"Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop the people talking" - Clement Attlee
, 1883, Attlee attended Haileybury
and University College, Oxford
, before becoming a barrister
in 1906. While working voluntarily at a boys club in Stepney
, he developed an interest in social problems. Becoming a socialist, Attlee read the works of such authors as John Ruskin
and William Morris
, before beccoming a tutor in 1913 at the London School of Economics
. After joining the British army
in 1914, Attlee served at Gallipoli
, receiving a serious injury at El Hanna
. After making his recovery back in England
, Attlee was in 1918 sent to France
to serve on the Western Front
until the end of the war, by which time Attlee had reached the rank of major.
At the end of the war, Attlee returned to teaching at the London School of Economics. Now a member of the Labour Pary, in 1919 Attlee became involved in politics and was elected mayor of Stepney. After the 1922 elections, Attlee was elected MP for the Limehouse constituency in London. Labour Party leader Ramsay MacDonald made Attlee his parliamentary secretary, and when Labour got into power in the 1924 General Elections Attlee was made Under Secretary of State for War. After the Labour victory in the 1929 elections, he became Postmaster General, however like most ministers he refused to serve in MacDonalds 1931 Nationalist Government. After winning his seat in the 1931 General Elections, Attlee became deputy leader of his party under George Lansbury. After Lansburys retirement in 1935, Attlee became leader of the Labour Party. During the Spanish Civil War, Attlee gave support to the British volunteers fighting Franco, and in December 1937 visited the International Brigades front line. Attlee joined Churchills coalition government in 1940, and became deputy Prime Minister in 1942.
In 1945, Attlee led the Labour Party to a land-slide victory at the polls. During the six years he was Prime Minister, he carried out a radical reform. Coal mines, cable and wireless services, civil aviation, the railways, gas and electricity, steel, transport and the Bank of England were all nationalised. The National Health Service came into existence under his government and in 1947 India and Burma were granted independence.
After a defeat in the 1951 General Election, Attlee was leader of the Labour Party until his resignation in 1955, when he was granted a peerage and moved to the House of Lords, where he remained active until the time of his death in 1967.
There is one thing, other than a lack of hair, which Attlee shared with many of the more famous Prime Ministers such as Churchill and Disraeli; wit. Attlee is renowned for what some would call his 'insulting' quotations:
A period of silence on your part would be most welcome.
Queer bird, Halifax. Very humerous, all hunting and holy communion.
I must remind the right honorable gentleman that a monologue is not a decision (on Winston Churchill)
Fifty percent of Winston is genius, fifty percent bloody fool. He will behave like a child (on Churchill)
What separated Attlee from other Prime Ministers of his day was that Attlee was a man who the British people could identify with. The many jobs which he had done enabled him to be though of by the public as 'one of them'. Having been a barrister, a legal reformer, a soldier (both an officer and an NCO) and a socialist, Attlee was one of the few Prime Ministers to have reached such a level with the people.