Stephen Swingler

Stephen Swingler

Stephen Swingler was born on 2nd March, 1915. He came from an adult-education background and was a close-friend of George Wigg. (1)

A member of the Labour Party he was elected as MP for Stafford in the 1945 General Election. In the House of Commons Swingler associated with a group of left-wing members that included John Platts-Mills, Konni Zilliacus, Lester Hutchinson, Leslie Solley, Barbara Castle, Sydney Silverman, Geoffrey Bing, Emrys Hughes, D. N. Pritt, William Warbey, William Gallacher and Phil Piratin.

As a member of the Keep Left Group he urged Clement Attlee to develop left-wing policies and were opponents of the cold war policies of the United States and urged a closer relationship with Europe in order to create a "Third Force" in politics. (2)

In 1947 Ian Mikardo, Richard Crossman, Michael Foot and Konni Zilliacus to produce Keep Left. In the pamphlet the authors criticized the cold war policies of the United States and urged a closer relationship with Europe in order to create a "Third Force" in politics. This included the idea of nuclear disarmament and the formation of a European Security Pact. (3)

Mikardo later recalled: "In Keep Left the greater part of our discussions was about the basic philosophy of the Party and the sort of broad economic and social order we should be seeking to create. Between 1947 and 1950 we concentrated on the production of a wide-ranging programme for the next Labour government: we worked hard at it, writing and circulating papers, some of them long and detailed, on different policy areas, and discussing and amending them." (4)

Mikardo, published The Second Five Years (1948). In this pamphlet he argued that the government needed to "nationalise the joint stock banks and industrial assurance companies, shipbuilding, aircraft construction, areo-engines, machine tools, and the assembly branch of mass-produced motor vehicles". This was followed by Keeping Left (1950) in which the Keep Left Group advocated the "public ownership of road haulage, steel, insurance, cement, sugar and cotton." (5)

Stephen Swingler was defeated in the 1950 General Election. However, in the 1951 General Election he was elected as MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Over the next few years he was a constant critic of the leadership of the Labour Party. This prevented him from the "recognition he deserved" and did not become a member of the shadow cabinet. (6)

In February 1958 Swingler joined Ian Mikardo, Konni Zilliacus, Michael Foot, Sydney Silverman, Jo Richardson, Harold Davies and Walter Monslow, to form Victory for Socialism (VFS). According to Anne Perkins this was an attempt to support Aneurin Bevan in his struggles with Hugh Gaitskell: "the mission was to revive the Bevanite left in the constituencies, called for Gaitskell to go, triggering a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs." (7)

After the 1964 General Election the new prime minister, Harold Wilson, appointed Swingler as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport. In 1967 he was promoted to Minister of State at the same department until November 1968, when he was moved to the new Department of Health and Social Security to become Minister of State for Social Services, and appointed as a Privy Councillor. It was pointed out that he was "a most effective and successful Minister". (8)

Stephen Swingler died, aged 53, on 19th February 1969.

Primary Sources

(1) Ian Mikardo, Back Bencher (1988)

These three had decided between themselves some time earlier that they wanted Hugh Gaitskell to succeed Attlee as leader of the Labour Party. A somewhat incongruous alliance developed between these horny-handed sons of toil and the delicately-nurtured political aristos of the Hampstead Set who surrounded Gaitskell.

Not surprisingly the anti-Labour newspapers gave powerful support to this alliance by running a continuous campaign of vilification of Nye Bevan. It is the most heartfelt permanent wish of these Tory pundits that the Labour Party should fail and be swept away, but that doesn't stop them from telling us, brazenly, what's good for our Party and whom we should choose to lead it. They are to be trusted as far as you would trust the medicine prescribed by a doctor for a patient he's seeking to kill. They're always ready to disparage any leader of the Labour Party - except when he is attacking and disciplining the Party's left wing, and then they make a hero of him.

It is, of course, limpidly clear why the Fleet Street-Wapping mafia should engage in this machiavellian exercise against the Labour Party, and it's not at all surprising that all the anti-Labour readers of their papers should revel in it. But what I've never managed to understand is why some members of the Labour Party fall for it and swallow it whole. In many of the meetings of Party members I've addressed over the years I've heard one or two of them criticise Stafford Cripps or Nye Bevan or Jack Jones or Hugh Scanlon or Michael Foot or Tony Benn or Ron Todd in terms of a "loony-left" quotation from the Daily Mail or the Daily Express or the Sun, and have wondered why a man should take a sword from his enemy's hand to slay his brother. Members of a democratic and progressive party should never forget that often the heresy of one generation becomes the orthodoxy of the next.

Through 1951 both the parties to the Trinity-Hampstead compact became increasingly worried by the meteoric advance of Bevanism amongst the Party membership throughout the country. The sails of that advance were filled by two breezes : one was our widely-read pamphlets, and the other our widely-attended Tribune brains trusts.

Those brains-trust meetings were a runaway success, drawing much bigger audiences than any of the Party's leaders could command. We tried one as a fringe meeting at a Party Conference without the least idea of its being more than a one-off. That meeting went so well that we were flooded with requests for similar meetings from constituency parties and other Labour organisations all over the country. Within a very short time the venture had taken off spectacularly and we were topping the charts.

The formula was of course plagiarised from the original BBC Brains Trust: one questionmaster and four question-answerers. I was generally the questionmaster, and for each of our teams of four we could draw on a pool of top-level and varied talents. The most regular participants included six (Dick Acland, Dick Crossman, Jennie Lee, Stephen Swingler, Tom Williams, Harold Wilson) who were natural teachers; three (Geoffrey Bing, Leslie Hale, Julius Silverman) who were skilled advocates; six (Fenner Brockway, Barbara Castle, Tom Driberg, Michael Foot, Bill Mallalieu, Konni Zilliacus) who had the gift of words not merely to educate and convince but also to inspire ; and five (John Baird, Hugh Delargy, Gavin Faringdon, Will Griffiths, Marcus Lipton) who had a very different but valuable gift, the capacity to clarify an argument with a folk tale or a homely example or a flash of wit. But the star of the show whenever he appeared, the one who always brought the house down, was Harold Davies. It wasn't for what he said - he never finished any sentence he started, he often lost the thread of his argument, his quotations were generally inaccurate - but no audience could resist his ever-twinkling eye, his infectious laugh and the rippling torrent of his colourful phraseology that carried an echo of his homeland in the Welsh valleys.

People flocked to hear us: every hall we appeared in, even the largest, was full to overflowing. I particularly remember one Friday evening when we had a date in Worthing, scarcely the most fertile soil for the seeds of socialism. It was high summer and the sun was still bright and hot - a natural evening for the sea-front rather than an indoor meeting - but we still had over nine hundred in our audience. And I remember, too, turning up with some of my team at the Co-operative Hall in Oldham one Sunday afternoon and finding a crowd milling round on the pavement, and people offering money for any spare-tickets like it was Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day.



(1) Ian Mikardo, Back Bencher (1988) page 116

(2) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2011) page 293

(3) George Wigg, Autobiography (1972) page 122

(4) Ian Mikardo, Back Bencher (1988) pages 118-119

(5) Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein, The Labour Party: A Marxist History (1988) page 239

(6) Ian Mikardo, Back Bencher (1988) page 91

(7) Anne Perkins, Red Queen (2003) page 173

(8) Ian Mikardo, Back Bencher (1988) page 91