“AN essence of Glasgow has slipped away. A political institution has gone. Manny Shinwell is dead. He was not keen about going, He would have been 102 in October”. Thus began our political editor Geoffrey Parkhouse’s obituary, on May 8, 1986, of Manny Shinwell. The headline said it all: “Clydeside rebel who never lacked a cause to fight”.

Shinwell, the son of a Polish-Jewish émigré, was born in London but was taken as a boy to Glasgow, where his father was keen to apprentice him to the garment trade. Shinwell’s formal education ended at the age of nine; anything he learned after that was the result of study in Glasgow libraries. He was always headed towards the workers’ struggle for fair wages and decent conditions.

Shinwell played a key role in the Red Clydeside events of 1919. Following the ‘Black Friday’ riot in George Square on January 31, Shinwell (pictured right, with Harry Hopkins) was one of several prominent figures subsequently charged with incitement to riot. After a lengthy trial, he was convicted and jailed for five months.

He always claimed that his actions, contrary to what the government of the period feared, was not linked to revolution.

Shinwell became an MP, first for Linlithgow and later for first Seaham then Easington, both in Country Durham. He was a junior Minister under Ramsay MacDonald and became Secretary for Mines in the 1930 and 1931. He returned under Clement Attlee as the Minister of Fuel and Power in 1945, and served as Secretary of State for War in 1947 and Minister of Defence in 1950 and 1951.

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The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century British Politics says of Shinwell that he became “one of the most respected and longest-living politicians of the 20th century ... , remembered as much for his temper as for his ready wit”. That temper famously came to the fore in 1938, when he strode across the floor of the Commons to punch a Tory ex-naval commander who had taunted him with the words, “Go back to Poland”.

Shinwell, who is pictured (main image) in 1966, one of a group of MPs inspecting the QE2 during its construction, became Baron Shinwell of Easington in 1970. In the Lords he remained as outspoken and active as he had been in the Commons. When a reception committee in the Lords assembled for his 100th birthday, it could find no trace of him. "He was in a nook just outside, watching them with glee as they searched", one peer later related.

Last month it was revealed that Shinwell was spied on by MI5 for decades. He was suspected of having been a Communist sympathiser, and the police and MI5 intercepted his mail and his phone calls. Files at the National Archives at Kew also indicate that the US Embassy in London raised concerns about the prospect of Shinwell giving talks in America.

He was monitored until 1968, when the authorities decided that he did not have Communist sympathies.