and ‘Intellectual’ are some of the first words that spring to my mind when I think of Mike and his involvement in the SEA.
My wife Sheila and I first became friends with Mike and Christine when we started attending events and meetings of the SEA (the Socialist Educational Association) more than twenty years ago. Mike and Christine were already longstanding members at that point and they introduced us to the, at times, somewhat obscure inner workings of the organisation. More importantly we became good friends and so combined our interest in establishing an education system founded on Socialist principles, with a good post meeting session at a nearby pub and usually a meal together afterwards.
Mike and Christine were still London based at that time but we stayed together in hotels for the weekend whenever the SEA stepped out of the metropolis and ventured into other cities such as Manchester or Birmingham and later, Cardiff.
After several years’ involvement in the SEA I became General Secretary and Mike became Treasurer. His Treasurer’s reports, delivered in Mike’s signature sardonic style were always well received and of course we all had confidence that whatever relatively small sums we possessed were in safe hands.
But I associate Mike much more in relation to his SEA involvement with his contribution to discussion than his financial husbandry. If any ongoing discussion had meandered from its original focus and strayed down too many byways, Mike could always be relied upon to draw attention to the matter in hand and offer his own insightful, constructive analysis of the issue.
Mike could draw upon many decades of involvement in education, from being a science teacher, to becoming an advisor for a London Local Authority and later an inspector for Ofsted (boo!) and then Estyn. Mike’s keen intellect enabled him to identify the core elements of any issue and present them, accompanied by a pragmatic proposal in a succinct and powerful form that could be conveyed to those people, i.e. Labour politicians who needed assistance in understanding educational issues and policy making.
A few weeks ago I spent several days with Mike in Cardiff whilst Christine and Sheila toured parts of the North East (of England). And as you can imagine we ranged over many subjects during that time. At one point I asked him how long he’d been a member of the SEA and it was so long ago that he couldn’t remember.
I think one of Mike’s proudest achievements within the SEA was the establishment of SEA Cymru. Fairly soon after Mike and Christine returned to Wales from London they realised that SEA activity in Wales was dormant to say the least. Mike, of course fully supported by Christine, undertook to do something about that and he convened the inaugural meeting of SEA Cymru on 27th November 2011. He and Christine energised the organisation on this side of the border and we held National Executive meetings annually in Cardiff for several years.
Sheila and I always very much enjoyed our visits to Cardiff, both for the stimulating discussion of education from a Welsh perspective and of course for our visits to the pub and a meal afterwards.
Comrades in the SEA WhatsApp group were more than shocked to hear the news of Mike’s passing and I understand that James Whiting, General Secretary, has been in touch with Christine to offer condolences on behalf of the organisation of which Mike was such an integral part. Indeed Mike was Vice Chair of the SEA for several years until 2021. Sheila, who often shared Chairing with Mike at meetings and conferences, reminded me how much she appreciated the calm, measured and fair manner in which Mike conducted proceedings. This was very much appreciated by all those present at the meetings. A full obituary will appear in a forthcoming edition of ‘Education Politics’, the SEA journal.
Mike Newman: a kind, compassionate socialist and a very good friend.