A Life on the Left : George Lansbury (1859—1940) : a Case Study in Recent Labour Biography

The most lovable figure in modern politics’ was A.J.P. Taylor’s verdict on the British Labour pioneer, George Lansbury. Marxist SDF organiser, rebel East End MP, suffragette ally, Christian socialist editor of the militant Daily Herald, imprisoned Labour mayor, anti-imperialist, republican and pacifist-Lansbury’s political trajectory was often stormy from his days as a Gladstonian Liberal Party agent to his leadership of the British Labour Party during the 1930s Depression. His career throws significant light on the myths, traditions and crises of the British Labour Party — from its origins as a parliamentary pressure group to a party of national government. However no comprehensive account of Lansbury’s life appeared for 50 years after Raymond Postgate’s authorised biography in 1951. This article draws on research for a new study of Lansbury-started under ‘Thatcherism’ and completed in the era of ‘New Labour’ — which attempts to evaluate his varying roles as a pioneer in the British Labour history.

On 29 October 1932 George Lansbury spoke from the pulpit of St Edmund’s Church in the City of London in a tribute to the former Labour Party leader, Arthur Henderson. As the only former Cabinet minister on the Labour side to save his seat, the 73-year-old Lansbury had assumed the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) following the disastrous 1931 general election result, the most spectacular landslide in twentieth century electoral history and by far Labour’s greatest defeat. In 1932 Lansbury combined the two roles as leader of the PLP and Labour party leader in the country at the time the wider Labour movement was at its lowest ebb. Typically, his address became a rallying call to the nation in the Depression years of the early 1930s.
I want the Church to say in a clear language that it is against God’s Law that in the midst of abundance there should be poverty. I want them to rally the people to a great crusade to compel Parliament to alter the system which dooms the people to these conditions.[1] A committed socialist and a party rebel, one of George Lansbury’s greatest contribution to democratic politics in Britain — almost as gamekeeper turned poacher — was his spirited leadership of the 46 Opposition MPs at Westminster against the serried ranks of the 554 MPs supporting the National Government after the Labour nadir of 1931.

In a pre-modern world before global television and radio, it is difficult today to appreciate how well known and revered Lansbury became as a political figure in Britain and abroad during his lifetime. In 1933 at Gainsborough town hall he sustained a broken leg in a serious fall at a Labour Party bazaar that sidelined him in hospital for seven months.[2] His constituents besieged his East End home for news. Among the flood of messages and telegrams from different parts of Britain and overseas, was a cable that arrived the next day from Gandhi: ‘Hope accident not serious may God spare you’.[3]

George Lansbury’s immense personal popularity is reflected in A.J.P. Taylor’s description of the Labour pioneer as ‘the most lovable figure in modern politics’.[4] Ample testimony survives that he was a remarkable people’s politician with an instinctive regard for democratic values and an unflagging belief in service to his community. To Sophie Brown from a politically active Stepney family, Lansbury was her favourite speaker at the annual Hyde Park rally on May Day. ‘I knew he was the MP for Bow, but with his white hair and pink cheeks, he was my idea of God, Father Christmas, a favourite uncle and a hero all rolled up into one.[5] As a tireless propagandist for socialism, Lansbury enjoyed an enduring reputation as a passionate crusader for social justice who battled unstintingly against poverty, inequality and mass unemployment; a politician who held every elective office — from poor law guardian, local councillor, county councillor to MP, Cabinet Minister and eventually Labour Party leader.

However, in Britain today, no one recalls Lansbury’s inaugural speech as the new Labour leader. Compared to giants of the Labour pantheon, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald (before 1931) and Clem Attlee, George Lansbury — one of its most inspirational socialists — is now a largely forgotten politician.[6] Among those who led the British Labour Party, the towering figures of two contemporaries, MacDonald and Attlee, cast prominent shadows of different kinds on it history, but Lansbury remains one of Labour’s ‘lost leaders’. Though he travelled probably more miles and addressed more audiences on the merits of socialism than any of his political generation, few entries appear under his name in any dictionary of political quotations.[7] In a recent survey current British Labour MPs, asked to rank former party leaders in order, placed Lansbury’s name ninth out of 12-well behind Clem Attlee, his successor in 1935, who headed the poll.[8]

If at all, George Lansbury is usually best remembered more for the manner of his departure from the party leadership than the circumstances that placed him in that position after a career as the party’s stormy petrel. At the 1935 annual Labour Party Conference, in an encounter memorable in British politics, the pugnacious trade union boss, Ernest Bevin, seething with rage, drove the ageing Lansbury from the Labour leadership. In a brutal speech, he accused the pacifist Labour leader of betraying the trade unions by failing to abide by the new policy document, For Socialism and Peace.
It is placing the Executive and the Movement in an absolutely wrong position to be hawking your conscience round from body to body asking to be told what to do with it.[9] It was one of the most infamous and cruel taunts heard at a Labour conference. As the vast majority of those assembled in the Brighton Dome knew, nothing was further from the truth, as far as their icon, George Lansbury, was concerned.

Like many British Labour pioneers, George Lansbury strove for the time when the Labour Party would secure a majority in power and would introduce socialism in Britain by parliamentary means. This paper, based on research for a new full-length study of Lansbury’s political career, appraises his contribution to the struggle for working-class political and economic justice in Britain and abroad. It also explores the light his career throws on the historical myths and crises of the British Labour Party from its origins as a parliamentary pressure group to a party of national government.

Sources for a New Political Biography

Biographer and historian, Ben Pimlott has identified a golden rule for British politicians: ‘If you wish to be remembered, keep a diary’.[10] An indispensable source, Ramsay MacDonald’s unpublished diary remains available to researchers at the National Archives.[11] Likewise, Beatrice Webb’s journal provides a valuable commentary on contemporary politics, albeit spliced with acidic portraits of major labour and trade union figures.[12] Since 1945, British politics has been enriched by various published diaries of Labour ministers that often afford otherwise unavailable insights into Cabinet government and machinations conducted in smoke filled rooms at annual Party conferences.[13]

However, George Lansbury kept no diary — except for a personal record of the crisis of August 1931 that brought down MacDonald’s Second Labour Cabinet.[14] Twenty years later, his son-in-law, Raymond Postgate, published his authorised biography, which has remained the only full-length study until recently.[15] Ostensibly, World War II delayed its appearance, since Lansbury had handed over private papers to his son-in-law shortly before his death in 1940. Anxious that the inside story of the Second Labour Government should eventually be told, Lansbury announced that ‘whoever writes about this business must read not only Cabinet papers but reports of committees, experts and ministers ‘.[16] As was standard practice, Lansbury deliberately retained his official Cabinet papers on leaving office — including those marked: ‘This document is the property of his Majesty. Secret. To be kept under lock and key’.

In compiling a memoir of his father in 1934, Edgar quoted verbatim from this collection, which brought the full weight of the British authorities and the Official Secrets Act crashing down on the author —though not on his father, the former Cabinet minister, nor the publisher.[17] Edgar escaped with a fine of £20 and 25 guineas costs; but the authorities in their efforts to get back the Cabinet papers eventually seized more than 30 boxes of documents from Postgate’s Finchley home during World War II. Thereby began the long running myth of ‘the missing Lansbury papers’, as nothing was ever returned.

In 1951, the chastened author, who had been assured of their return, published The Life of George Lansbury without seeing any Cabinet documents from the Second Labour Government.[18] These eventually became available after the 50-year rule was reduced to 30 years but, at the time, this affair suggested a conspiracy by the British State in its dealings with Lansbury’s biographer. Raymond Postgate was a former British Communist Party member, whose father-in-law had been troublesome opponent to the authorities. However, Lansbury was one among many ex-Cabinet ministers asked to return official papers after Government policy changed following the Edgar Lansbury prosecution.[19]

The surviving 26 bound volumes of Lansbury papers deposited by Raymond Postgate at the British Library of Political and Economic Science remain a significant source, supplemented by other important archival sources — including film and sound recordings — that have become available in recent years enabling a fresh evaluation of George Lansbury’s varied activities as a Labour politician.[20] In 1928 he published an autobiography of sorts.[21] Along with other writings in the 1930s, a collection of jovial reminiscences followed — mainly of individuals in the British Labour movement.[22] Family members and politicians, who personally knew George Lansbury and participated in his campaigns in the late 1930s, are an important source for their memories of the Labour pioneer.[23]

In his autobiography Lansbury recalled that in 1913 six of his family were in prison, or in danger of going there, owing to their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement.[24] George and Bessie Lansbury had 12 children — eight of whom survived well into adulthood, who contributed immeasurably to Lansbury’s activities in municipal and national politics.[25] Details of their parents’ political outlook can be profitably gleaned from their published reminiscences of family life in their East End household.[26] Interestingly, some remarkable film footage and sound recordings also provide important insights of the Bow and Bromley by-election of 1921 and the ‘Poplar Rates Revolt’ of 1921.[27]

As a major figure on the Left in twentieth century politics, George Lansbury’s colourful political trajectory took him from the Gladstonian Liberal Party, via the Marxist SDF and the ethical socialism of the Independent Labour Party, finally to the British Labour Party. No one in political life was associated with as many organisations or minority causes concerned with the underdog in British society. How should one of the most active and widely travelled politicians be described? Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF) organiser, rebel East End socialist MP, suffragette ally, Christian Socialist editor of the militant Daily Herald newspaper; imprisoned Labour mayor; anti-imperialist; the people’s poor law guardian, republican and committed, all these roles constituted and shaped his political identity.

Australia 1884–85

What forces and circumstances shaped Lansbury’s political identity and what motivated his brand of politics? An early watershed in his life was the Lansbury family’s abortive emigration to Australia. In 1884, disillusioned with Victorian capitalism and enticed by the propaganda of Queensland emigration touts, Bessie and George Lansbury and their young family sought a new life.[28] Instead, they discovered that colonial Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city, had distinct class, status, racial and gender divisions.[29] The majority of migrants to Australia had fled from mass unemployment in British manufacturing and urban centres, whereas Queensland had a mainly pastoral economy.

After two months of unemployment, which exhausted the Lansbury savings, George Lansbury secured a succession of manual jobs: stone-breaking, work in a slaughterhouse, on a farm and eventually back in Brisbane to help prepare the ground for the visit of the English national cricket team. After a parcel delivery job, family ill health and general disenchantment drove the Lansburys back to London.[30]

In Queensland Lansbury had little contact with the emergent Labour movement, but the searing first-hand experience of unemployment abroad launched him into political campaigning in London’s East End from 1886. The main impact of Lansbury’s Australian experience on his ideas and political values was seen in his realisation of the appalling working and living conditions faced by emigrant women and young girls which forced many into prostitution. This was particularly evident in a letter home to his friend Wait Sewell in March 1885:
Now I distinctly say that girls are not wanted here the streets are foul day and night and if I had a sister I would rather shoot her dead than see her brought out here to this little hell on earth … I don’t wonder girls go on the street for besides sending out hundreds of girls unprotected the Emigration people send out hundreds of single men who thrown upon their own resources go into all kinds of vice and crime.[31] In 1885 Lansbury returned to Britain as a political rebel and a committed feminist.

From Liberalism to Labour

Like many of the Labour pioneers, George Lansbury’s first political loyalties were with Gladstonian Liberalism. Previously, Parliament had attracted the youthful Lansbury who, as a 16 to 18-year-old labourer, had worked night shifts in order to watch the epic debates between Gladstone and Disraeli on the Eastern Question. From the Strangers’ Gallery at the House of Commons the young Christian radical imbibed individual liberty, freedom for subject peoples and the community of interest of different social classes inherent in Gladstonian Liberalism. In the late 1880s he built up a considerable reputation as tireless party worker with immense political acumen who won three elections, including masterminding Jane Cobden’s campaign in 1888 as one of the first women to be elected to the newly founded London County Council.

However, by the early 1890s, Lansbury transferred his affiliation to socialism. In a famous incident at the National Liberal Federation at Manchester in December 1889, where Lansbury fell foul of the caucus system, the northern Liberal bosses prevented the young London Radical from presenting a moderate legal Eight Hour Day resolution. As a disillusioned Lansbury discovered, late Victorian Liberalism was not the vehicle to deliver democracy, political and social reform and to meet the demands for increased Labour representation.

At the same time, Marxist ideas, and contact with Henry Hyndman, William Morris, Eleanor Marx and others, brought disenchantment with Liberal capitalism and conversion to socialism. He later recalled: ‘Liberalism would progress just so far as the great capitalist money bags would allow it to progress, and so I took the plunge and joined the SDF … because I felt that they stood in England for revolt against present conditions, and for a reorganised society which would be built up by the efforts of the workers themselves’.[32] In 1892 with other dissident Liberals he founded the Bow and Bromley branch of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first main socialist organisation in Britain.

In 1895 Lansbury became the national secretary of the SDF — ‘the best organiser the Federation ever had’, according to Henry Hyndman, its founder and leading figure — and travelled from Lands’ End to John O’Groats as a socialist propagandist. During the week he worked full-time in his father-in law, Isaac Brine’s East End sawmill and timber yard. On Brine’s death in 1896 control of the family business passed into Lansbury’s hands until 1914. He remained always the generous employer despite periodic financial crises at the sawmill. However, ‘Good Old George’ — as he became affectionately known — shaped a reputation as a crusading labour activist rather than a patrician figure in his East End community. At weekends Lansbury’s missionary zeal took him away to endless meetings — while Bessie remained at home to bring up a growing family. During these SDF years Bessie and George Lansbury temporarily lost their Christian faith and joined the secularist movement in London — ‘the religion of morality without theology’ — until their re-appearance in the Anglican Church around 1904.

As an SDF candidate Lansbury first became a local poor law guardian in 1893 and held this position continuously until the office was abolished in 1928. His unyielding opposition to the Victorian poor law, with the hated workhouse as the symbol at its heart, became his longest crusade and linked his efforts to ameliorate the conditions of the poor, destitute and unemployed of the East London. In 1903 George Lansbury met Joseph Fels, the American millionaire with a fortune from the manufacture of naptha soap and progressive ideas on social reform and radical politics. Until Fels’ death in 1914, the wealthy philanthropist and East End socialist enjoyed a close personal friendship and common interests in radicalism. Fels poured thousands into Lansbury’s electoral campaigns and crusades, including the establishment of the Hollesley Bay and Laindon farm colonies to resettle unemployed workmen and their families in co-operative smallholdings.[33] Unlike some of his Labour contemporaries, though, in his associations with the wealthy and privileged, Lansbury avoided the ‘aristocratic embrace’. He took nothing for himself, but passed on large sums to worthy causes without the slightest rumour of personal impropriety or scandal.

The East End, where the Lansbury family settled on their return from Australia, gave Lansbury his political identity, which he shaped accordingly as a consistent voice on behalf of the dispossessed and marginalised in society. ‘Outcast London’ was a city of two million inhabitants in the eastern part of the Imperial capital at the heart of the British Empire. The home of the working poor, it was a cosmopolitan area dominated by the docks and shipping trade, and also characterised by the so-called ‘dirty trades’ — processing raw materials outside the City limits. Extremes of poverty, destitution and casual working dominated its employment patterns and attracted the attention of religious missionaries and social investigators such as Charles Booth. The East End had a long history with resplendent tradition and customs and successive waves of immigrants — French Huguenots, Irish and Jews all put down roots and settled in East End communities. In 1902 a cockney cab driver told Jack London — the visiting American novelist-that he did not know exactly where ‘the East End’ was; though he probably could have spoken at length and certainly about the rich East End culture of theatres, music hall, fairs and local festivals.[34] In addition, the East End — only a few miles away from the financial and banking houses of the City of London and like a dagger at its heart — had a long association with the working-class, radicalism and potential civil disorder.

By 1914 a small group of Labour and socialist MPs represented particular constituencies in London — John Burns (Battersea) Jack Jones (Silvertown) Will Thorne (West Ham), Will Crooks (Poplar and Woolwich) and George Lansbury (Bow and Bromley). All had colourful and chummy personalities and possessed thunderous voices, with which to hold their audiences with homilies and humour — as well as an intimate identification with their local communities. Lansbury was no exception: a large-framed man with a kind face, adorned by mutton chop whiskers, he cut a distinctive figure. He was a charismatic speaker, with a booming voice, equally at home addressing a crowd on the Mile End waste ground or a massed rally from the platform of the opulent Albert Hall. Above all, Poplar — which included the district of Bow and Bromley — became the fiefdom of George Lansbury and his family, who lived in the constituency, first in a cottage at the Brine saw mill and timber yard in Stephen’s Road and then nearby at 39 Bow Road. The Lansbury home became a haven for all and the centre of his political activities. Lansbury himself was well known for a simple life style that eschewed wealth and social status and a Christian faith that inspired his politics.

As Jon Lawrence has argued myths (seen as stories whether true or not) have played an important part in the Labour Party’s history and take on a separate importance of their own in defining and explaining the party’s foundation and evolution from a protest group to a political party of national government.[35] To his many supporters who knew and loved him, George Lansbury was the personification of the Labour left — the apostle of socialism whose life long association with the East End, selfless service to ordinary people and deep concern for humanity formed an essential part of the struggle towards the new Jerusalem in early twentieth century Britain.[36] Lansbury found his eventual home in the Poplar Labour Party that he helped to create which dominated municipal politics in the East End in the interwar years. On the national stage as an MP he played a central role in twentieth century Labour history, first as a party rebel and then as the leader of his national party.

1912 Bow and Bromley By-Election

In Edwardian politics, Lansbury was one of a relatively small group of male politicians and journalists who supported the militant women’s cause. In October 1912 he crossed the English Channel with Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette leader, to confer with her daughter, Christabel, who had been in hiding in Paris from the English police.[37] Dramatically, Lansbury, who had been the socialist MP for Bow and Bromley only since December 1910, resigned his seat to force a by-election — which he lost — on the issue of ‘Votes for Women’.[38]

Raymond Postgate dismissed Lansbury’s involvement with women’s movement as a temporary and emotional aberration that nearly severed his connections with the wider Labour movement. In particular, he disliked the authoritarian style of the Pankhurst women who led the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which he characterised as undemocratic, anti-men and prone to criminality compared to the law abiding and constitutional suffragists of the National Union of Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Postgate’s charge list against the WSPU was almost endless:
Any form of agitation which attracted attention should be used: breaking up meetings, throwing stones, smashing windows, rioting in the House of commons, cutting up golf greens, slashing pictures in the National gallery, burning up the contents of pillar-boxes, firing houses, and whatever else a woman could think of.[39] For full measure, he added the loudest whisper: ‘though it has been exaggerated, there may have been a certain amount of sexual abnormality’.[40]

Instead, it is possible to bring a different perspective to the events of the Bow and Bromley by-election of 1912. Lansbury’s extraordinary decision to resign his seat was not due to emotional fatigue, impetuosity or malevolent influence of the Pankhursts. After his defeat, Lansbury explained he had fought the by-election, ‘not for votes for fine ladies, but votes for all men and women’. But his outstanding reason was that ‘he wanted the men who had elected me to say that they had endorsed my belief that all men and all women should have the full rights of citizenship’.[41]

For Lansbury, who in 1912 put gender before social class, parliamentary votes for women was a deeply moral issue and one on which he could not compromise. From his earliest days, he had shown a growing realisation of the social and political inequalities between women and men, as well as between rich and destitute. He differed from many of those active in the women’s cause, as he viewed the franchise question through the perspective of working-class women in the East End. Before his formal association with the Edwardian women’s suffrage movement, there were important landmarks that sharpened his political awareness: Annie Besant and the Match Girl’s Strike of 1888 — a stone’s throw from the Lansbury home in Bow — his stewardship of Jane Cobden’s campaign for the London County Council in the same year, as well as his experience as a poor law guardian and organiser of large scale marches of women in the unemployed movement.

In the 1906 general election Lansbury contested the Middlesbrough constituency where he stood as an independent socialist candidate without official Labour Party support. Marion Coates Hansen was his election agent and prompted him to include ‘votes for women’ in his election manifesto. One of the forgotten feminists of late Victorian Britain, Marion Coates Hansen rarely receives a mention in histories of the period and is completely absent from the Postgate biography. After 1906, she maintained a long and important association with George and Bessie Lansbury and their family. In 1912 Lansbury acknowledged her influence on his thinking:
Now you must take some responsibility for having educated me on the women’s question. You know that when I came to Middlesbrough, I was an adult suffragist, and put it just as one part of my propaganda. I have learned during the seven years that have passed to understand it in another sense altogether. You continually appeal to me about Bessie. It is because of Bessie and millions like her that I have come to understand all that is meant by citizenship, comradeship and a real place in life.[42] Lansbury also discussed with her his edgy relations with the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Labour Party and the women’s movement appeared natural allies in Edwardian politics, but the rival merits of socialism and feminism led to a powerful contemporary discourse and caused tensions between members of the party and those who supported the women’s cause. Lansbury had failed to secure a private member’s bill in the House of Commons and had little faith in the Labour leadership’s commitment on votes for women. But the rebel Labour member’s disenchantment ran deeper. He was highly critical of MacDonald’s leadership of the PLP, his cosy relations with the Asquith Liberal Government and his failure at Westminster to implement an independent socialist strategy. Lansbury’s unauthorised action shortly before his resignation, in circularising local Labour parties to support the placing of women’s suffrage before other reforms on the Labour agenda, brought a head on collision with the Labour leadership. As he explained to Marion Coates Hansen:
Ever since I have been in the House I have been more or less at loggerheads with them, and they with me. Hardly a meeting of the (Labour) party has taken place without my being reproached that I was a member of the party … and that I continually when beaten on a vote, refused to abide by the decisions of the majority … Now this year things have been going from bad to worse.[43] After his by-election defeat, there followed an acrimonious debate conducted in the columns of the Labour Leader and the Daily Herald between the Labour leadership and the Lansbury camp over the respective merits of loyalty to party policy and the individual MP’s freedom of conscience to follow a different course of action.

Though out of Westminster politics for ten years, a new career developed for Lansbury as the editor-proprietor of the newly founded Daily Herald, which in the pre-World War I period outstripped the Daily Citizen, with all the resources of the Labour party behind it, as the newspaper of the labour movement. The Daily Herald was launched on 25 April 1912 — the day the RMS Titanic went down on her maiden voyage, which gave the paper its first major story and crusade in exposing the class-based nature of the death toll.

As editor, Lansbury gathered around him a galaxy of mainly young left wing intellectuals, including G.D.H. Cole, William Mellor, Osbert Sitwell and Hilaire Belloc and H.G. Wells. His no-censorship policy put the columns of the militant paper at the disposal of suffragettes, syndicalists, guild socialists and other rebel groups. To this day, the Daily Herald is remembered for the brilliant work of the Australian cartoonist, Will Dyson, who gained a worldwide reputation on the paper in challenging and mocking inequality and injustice in Edwardian Britain.[44]

Under Lansbury’s editorship the Daily Herald passionately backed strikers during the period of pre-war labour unrest and nationalist causes in different parts of the globe. During the Great War, the labour journal became a pacifist weekly that shook the authorities by campaigning for conscientious objectors, rejoicing in the Russian Revolutions and publishing the secret treaties of the allies.[45] During the Bow and Bromley by-election, the readers of the Daily Herald had received stirring coverage of George Lansbury’s campaign, that portrayed him as the local hero and son of East London. In 1913, after an impassioned speech in defence of suffragette militancy at the Albert Hall, Lansbury was prosecuted, imprisoned and went on hunger and thirst strike. The Daily Herald campaigned on his behalf until his release.[46] After the Great War, the newspaper resumed as a Labour daily and soon carried the headline ‘Our Editor in Goal’ as 30 Labour councillors willingly went to prison during the Poplar Rates Rebellion in defiance of the government, the courts and the Labour Party leadership.

Poplar Rates Revolt

In 1919 Labour had swept to power in the local council elections for the first time. At 60, George Lansbury became mayor. Characteristically, he broke with tradition by taking office’ without robes, mace or cocked hat’. Determined on fundamental change in one of the poorest parts of London, the Poplar councillors implemented a comprehensive programme of social reforms and municipal improvements, including equal pay for women doing similar work and a minimum £4 weekly wage for council employees. With a high percentage of casual workers, especially among the dockers and transport workers, Poplar suffered massive unemployment, mainly the result of world economic conditions. The Labour Borough council believed it could directly influence local wages and conditions by the policies it pursued as an important municipal employer.

On 29 July 1921, George Lansbury and 29 Labour councillors, including his son Edgar and daughter-in-law Minnie, were part of the procession of over two thousand East Enders, accompanied by a drum and fife band, who marched the five miles from the Poplar town hall to the Law Courts on the Strand. Their historic march was a dramatic piece of street theatre, typical of the flair and publicity surrounding many of the public scenes orchestrated during the Rates Revolt. On that day, the largest banner carried on the march proclaimed proudly and defiantly: ‘POPLAR BOROUGH COUNCIL. MARCHING TO THE HIGH COURT, AND POSSIBLY TO PRISON, TO SECURE THE EQUALISATION OF RATES FOR THE POOR BOROUGHS’.[47]

The main political objective of George Lansbury and his fellow councillors was to wage class war on the lack of equity in the unreformed rating system in London, where the greater burden fell on the poorer boroughs of the East End. After exhausting constitutional means to achieve the equalisation of the rates with the wealthier West London boroughs, the Labour councillors defied the Lloyd George Coalition Government by refusing to levy the precept rates (for central services) for the London County Council and the other metropolitan bodies. This battle — which the Poplar councillors knew they could not win — took them to the High Court and then to prison. Cinematic film cameras captured the dramatic scenes —the councillors’ march, their eventual arrest over several days and the popular reaction among the residents of the East End who mobilised in their support on the streets of Poplar. 36
In 1921 the ‘Poplar Rates Revolt’ was a defining episode in the political life of George Lansbury and his family and one that endeared them to their East End community. On becoming their local priest, Father St John B. Groser quickly recognised the special relationship between the Poplar Labour councillors — virtually all manual workers — and those they represented. To his neighbours in East London who elected him, Lansbury was affectionately known as ‘Good Old George’ — living and working in the same area he was ‘one of us’ like the rest of his fellow councillors.

The Poplar Rates Revolt was a prime instance of Lansbury as the class warrior, and his ability to mobilise large numbers of ordinary people. His almost unique gift was seen at its best in the Poplar Rates Revolt. He was always remembered as the chief advocate of ‘Poplarism’ and this reputation remained with him for the rest of his political life and beyond. The term ‘Poplarism’ — defined since 1921 as the policy of giving outdoor relief to the poor on a generous or extravagant scale — entered the political vocabulary as a symbol of local defiance against central government and struck a deadly blow at the hated poor law system. Even today, the memory of the events of the ‘Poplar Story’ can strike a proletarian chord when local authorities and central government are in conflict.

However, the Poplar Borough Municipal Alliance — a Conservative grouping of employers and ratepayers — condemned Poplarism as ‘municipal extravagance’, which did not sit too well with Herbert Morrison, moderate Secretary of the London Labour Party, and Ramsay MacDonald, who became Labour Party leader in 1922. Both were anxious to present the Labour Party as the alternative administration in waiting and one that was ‘fit to govern’. After the councillors had been in prison for six weeks, Morrison moved with other Labour mayors to end the dispute. Though the Poplar councillors gained substantial financial concessions from the Coalition Government, when MacDonald chose his first Labour Cabinet in 1924, George Lansbury was excluded from office.

Labour in Government

The general election of December 1923 was indecisive — Conservatives 258, Labour 191, Liberals 158 — and left Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government without an absolute majority at Westminster and Labour as the main opposition party. Baldwin did not resign until the new Parliament assembled in January 1924. In the intervening weeks, Sir Frederick Banbury’s pledge to lead a detachment of the Coldstream Guards into the House of Commons was probably the pick of the hair brained schemes to prevent the advent of the first-ever Labour Government in Britain. George Lansbury was alongside MacDonald, Henderson and other Labour leaders on the platform at the Albert Hall victory rally to sing the Marsellaise and the Red Flag—to the consternation of King George V — but three days before had probably lost any remaining chance of a Cabinet appointment with his widely reported speech at the Shoreditch town hall. Referring to conniving in governing circles to block Labour taking office, he typically reminded the monarch of the fate of his ancestors, Charles I and James II:
A few centuries ago one King who stood up against the common people of that day lost his head — lost it really [laughter and cheers]. Later one of his descendants was told to get out as quickly as possible. Since that day kings and queens … never interfered … and George V would be well advised to keep his finger out of the pie now.[48]

In 1924 Ramsay MacDonald formed his first Labour government and, for the first time in 100 years, no Old Etonian sat in the Cabinet. His minority administration of mainly moderate Labour politicians included former trade unionists, members of the Independent Labour Party, past associates of MacDonald in the Union of Democratic Control and Fabians. But the Cabinet also contained former Liberals and Tory politicians, including a previous Viceroy of India. John Wheatley was recruited from the militant Clydesiders, but MacDonald found no room for George Lansbury, the most prominent and popular left-wing politician in Britain, in part in deference to the wishes of the King. Lansbury’s sympathies for the Soviet Union were well known. In 1920 he had visited Russia and met Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders; members of Lansbury’s family belonged to the newly founded Communist Party of Great Britain.[49] According to the new President of the Board of Trade, Sidney Webb, the name of George Lansbury was the most glaring omission in the list of appointments.[50] Offered the lowly post of Minister of Transport, Lansbury declined, as MacDonald knew he would, rather than lose his political independence.

Essentially, Lansbury was a political rebel par excellence— always a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership, especially over MacDonald’s cosy relations with the Liberal Party before World War I and his moderate gradualist politics in the early 1920s. In turn, an irate and jealous MacDonald dismissed the combative East End MP as the ‘brawling East End vestryman’ — whose political flair and instinctive regard for democratic values were well represented in Poplar Rates Rebellion. ‘It cannot be over-emphasised that public doles, Poplarism, strikes for increased wages, limitation of output, not only are not Socialism, but may mislead the spirit and policy of the Socialist movement’, MacDonald emphasised in a new preface to his treatise on socialism.[51] In contrast, Lansbury visualised a different type of Labour Party: ‘the workers must be given tangible proof that Labour administration means something different from capitalist administration, and in a nutshell this means diverting wealth from wealthy ratepayers to the poor’.[52] At Westminster, on issues such as unemployment and poverty Lansbury loyalties were to those who elected him and not necessarily always to the new Labour Government. Associated with the Clydesider MPs, Lansbury was involved in of a number of backbench revolts and was the government’s leading critic over the Royal Air Force bombing of Iraqi villages during the British mandate of Mesopotamia.[53] Outside Parliament, Lansbury remained a defiant propagandist who preached on revolutionary socialism, pacifism and anti-imperialism. In 1925, after his association with the Daily Herald ended, he started a new publishing venture Lansbury’s Labour Weekly that gave unstinting support to the miners’ lockout and the 1926 General Strike. Two years later, his autobiography included a critical review of the social hobnobbing of the Labour leadership and a programme of constitutional reform to combat the power of the party machine.[54]

However, as one of the few major Labour politicians to command large audiences in Britain, Lansbury worked hard for the day Labour would be returned to government. And he needed the party as much as the party needed him. ‘Do not tell me I am writing as an apostle of gradualness: no, I am an old man in a hurry … but I am conscious of the fact that progress is only gradual’, he acknowledged in his conference message as Chairman of the 1928 Labour Party Conference. At Birmingham he appealed for party unity and put his full weight behind Labour and the Nation, the new policy document. However, on joining the Second Labour Cabinet in 1929 he discovered he had a battle on his hands to get any of the new programme implemented.

After the 1929 election MacDonald formed his second minority government. An ecstatic Margaret Cole wrote to George Lansbury: ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Go on and prosper — may they have the sense to offer you office’.[55] Philip Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer, recalled, probably with some hindsight, that Lansbury — still remembered for the Poplar Rates episode — was given Cabinet rank as First Commissioner of Works to look after historic building and the public parks where he could spend little money and could do the least damage.[56]

Instead, to the amazement of his permanent officials, the energetic George Lansbury brought forward schemes for recreational improvements for the Royal Parks in London, including the opening of popular ‘Lansbury’s Lido’ on the Serpentine in Hyde Park with mixed bathing. ‘He had greater power for getting money for worthy causes than any one I have ever known, Sir Lionel Earle’, the chief civil servant at the Office of Works, observed. Lansbury had always been a canny fundraiser for the labour movement — able to attract sums of money free of political obligation. The American plutocrat and industrialist, Joseph Fels, had bankrolled Lansbury’s Edwardian farm colonies for the unemployed; wealthy feminist admirers, as well as ordinary readers, had sustained the Daily Herald during its recurrent financial crises; and many members of the public (including some former opponents) answered the newspaper appeal of the First Commissioner of Works to enhance recreation and leisure in London parks.[57] Initially, the flinty Snowden had agreed matching funding from the Treasury for every sum raised. Finally, he was forced to admit:
I have seen a little of the gorgeous beauty of the Parks. We cannot estimate the wonderful influence of all this [sic] on the character of the people … and you are showing how cheaply it can be done compared with the incalculably blessings it brings [sic].[58]

Though Labour had taken office with some optimism about tackling unemployment, in Britain the number of registered unemployed reached 2.75 million. The world economic crisis had worsened after the Wall Street Crash of November 1929 bringing a global collapse in demand and a crisis in the European banking system. Despite agreeing significant reductions in government expenditure, the Second Labour Government resigned in August 1931 when the Cabinet finally split over the demand for 10 per cent cut in unemployment benefit. MacDonald’s agreement to the King’s request to form a National Government with Conservative and Liberal opponents became the longstanding myth of the ‘Great Betrayal’ in labour history.[59]

At the time, Lansbury was among those who believed that the prime minister had deliberately brought down his administration which had been derailed by a ‘bankers’ ramp’ — an international conspiracy to engineer the return of the Conservatives to power. Lansbury had been an implacable opponent of reductions in social service expenditure and as early as February 1931, had submitted alternative proposals based on work creation schemes, emigration and ‘sacrifices all round’ to offset the unavoidable rise in unemployment relief expenditure and foster trade.
Instead of starting with the weak and helpless — that is, the unemployed, and the down and outs — let us start at the top … [levy] an emergency tax, on all incomes about £500 net … it would yield very much more than 10 per cent on unemployment pay, he argued.[60] Between 19–24 August, as the political crisis surrounding the Labour Cabinet grew apace, Lansbury’s office in Whitehall became the gathering place as the number of those ministers opposed to the expenditure cuts increased daily. Recent scholarship has demolished the myth that the a conspiracy at the heart of the British Cabinet or by international bankers sealed the fate of the second Labour government in 1931 but for Lansbury and his contemporaries in the trade union and labour movements, the actions of MacDonald and those ministers who joined him was a betrayal of their social class.[61] It opened the way for a decade of National Governments associated with the detested means test and appeasement. The crisis of 1931 also brought about a realignment of political parties that unexpectedly placed George Lansbury in the role of Labour leader.

Labour Leader

The General Election of 1931 was the worst crisis in the history of the British Labour Party. MacDonald invited Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and Lord Sankey to join Cabinet in the National Government with members the Opposition parties. Only 15 Labour MPs supported the new administration. At the polls, the National Government secured 67 per cent of the poll and a gargantuan total of 554 out of 615 seats. Before the election Labour had 246 MPs and was afterwards left with only a rump of 46 MPs in the House of Commons. The Manchester Guardian represented the scale of this electoral avalanche with a photograph of two people scaling a pair of colossal ladders outside its main office. The National Government figure had virtually disappeared from sight high in the sky but his Labour opponent was barely off the first rung.[62]

After this catastrophe, as the only former Cabinet minister among His Majesty’s Opposition to save his seat, almost by default George Lansbury became the leader of the PLP at Westminster — simply because there appeared to be no other choice. At first, he appeared to be stopgap until Arthur Henderson, who remained Labour leader in the country, could find a suitable by-election to return to Westminster.[63] Characteristically, the septuagenarian Lansbury put on a brave face. ‘As a matter of fact … I honestly believe the movement is going to be purer and stronger for the very heavy defeat we have sustained’, he told his former Cabinet colleague, Charles Trevelyan.[64] There was some basis for his defiance and reasons to be optimistic, since Labour had received 6.5 million votes (31 per cent) in 1931, which compared favourably with the party’s performance in 1923. However, the size of the challenge facing the new party leader was daunting. He led a parliamentary party composed largely of ageing MPs from the South Wales and Yorkshire coalfields of whom only about half were effective performers in the House of Commons. One exception was the young Aneurin Bevan — briefly Lansbury Parliamentary Private Secretary — who had entered Parliament in the 1929 election and as the MP for Ebbw Vale was a powerful tribune for the unemployed.[65]

British Labour leaders have sometimes been divided conveniently into one of three stereotypes — as prophets, administrators and managers — who respectively inspire, run and politically manage the party they lead, albeit that few political figures fit exactly into one category but instead combine different overlapping characteristics.[66] By this definition, Lansbury in taking on the mantle of his party leadership was in the first camp and there could have been no better choice at the time of the collapse of Labour fortunes. After the ‘Great Betrayal’ of 1931, there was a deep distrust of intellectuals within the labour movement, particularly among the trade union bosses, and a hostile reaction to the Olympian leadership displayed by Ramsay MacDonald. Joined by Clem Attlee and Stafford Cripps in a socialist triumvirate in the House of Commons, Lansbury cut a different political figure. His style of leadership embraced long-held ideas of working-class participation in a political democracy. He declared:
Leaders may be necessary, but the best kind of leader is one who leads from the centre of those he speaks for, in fact, it is not possible for me to imagine the need for leadership in an educated democracy.

One of the clearest expressions of this philosophy was Lansbury’s speech to the Southport Labour Party Conference. Not only was it a statement of ideals he had long held, but a carefully worded pronouncement for the conference delegates in a sensitive stage in the party’s history.:
I never dreamed in my wildest imagining that I would ever be called upon to act as the spokesman. I have never considered myself leader — but as spokesman of my colleagues in the House of Commons, I am proud to have been one of that little band. I am proud to have been chosen to speak for them whenever it was necessary for me to speak on behalf of the Party … It was an accident that put me there — the accident of the last General Election — and I am only there as long as my colleagues think it wise for me to be there. When they think change is needed, then I shall go.[67]

As party leader, Lansbury was a universally popular choice whose appearance on the balcony at the Royal County Hall at the Durham Miners’ Gala — one of the traditional gatherings in the Labour calendar — literally brought the vast procession to a standstill for two hours. Hannen Swaffer, the Daily Herald columnist, wrote: ‘Lansbury obviously is the idol of all these workers and their women-folk. He has moved, in his time, in proud places. But his heart remains with people’.[68] But how effective was George Lansbury and what were the circumstances that led to his resignation in October 1935?

By any measure, Lansbury had taken on an awful legacy as party leader, made worse by the disaffiliation of the Independent Labour Party about which he could do little. In a time of political crisis he brought attributes of honesty and humility and a personal charisma. No one did more to raise the morale of the rank and file Labour supporters in Britain. Former minister of Agriculture, Christopher Addison, observed that Lansbury attracted large audiences throughout Britain who saw ‘an old man full of energy, very much alive and possessed of an unquenchable zeal, breathing love and kindliness, and yet all the time a fighter, vehement and determined’.[69]

At Westminster Lansbury was an effective party leader in rallying his small band of foot soldiers against the National Government. ‘No brains to speak of’ was Beatrice Webb’s unforgiving view of her fellow commissioner on the 1905–09 Royal Commission on the Poor Laws. But intellectuals, such as Harold Laski who admired Lansbury, did not share this view.[70] The great merit of his leadership was that he held his party together. Individual membership figures increased, party organisation was overhauled and by-elections were won, while others planned future Labour domestic programmes that eventually bore fruit in the 1945 Labour landslide.[71] Also, the trade union leadership of Ernest Bevin and Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, played a key role with Hugh Dalton in reshaping Labour party foreign policy.

As an absolute pacifist, Lansbury had opposed the Boer War, the Great War and been highly visible in pacifist organisations throughout his life. With the rise of the fascist dictatorships in the 1930s that threatened world security, he found his position as leader of a party that was facing the prospect of rearmament increasingly irreconcilable with his deeply held Christian socialist convictions. Before the 1935 Brighton conference, he had made clear his misgivings, but his colleagues had encouraged him to continue as party leader. In fact, though famously defeated in the debate with Bevin on the National Executive Council resolution, Lansbury resigned on his own insistence. Even so, in the late 1930s, his remaining years were spent in a remarkable international peace crusade — including visits to Hitler and Mussolini — in an attempt to prevent the drift to war.[72]

Conclusion

By any measure, George Lansbury was an engaging politician who made a substantial contribution to the many different causes with which he was passionately associated. An archetypal figure in the world of ‘Old Labour’, he held an enduring belief in collective action to end capitalism and imperialism and achieve political and economic justice for all. Undoubtedly, the Victorian Radical Lansbury would have immediately identified in the Labour victory of 1945: public ownership of major industries and services, the establishment of a free National Health Service; support for the new United Nations Organisation and a start on de-colonisation of the British Empire by the grant of independence to India, Pakistan and Burma.

Writing a new life of one of Labour’s significant figures during the changing political landscape between ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘New Labour’ prompts one question in evaluating his part in Labour history. Would the democratic socialist George Lansbury would been at home with recent developments in his party — often described as a decisive break with the past-including weaker links with trade unions, the rewriting of the Clause IV and the abandonment of public ownership for market economics and an avowed association with ‘big business’? Undoubtedly, he would have opposed Labour’s foreign policy on Iraq, as he had in 1924. But an emphasis on continuities rather than abrupt change is part of the important discourse about the differences between ‘New Labour’ and the history of party.[73] During his lifetime, George Lansbury, who strove within a capitalist framework, recognised the practical realities of political life and the changing nature of the political party to which he belonged. As editor of the Daily Herald, he demonstrated a proficient business sense. After his defeat in 1912 — his biggest political mistake — he proclaimed ‘Never Resign!’. Most of the burning issues on which he campaigned are still current today. In 1940 he left a vital legacy — the conviction that people matter.

Endnotes

*�The ideas for this paper originated in a keynote address presented at the University of Sydney ‘Individual in Labour History’ Conference, November 2003. The subsequent revision was peer-reviewed for Labour History by two anonymous referees. Janet and John Shepherd would like to express their appreciation to Mark Hearn, Harry Knowles, Gwen and Russell Lansbury, Greg Patmore and fellow conference participants for their warm hospitality during their stay in Australia.

1.�Daily Herald, 30 October 1932.

2.�Gainsborough Evening News, 12 December 1933.

3.� Imperial and Communications Ltd, Rt Hon. George Lansbury, 11 December 1933.

4.� A.J.P. Taylor, English History 1914–1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, p. 191, n. 3.

5.� P. Preston, Tired and Emotional:the Life of Lord George-Brown, Chatto & Windus, London, 1993, p. 29

6.� For Hardie, see Kenneth O. Morgan, Keir Hardie: Radical and Socialist, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London, 1975; for MacDonald, see David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald, Jonathan Cape, London, 1977; for Attlee, see Kenneth Harris, Attlee, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1982.

7.� Kevin Jeffrey (ed.), Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Blair, I.B. Taurus, London, 1999.

8.�New Statesman, 28 February 2000.

9.� Trevor Evans, ‘Peace Issue at the 1935 Labour Conference’, BBC Radio Four History Programme, 1960, BBC Sound Archives. Hawking meant selling your conscience. The conference diplomatically said talking. [Emphasis added.]

10.� Ben Pimlott, Frustrate Their Knavish Tricks: Writings on Biography, History and Politics, Harper Collins, London, 1994, p. 159. See also his biography of Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister, Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson, Harper Collins, London, 1992.

11.� For Ramsay MacDonald’s Diary, see MacDonald Papers, Public Records Office (PRO), 30/69/1753, The National Archives (formerly PRO), Kew.

12.� For the edited diaries of Beatrice Webb, see N. Mackenzie and J. Mackenzie (eds), The Diary of Beatrice Webb vols. i–iv, Virago in association with London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE), London., PLACE, 1982–5.

13.� Recent examples include: Anthony Howard (ed.), The Crossman Diaries: Selections from the Diaries of Cabinet Minister, 1964–70, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1979: Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964–1976, Papermac, Basingstoke, 1990; Tony Benn, The Benn Diaries, Ruth Winstone (ed.), Arrow, London, 1995.

14.� George Lansbury, ‘The Cabinet Crisis of 1931’ (hereafter ‘Cab. Crisis’) nd (Sept 1931), Lansbury Papers (LP), vol. 25. The main George Lansbury Papers are in the British Library of Political and Economic Science (BLPES), London. (Some other Lansbury papers are in the possession of various members of the Lansbury family.)

15.� Raymond Postgate, The Life of George Lansbury, Longmans, London, 1951. For two short studies, see Bob Holman, Good Old George: the Life of George Lansbury, Lion Publishing, London, 1990; Jonathan Schneer, George Lansbury, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1990.

16.� Lansbury, ‘Cab. Crisis’, LP, vol. 25.

17.� The secret Cabinet papers were ‘Unemployment Policy (1930) Committee: Memorandum by the First Commissioner of Works’, 6 May 1930 C.P. 145 (30) and ‘Unemployment Insurance: Memorandum by the First Commissioner of Works’, 6 February, U.P (30) 61, PRO, CAB 21/391/48536, National Archives (NA), Kew.

18.� For the increasingly tense correspondence between Raymond Postgate and the Cabinet Office about the return of Lansbury’s Papers, see PRO, CAB 21/2399, NA.

19.� CC 11 (34) 5, 21 Mar.1934, PRO, CAB 23/78; CC51 (35) PRO, CAB 23/82; see also CP 218 (35), PRO, CAB 24/257, NA.

20.� For a full list of archival sources, see the bibliography in John Shepherd, George Lansbury:At the Heart of Old Labour, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.

21.� George Lansbury, My Life, Constable, London, 1928.

22.� George Lansbury, Looking Backwards and Forwards, Blackie, London, 1935.

23.� The actress, Angela Lansbury, is the grand daughter of Bessie and George Lansbury. Michael Foot, leader of the British Labour Party (1979–83), joined the party during Lansbury’s leadership in 1934.

24.� Lansbury, Looking Backwards and Forwards, pp. 110–11.

25.� Shepherd, George Lansbury, ch. 18.

26.� Edgar Lansbury, George Lansbury: My Father, Sampson Low, Marston, London, 1934; Violet Lansbury, An Englishwoman in the USSR, Putnam, London, 1940; Daisy Postgate, ‘A Child in George Lansbury’s House’, The Fortnightly, November and December 1948. Oliver Postgate, Seeing Things: an Autobiography, Pan, London, 2001; Ernest Thurtle, Time’s Winged Chariot, Chaterson, London, 1945.

27.� Pathe Gazette, The Suffragette Election, 26 November 1912; Topical Budget, Farcical ‘Revolution’ which may be Serious if it Spreads, 5 September 1921, British Film Institute, London.

28.� J. Cam, ‘The Hunt for Muscle and Bone: Emigration Agents and their Role in Migration to Queensland during the 1880s’, Australian Historical Geography, vol. 2, 1981, pp. 7–29.

29.� R. Lawson ‘Class or Status? the Social Structure of Brisbane in the 1890s’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 17–18, 1971–2, pp. 344–59; see also B. Thorpe, Colonial Queensland: Perspectives on a Frontier Society, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1996.

30.� The main accounts of the Lansbury family’s emigration to Queensland in 1884–85 can be found in George Lansbury, My Life, and George Lansbury, Looking Backward and Forwards.

31.� George Lansbury to Wait Sewell, 16 September 1884, LP, vol.28, fo.14.

32.� George Lansbury, ‘How I Became a Socialist, Labour Leader, 17 May 1912.

33.� Joseph Fels also funded the Woolwich Pioneer, the South London Labour paper. In May 1907, with Lansbury acting as an intermediary, he assisted the exiled Lenin and his Bolsheviks who were short of travelling expenses after the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Congress in London. Through Fels’ business associate, Walter Coates, Lansbury made contact with his sister, Marion Coates Hansen, and the Edwardian women’s movement. See A.P. Dudden, Joseph Fels and the Single-Tax Movement Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1971; Mary Fels, Joseph Fels and His life and Work, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1916; A.P. Dudden and T.H. von Laue, ‘The RSDLP and Joseph Fels: a Study in Intercultural Contact, ‘American Historical Review, vol. 61, 1955–56, pp. 21–47.

34.� For the East End, see W.J. Fishman, East End 1888:a Year in the Life of a London Borough Among the Labouring Poor, Duckworth, London, 1988; Peter Ackroyd, London: the Biography, Chatto & Windus, London, 2000, pp. 675–84; Alan Palmer, The East End: Four Centuries of London Life, John Murray, London, 1989; Jonathan Schneer, London 1900: the Imperial Metropolis, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1999

35.� Jon Lawrence, ‘Labour-the myths it has lived by’, in Duncan Tanner, Pat Thane, Nick Tiratsoo (eds), Labour’s First Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 341–366.

36.� Former Labour leader, Michael Foot joined the Labour party in the early 1930s when George Lansbury was party leader. See Michael Foot, ‘A leader who you could never forget’, Tribune, 25 October 2002.

37.� For the Pankhursts, see June Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst:a Biography, Routledge, London, 2002; Mary Davis, Sylvia Pankhurst;a Life in Radical Politics, Pluto Press, London, 1999; Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts, Allen Lane, London, 2001; David Mitchell, Queen Christabel:a Biography of Christabel Pankhurst, MacDonald and Janes, London, 1977.

38.� John Shepherd, ‘George Lansbury and the Bow and Bromley By-Election of 1912’, East London Record, no. 19, 1998, pp. 2–8; Shepherd, George Lansbury, ch. 7.

39.� Raymond Postgate, The Life of George Lansbury, Longmans, London, 1951, p. 120.

40.�Ibid.

41.�New Witness, 5 December 1912.

42.� George Lansbury to Marion Coates Hansen, 31 Oct. 1912, LP, vol. 28, fo. 80.

43.�Ibid., fo. 87.

44.� For the Daily Herald, see Huw Richards, The Bloody Circus: the Daily and the Left, Pluto Press, London, 1999; for Will Dyson, see R. McMullen, Will Dyson:Cartoonist, Etcher and Australia’s Finest War Artist, Angus and Robertson, London, 1984.

45.� For this period of the Daily Herald’s history, see George Lansbury, The Miracle of Fleet Street: the Story of The Daily Herald, Victoria House Printing Co. and Labour Publishing Co, London, 1925.

46.�Report of Inspector Edward Parker, 11 April. 1913, PRO, HO144/1264/237169, 184061; Daily Herald, 31 July, 4 August 1913

47.�Daily Herald, 30 July 1921.

48.� For George V’s reaction to the Albert Hall Rally, see ‘Memorandum by Lord Stamfordham’, RA, GV, K1918/164. See also Harold Nicolson, King George the Fifth:His Life and Reign, Constable, London, 1984, 1952 edn., pp. 384–5.

49.� George Lansbury, What I Saw In Russia, Leonard Parsons, London, 1920.

50.� S. Webb, ‘The First Labour Government’, Political Quarterly, vol. 32, 1961, pp. 13–14.

51.� J.R. MacDonald, Socialism:Critical and Constructive, Cassell, London, 1924, c.1921 edn, p. vii.

52.� George Lansbury, ‘Poplar and the Labour Party: a Defence of Poplarism’, Labour Monthly, June 1922.

53.�Daily Herald, 11 July, 16 August 1924.

54.� Lansbury, My Life, pp. 268, 274.

55.� Margaret Cole to George Lansbury, 6 June 1929, LP, vol. 9, fo. 69.

56.� Philip Snowden, An Autobiography vol. II, Ivor Nicolson and Watson, London, 1934, p. 760.

57.�Everyman, 14 November. 1929.

58.� Philip Snowden to George Lansbury, 1 June 1931, LP, vol.10, fo. 64.

59.� For a reappraisal of MacDonald’s role see Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald, ch.25; see also R. Bassett, Nineteen Thirty-One: Political Crisis, Gower, Aldershot , 1958 edn, 1986.

60.� ‘Unemployment Insurance: Memorandum By the First Commissioner of Works, 6 February 1931, xx (30) 61, CAB 21/391/48536

61.� For George Lansbury’s immediate view of the crisis, see Daily Herald, 25 August, 23 October 1931; for a revision of ‘the bankers’ ramp theory’, see P. Williamson, ‘A “Bankers’ Ramp”? Financiers and the British Political Crisis of August 1931′, English Historical Review, vol. 99, 1984, pp. 770–806.

62.�Manchester Guardian, 29 October 1931

63.� For Henderson, see Chris Wrigley, Arthur Henderson, GPC Books, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1990.

64.� George Lansbury to Charles Trevelyan, 5 January 1932, 145, Trevelyan Papers, Robinson Library, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne.

65.� Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan:a Biography Volume One: 1897–1945, Macgibbon and Kee, London, 1962, ch. 5.

66.� For an elaboration of this classification —’the Dreamer, the Regular and the Fixer’, see Philip Williams, ‘Changing Styles of Labour Leadership’, in Dennis Kavanagh (ed.), The Politics of the Labour Party, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1982, pp. 50–68.

67.� Labour Party, Report of the Annual Conference (1934), Labour History Archive & Study Centre, John Rylands University of Manchester, Manchester, p. 146.

68.�Daily Herald, 29 July 1935.

69.�Clarion, 7 January 1933.

70.� See Harold Laski’s ‘Introduction’ to George Lansbury, My Life, Constable, London, 1931edn, pp. ix–xv; Harold Laski, ‘Why I am a Marxist, Nation, 14 January, 1939.

71.� During the Depression years total membership held firm around 2.3 million, but the number of individual members increased from 297,000 to 419,000 between 1931–35. For the remaking of Labour policy, see Ben Pimlott, Hugh Dalton, Macmillan, London, 1985, ch. 14; K.O. Morgan, Labour People:Leaders and Lieutenants Hardie to Kinnock, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, pp. 107–8.

72.� See D. Lukowitz, ‘George Lansbury’s Peace Journeys to Hitler and Mussolini in 1937,’ Canadian Journal of History, vol. 15, 1980, pp.67–82; George Lansbury, My Quest for Peace, Michael Joseph London, 1938.

73.� For New Labour, see Steven Fielding, The Labour Party:Continuity and Change in the Making of New Labour, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2003; John Rentoul, Tony Blair:Prime Minister, Warner Books, London, 2001.

 

By: John Shepherd

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