 general election, he started to take an interest in socialism and moved to the left. At university he became increasingly more political and opposed the Korean war so strongly that, rather than undergoing two years military national service, he opted to work for four years as a miner in North Staffordshire.

His time as a miner taught him much about the lives of working people and the details of political and trades union organisation. He also met Ann, his first wife and, after completing his four years in 1956, they moved back to North Weald where he became a history teacher in London.

In 1961 he was selected by the Labour Party to stand in the Epping constituency at the next election. Sadly, Ann died in 1962 leaving him with two daughters to look after. However, he continued his candidacy and in 1964 was elected by a small majority as MP for Epping. It was one of the late victories which secured Labour’s slim overall majority, enabling Harold Wilson to become prime minister. Worried about his pupils facing their A levels, Mr Newens continued to teach part time to see them through their exams.

In 1970, he lost his seat in Parliament and returned to teaching – while maintaining an interest in the co-operative movement which culminated in his election as president of the London Co-operative Society. He was dismayed to find the society facing bankruptcy. He was in favour of a merger of all the London societies to create a single co-operative presence in the capital. Long-term, he argued for a national society and the amalgamation of Co-operative Retail Services and the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which eventually happened, but not until 2007. In the meantime, LCS became part of CRS, leaving him free to focus on his political commitments.

Mr Newens was re-elected to Parliament, for Harlow, in February 1974, this time standing as Labour/Co-operative candidate; in the October 1974 general election he increased his majority. He continued to actively support the trades union movement during a time of strained relations with the Labour government, which led to some difficulties with his colleagues. He also continued his commitment to working for peace and socialism on an international scale, leading him to accept the chair of Liberation, formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom.

His internationalism led him to take an interest in the work of the European Union, then called the Common Market. After losing his Commons seat in 1983, he was elected to the European Parliament the following year, again standing as Labour/Co-operative candidate. There he became a respected voice on the struggles of working people throughout the world, particularly in South and Central America.

In 1999 he retired as an MEP and devoted his time to following his love of history, writing (including an autobiography), and actively supporting local community-based organisations.

In 1966 he married Sandra. He had five children, one of whom, Sarah is an Eastern Region representative on the National Members’ Council of the Co-operative Group.