Hastings Lees-Smith


Hastings Lees-Smith

Hastings Bertrand Lees-Smith (January 26, 1878December 18, 1941) was a United Kingdom Labour politician who was briefly in the Cabinet in 1931. He was the acting Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party (as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party) from 1940 during the time Clement Attlee was in government.

Family background

Lees-Smith was from an Army family; his father was a Major in the Royal Artillery, and he was born in India. He was educated Aldenham School, as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and The Queen's College, Oxford. Rejecting a military career for himself he chose academia and was appointed as a Lecturer in Public Administration at the London School of Economics in 1906; he remained there throughout his political career. He was also Chairman of the Executive Committee of Ruskin College, Oxford from 1907 to 1909. He resigned on appointment as Professor of Public Administration at the University of Bristol. In 1909 he went on an extended tour of India to lecture at Bombay on economics and advise on economics teaching; as a result of his experiences he wrote "Studies in Indian Economics".

Liberal MP

At the January 1910 general election Lees-Smith was elected as a Liberal for the two-member Northampton constituency. Unlike his fellow Northampton MP Charles McCurdy, Lees-Smith allied with Herbert Asquith rather than David Lloyd George in the Liberal split during the First World War, and as a consequence was not offered support by the Coalition in the 1918 general election. Rather than defend Northampton (which had been reduced to one member), he moved to the new Don Valley constituency but lost to a Coalition-supported National Democratic and Labour Party candidate. Indicating his estrangement from the Liberal Party, he fought as an 'Independent Radical' although he had been adopted by the local Liberal association.

Labour Party

In 1919 Lees-Smith joined the Labour Party. He was picked as Labour candidate for Keighley and won the seat in the 1922 general election, profiting from a divided opposition. He was a noted speaker on banking and on reform of the House of Lords about which he wrote several books including "Second Chambers in Theory and Practice" (1923). Unfortunately for Lees-Smith, the Conservatives stood down in the 1923 general election and he was defeated by the Liberal candidate; this defeat prevented him from being appointed as a Minister in the first Labour government.

Ministerial office

The collapse of the Liberal Party in the 1924 general election meant that Lees-Smith was able to win his seat back and he was swiftly appointed to a front-bench role. When Labour returned to office in 1929 he was made Postmaster-General where he defended the nationalised Post Office and tried to smarten up the Post Office counters. In a reshuffle in March 1931 he was promoted to President of the Board of Education. He had only a brief time in office before the government fell, and Lees-Smith refused to follow Ramsay Macdonald into the National Government.

Defeated again in 1931, Lees-Smith again won his seat back in 1935. He served on the front bench but was not invited by Winston Churchill to join the Coalition government in 1940; as one of the most senior Labour figures not in office, the responsibilities of running the party were given to him. In his partisan role he strongly supported Churchill's conduct as war leader at a time when the war did not always run in the Allies' favour.

References

* Obituary, "The Times", December 19, 1941


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