Arthur Greenwood
Greenwood in 1924
Paymaster General
In office
9 July 1946 – 5 March 1947
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byFrederick Lindemann
Succeeded byHilary Marquand
Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
In office
27 July 1945 – 17 April 1947
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byMax Aitken
Succeeded byPhilip Inman
Minister without Portfolio
In office
17 April 1947 – 29 September 1947
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byA. V. Alexander
Succeeded byGeoffrey FitzClarence
In office
11 May 1940 – 22 February 1942
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byMaurice Hankey
Succeeded byWilliam Jowitt
Leader of the Opposition
In office
February 1942 – 23 May 1945
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byFrederick Pethick-Lawrence
Succeeded byClement Attlee
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
26 November 1935 – 25 May 1945
LeaderClement Attlee
Preceded byClement Attlee
Succeeded byHerbert Morrison
Minister of Health
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byNeville Chamberlain
Succeeded byNeville Chamberlain
Member of Parliament
for Wakefield
In office
21 April 1932 – 9 June 1954
Preceded byGeorge Brown Hillman
Succeeded byArthur Creech Jones
Member of Parliament
for Nelson and Colne
In office
15 November 1922 – 7 October 1931
Preceded byRobinson Graham
Succeeded byLinton Thorp
Personal details
Born(1880-02-08)8 February 1880
Hunslet, Leeds, England
Died9 June 1954(1954-06-09) (aged 74)
London, England
Political partyLabour
SpouseCatherine Ainsworth
Children2, including Tony

Arthur Greenwood CH (8 February 1880 – 9 June 1954) was a British politician. A prominent member of the Labour Party from the 1920s until the late 1940s, Greenwood rose to prominence within the party as secretary of its research department from 1920 and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in the short-lived Labour government of 1924. In 1940, he was instrumental in resolving that Britain would continue fighting Nazi Germany in World War II.

Early life

Greenwood was born in Hunslet, Leeds, the son of a painter and decorator. He was educated at the Yorkshire College (which later became the University of Leeds), where he took a BSc.

Political career

Greenwood was first elected to the House of Commons at the 1922 general election for the constituency of Nelson and Colne in Lancashire. He held the seat until being defeated at the 1931 election, but returned to Parliament the following year, winning a by-election in the Yorkshire constituency of Wakefield. Greenwood continued to represent Wakefield until his death in 1954. Greenwood was an active freemason, associated with the New Welcome Lodge.[1]

In 1929, Greenwood was appointed Minister of Health, remaining in the post until the collapse of the Labour government in August 1931; he was sworn into the Privy Council at the time of his appointment. During his period at the Ministry of Health, Greenwood raised widows' pensions and through the Housing Act 1930 enacted large-scale slum clearance.

Greenwood became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party under Clement Attlee. During the 1935 General Election campaign, Greenwood attacked Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain for spending money on rearmament, saying that the rearmament policy was "the merest scaremongering; disgraceful in a statesman of Mr Chamberlain's responsible position, to suggest that more millions of money needed to be spent on armaments."[2]

On 2 September 1939, acting for Attlee who was in hospital for prostate surgery, he was called to respond to Neville Chamberlain's ambivalent speech on whether Britain would aid Poland. As he was about to speak, he was interrupted by an angry Conservative backbencher and former First Lord of the Admiralty, Leo Amery, who electrified the chamber when he exclaimed loud and clear: "Speak for England, Arthur!"[3]

A flustered Greenwood proceeded to denounce Chamberlain's remarks, to the applause of both sides of the House, in a short speech for which he is best remembered.

I am gravely disturbed. An act of aggression took place thirty-eight hours ago. The moment that act of aggression took place one of the most important treaties of modern times automatically came into operation ... I wonder how long we are prepared to vacillate at a time when Britain, and all that Britain stands for, and human civilisation are in peril.

— Arthur Greenwood, House of Commons, 2 September 1939, [4]

When the wartime coalition government was formed, Winston Churchill appointed him to the War Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio in 1940. He was generally seen as ineffectual, but in May 1940 he emerged as Churchill's strongest and most vocal supporter in the lengthy War Cabinet debates on whether to accept or reject a peace offer from Germany.[5] Without the vote in favour of fighting on by Greenwood and Clement Attlee, Churchill would not have had the slim majority he needed to do so.[6]

After that, his influence declined, and he resigned in 1943. The same year, he was elected as Treasurer of the Labour Party, beating Herbert Morrison in a close contest.[7]

From February 1942 until the end of World War II, Greenwood also performed the function of Leader of the Opposition, though he did not receive the salary.

During the Attlee government, he served successively as Lord Privy Seal and Paymaster General.


Greenwood was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 14 June 1954. His ashes and memorial lie in Bay 17 of the East Boundary Wall.


Greenwood's son Anthony Greenwood (later Lord Greenwood, 1911–1982) was an MP from 1946 until 1970, first for Heywood and Radcliffe and later for Rossendale, and a member of Harold Wilson's governments.


  1. ^ Labour History Review 2006, pp. 9–42.
  2. ^ Dutton 2001, p. 40.
  3. ^ Olson 2008.
  4. ^ Roberts 2018, p. cxli.
  5. ^ Jenkins 2012, p. 601.
  6. ^ Marr 2009, p. xvii.
  7. ^ The Economist 1943, p. 7.


Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byRobinson Graham Member of Parliament for Nelson and Colne 19221931 Succeeded byLinton Thorpe Preceded byGeorge Hillman Member of Parliament for Wakefield 19321954 Succeeded byArthur Creech Jones Political offices Preceded byNeville Chamberlain Minister of Health 1929–1931 Succeeded byNeville Chamberlain Preceded byThe Lord Hankey Minister without Portfolio 1940–1942 Succeeded bySir William Jowitt Preceded byFrederick Pethick-Lawrence Leader of the Opposition 1942–1945 Succeeded byClement Attlee Preceded byThe Lord Beaverbrook Lord Privy Seal 1945–1947 Succeeded byThe Lord Inman Preceded byVacant Paymaster General 1946–1947 Succeeded byHilary Marquand Party political offices Preceded byNew position Secretary of the Research Department of the Labour Party 1927–1941 Succeeded byMorgan Phillips Preceded byClement Attlee Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1935–1945 Succeeded byHerbert Morrison Preceded byGeorge Lathan Treasurer of the Labour Party 1943–1954 Succeeded byHugh Gaitskell Preceded byHarry Earnshaw Chair of the Labour Party 1952–1953 Succeeded byWilfrid Burke