1945 and All That: Shiver with Shinwell

In 1945, Manny Shinwell, was made Minister of Fuel and Power. Shinwell had become MP for Seaham, defeating the incumbent Ramsay Mac in 1935. He was therefore in charge of the coal industry.

As a minister, he would prove less successful than some. 1946 was taken up with, above all else, the progress of the nationalisation of the coal industry. It’s probably fair to say that Shinwell’s eye was not on the ball in the winter of 1946/47.

Shinwell had put his faith in coal stocks, but thirty years of neglect of our coal industry and railways had left it unable to cope once the big freeze set in. For the Conservatives, who had had little to cheer about since the 1945 elections, the big freeze gave them a target: ‘Shiver with Shinwell’, ‘Not an Act of God, but the inactivity of Shinwell’. And, let’s face it, we love a chance to blame someone, as this vox pop shows.

There is an excellent Daily Telegraph by Dominic Sandbrook here.

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Attlee took the opportunity of the reshuffle later that year to demote Shinwell. He would, however, be a enduring figure, returning to cabinet (having been outside as War Minister) as Minister of Defence in 1950. In the process, he developed an enmity with Hugh Gaitskell which would see him confined to the margins until Gaitskell’s death. Indomitable, in 1964, at the age of eighty, Harold Wilson secured him the party chairmanship. He would resign in 1967, in opposition to Wilson’s application for membership of the EEC. He seemed ageless: this is from the BBC’s 1970 election coverage, with Robin Day and Michael Foot.

Shinwell was able to attend his own 100th birthday celebrations in the House of Lords; he died in 1986, aged 101.

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