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Robert Michael Maitland Stewart

(1906—1990) politician


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(b. London, 6 Nov. 1906; d. London, 10 Mar. 1993) British; Foreign Secretary 1965 –6, 1968 –70; Baron (life peer) 1979 Stewart was educated at Christ's Hospital and St John's College, Oxford, before working as a schoolteacher and Workers' Educational Association lecturer in the 1930s. He served in the army during the Second World War, reaching the rank of captain.

After unsuccessful candidatures in 1931 and 1935 he entered the House of Commons in 1945 and sat as a Labour MP (first for Fulham and then Hammersmith) until 1979. He held several junior ministerial posts in Clement Attlee's Labour government (1945 –51) and was thus one of the limited number of members with ministerial experience when Labour again took office in 1964.

Stewart was a member of the Cabinet throughout Harold Wilson's government (1964 –70), and held numerous posts. His first appointment was as Secretary of State for Education and Science, but he remained there for only three months before being promoted to the foreign secretaryship in a reshuffle made necessary by Patrick Gordon Walker's resignation. Seventeen months later he was moved again—this time to take George Brown's place as First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. A year later, the latter post was transferred to Peter Shore, and after a further seven months in the non-portfolio first secretaryship alone Brown's resignation resulted in his return to the Foreign Office.

The frequency with which Stewart was moved between departments precluded his making a major mark in any of them. He was known as a capable administrator and a ‘safe pair of hands’ rather than as a policy initiator. He also often had to defend the government's less popular policies, such as (at the DEA) the statutory regulation of prices and incomes and (at the Foreign Office) its stance on Vietnam. He lost his place as a frontbencher when Labour went into Opposition. Before retiring from the Commons in 1979 he served as a select committee chairman and, briefly, as a member of the European parliament.

From A Dictionary of Political Biography in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Politics.


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