Posts Tagged ‘George Lansbury’

MPs are acting now on Corbyn to escape the cycle of defeat which dominates Labour’s history

29/06/2016, 09:00:54 PM

by Frederick Cowell

“Michael there are people who are going out to fight the election who won’t be coming back….” Gerald Kaufmann said “I implore you stand aside from the leadership.” Michael Foot listened carefully and then somewhat apologetically lent forward in his chair and said, “I’m sorry Gerald I just can’t do that.”

It was February 1983 – four months later went down to its second largest General Election defeat in history. From Attlee in 1954 to Brown in January 2010 the same conversation has been had – ‘we’re going to lose, your leadership is taking us there.’

History creates odd prisms through which to view things. It is hard to remember that there was once a Post-Miliband – Pre-Corbyn period in the Labour party. But that period was an attempt to confront the conversation that has dogged Labour’s history.

Less than 10 days after the 2015 general election the Labour leader in the House of Lords said that party needed a break clause with their new leader in 2018. A day later the Guardian called for a two-year interim leader and suggested Alan Johnson for the role.

Alastair Campbell warned a week later that he would step in and remove any failing leader after three years and although this provoked a scornful reaction from John Prescott, Campbell stood his ground.

“If only the rest of Labour wanted to win as badly as he did” tweeted the FT’s political correspondent Jannan Ganesh.

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Labour history uncut: Ernie Bevin “hammers George Lansbury to death” and changes the course of party history

02/01/2014, 02:18:31 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Labour might have spent most of 1934 duelling between the leadership and the Socialist League but it didn’t seem to cause too much harm at the ballot box. The party picked up two seats from the Conservatives in by-elections, they nicked one from the Liberals and they also beat the splitters of the ILP to win back Merthyr – a great boost to the party’s Scrabble score.

In a world without opinion polls, these by-election successes seemed to point the way to a Labour resurgence at the next election, expected sometime in late 1935.

The case for optimism was boosted in June 1935 when the ailing Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald retired, to be replaced by Tory Stanley Baldwin.

Although the Labour movement was agreed that Macdonald was Satan incarnate, the rest of the country couldn’t see the horns and pitchfork and he had remained popular as the head of the national government. With his resignation, the government’s fake moustache and glasses were removed and it suddenly looked like the Tory outfit it had been all along.

Everything was falling into place. The election would now be a clear choice between the Tories and Labour.  Yes the Liberals were lurking around too, but everyone just assumed they’d support whoever won to form a majority government because, well, Liberals right?

But beneath the surface trouble was being stirred up for the party by, oddly enough, Benito Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini gazes into the future, fails to spot the meat-hooks

Benito Mussolini gazes into the future, fails to spot the meat-hooks

Over the past two years, fascism had spread across Europe. The prospect of international conflict topped the political agenda and Mussolini’s threats to forcibly plant spaghetti trees throughout Abyssinia brought matters to a head.

This was the defining issue of the day. And on it, Labour was conflicted.

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Labour history uncut: A party caught in two minds

12/11/2013, 11:53:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By late 1932 the recession had become a depression. Unemployment was stuck at 3 million and more austerity seemed the government’s only answer.

The communists responded through their National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM), which was like a union for the unemployed, with the slight drawback that when they went on strike, nobody could tell. The NUWM organised hunger marches to highlight the plight of the workless.

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

The government reacted by doing some organising of their own, arranging for 70,000 policemen to meet the hunger marchers and welcome them to London.

For its part, the Parliamentary Labour Party organised to stay in that evening with a cup of tea, peeking through the office curtains at the ensuing violence and hoping those nasty communists would just go away.

No such luck.

The deteriorating economic situation had helped membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) surge from 2,300 in 1930 to 9,000 by the end of 1932.

Meanwhile in Germany, the election in January 1933 of new chancellor with a hilarious Charlie Chaplin moustache and a less hilarious set of beliefs, led many on the left to seek common cause with the communists.

Moscow agreed, recognising an opportunity when they saw one.

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Labour history uncut: Bye bye ILP

13/10/2013, 05:23:31 PM

by Peter Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the October 1931 election, the Labour party survivors surveyed the smoking battlefield and counted the casualties.

Labour in Parliament had been almost entirely wiped out. Every member of the cabinet was gone, apart from the old stager George Lansbury and a young chap called Clement Attlee.

The men who had founded the Labour party had been removed wholesale from the leadership of the movement. And just for good measure, most of their most immediate successors had been culled too.

So, thanks to his unique qualification of ‘still being there’, 72 year old George Lansbury, seemed the natural, choice to take up the reins of leadership.

George Lansbury looks forward to having loads of space in the PLP common room

So imagine his surprise when, in a mark of the deep suspicion the party harboured for the emotional Lansbury, Arthur Henderson was elected unopposed as Labour leader despite not even being an MP.

Lansbury, for his part, became PLP chairman.

In practice however, the parliamentary platform meant the elderly Lansbury increasingly assumed the role of de facto leader over the even more elderly Henderson. This was partly because Henderson himself was often abroad, becoming more and more pre-occupied with international disarmament and the idea that Socialism wouldn’t be much use if Europe had been bombed to a charred ruin first.

More significantly for the party’s future was the appointment of Clement Attlee as Lansbury’s deputy chair in parliament.

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Labour history uncut: Labour sets a new record for by-election losses

09/01/2013, 12:21:31 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“Do something!”

This was the message to Ramsay Macdonald from the unhappy troops in his the party. Having become leader in 1911, Macdonald had arrived to find the workers of the nation ready for a Millwall wave of industrial unrest rippling across dockers, miners and rail-workers. This was like a Mexican wave, but with less cheering and more broken noses.

It left Macdonald in a tricky position as, at the same time as being the representatives of the working man, he was determined to establish Labour as a “respectable” party (as opposed to a Respect party, which is something different). Consequently, he was less than keen to be seen to be on the side of rioters and militant strikers.

As part of his plan to establish Labour, Macdonald had operated an informal electoral pact with the Liberals since 1903, each giving the other a clear run at the Tories. For Labour it had helped build the parliamentary party to 42 seats.

With the Liberals now in government, it also meant Labour could get scraps of their legislation through in return for continued support.

While this did rather make them the dog at the Liberal party banquet, that was of more practical benefit than being the starving man outside, watching everybody else eat.

But on the other hand, who wants to be a dog, aside from people with a burning desire to lick their own genitals? Certainly not the party rank and file, who quite reasonably felt that being on the side of the workers sort of came with the job description for Labour – the clue is in the name after all.

If all Labour was doing was backing the Liberals, what was the point of setting up a different party in the first place?

So Macdonald subtly shifted strategy. He didn’t turn his full rhetorical fire on the government, but he did change the approach on by-elections. After 1911, Labour’s leadership exercised a little more willingness to run candidates where a Liberal was standing.

Partially Macdonald’s hand was forced by pressure from within the party, but there was also merit in gauging Labour’s strength. Even if they didn’t beat the Liberals, a strong electoral showing might strengthen his hand when negotiating with the government – after all the Liberals weren’t even the largest party.

So, between 1911 and summer 1914, out of 50 by-elections in Liberal seats, Labour contested an unprecedented 14 seats.

“Say ‘cheese’? Whilst workers are starving? Never.” ’William Cornforth Robinson, Labour candidate in the 1911 Oldham by-election

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George Lansbury: the unsung father of blue Labour

08/05/2011, 09:57:43 AM

Below we reproduce Jon Cruddas’ speech at George Lansbury’s recent plaque unveiling, with Angela Lansbury, in Bow.

by Jon Cruddas

Thank you very much. It is great to be with you all this afternoon. We are here to celebrate the life of one of the true heroes of the Labour party: George Lansbury. A man who was – to quote the great historian AJP Taylor – “the most lovable figure in British politics”.

We as a party are really only beginning to understand the true significance of the man and of his leadership of the party; a process of rehabilitation is underway yet is far from complete.

I think of Lansbury as arguably the greatest ever Labour leader. Not in an empirical sense in terms of elections won – he never faced the electorate in a general election as our leader.

Raymond Postgate wrote after George had resigned – and two weeks later an election was called – that “now they had lost their only popular leader, it was enough to wreck the labour men’s hopes of a victory”.

Irrespective of this, to have a third Labour government in 1945, or Wilson’s and Callaghan’s governments of the 60s and 70s – or Blair and Brown’s of more recent years – you had to have a party for them  to inherit and subsequently lead; indeed from which to govern.

This is part of Lansbury’s legacy – to quote George Thomas

“He not only saved the soul of the party, he saved the party. We could have sunk into oblivion and the Liberals could have been reborn”.

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