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Clement Attlee

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The Right Hon. Clement Attlee
Prime Minister 17 July 1945 - 26 October 1951
Political Party Labour Party
Born 3 January 1883
Putney, London
Died 8 October 1967
London

Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS (3 January 1883 – 8 October 1967) was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and leader of the British Labour Party from 1935 to 1955.

Early career

Born in Putney, London, England into a middle-class family, and educated at Haileybury and University College, Oxford, Attlee trained as a lawyer. He turned to socialism after working with slum children in the East End of London. Good works for the poor did not attract him; he did not want there to be any poor. He left the Fabian Society and joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908. Attlee became a lecturer at the London School of Economics in 1913, but enlisted promptly for the First World War. Having reached Major, and been seriously wounded, he became mayor of the London borough of Stepney in 1919 and a Labour MP for the Limehouse division of Stepney in 1922. He was Ramsay MacDonald's parliamentary private secretary for the brief 1922 parliament.

Attlee served in the first two Labour governments, as under-secretary of state for war in 1924 with Ramsay MacDonald, then as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and later Postmaster General in the 1929 to 1931 MacDonald government. He actively supported the General Strike. In 1928 he reluctantly joined the Simon Commission, a royal commission on India. As a result of the time he had to devote to this, he was not initially offered a ministerial post in the Second Labour Government. In 1930, Labour MP Oswald Mosley attacked his own government favouring Keynesian action against unemployment, and lost. Attlee got Mosley's old job as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was Postmaster General in 1931, when most of the party's leaders lost their seats; this helped him win the deputy leadership under George Lansbury. Attlee, and Labour, opposed appeasement. He became leader in 1935, and remained until 1955.

Second World War

In the Second World War coalition government, three interconnected committees ran the war: Churchill chaired the war cabinet and the defence committee. Attlee was his regular deputy in committee and in parliament, and chaired the lord president's committee, which ran the civil side of the war. Only he and Churchill remained in the war cabinet throughout. Attlee was Lord Privy Seal (1940-2), Deputy Prime Minister (1942), Dominions Secretary (1942-3), and Lord President of the Council (1943-5).

Prime minister

The landslide Khaki election returned Labour to power in 1945, Attlee becoming prime minister. The party had clear aims. Reforms took place, including the nationalisation of utilities and creation of the modern welfare state. India became independent, and Britain's role in Palestine ended. Attlee's Health Secretary Nye Bevan, was at the forefront of creating the National Health Service. The substantial enactment of its manifesto commitments earned Atlee's government a contemporary level of esteem matched by few previous or later administrations. The manifesto was written by Michael Young. Political opponents of Attlee's government were sometimes caricatured as having nothing to criticise in its record with the sole exception of the Tanganyika groundnut scheme.

The Labour Party was returned to power in the general election of 1950. The large reduction that it suffered in its parliamentary majority was mostly due to the Conservative opposition recovering support at the expense of the Liberal Party. Labour lost the General Election of 1951 after being weakened by splits exacerbated by strain of financing British involvement in the Korean War. Attlee led the party in opposition until 1955, when he retired from the commons and was elevated to the peerage to take his seat in the House of Lords as Earl Attlee and Viscount Prestwood on 16 December 1955.

He died in 1967 and the title passed to his son Martin Richard Attlee, 2nd Earl Attlee (1927 - 1991). The title is now held by Clement Attlee's grandson John Richard Attlee, 3rd Earl Attlee. The third earl (a member of the Conservative Party) retained his seat in the Lords as one of the few hereditary peers elected to the House under an amendment to the 1999 House of Lords Act.

References