George Lansbury (1859−1940) was a lifelong socialist and supporter of women’s rights, along with his wife, daughters, sons and daughters-in-law.
‘There are working women... No one will want to argue that these women have undertaken this imprisonment, and the torture of forcible feeding merely for the fun of the thing or merely to get notoriety.’ George Lansbury, speaking in the House of Commons, 22 May 1912
On entering the Commons in 1910, Lansbury quickly affirmed his support for women’s suffrage and for women campaigners, however militant their actions. However in November 1912, frustrated by the Labour Party’s position on the issue, he decided to resign his seat and seek re-election as a women’s suffrage candidate.
Lansbury’s campaign was enthusiastically supported by all the major women’s suffrage societies. However, in the wider Labour Party and the press, attitudes were divided and often hostile. His behaviour was described as ‘quixotic’. The by-election resulted in a narrow victory for the Unionist (Conservative) Party. Lansbury did not regain the seat until 1922 and served until his death in 1940.
Lansbury continued to support the women’s cause after his defeat in 1912. He defended escalating suffragette militancy and criticised the treatment of suffrage prisoners under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. In 1913, Lansbury was accused of ‘inciting to crime’and imprisoned. He went on hunger strike but, after vehement complaint from MPs, was quickly released, ironically, under the conditions of the Act he had so passionately condemned.
‘I believe that this fight for women’s enfranchisement is the biggest fight socially that is going on in our country’. George Lansbury, November 1912.