Generation: D

George Buchanan, M.P.

Born: 1890 Died: 1955
Father: George Buchanan, I
Mother: Ann Mackay

Annie McNee

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Quoted from Glasgow Herald May 13th 1967. Article by Colm Brogan on Glasgow in the Aftermath of the First World War.

"George Buchanan achieved an unexpected success with the Speaker of the House of Commons, who showed him such marked, paternal consideration that other members were annoyed. When it emerged that the 'young Apollo golden haired' was rising 40, laughter was loud and not altogether kind. When Geordie was asked to speak to the University Labour Club he refused, saying, "I would be too extreme for youse".

He was about as extreme as the Meridian of Greenwich. It is doubtful if he ever read a book of serious ideological content in his life, and not at all certain that he read anything much, except 'Sporting Life'. With his keen interest in horse racing, billiards and poker he made a refreshing change from the Old Morality puritanism of his collegues.

The concept of party loyalty had never crossed Geordie's innocent mind. He was once privately asked why he did not bear his own witness and defy the Whips. He answered with noble simplicity, "I am too old to go back to my trade".

He was a zealous constituency member, though his private opinion of the social habits of some of his supporters might have been considered unduly severe by the most hide-bound Tory".

This article is illustrated by a fine photo of George addressing an out of doors meeting at Saltcoats. He stands up erect, well-dressed, with his left hand in his pocket, and his right fist high above his red head, mouth wide open, facing his audience, with directness of gesture. His trousers are well creased in a straight line...pressed or ironed?

I only had the pleasure of meeting him once, and that was when he was in charge of the Public Assistance Board, around perhaps 1953. He had arrived in Wolverhampton with a retinue of Civil Servants to inspect Newcross Hospital here. I got a phone call, a wonderful Glasgow voice at the other end asking if I recognised the accent! And then declaring the identity of the owner. He positively could not come for lunch, but could we meet him after lunch? Of course we did, at the local Victoria Hotel, Margaret and I. We had a marvellous half hour or so. I forget what we talked about now - but it was all most enjoyable.

He was a most pleasing personality, with a fine smile, red hair, quick wit, talkative, full of fun and spirit. I should say "high spirits" for we were not drinking, only coffee, I think. He could not stay longer. He could not promise to come to stay. He was so busy, truly, with his public engagements.

We were so sorry not to have the chance of seeing him again.

Frank Macdonald only met George once. He had called at George's house in Glasgow to seek support for a headmastership for his brother Alec. The house was full of people, some 20 waiting for an interview with George. Frank sent in his card, indicating who he was, and George came out. Frank was very well received, and George offered help, and indeed did his best. But Labour politics were rotten in some ways, and a well-known Labour Chairman of the Selection Committee revoked on his promise of support, and Alec did not get the job.

I wrote some notes about him a while ago: George was a very lively member of the Glasgow Town Council. Then he became M.P. for Gorbals for over 20 years, holding this constituency with majorities which once approached 30,000. He was a leader of the Pattern-makers Union for years, and a Director of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. He was witty, jovial, could play a part, had a red head. He was one of 7 Glasgow M.P.s who as extreme socialists gave the City a reputation for unrest, which persisted for years. He was once carried out of the House of Commons, struggling. He became a master of procedure there. When he resigned from Parliament to become Chairman of the National Assistance Board (at 5000 per annum) Churchill paid him a high compliment in the House, and this was echoed in the Press. He was a real demagogue. Was married but had no children.

He died in June 1955, I think.

Extracts from "The Clydesiders", a Left Wind Struggle for Parliamentary Power, by R.K. Middlemas. Hutchinson and Co. London 1965. re George Buchanan.

p 7. The best known of the Clydesiders - represent what a modern sociologist calls "a genuinely popular local leadership based largely on manual workers - more fully developed in Scotland than in the South".

p 8. "High Explosive! Handle carefully". G.B. had illuminated on a button on his coat for the triumphal send-off from Glasgow for Westminster.

p 51. Much more violent, sometimes uncontrollable, was the young G.B., a pattern-maker from Gorbals whose political activities were confined to heckling and general disruption.

p 81. G.B., the crude but sincere champion of the Gorbals Poor.

p 121. None of them was disposed much to mingle in the social life of Members of Parliament, nor had they the money to dine in the House. The more deliberately proletarian such as G.B. and Newbold made a virtue of this and of snubs to political hostesses, such as Lady Astor.

p 165. Debate on a Government Bill in the House held up by G.B.'s advocacy. A week later the whole ILP group travelled North in a gay mood for G.B.'s wedding. (i.e. 1924).

p 205. Nov. 1927. G.B. suspended with Maxton for calling the Chairman of Ways and Means Committee "damned unfair".

p 255. On 15th July in Committee of the Bill, the 12 members, including G.B. spoke in relays during one of the longest all-night sittings then on record until 10 a.m. the next day. They called 32 Divisions against the Government, and largely due to G.B.'s expert knowledge won a few concessions from an exhausted Minister.

p 275. G.B. joined the Labour Party.

p 278. re James Maxton. He shone all the more by comparison with his 3 colleagues of whom only G.B. possessed a good Parliamentary personality.

p 279. So long as Maxton was alive the ILP preserved its Glasgow flavour but it lost a great deal when Buchanan returned to the Labour Party. His speech on the setting up of the Royal Commission on Unemployment confirmed a reputation which grew steadily during the years of the Depression. Pleading with the National Government "not to create a new class of untouchables", by using the Means Test, he stated his belief that the unemployed should be treated, not on the basis of their contributions to social services, but as casualties of industrial society and relieved regardless of their contributions. "A rude, strong man of passions, full of emotion which may be regarded as either love or hate, an emotion centred on a limited object - bestowed only on the working class" he was accepted by the Labour Party and sometimes by the Government as the spokesman for the Unemployed.

p 280. Parliamentary success brought him difficulties with the ILP. He was their spokesman when Baldwin refused to see McShane and Hannington, leaders of the great Hunger March of 1934, but two years later he refused to support the second United Front programme in spite of an ultimatum from the Glasgow ILP. Because he would have nothing to do with the Communists he was stigmatised for disloyalty and if it had not been for his peculiar and violent loathing for MacDonald he might then have left the ILP. He remained a close friend of Maxton and supported him at the time of the Abdication when Maxton attacked the Monarchy and demanded a republic. The break came with Munich and he rejoined the Labour Party shortly afterwards. In 1945 Attlee offered him the Ministry of National Insurance. With rare humility he declined on grounds of inadequacy and offered the safe seat of Gorbals if the Prime Minister should need it. Instead he received a junior post (I think it was for Housing in Scotland. RLM). He became Minister of Pensions in 1947, and from 1949-53 as Chairman of the National Assistance Board helped to introduce into that Department the humanity, humour and concern for the individual learned in forty years of Gorbals politics.

Who's Who 1953: "Right honorable George Buchanan. P.C. 1948. Chairman National Assistance Board since 1948. Born Gorbals 30 Nov. 1890. Son of George Buchanan, Kilberry, Argyll. M 1924 Annie McNee. Educ. Camden St. School, Glasgow. Town Councillor 1918-1923. M.P. Labour Gorbals 1922-48. Chairman United Pattern-makers Assocn. 1932-48. Late member of I.L.P. Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State 1945-47. Minister of Pensions 47-48. 19, Chiltern Court, Baker Street. N.W.1. T. Welbeck 5544."

(Had he no mother? RLM)

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