Clement Attlee

Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS (3 January 1883  8 October 1967) was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He was Deputy Prime Minister during the wartime coalition government under Winston Churchill, and served twice as Leader of the Opposition from 1935 to 1940 and from 1951 to 1955.


The Earl Attlee

Portrait by Yousuf Karsh, c.1945
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
26 July 1945  26 October 1951
MonarchGeorge VI
DeputyHerbert Morrison
Preceded byWinston Churchill
Succeeded byWinston Churchill
Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 October 1951  25 November 1955
Monarch
Prime Minister
Preceded byWinston Churchill
Succeeded byHerbert Morrison
In office
25 October 1935  11 May 1940
Monarch
Prime Minister
Preceded byGeorge Lansbury
Succeeded byHastings Lees-Smith
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
25 October 1935  7 December 1955
Deputy
Preceded byGeorge Lansbury
Succeeded byHugh Gaitskell
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
25 October 1932  25 October 1935
LeaderGeorge Lansbury
Preceded byJ. R. Clynes
Succeeded byArthur Greenwood
Wartime ministerial offices
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
19 February 1942  23 May 1945
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byHerbert Morrison
Lord President of the Council
In office
28 September 1943  23 May 1945
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded bySir John Anderson
Succeeded byThe Lord Woolton
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
In office
15 February 1942  24 September 1943
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byThe Viscount Cranborne
Succeeded byThe Viscount Cranborne
Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
In office
12 May 1940  15 February 1942
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byKingsley Wood
Succeeded byStafford Cripps
Interwar ministerial offices
Postmaster General
In office
13 March 1931  25 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byHastings Lees-Smith
Succeeded byWilliam Ormsby-Gore
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
23 May 1930  13 March 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byOswald Mosley
Succeeded byThe Lord Ponsonby
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War
In office
23 January 1924  4 November 1924
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilfrid Ashley
Succeeded byRichard Onslow
Parliamentary offices
Member of the House of Lords
Hereditary peerage
25 January 1956  8 October 1967
Preceded byEarldom created
Succeeded byThe 2nd Earl Attlee
Member of Parliament
for Walthamstow West
In office
23 February 1950  16 December 1955
Preceded byValentine McEntee
Succeeded byEdward Redhead
Member of Parliament
for Limehouse
In office
15 November 1922  3 February 1950
Preceded byWilliam Pearce
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born
Clement Richard Attlee

(1883-01-03)3 January 1883
Putney, Surrey, England
Died8 October 1967(1967-10-08) (aged 84)
Westminster, London, England
Resting placeWestminster Abbey
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)
(m. 1922; died 1964)
Children4
Son
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford
Occupation
  • Politician
  • Barrister
  • Lecturer
  • Social Worker
  • Soldier
Military service
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1914–1919
RankMajor
Unit
Battles/wars
Awards

Attlee was born into an upper-middle-class family, the son of a wealthy London solicitor. After attending the public school Haileybury College and the University of Oxford, he practised as a barrister. The volunteer work he carried out in London's East End exposed him to poverty and his political views shifted leftwards thereafter. He joined the Independent Labour Party, gave up his legal career, and began lecturing at the London School of Economics. His work was interrupted by service as an officer in the First World War. In 1919, he became mayor of Stepney and in 1922 was elected Member of Parliament for Limehouse. Attlee served in the first Labour minority government led by Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, and then joined the Cabinet during MacDonald's second minority (1929–1931). After retaining his seat in Labour's landslide defeat of 1931, he became the party's Deputy Leader. Elected Leader of the Labour Party in 1935, and at first advocating pacificism and opposing re-armament, he became a critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini in the lead-up to the Second World War. Attlee took Labour into the wartime coalition government in 1940 and served under Winston Churchill, initially as Lord Privy Seal and then as Deputy Prime Minister from 1942.[note 1]

Following the end of World War II in Europe, the coalition was dissolved and Attlee led Labour to a landslide victory at the 1945 general election,[note 2] forming the first Labour majority government. His government's Keynesian approach to economic management aimed to maintain full employment, a mixed economy and a greatly enlarged system of social services provided by the state. To this end, it undertook the nationalisation of public utilities and major industries, and implemented wide-ranging social reforms, including the passing of the National Insurance Act 1946 and National Assistance Act, the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, and the enlargement of public subsidies for council house building. His government also reformed trade union legislation, working practices and children's services; it created the National Parks system, passed the New Towns Act 1946 and established the town and country planning system.

In foreign policy, Attlee delegated to Ernest Bevin, but oversaw the partition of India (1947), the independence of Burma and Ceylon, and the dissolution of the British mandates of Palestine and Transjordan. He and Bevin encouraged the United States to take a vigorous role in the Cold War; unable to afford military intervention in Greece, he called on Washington to counter Communists there, establishing the Truman Doctrine.[1] He supported the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe with American money and, in 1949, promoted the NATO military alliance against the Soviet bloc. After leading Labour to a narrow victory at the 1950 general election, he sent British troops to fight in the Korean War.[note 3]

Attlee had inherited a country close to bankruptcy after the Second World War and beset by food, housing and resource shortages; despite his social reforms and economic programme, these problems persisted throughout his premiership, alongside recurrent currency crises and dependence on US aid. His party was narrowly defeated by the Conservatives in the 1951 general election, despite winning the most votes. He continued as Labour leader but retired after losing the 1955 election and was elevated to the House of Lords; he died in 1967. In public, he was modest and unassuming, but behind the scenes his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity and pragmatism proved decisive. Often rated as one of the greatest British prime ministers, Attlee's reputation among scholars has grown, thanks to his creation of the modern welfare state and involvement in building the coalition against Joseph Stalin in the Cold War. He remains the longest-serving Labour leader in British history.