Clem Attlee – Britain’s greatest Prime Minister

 

Attlee at his Nefyn holiday home
Attlee at his Nefyn holiday home

Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was born 133 years ago on 3 January 1883. He was Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951 and the longest serving Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He led the Labour Party to a landslide election victory in 1945 and a narrow victory in 1950 becoming the first Labour Prime Minister ever to serve a full five-year term.

The Attlee government was committed to rebuilding British society after WWII using public ownership and controls to abolish extremes of wealth and poverty. What a contrast Labour’s Socialist ideology is with today’s Tory Party’s defence of income inequality. Jeremy Corbyn’s grass-roots Socialism is a welcome return to those values.

There were many landmark achievements during his premiership using principles which cry out to be copied today.

 

  • His Government undertook the nationalisation of public utilities and major industries,
  • His Government created the National Health Service – a project led by Wales’ greatest hero Aneurin Bevan. I was born an NHS baby six weeks after the NHS itself was born.
  • He created full employment and ran budget surpluses
  • The government implemented William Beveridge’s plans ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state and set in place an entirely new system of social security by means of the National Insurance Act 1946, in which people in work paid a flat rate of national insurance. In return, they (and the wives of male contributors) received flat-rate pensions, sickness benefit and unemployment benefit.
  • Four out of five houses constructed under Labour were council properties.
  • His Keynesian fiscal policies were followed by all parties for over three decades until Margaret Thatcher’s destructive reign.
  • His Government also presided over the decolonisation of a large part of the British Empire, granting British India, Burma, and Ceylon independence, as well as ending the British Mandates of Palestine and Jordan.
Attlee with Aneurin Bevan
Attlee with Aneurin Bevan

Although he lacked charisma and was not a good public speaker, his achievements were very much behind the scenes especially in committees where his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity and pragmatism proved decisive. He kept its multiple factions in his very diverse party together – possibly Jeremy Corbyn could learn from his success. His leadership style of consensual government, acting as a chairman rather than a president, won him much praise from historians and politicians alike. A style decisively rejected by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.

He died, aged 84, on 8 October 1967