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George Nicoll Barnes CH PC (2 January 1859 – 21 April 1940) was a Scottish politician and a leader of the Labour Party.

Barnes was born in Lochee, Dundee, the second of five sons of James Barnes, a skilled engineer and mill manager from Yorkshire, and his wife, Catherine Adam Langlands. The family moved back to England and settled at Ponders End in Middlesex, where his father managed a jute mill in which George himself began working at the age of eleven, after attending a church school at Enfield Highway. He then spent two years as an engineering apprentice, first at Powis James of Lambeth then at Parker's foundry, Dundee. After finishing his apprenticeship he worked for two years at the Vickers shipyard in Barrow before returning once again to the London area, where he experienced unemployment during the slump of 1879. He had a number of short-term jobs before settling for eight years at Lucas and Airds in Fulham. In 1882 he married Jessie, daughter of Thomas Langlands, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

During his time in London Barnes became an active member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (serving as its General Secretary), a committed member of the co-operative movement, and a keen if moderate socialist, which led him to join the Independent Labour Party on its foundation in 1893. At the 1895 general election he stood unsuccessfully for the Independent Labour Party in Rochdale. He was elected as MP for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown at the 1906 general election for the Labour Party. He sat for that constituency until it was abolished for the 1918 general election, and thereafter sat for Glasgow Gorbals until he stood down at the 1922 election.

He was leader of the Labour Party from 14 February 1910 to 6 February 1911. He was Minister of Pensions (1916-1917) and Minister without Portfolio (1917-1920) under David Lloyd George. In 1918 the Labour Party decided to leave the Lloyd George Coalition but Barnes refused to resign. As a result he was expelled from the Labour Party and founded the National Democratic Party. After resigning as a minister early in 1920 he played no further significant role in British politics. In March 1920 he was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for his ministerial services. He quit politics when the Labour Party announced that it would again field a candidate against him in the general election of 1922. As it was clear that the tide would turn strongly towards the official Labour candidates throughout Glasgow, and as he had no wish to serve in any other party, he decided to withdraw from his seat.

Barnes had a long and active retirement, continuing to support the International Labour Organization, serving as chairman of the Co-operative Printing Society, and publishing several books, including his autobiography, From Workshop to War Cabinet (1923), and a History of the International Labour Office (1926). He was a pleasant-looking, mild-mannered man, but little is known about his private life; one of his sons was killed during the First World War. He died in 1940 at his London home, and was buried in Fulham Cemetery.


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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Andrew Bonar Law
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Glasgow Gorbals
Succeeded by
George Buchanan
Political offices
Preceded by
John Burns
General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Arthur Henderson
Leader of the British Labour Party
Succeeded by
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by
New Post
Minister of Pensions
Succeeded by
John Hodge
Preceded by
Arthur Henderson
Minister Without Portfolio representing Organised Labour
Succeeded by
Last incumbent


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