John Walton Turner (JWT) was born in Lancashire in 1888 and after graduating from the University of Manchester became a researcher. It was through his research activity that he became a member of the Fabian Society in 1908 and he subsequently joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He was a Quaker by birth and was born into a wealthy family and therefore had independent means. He used his research skills in order to investigate the financing of the arms trade and the influence of the arms industry upon the government. He undertook much of the research behind the speeches of Philip Snowden who became one of the main anti-war speakers in the First World War. JWT registered as a conscientious objector but was not fit enough to be considered for the armed forces in any event. In 1916 he wrote How Europe armed for war 1871–1914, which exposed the workings of the arms trade on an international scale.
In June 1915 he married a fellow activist, Madge Neilson and settled in Scotland. In 1918 he stood in the General Election for Motherwell but finished well behind the Unionist candidate. He worked alongside many other activists in both the Plebs League and the Labour College.
JWT’s political stance was influenced by the October 1917 Russian Revolution and he portrayed himself as a “Marxist” or a “Communist”. He wrote a series of articles for the Workers' Dreadnought in 1918 entitled “Marxist examination of certain important issues of immediate and practical significance”. He was one of the ‘Left Wing Committee’ of the ILP which stood for affiliation to the Third International and he also became a member of the British Socialist Party (BSP). JWT became one of the founder members of the Communist Party and in October 1922 was elected as MP for Motherwell, one of the first Communist Party MPs.
He had the broad support of the local labour movement and was endorsed by the Trades Council. He pledged to work closely with the Labour Party but he was rejected for the Labour whip in Parliament. His maiden speech in the House of Commons was on unemployment and housing and he campaigned for ‘Hands off the Ruhr!’ and against increases in military expenditure. It was following a debate on the Ruhr that JWT was suspended for disruptive conduct. Throughout his political life, many colleagues found his behaviour often arrogant, and he was generally regarded as a difficult man to work with.
During his time in Parliament he wrote The doom of a coalfield and Against the warmongers amongst other pamphlets. At the General Election in December 1923 he lost his seat at Motherwell despite increasing his number of votes.
At this point, JWT began to drift away from the Communist Party and withdrew from all involvement with Motherwell in August 1924, followed by a very public resignation and ending of all links with the Communist Party.
He re-joined the Labour Party and also the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) long after its political influence had waned. For two years he edited the SDF organ the Social Democrat. In 1929 he stood for Labour in Epping where he was heavily defeated by Winston Churchill. In 1931, when the Labour Party split, JWT followed Ramsay MacDonald into National Labour and at the Epping constituency in 1935 he actively supported Churchill. He began to acquire a reputation as a right winger and a denouncer of Communism.
He considered himself an expert in the armaments trade but when he appeared at the 1935 Commission into the Arms Trade he criticised works with titles such as The secret international and The bloody traffic as being the product of political (i.e. Communist) propaganda. He challenged the idea that the elimination of profit in any way changed the nature of the industry. In his presentation he stated that ‘it seems to me a matter of indifference whether you kill a man with a state-manufactured gun or a gun made for private profit’.
He also downplayed the influence of British exports on conflicts and emphasised that most of those who believed that Britain was an international arms dealer were either Communists or sympathisers. This contribution showed the extent to which he had changed politically.
JWT died in 1943, having spent some years in Ireland and having become a Roman Catholic.
The Working Class Movement Library has an extensive collection of material on JWT Newbold to come in and read. There is a work by Colin Fox, Motherwell is won for Moscow [AG – Communism Box 1] and a range of pamphlets from his time with the ILP [ILP – Box 4], the CPGB [CPGB – Box 5] and the British Socialist Party [BSP – Box 1]. There are also copies of Newbold's How Europe armed for war [A47], a syllabus of lectures he gave in industrial history [AG – Education Box 4], and articles in Labour Monthly [H61].
There is also a biographical file on JWT [PP/BIOGA/1/733] and in box AG - Biographies there is an article by Robert Duncan on the JWT Newbold papers in the John Rylands University Library in Manchester.