He was one of the early members of the Fabian Society in 1884, along with G. Bernard Shaw (they joined three months after its inception). Along with Beatrice, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Edward R. Pease, Hubert Bland, and Sidney Olivier, Shaw and Webb turned the Fabian Society into the pre-eminent political-intellectual society of England in the Edwardian era and beyond.
Webb was born in London to a professional family. He studied law at the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution for a degree of the University of London in his spare time, while holding down an office job. In 1895 he helped to establish the London School of Economics, using a bequest left to the Fabian Society. He was appointed its Professor of Public Administration in 1912, a post which he held for fifteen years. In 1892, Webb married Beatrice Potter, who shared his interests and beliefs. The money she brought with her enabled him to give up his clerical job and concentrate on his other activities.
Both were members of the Labour Party and took an active role in politics. Sidney became MP for Seaham at the 1922 general election. The couple's influence can be seen in their hosting of the Coefficients, a dining club which attracted some of the leading statesmen and thinkers of the day.
In 1929, he was created Baron Passfield. He served as both Secretary of State for the Colonies and Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in Ramsay MacDonald second Labour Government in 1929. As Colonial Secretary he issued the Passfield White Paper revising the government's policy in Palestine, previously set by the Churchill White Paper of 1922. In 1930 failing health caused him to step down as Dominions Secretary, but he stayed on as Colonial Secretary till the fall of the Labour government in August 1931.
The Webbs were supporters of the Soviet Union until their deaths. Their books, Soviet Communism: A new civilization? (1935) and The Truth About Soviet Russia (1942) have been widely criticized for adopting a largely uncritical view of Stalin's conduct during periods that witnessed a brutal process of agricultural collectivization as well as extensive purges and the creation of the gulag system.
Webb co-authored, with his wife, a pivotal book on the History of Trade Unionism (1894).
In H.G. Wells's The New Machiavelli (1911), the Webbs, as 'the Baileys', are unmercifully lampooned as short-sighted, bourgeois manipulators. The Fabian Society, of which Wells was briefly a member (1903-08), fares no better in his estimation.
Works by Sidney and Beatrice Webb