Scope and Content

One letter from Lansbury to 'my dear friend', probably Indian, about theIndia Bill, 24th March 1925.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Lansbury 1859-1940

George Lansbury, the son of a railway contractor, was born in Halesworth,Suffolk, in 1859. When George was nine years old the family moved to EastLondon. George started work in an office at the age of eleven but after ayear he returned to school where he stayed until he was fourteen. This wasfollowed by a succession of jobs as a clerk, a wholesale grocer and workingin a coffee bar.

Lansbury then started up his own business as a contractor working for theGreat Eastern Railway. This was not a success and he decided to emigrate toAustralia in 1884. The following year Lansbury returned to England and hebegan work at his father-in-law's timber merchants. In the 1886 GeneralElection Lansbury joined the local Liberal Party. Later that year he waselected General Secretary of the Bow & Bromley Liberal Association. Heeventually left the party over its unwillingness to support legislation for ashorter working week. Lansbury joined the Gasworkers & General LabourersUnion and in 1889 joined a local strike committee during the London Dockers'Strike of that year. These activities brought him into contact with H.M.Hyndman (1842-1921), the leader of the Social Democratic Federation. Althoughthe two men disagreed with each other over many issues, Lansbury decided tojoin the party and in 1892 established a branch of the Social DemocraticFederation in Bow.

Lansbury was elected to the Poplar Board of Guardians in 1892. He becameknown as the John Bull of Poplar. Over the next few years the Guardiansimproved the conditions in their workhouse. They also established LaindonFarm Colony in the Essex countryside where they provided work for theunemployed and taught them the basics of market gardening.

Lansbury continued to be a member of the Social Democratic Federation and in1895 he became the party's candidate in a parliamentary election in Walworth.He only obtained 204 votes in that election but in 1900 he obtained 2,558against the Conservative Party candidate who won with 4,403 votes. In 1903Lansbury left the Social Democratic Federation and joined the IndependentLabour Party, an organisation that contained a large number of ChristianSocialists. Three years later the Independent Labour Party became the LabourParty.

He was a non-smoker, teetotaller, and Anglican, whose socialism andpacifism sprang from spiritual conviction. He signed the minority report as amember (1905-9) of the Royal Commission on poor laws. Lansbury was Labour MPfor Bow and Bromley division, 1910-12, 1922-40. He was a supporter ofwomen's suffrage and defender of conscientious objectors. He was also afounder (1912) and editor (1919-23) of the Daily Herald. Lansbury and hisnewspaper were opposed to Britain involvement in the First World War. Thismade him unpopular during the nationalist fervour that developed between 1914and 1918. In the 1918 General Election, Lansbury, like other anti-war LabourParty candidates was defeated. Lansbury was elected to the local council andin 1921 he became Mayor of Poplar. The council took the decision to increasethe amount of money spent on poor relief. This brought the council inconflict with the British government and in 1921 Lansbury and the majority ofthe local council were imprisoned for over four months. In 1925 he startedthe Lansbury's Labour Weekly. The newspaper rapidly reached a circulation of172,000 and provided an important source of news during the 1926 GeneralStrike. Lansbury was elected Chairman party in 1928. The following year hebecame Commissioner for Works in the Labour government led by RamsayMacDonald. Lansbury refused to support MacDonald's measures in 1931 to dealwith the economic crisis and resigned from office. When MacDonald formed aNational Government, Lansbury became the leader of the Labour opposition.When Italy invaded Abyssinia he refused to support the view that the Leagueof Nations should use military force against Mussolini's army. After beingcriticised by several leading members of the Labour Party, Lansbury resignedas leader of the party.


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