The Full Wiki

Sydney Silverman: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Samuel Sydney Silverman (8 October 1895 - 9 February 1968) was a British Labour politician and vocal opponent of capital punishment.


Early life

Born in Liverpool to a poor draper's family, Silverman was able to attend Liverpool Institute and Liverpool University, thanks to scholarships, and became a lecturer in English at the National University of Finland 1921-25. On his return to Britain, he went back to Liverpool University to read law and qualified as a solicitor. He worked on workmen's compensation claims and landlord-tenant disputes. As a pacifist during World War I, Silverman was a conscientious objector to military service, and served three prison sentences, in Preston, Wormwood Scrubs and Belfast prisons.


From 1932 to 1938 Silverman served on Liverpool City Council. He contested Liverpool Exchange without success at a 1933 by-election, but was elected Member of Parliament for Nelson and Colne in the 1935 general election.

Silverman was prominent in his support for Jews worldwide and for their rights in Palestine. He rethought his pacifism in light of the reports of anti-semitism in Europe, and he reluctantly supported Britain's entry into World War II. He was expected to join the government after the Labour victory in the 1945 election but, as a leftist, was not appointed by Clement Attlee. He became opposed to the government's foreign policy. He refused to support German rearmament in 1954, and had the Labour Party Whip withdrawn from November 1954 to April 1955. He was one of the founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1961, as a protest against bipartisan support for British nuclear weapons, he voted against the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and British Army Estimates in the House of Commons, and was suspended from the Labour Party Whip from March 1961 until May 1963.

As a fervent opponent of the death penalty, he founded the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. He wrote about several miscarriages of justice in the 1940s and 1950s, such as the hanging of Timothy Evans when it later emerged that serial killer John Christie had murdered Evans's wife and had given perjured evidence at Evans's trial in 1949. He proposed a Private Member's Bill on abolition, which was passed by 200 votes to 98 on a free vote in the House of Commons on 28 June 1956, but was defeated in the House of Lords. In 1965 he successfully piloted the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill through Parliament, abolishing capital punishment for murder in Britain and in the British Armed Forces for a period of five years, but with provision for abolition to be made permanent by affirmative resolutions of both Houses of Parliament before the expiry of the period; appropriate resolutions were passed in 1969.

Silverman's death in 1968 caused a by-election which was won by Conservative David Waddington.

Life chronology

1895 Born in Liverpool, eldest son of a poor Jewish refugee from Romania, a pedlar or "Scotch draper".

1908 Won scholarship to the Liverpool Institute.

1913 Began course in English Literature at Liverpool University.

1914 Already a committed Socialist on outbreak of First World War.

1916 Applying on socialist grounds for exemption from military service, he was denied recognition as a conscientious objector. Compulsorily enlisted in the Army, refused to obey military orders, sentenced to two years' hard labour, commuted to 12 months. Went on hunger strike, lived for a year on a daily pint of milk. On release, found a military escort waiting for him at the prison gates. Again defied orders, was court-martialled and jailed again. Spent a total of 2 years 3 months in jail.

1920-1 Readmitted to Liverpool University to complete his BA course; gained degree in 1921.

1921-5 Unable to find a job in Britain, taught English at Helsinki University.

1925 Returned to Liverpool University to study law, a subject in which he had become interested while campaigning on behalf of his fellow prisoners in jail.

1927 Gained law degree with First Class honours.

1928 Opened solicitor's office without capital or connections. Defended poor and working-class clients, often unpaid, living on costs awarded when he won his cases. Local police chiefs called him "our greatest enemy".

1932 Elected Labour Councillor and "workers' class representative" in St Annes Ward, Liverpool.

1933 Married Nancy Rubinstein, a musician, whose refugee father had been killed in a local racist attack. Fought a by-election for Labour in Liverpool. Narrowly lost after a Tory campaign of anti-Semitic bigotry. A delegation from Nelson & Colne Labour Party (a nearby militant Labour constituency party), visiting Liverpool in search of a suitable Socialist candidate, and having already heard Silverman's name, found him during the by-election helping the family of an unemployed docker to resist eviction; approached him to fight the next election as their candidate in Nelson & Colne.

1935 First elected MP for the constituency, which he represented for the following 33 years until his death, winning altogether eight successive elections.

1935-9 Fought against National Government; appeasement of Hitler; the Hitler-Stalin pact. Condemned Moscow trials and defended Leon Trotsky in public debates with D. N. Pritt.

1940 Elected Chairman, British Section of World Jewish Congress, the body's wartime European headquarters.

1942 In this capacity was among the first to warn the world of Hitler's "Final Solution" of the "Jewish question", and mount worldwide campaign to save European Jewry from genocide.

1944 Successfully defended trade-unionists prosecuted for violating wartime anti-strike laws.

1945 Visited recently liberated Buchenwald and Belsen Nazi concentration camps as member of parliamentary delegation.

1946 Campaigned against Labour Government's military attacks on Jewish migrants to Palestine, largely concentration-camp refugees.

1948 Launched his first campaign to abolish capital punishment.

1951 Opposed Labour Government's rearmament programme.

1955-7 Renewed campaign against capital punishment.

1958 Co-founder of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

1960 As Chairman of Victory for Socialism, attacked Hugh Gaitskell's leadership of the Labour Party.

1961 Following LP Conference vote for nuclear disarmament, voted in Parliament against defence estimates, along with four other Labour MPs. Expelled from Parliamentary Labour Party.

1965 Successfully carried bill through Parliament to abolish capital punishment for murder.

1966 Won election with increased majority, despite intervention of a pro-hanging candidate (the uncle of Lesley Downey, one of the victims of the recent and local Moors murders).

1967 Wrote open letter condemning Harold Wilson's attack on the right of Labour MPs to criticise the Labour Government, and accusing him of betraying socialist principles. When the Chief Whip tried to pacify him with compliments describing his campaign against capital punishment as his "great memorial", he replied: "The only memorial I would value is that I have given a lifetime of service in the Labour Party's continuing effort to establish a socialist society under a Labour Government in this country."

1968 Died.


  • Iain Dale, ed (2003). The Times House of Commons 1929, 1931, 1935. Politico's (reprint). ISBN 1-84275-033-X.  
  • The Times House of Commons 1945. 1945.  
  • The Times House of Commons 1950. 1950.  
  • The Times House of Commons 1955. 1955.  
  • Emrys Hughes: Sydney Silverman, Rebel in Parliament, 1969
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Linton Theodore Thorp
Member of Parliament for Nelson and Colne
Succeeded by
David Waddington


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address