Manny Shinwell’s Punch: ‘If I​ am a Jew – what concern is that of anyone?

In 1938 Manny Shinwell slapped Tory MP Robert Tatton Bower in the Commons over an antisemitic slur. It came after Bower told him to ‘Go back to Poland!’ during a debate on the Spanish civil war

Shinwell took it as an antisemitic remark and proceeded to cross the floor and punch Bower in the face

How the ‘undignified incident’ was reported….

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Mr. Shinwell

Is not the hon. Gentleman’s answer just a piece of humbug, and will he stop this hypocrisy? Why does not the hon. Member answer?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member knows quite well that that is not a proper way to put a supplementary question.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of Order. If the hon. Member persists in indulging in half truths, it is the only way to address him.

Commander Bower

Go back to Poland.

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Mr. McGovern

On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member of this House to suggest to another hon. Member that he should return to another country instead of this country, to Poland, suggesting that he belongs to Poland?

At this juncture the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. SHINWELL) crossed the Floor of the House and struck the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland(Commander BOWER) a blow on the face.

Sir William Davison

Is it in order in this House for a Member sitting on any bench, let alone the Front Opposition Bench, to go across the House and assault a Member, and may I ask you to order that hon. Member to get out of the House?

Mr. Shinwell

May I make a personal explanation? The hon. and gallant Gentleman grossly insulted me, in a manner which was quite unwarranted. I was born in this country. I am a British subject, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman has no right to make the personal reference to me that he did. It seems that the method I took was the only protection open to me.

Mr. Speaker

I did not very distinctly hear what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but I understand that what he did say was grossly out of order and ought not to have been said by anyone, but that does not justify the hon. Gentleman in assaulting him. Both were so thoroughly disorderly, that I propose to ignore them if the hon. Members will apologise.

Mr. Shinwell

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With very great respect, I offer my humble apology to you, Sir, and your position in the Chair. I recognise that the action that I took was taken in a fit of temper. Nevertheless, I think there was some justification for it. I beg humbly to apologise to you, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I must ask the hon. Member to make his apology to the House.

Mr. Shinwell

I am very glad to apologise, through you, to the House.

Commander Bower

May I be allowed to say that I think my remark might have been taken as provocative, and I should like to apologise, or I would have apologised to the hon. Gentleman if he had had the courtesy to remain to hear my apology. As he is not here I am afraid I cannot do it, but I should like to apologise to the House and to say that, as far as I am concerned, I think that the hon. Gentleman’s conduct has done him a great deal more harm than it has done me.

The Daily Mirror reported that

‘Mr. Shinwell walked to the bar of the House and beckoned Commander Bower to follow, The Commander remained in his place,’

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An Express journalist added

‘Although Mr Shinwell is tough and husky, my money would be on the commander’s reach if they ever care to carry this promising opening further and make a match of it’

Shinwell defended his actions:

‘I could not have picked a more powerful opponent but at fifty- three I am prepared to stand up to Commander Bower, a much younger and more powerful man’

Shinwell added

‘I am not in the least afraid of standing up to the Commander or any other Tory in support of my principles’

The Times argued that the situation had ‘not helped’ the Labour Party and sided with Commander Bower

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‘the real surprise is that Mr Shinwell was not suspended. There was general agreement that Commander Bower in most difficult circumstances had shown remarkable self-control in not retaliating’

But Shinwell concluded

‘I can stand for a great deal, but personal insults I will not tolerate from any man’

‘Even if my grandfather dirt come from Poland and even if I am a Jew, what concern is that of anyone?’

 

2 thoughts

  1. Bower was the Conservative MP for what was the constituency where I now live. The then Cleveland constituency was one that would be seen as normally Labour, but which returned Bower as the National candidate in the special circumstances of 1931. Bower had no connections with the area. His background was service in the Royal Navy where he rose to his rank from the lower decks. The constituency was solid Labour territory in the Middlesbrough steelmaking townships of South Bank and Grangetown, and a Labour countryside in East Cleveland studded with ironstone mining pits and villages. Conservative support came from the market town of Guisborough and the then genteel seaside resorts of Redcar and Saltburn. Bower was a natural and literally pugnacious tory (he had been a RN boxing champion – something Manny Shinwell was unaware of)). His lack of airs and graces meant he was denied the support of the local landowning £big three” families. The Pennyman’s of Ormbesy Hall were, in fact, left leaning, whilst the conservative Chaloners and Dundas (Zetland) clans concentrated in the main on country sports. Bowe took no enemies, and in a debate on the Public Order Act (Viewable on Hansard) he described the rowdiness of local election meetings – a rowdiness he matched measure for measure. He was a right winger and a supporter of Franco, both due to his politics and also to the odd aspect of his background (he was a devoted Roman Catholic). He was a supporter of empire in a rather Buchanesque fashion,, Abd I have seen a file of letters to a constituent regarding mineral exploration forays he backed on the remote Western Australian bush, and which, if it had come to fruition, he would have wanted to call “Camp Cleveland” and ship local unemployed miners out to the new settlement. In a way he did redeem himself later. He was always an admirer f Churchill, as a former First Lord of the Admiralty, and because of Bowers own service in Churchill’s naval forays in the Baltic against Bolshevik Russia in the immediate aftermath of WW1. In consequence, for once he did the right thing by voting against the Government in the Norway debate. It may not have expunged his past, but it needs to be recorded.

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  2. Looking up Bower’s SP again now my mind had been alerted, I found that his rise into being an MP was probably helped by his marrying a lady from the Strickland family, minor landowners around the Scarborough area. They lived in London, and had a son (who died about 10 years ago at an advanced age) and a daughter who married, in turn, a odd minor Spanish nobleman to keep up the rather threadbare lineage.

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