Obituary: Lord Clinton-Davis

Labour Peer and civil rights campaigner who fought antisemitism in Parliament


Formed by his Hackney childhood, the socialism of Stanley Clinton-Davis, who has died aged 94, was bred in the bone and would prove an unwavering and life-long commitment.

A minister in three Labour governments, he campaigned on humanitarian and universal issues, among them antisemitism, civil rights, refugees and the environment.

Clinton-Davis’s political views were set at the age of 15, when he joined the Labour party. As a university student he created the Labour society at Kings College, London. He served as MP for Hackney Central and held ministerial posts under two of Labour’s most noted prime ministers, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair.

Clinton-Davis’s intrinsic belief in fair play and human rights made him an indomitable and sometimes pugnacious fighter in the Commons, where he is remembered for sparring with Enoch Powell over race issues. He also led protests against the treatment of Russian Jews.

When Labour surprisingly came to power in March 1974, Harold Wilson appointed him Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Trade under Peter Shore, both sharing a mutual antipathy for Europe.

His remit was companies, aviation and shipping, and despite his limited experience of the latter, he would eventually chair the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea and become president of the UK Marine Pilots’ Association and the airline pilots’ union BALPA.

The Labour victory at the 1997 general election some 23 years later gave Tony Blair the chance to develop his New Labour theories.

Among his chosen few former Labour ministers, Clinton-Davis won the role of Minister of State for Trade and Industry at the age of 68.

Stanley Clinton Davis, (who hyphenated his name on receiving a life peerage in 1990), was the only child of businessman Sidney and Lilly. He was educated at Hackney Downs School and won a scholarship to Mercers’ School, graduating in law at King’s College London in 1950.

As a teenager he would have become aware of Nazism beginning to seethe all over Europe, and the need to combat antisemitism wherever it arose. He became a solicitor in November 1953 and a founding partner of Clintons, heading its Hackney branch, Clinton Davis & Co.

There his preoccupation with civil liberties was focused on creating a strong legal aid practice and advising private tenants. It soon led to impressive court appearances where he fought political causes, such as defending sit-down protesters arrested outside South Africa House.

An eloquent campaigner on behalf of Jewish rights, Clinton-Davis would frequently address Parliament on issues affecting the community and Israel.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, of which he was vice president, described him as a “ widely respected member — who regularly attended meetings, lent his support, and spoke in the House. Members of the APPG will miss him, and wish comfort to his family at this difficult time”.

He was a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel, and joined the Institute of Jewish Affairs as an executive member from 1993 until 1997. He was also a director of the JC and a member of the Board of Deputies.

JC Editor at Large Stephen Pollard tweeted: “Stanley was the most wonderful man – kind, generous and a real mensch. He wore his huge intellect lightly. The least pompous man imaginable. ”

Geoffrey Alderman, a historian of 19th and 20th century British Jewry, described him“as a tireless advocate for the Jewish communities of Hackney, a hard working constituency MP and life peer” .

In 1959 Clinton-Davis was elected a councillor for the London Borough of Hackney, where he chaired social services and later, as mayor In 1968, he twinned the London borough of Hackney with Haifa.

As Labour MP for Hackney Central in 1970, he became a minister in the Labour governments of both Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

But in 1979, the Tories won the election. At Margaret Thatcher’s first PMQs Clinton Davis memorably asked her: “In replying to all questions, will she please not be too strident?” In 1983, his constituency was abolished due to boundary changes.

He became European Commissioner in the Delors Commission, in 1985, holding the transport, environment and nuclear safety brief.

In Brussels he tried to create a coherent environmental policy for the EC. He clashed with the British government over radioactive discharges from Sellafield, and criticised the Kremlin’s slowness to admit the scale of the Chernobyl disaster.

He was awarded the Grand Cross Order of King Leopold II of Belgium for services to the European Community in 1990, while the previous year campaigners awarded him the first Medal for Outstanding Services to Animal Welfare in Europe for attempting to outlaw the trade in ivory and seal skins.

In the same vein he resigned from the council of London Zoo, arguing that it should close before the animals suffered from its financial losses. Back in the UK Clinton-Davis worked as a European consultant for S.J. Berwin & Co. In 1990 he became a life peer.

His son Henry called him a man of principle who felt comfortable with everyone and made others feel at ease.

“He took the lead for causes he believed in and contributed enormously to wider society...loved his family and remained a passionate supporter of the Labour Party and Arsenal throughout his life...

"In later life he fought tenaciously against the effects of illness, never letting it deprive him of his sense of fun even when speaking became difficult. He will be deeply missed” .

His interests in refugees, climate change and environmental health led to a host of senior positions in these fields, notably with the British Refugee Council, of which he was chair in 1996, and then president until 1987.

He held several honorary fellowships, In 1954, he married Frances Jane Lucas, who survives him with their children, Joanna, Henry, Susanna and Melissa, ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Lord Clinton-Davis: born December 6, 1928. Died June 11, 2023.

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