Clement Attlee

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Clement Attlee
Term of office
1945 - 1951
Political party Labour Party
Preceded by Winston Churchill
Succeeded by Winston Churchill
Born January 3, 1883
Died October 8, 1967
Religion Anglican

The Right Honorable Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee (3 January 1883 - 8 October 1967) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951. He was a member of the Labour Party, and is remembered as the leader of the strongly socialist government that was elected in the aftermath of World War II. During the war, he served as Winston Churchill's Deputy Prime Minister.


Attlee, the son of a prosperous lawyer, was born in Putney, a middle-class London suburb, in 1883. Educated at University College, Oxford, he was admitted to the bar in 1905 and practised law in London. An intellectual, he was converted to socialism by reading the works of John Ruskin and William Morris. In 1913-1923 he taught social science at the London School of Economics. He served in the First World War as a major in the Tank Corps; he was badly wounded and recovered. His political career began in 1919 with election as mayor of Stepney.


Attless was a born parliamentarian, paying close attention to rules and procedures. He held a large number of secondary and major posts before becoming Prime Minister in 1951.

He was elected to Parliament in 1922 as Labour Party member for Stepney and in 1924 he was made Undersecretary of State for War. In 1927 Attlee was a member of the Indian Statutory Commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon, and since he supported self-government for India he dissented from the report of the Joint Select Committee in 1933.

He joined Ramsay MacDonald's Labour cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1929-1931 (that is, he was minister without portfolio and did not run a department). He became Postmaster General in 1931. Along with most Labour MP's, he broke with Ramsay MacDonald when the Macdonald joined with the Conservatives to form the National Coalition government in 1931.

Attlee was one of the few Labour MPs to save his seat in the 1931 Conservative landslide; he became deputy leader of the Labour party under George Lansbury. In 1935 Lansbury retired and Attlee became leader of the opposition.

Attlee opposed the policy of neutrality in the Spanish Civil War because he wanted Britain to help the left-wing side and defeat Franco. He visited the Communist-controlled International Brigades in Spain in 1937 to show his solidarity, though he generally opposed the Communists at home. He denounced the Hoare-Laval Pact.

As the Second World War opened in 1939 and turned against Britain in 1940, Conservative Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940 and Attlee joined Churchill's wartime coalition cabinet as Lord Privy Seal, and continued as Labour leader in Parliament. In 1942 he became secretary of state for the dominions and deputy prime minister. Attlee became Lord President of the Council in 1943. To the astonishment of the world, Churchill and the Conservatives were defeated in the elections of July 1945.

Prime Minister

In the 1945 General Election Attlee led the Labour Party to its largest victory at the polls. During his six years in office he carried through a vigorous program of reform. The Bank of England, the coal mines, civil aviation, cable and wireless services, gas, electricity, railways, road transport and steel were all nationalized. The National Health Service was introduced and independence was granted to India (1947) and Burma (1948).

In April 1950 Attlee's already weak position (the Labour majority in the House of Commons had been reduced to six) further deteriorated when two Labour leaders, Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson (afterward Prime Minister), resigned from the government over the introduction of National Health-service charges, that were bitterly opposed by the public. He stayed on as leader after the narrow defeat in the election of 1951, but when the Conservatives increased their majority in the General Election of 1955, Attlee resigned. On yielding the party leadership in December 1955, he was created an Earl. In 1937 he published The Labour Party in Perspective and in 1954 his memoirs, As It Happened. He was active in the House of Lords until his death in 1967. [1]

Further reading