The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, delivered this year’s Memorial Lecture, organised by the George Lansbury Memorial Trust, in honour of the former Labour leader at Queen Mary University of London on Wednesday 18 November.
Reflecting on someone Mr Khan described as “a big figure in the Labour movement”, he spoke of Lansbury’s role in local government and also of his status as a true advocate for localism and gender equality. The Mayor highlighted particularly Lansbury’s time in local government as the period of his political career he most admired.
The event marked the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion. A key event in London’s history, the tax protest was led by George Lansbury and according to Mr Khan “changed local government in our country forever.”
The protest led to major reforms that improved the lives of many poor Londoners. Mr Khan noted that “George Lansbury saw the first-hand benefits of municipal socialism, which is something I'm passionate about too.”
Building on this landmark event, Mr Khan stressed the importance of further devolution, both to the future of Labour and society as a whole.
Climate change was one major issue that was brought into the spotlight. “When you compare national governments to cities, the difference in taking bold climate action is striking – national governments are the delayers while we, the cities, are the doers,” said Mr Khan.
To this point, Mr Khan stated to his audience that local regional government is already leading the way in many areas, also discussing cities’ roles in tackling extremism. “Just imagine what we could do with more funding and more powers. There's so much potential to be unleashed but we can't do it without being unshackled,” he said.
Discussing the Labour Party’s fortunes, Mr Khan added how telling it was that Labour did so well in the last General Election in areas where it had local leaders showing the difference they can make to people's lives. He remarked that the Party could build on this success with further devolution. Returning to the figure of George Lansbury, and his status as a real pioneer of localism, Mr Khan argued that, 100 years on from the Poplar Rates Rebellion, “it's something that's needed now more than ever.”
The lecture was concluded with a call from Mr Khan to fully utilise cities and localism: “It's time to embrace the pivotal role that cities and localism can play in creating cleaner, fairer societies.”
Mr Khan was also interviewed by Dr Aoife Monks, Reader in Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies and Queen Mary’s Arts and Culture academic lead. In a wide-ranging conversation, he remarked how lucky students from outside of London are to be at Queen Mary with its unparalleled diversity and inclusivity. This, he said, provides huge advantage and opportunity in what students can learn outside of the lecture theatre.
The George Lansbury Memorial Trust was founded in 2012 to commemorate the life, work and legacy of George Lansbury (1859-1940). A pioneering campaigner for peace, women's rights, local democracy and improvements in labour conditions, Lansbury was an adopted East Ender who made a great contribution to local as well as national life.
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