John Walton Turner Newbold was born on May 8th 1888 in Culcheth, Lancashire. He was educated at Buxton College and Manchester University, graduated Master of Arts (HIstory) in 1912 and then became an academic historian.
In June 1915, he married Madge Neilson, a Wishaw school teacher and well-known activist in the Lower Lanarkshire ILP and Socialist Sunday School movement from 1908.
Having declared himself a socialist at university, he embarked upon an increasingly left course, first joining the Fabians and then the ILP in 1910. Newbold was Labour’s unsuccessful candidate in Motherwell and Wishaw in December 1918, polling 4,135 votes.
He was author of “How Europe Armed for War” and adviser to Ernest Bevin at the enquiry into dockers’ pay and conditions in 1920.
He was one of the leading lights of the Left Wing Movement of the ILP, which urged affiliation to the Comintern. In a culmination of this trajectory, Newbold became Britain's first formally elected Communist MP, having left the ILP and joined the Communist Party in 1921.
He was swept to victory in a by-election in November 1922 for Motherwell and Wishaw, in Lanarkshire, on the back of the Irish nationalist vote prevalent in the area. He sent a telegram to Lenin on winning: “Motherwell is won for Moscow and the Bolsheviks”. Thousands would attend his Sunday afternoon meetings to hear his parliamentary report. But he was to loose the seat in the election of December 1923, to a Conservative.
Newbold resigned from the Communist Party in 1924, and gradually, in increasingly bizarre steps, drifted to the right of politics, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time to be relevant in particular to some aspect of parliamentary politics. In 1929, he was a Labour candidate against Winston Churchill at Epping. But, in 1931, he resigned from Labour and supported MacDonald. This led him to support Churchill in his re-election at Epping in 1935.
In an odd change of course, he moved to Ireland in 1938 and quickly became a naturalised citizen of the Free State. This was at a time when it was not entirely clear how independent Ireland would stand in relation to what was now clearly a coming war with Germany. Even more strangely, despite having been brought up as a Quaker, Newbold now converted and was baptised in to the Roman Catholic faith.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Newbold inexplicably returned to Britain. During 1940, he at first planned to stand as an Independent in the Lonsdale, Lancaster by-election in 1940 but at the last minute the campaign ended up with himself withdrawing so as to support the Conservative candidate. This was Sir Ian Fraser, a Tory of the Churchill brand, who advocated a more vigorous prosecution of the then phoney war.
The increasingly strange zig-zagging political behaviour throughout his life has led some to suggest that Newbold was an agent for the British secret service all along from his days in university.
J W T Newbold died in 1943 in Glasgow.
Sources: various including “The Communist November 4th 1922