George Lansbury

British politician and reformer (1859–1940)

George Lansbury (22 February 1859 – 7 May 1940) was a British politician and social reformer who was leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935. He served as Leader of the Opposition against Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's National Government during the Great Depression, but later had to resign in favor of Clement Attlee because of his opposition to British re-armament.

George Lansbury in 1938




  • The time has arrived for the working classes to seize political power and use it to overthrow the competitive system and establish in its place state cooperation.
    • Speech in Todmorden, Lancashire, reported in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter (29 November 1895), quoted in John Shepherd, George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour (2002), p. 47


  • Liberalism would progress just as far as the great money bags of capitalism 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.
    • 'How I Became a Socialist', Labour Leader (17 May 1912), quoted in John Shepherd, 'A Life on the Left: George Lansbury (1859—1940): A Case Study in Recent Labour Biography', Labour History, No. 87 (Nov., 2004), p. 151
  • The workers of all countries have no quarrel. They are ... exploited in times of peace and sent out to be massacred in times of war.
    • Speech to a anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square (2 August 1914), quoted in Jonathan Schneer, George Lansbury: Lives of the Left (1990), p. 136


  • 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.
    • "Poplar and the Labour Party: a Defence of Poplarism", Labour Monthly (June 1922), quoted in John Shepherd "A Life on the Left: George Lansbury (1859—1940): A Case Study in Recent Labour Biography", Labour History, No. 87 (November 2004), p. 158
  • 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 he could. Since that day Kings and Queens had been what they ought to be. They never interfered with ordinary politics, and George V would be well advised to keep his finger out of the pie now.
    • Speech in Shoreditch Town Hall at a meeting to celebrate the Labour Party's gains in the general election (5 January 1924), quoted in The Times (7 January 1924), p. 9
  • There is only one way to peace, and it is to be found in the words, "Throw down your arms."
    • Speech in Birmingham (1928), quoted in Talus Your Alternative Government (1945), p. 12
  • I object altogether to the idea of teaching children that the British Empire is something which ought to be preserved in its present form, and that the British Empire is something which, through the mercy and help of God, has been brought into being.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 April 1928)
  • [F]or years I worshipped at the political shrine of Mr. Gladstone.
    • My Life (1928), p. 86
  • 'You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' was the basis of policy where jobs and contracts were concerned ... the slum owner and agent could be depended upon to create the conditions which produce disease; the doctor would then get the job of attending the sick, the chemist would be needed to supply drugs, the parson to pray, and when, between them all, the victims died the undertaker was on hand to bury them.
    • My Life (1928), pp. 134-135


  • 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.
    • Sermon in St Edmund's Church in the City of London (29 October 1932), Daily Herald (30 October 1932), quoted in John Shepherd, 'A Life on the Left: George Lansbury (1859—1940): A Case Study in Recent Labour Biography', Labour History, No. 87 (November 2004), p. 147
  • I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: “Do your worst”.
    • Answer to a Star reporter who put the question to Lansbury, “What would you do if you were Dictator?” (23 October 1933), during the Fulham East by-election, quoted in Edgar Lansbury, George Lansbury, My Father (1934), p. 175 and Robert Rhodes James, Memoirs of a Conservative: J. C. C. Davidson's Memoirs and Papers, 1910–1937 (1969), p. 398
  • I do not want, and my friends would not want me, to do anything to jar with any effort on the part of the Government for real peace, but we have no confidence at all in a proposal to secure peace by pacts based on enormous armaments. We have great faith in peace being brought about through the League of Nations and disarmament. We cannot believe that the piling up of armaments will bring peace, and we think that fundamentally peace between nations in the last resort must be based on a realisation of the interest of each nation in an economic sense and of the fact that they are all part of the human family.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 May 1935)
  • I believe that force never has and never will bring permanent peace and goodwill in the world ... God intends us to live peacefully and quietly with one another. If some people do not allow us to do so, I am ready to stand as the early Christians did, and say, this is our faith, this is where we stand, and, if necessary, this is where we will die.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference of 1935, quoted in Rhiannon Vickers, The Labour Party and the World, Volume 1: The Evolution of Labour's Foreign Policy, 1900–51 (2003), p. 115
  • [Hitler] appeared free of personal ambition ... wasn't ashamed of his humble start in life ... lived in the country rather than the town ... was a bachelor who liked children and old people ... and was obviously lonely. I wished that I could have gone to Berchtesgaden and stayed with him for a little while. I felt that Christianity in its purest sense might have had a chance with him.
    • His impressions of Adolf Hitler after meeting him in April 1937, quoted in Ronald Blythe, The Age of Illusion: England in the Twenties and Thirties (1964), p. 291
  • I think history will regard Hitler as one of the great men of our time.
    • My Quest for Peace (1938), p. 141
  • I hope that out of this terrible calamity there will arise a real spirit, a spirit that will compel people to give up reliance on force, and that perhaps this time humanity will learn the lesson and refuse in the future to put its trust in poison gas, in the massacre of little children and universal slaughter. Mr. Gladstone once said, from the other side of the House, that the cause he represented was going down, but he was sure the day would come when it would triumph. There cannot be a man or woman in this assembly to-day who takes part in the Prayers in this House, every day, and there cannot be any men or women who go to church and believe in their faith but must in their hearts believe that sooner or later, if mankind is to live in freedom and peace, there is only one way by which it can do that, and that is by a complete and entire change of mind and outlook, which enables us to see ourselves in other people and God in everybody.


  • I hold fast to the truth that this world is big enough for all, that we are all brethren, children of one Father.
    • Article in Tribune (25 April 1940), quoted in Raymond Postgate, George Lansbury (1951), p. 324

Quotes about Lansbury

  • [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.
    • Christopher Addison, Clarion (7 January 1933), quoted in John Shepherd, 'A Life on the Left: George Lansbury (1859—1940): A Case Study in Recent Labour Biography', Labour History, No. 87 (November 2004), p. 161
  • George Lansbury was filled with the burning zeal of the prophet. He hated cruelty, injustice and wrongs, and felt deeply for all who suffered. In the course of his long life he was ever the champion of the weak, and with that immense vitality of his, sustained right to the end of his life, he strove for that in which he believed.
  • In his later years Mr. Lansbury's intense hatred of war became more and more the leading feature of his political creed. I dare say there were not many hon. Members who felt convinced of the practicability of the methods which he advocated for the preservation of peace, but there was no one who did not realise his intense conviction, which arose out of his deep humanitarianism. He has perhaps been spared much that would have given him pain. He has left behind him the memory of a man who was deeply loved by all who knew him best, on account of his passionate devotion to the cause of the poor and helpless and his unselfish and kindly nature. I feel sure that in the Angel's Book his name will be found to be written like that of Abou ben Adhem as one who loved his fellow man.
  • Generally speaking, anyone who expressed any desire to improve the lot of the exploited and injured, or proposed any remedy for the mortal sickness of acquisitive society, was regarded by the Conservative class as the vilest of criminals, an untouchable, an outcast, in short—a "Bolshevik." George [Lansbury] himself, had been imprisoned by the Tories in the days when he was a Poplar Guardian, and therefore, like so many heroes of the class-struggle, a "gaol-bird."
    • Douglas Goldring, The Nineteen Twenties: A General Survey and some Personal Memories (1945)
  • It should not be forgotten that until long after Hitler was in power the Leader of the Labour Party was an out-and-out pacifist. Everybody loved old Mr. Lansbury, and nobody could possibly doubt his sincerity. And this is what he said nearly ten months after Hitler came into power: "I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and dismiss the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world 'Do your worst'." Never had the leader of a great party in this country used words so wild and irresponsible. Mr. Lansbury was a sincere and devout Christian, but it may be said with certainty that, had he been Prime Minister, there would have been no Battle of Britain seven years later.
  • Lansbury was a talented politician, speaker, and organizer. What made him remarkable was the stubbornness with which he clung to his principles... [He] became one of the best-loved and most-respected figures in the labour movement. Lansbury's legacy has been the adamantine insistence among an element within the Labour Party that Britain must stand for moral principles, must set the world a moral example. Concretely, this has meant demanding the total abolition of capitalism and unilateral disarmament, policies that Labour's leaders have usually thought utopian or worse
    • Jonathan Schneer, ‘Lansbury, George’ in Fred M. Leventhal (ed.), Twentieth-century Britain: An Encyclopedia (1995), pp. 438-440
  • Although I have listened to many of his speeches and heard him say many things with which, rightly or wrongly, I have disagreed, I think I have never heard him say anything unkind, ungenerous or unfair. His earnestness, dignity and sincerity and his faithful and even passionate devotion to the people whom he served commanded our admiration while he lived and will now enrich the traditions of Parliament.
  • 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.
    • Hannen Swaffer, Daily Herald (29 July 1935), quoted in John Shepherd, 'A Life on the Left: George Lansbury (1859—1940): A Case Study in Recent Labour Biography', Labour History, No. 87 (November 2004), p. 161
  • [David Lloyd George] said he had talked to George Lansbury in the House about Lansbury's recent visit to Hitler, and Lansbury had entirely agreed that Hitler wanted peace and to be friends with this country. ‘Lansbury talked to me very frankly. He said he was in despair in regard to his own party.’
    • A. J. Sylvester, diary entry (8 June 1937), quoted Colin Cross (ed.), Life with Lloyd George. The Diary of A. J. Sylvester 1931–45 (1975), p. 183
  • The most lovable figure in modern politics.
  • The coming of George Lansbury, whose daring rectitude expressed itself in splendid, shameless words and deeds, seemed to herald a better time.
    • Rebecca West, "The Labour Party's Treachery: Who is Lloyd George?", The Clarion (25 October 1912), quoted in Jane Marcus (ed.) The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West 1911–17
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