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 1929 Lansbury became First Commissioner of Works in the second Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. Two years later the government fell, MacDonald left the Labour party to form the National Government and the party went to a massive defeat in the 1931 General Election. The party's leader Arthur Henderson and nearly ever other leading Labour figure was defeated. Lansbury was the one exception and became Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1931. The following year Henderson stood down from the leadership of the overall party and Lansbury succeeded him.
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, although at first the Labour Party were reluctant to accept this and tried to implore him to stay but he felt it would be impossible to lead a party when he was in disagreement with it on the major political issue of the day.
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. His name lives on as the Lansbury Estate.