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George Lansbury

George Lansbury

George Lansbury (February 21, 1859 - May 7, 1940) was a British Labour politician, socialist, Christian pacifist, and newspaper editor. He was a member of the House of Commons (1910-1912, 1922-1940), and leader of the Labour Party (1931-1935).

Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, he became a campaigner for social justice and improved living and working conditions for the lower classes, especially in London's East End. His earliest political involvement, from 1892, was with the Social Democratic Federation, before leaving them to join the Independent Labour Party. In 1910, he became MP for Bow and Bromley, but resigned two years later in sympathy with the women's suffrage movement. In the campaign for women's suffrage he was accused of sedition and jailed in Pentonville. In Parliament, he defended authors of a "Don't Shoot" leaflet addressed to soldiers called to deal with militant strikers.

Lansbury helped found, in 1912, the Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper. He became editor just prior to World War I, and used the paper to oppose the war, publishing a headline "War Is Hell" upon outbreak of fighting. In 1922, the Herald became the Labour Party's official paper.

As Labour Mayor of Poplar, one of London's poorest boroughs, Lansbury led the Poplar Rates Rebellion in 1921, opposing not only the Government and the courts, but leaders of his own party. The borough council, instead of forwarding collected tax monies to London, dispersed part of the money as aid to the needy. Thirty councillors, including six women, were jailed by the High Court for six weeks. Council meetings during this time were held in Brixton Prison. Lansbury returned to Parliament in 1922.

In 1931, Lansbury became leader of the party following the MacDonald Split, a position he held until 1935. Lansbury was a pacifist, and publicly disagreed with a Trades Union Congress (TUC) resolution in September 1935 that Italian aggression against Abyssinia must be stopped, if necessary, by force. At the Labour Party conference in October Ernest Bevin launched a famous attack on Lansbury. Heavily defeated in the vote, Lansbury resigned as leader.

Lansbury was chair of the No More War Movement, and president of the War Resisters International. His efforts to prevent world war led him to visit most of the heads of state in Europe, including, controversially, both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He also visited U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He was an unusually popular politician, an elder statesman with a considerable following. He died of cancer at 81 in Manor House Hospital in London.

George Lansbury was the grandfather of both Angela Lansbury and Oliver Postgate.


George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour, J.B. Seatrobe and John Shepherd, Oxford University Press: 2002. ISBN 0198201648