Born in Oxford on 30 November 1914 to Frank, a coach painter, and Eileen, a full time family worker, Ernie Keeling joined the Communist Party in 1934, after being involved in the agitation at Morris Motors, Cowley. By 1939, he was working as an insurances agent.
He seems to have become a full-time Party worker and district secretary around 1945. In 1948, he was found not guilty of driving car without paying for a Road Fun licence due to his defence that taking electors to and from a polling station was exempt from the requirement.. (Western Morning NewsJanuary 26th 1948) Police had pulled him over and refused to believe his statement regarding the law, although the regulations were later tightened up.
He contested Oxford in the 1950 general election, polling 494 votes, or 0.8% of the total.
During the 1950s, he appears to have successfully managed the classic tension between ‘town and gown’, creating a pretty successful Communist movement in South Midlands.
Oxford scholar, Raphael Samuel (see separate entry) wrote of his high regard for Keeling, who did not give undue regard to those in exalted positions, or imagine that Marxism could be learnt by rote. Keeling once told Samuel of being interrogated at a Party school by a Scottish comrade over the future of the state under full communism. ‘Er, it fades away?’, Ernie had offered. “No, comrades,” roared the eminent person. “It withe-r-r-r-r-r-s away.” It was meant to be funny, it at least was when Ernie performed it as a party piece.
Equally, Arthur Excell (see separate entry) leading Cowley convenor was eloquently supportive of Ernie, especially in understanding trade union activists. The high regard appears to have been universal, at least locally, and Ernie is still remembered to this day.
The Party archives have few records of him, other than withering put downs sent by letter by George Matthews, assistant general secretary (see separate entry), for example in Ernie being too relaxed about following instruction from Party centre to do this or that by thus or that date.
Ernie Keeling had left Party full time work by 1964, being replaced by Gerry Pocock ( see separate entry). In 1967, Ernie was described as a “freelance” worker and had now joined NUPE, previously being a long-standing member of the TGWU.
He died in the Spring of 1969.