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Tribute to Lord Clinton-Davis

Lord Clinton-Davis: 6 December 1928 – 11 June 2023

Neil Kinnock

4 min read

From MP, to European commissioner and finally a peer, Lord Clinton-Davis was respected in his many roles for his integrity, professionalism, and unfailing courtesy

Stanley was mild in appearance and manner, resolute – sometimes fiercely – in conviction and action. Whilst completely free of pomposity, he was also unaffectedly formal – to see him in a sports jacket was to think that he was in disguise.

He was fastidious about detail as a solicitor, MP, minister and European commissioner and he earned respect in all those roles for his integrity, professionalism, and unfailing courtesy.

His beliefs were deep-rooted. A dedicated democratic socialist from his teenage years – he joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 – he was a profound enemy of racism, bigotry and bullying of every kind. Those attributes were recognised by positions of trust and honour nationally and internationally. For decades he was an active board member of various organisations working for refugees, justice, local government and the Jewish community. His deep engagement in environmental security earned him presidency of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, vice presidency of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, and chairmanship of the Packaging Standards Council.

His record of progressive commitment, constituency service and hostility to the Social Democratic Party were apparently not strong enough to impress some in the ultra-Left, and he was not selected to fight the new Hackney seat following boundary changes in 1983.

He was a profound enemy of racism, bigotry and bullying of every kind

To me, he was a kind and loyal friend and comrade for nearly 50 years from the times when he drove me and flatmates home from late-night sittings in his large but rather battered Ford saloon in the early 1970s through to his retirement from the Lords in 2018. In his later years in the House he resisted his failing mobility and would appear with his wheeled walking frame to make spirited interventions at Questions and Statements.

When Ivor Richard was not re-appointed by the Thatcher government as a United Kingdom EU commissioner in 1985, I proposed Stanley to take his place, and the prime minister – thinking that he was a Eurosceptic – duly nominated him. In the commission of 18 members, he took the Environment, Consumer Protection and Transport portfolio. Apart from fulfilling those three busy roles with great dedication and competence – he began to install the "polluter pays principle" in policy proposals, for instance – he was a valued linkman between myself and the president of European Commission, Jacques Delors, and facilitated our frequent contacts.

After retiring from the commission in 1989, Stanley sustained his involvement in transport in a variety of ways, including – uniquely – becoming the president of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) and president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots Association for several years.

In 1995 following the retirement of the former Labour MP Bruce Millan from the European Commission, I became a UK member of the commission and deliberately sought the Transport and Trans-European Networks portfolio. Stanley advised me about the difficulties of overcoming the resistance of member states to adopting high EU legal standards of maritime safety, a source of his furious frustration following the tragic sinking of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in March 1987. The thorough work that he and his team did at that time enabled my department to have draft proposals ready for presentation to the council. We were then able to secure cooperation from member states in beginning to introduce comprehensive and effective statutory improvements after the MS Estonia catastrophe in October 1994. Stanley and I often raged at the fact that advances in transport safety always seemed to be prompted by disaster rather than common sense.

In every one of his varied professional and voluntary activities, Stanley Clinton-Davies sought to achieve constructive progress for humanity at local, national and international levels throughout his life. I offer my deep sympathy to his beloved wife and inseparable partner, Frankie and their family.

Neil Kinnock is a Labour peer

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