Shepherd, John 1942–

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Shepherd, John 1942–

PERSONAL:

Born May 5, 1942.

CAREER:

Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge, England, senior research associate in history.

WRITINGS:

Picture Panorama of British History, Owlet Books (London, England), 1976.

(Editor, with Chris Wrigley) On the Move: Essays in Labour and Transport History, Presented to Philip Bagwell, Hambledon Press (Rio Grande, OH), 1991.

George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Keith Laybourn) Britain's First Labour Government, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

John Shepherd's book George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour is a biography of a pioneering figure in British socialist and Labour politics. Lansbury was born in 1859, reared as a Radical, and became a national organizer for the Marxist Social Democratic Federation in 1895. Several years later he joined the newly formed Independent Labour Party and later still, he became a member of the House of Commons. He advocated for the poor and the unemployed, and he was a leading male proponent of women's suffrage, who was once expelled from the House for insulting the antisuffrage prime minister. Lansbury's belief in the cause led to more militant behavior; he resigned from the House and was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace and advocating illegal behavior. In jail he began a hunger strike, and was quietly released shortly thereafter. In 1921 he returned to jail for inciting a strike in which his East London constituency refused to pay taxes to the London City Council. Instead, they wanted the money to benefit the unemployed workers in the area.

In part, Lansbury spread his socialist and pacifist views through his newspaper, the Daily Herald, which he edited. So strong were these views that he even opposed British involvement in World War I, a wildly popular war even among socialists and Labourites. By the early 1930s, Lansbury became the leader of the Labour Party by happenstance, and for a time his charisma outweighed his unpopular pacifist ideas. When Fascists became powerful in Europe, Lansbury advocated disbanding Britain's army and navy altogether, earning the everlasting enmity of many people, including Winston Churchill. He subsequently resigned and traveled the world, meeting with heads of state, including Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, V.I. Lenin, and Benito Mussolini, in hopes of convening a worldwide conference of "have" nations and "have-not" nations. He died in 1940, shortly before Germany bombed Britain.

Reviewing the book in Albion, Jonathan Schneer praised the author's research, which included inter- viewing remaining friends and acquaintances of Lansbury (including Lansbury's granddaughter, the actress Angela Lansbury) and obtaining primary documents never before seen by historians. "Shepherd's expert knowledge puts him in a position to cast light on little known aspects of Lansbury's career," Schneer wrote. "To review John Shepherd's biography is to remind oneself of a politics, a movement and a historical context that seem irretrievably lost, for George Lansbury was one of the great exponents of the ‘religion of socialism,’ which has little purchase today," Schneer concluded. George Wedd of the Contemporary Review agreed that the "biography is a solid and detailed work, clearly and competently written," and Chris Wrigley, writing in Albion, called it a "splendid, very readable yet most scholarly study of a major figure in early twentieth-century British political history."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Albion, spring, 2004, Chris Wrigley, review of George Lansbury: At the Heart of Old Labour, p. 178.

Contemporary Review, June, 2003, George Wedd, review of George Lansbury, p. 373.

Economic History Review, May, 1993, Charles More, review of On the Move: Essays in Labour and Transport History, Presented to Philip Bagwell, p. 416.

English Historical Review, April, 2004, Jon Lawrence, review of George Lansbury, p. 561.

History, February, 1994, Gordon Phillips, review of On the Move, p. 102.

History: Review of New Books, spring, 2003, John P. Rossi, review of George Lansbury, p. 110.

History Today, November, 2002, Robert Pearce, review of George Lansbury, p. 79.

Journal of Modern History, September, 2005, Susan D. Pennybacker, review of George Lansbury, p. 782.

New Statesman, January 20, 2003, David Marquand, review of George Lansbury, p. 46.

Women's History Review, spring, 2004, John K. Walton, review of George Lansbury, p. 156.

ONLINE

H-Albion,http://www.h-net.org/~albion/ (August, 2005), Jonathan Schneer, review of George Lansbury.