113 Facts About Attlee


Attlee 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.

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Attlee was born into an upper-middle-class family, the son of a wealthy London solicitor.

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Attlee joined the Independent Labour Party, gave up his legal career, and began lecturing at the London School of Economics.

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Attlee's work was interrupted by service as an officer in the First World War.

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Attlee served in the first Labour minority government led by Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, and then joined the Cabinet during MacDonald's second minority.

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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.

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The Labour Party, led by Attlee, won a landslide victory in the 1945 general election, on their post-war recovery platform.

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Attlee's government 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.

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Attlee supported the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe with American money and, in 1949, promoted the NATO military alliance against the Soviet bloc.

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Attlee had inherited a country close to bankruptcy following 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.

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Attlee's party was narrowly defeated by the Conservatives in the 1951 general election, despite winning the most votes.

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Attlee continued as Labour leader but retired after losing the 1955 election and was elevated to the House of Lords, where he served until his death in 1967.

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Attlee is often ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers.

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Attlee is commended for continuing the special relationship with the US and active involvement in NATO.

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Attlee was born on 3 January 1883 in Putney, Surrey, into an Upper middle class family, the seventh of eight children.

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Attlee's father was Henry Attlee, a solicitor, and his mother was Ellen Bravery Watson, daughter of Thomas Simons Watson, secretary for the Art Union of London.

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Attlee's parents were "committed Anglicans" who read prayers and psalms each morning at breakfast.

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Attlee grew up in a two-storey villa with a large garden and tennis court, staffed by three servants and a gardener.

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At the age of nine, Attlee was sent to board at Northaw Place, a boys' preparatory school in Hertfordshire.

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Attlee was influenced by the Darwinist views of his housemaster Frederick Webb Headley, and in 1899 he published an attack on striking London cab-drivers in the school magazine, predicting they would soon have to "beg for their fares".

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In 1901, Attlee went up to University College, Oxford, reading modern history.

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Attlee graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1904 with second-class honours.

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Attlee then trained as a barrister at the Inner Temple and was called to the bar in March 1906.

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Attlee worked for a time at his father's law firm Druces and Attlee but did not enjoy the work, and had no particular ambition to succeed in the legal profession.

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Attlee's father died in 1908, leaving an estate valued for probate at £75,394.

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Attlee subsequently joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908 and became active in local politics.

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Attlee worked briefly as a secretary for Beatrice Webb in 1909, before becoming a secretary for Toynbee Hall.

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Attlee worked for Webb's campaign of popularisation of the Minority Report as he was very active in Fabian Society circles, in which he would go round visiting many political societies—Liberal, Conservative and socialist—to explain and popularise the ideas, as well as recruiting lecturers deemed suitable to work on the campaign.

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Attlee spent the summer of that year touring Essex and Somerset on a bicycle, explaining the Act at public meetings.

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Attlee's hospitalisation coincided with the Battle of Sari Bair, which saw a large number of his comrades killed.

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Attlee later served in the Mesopotamian campaign in what is Iraq, where in April 1916 he was badly wounded, being hit in the leg by shrapnel from friendly fire while storming an enemy trench during the Battle of Hanna.

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Attlee was sent firstly to India, and then back to the UK to recover.

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Attlee would spend most of 1917 training soldiers at various locations in England.

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Attlee met Violet Millar while on a long trip with friends to Italy in 1921.

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Attlee returned to local politics in the immediate post-war period, becoming mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, one of London's most deprived inner-city boroughs, in 1919.

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Attlee, who was a personal friend of Lansbury, strongly supported this.

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At the 1922 general election, Attlee became the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Limehouse in Stepney.

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Attlee served as MacDonald's Parliamentary Private Secretary for the brief 1922 parliament.

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Attlee opposed the 1926 General Strike, believing that strike action should not be used as a political weapon.

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Attlee negotiated a deal with the Electrical Trade Union so that they would continue to supply power to hospitals, but would end supplies to factories.

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Attlee became the British leader most sympathetic to Indian independence, preparing him for his role in deciding on independence in 1947.

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In May 1930, Labour MP Oswald Mosley left the party after its rejection of his proposals for solving the unemployment problem, and Attlee was given Mosley's post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

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Attlee had long been close to MacDonald and now felt betrayed—as did most Labour politicians.

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Attlee narrowly retained his Limehouse seat, with his majority being slashed from 7,288 to just 551.

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Attlee was one of only three Labour MPs who had experience of government to retain their seats, along with George Lansbury and Stafford Cripps.

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Attlee effectively served as acting leader for nine months from December 1933, after Lansbury fractured his thigh in an accident, which raised Attlee's public profile considerably.

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Attlee's wife had become ill, and at that time there was no separate salary for the Leader of the Opposition.

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Attlee admired Oliver Cromwell's strong-armed rule and use of major generals to control England.

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Attlee therefore led Labour through the 1935 election, which saw the party stage a partial comeback from its disastrous 1931 performance, winning 38 per cent of the vote, the highest share Labour had won up to that point, and gaining over one hundred seats.

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Attlee stood in the subsequent leadership election, held soon afterward, where he was opposed by Herbert Morrison, who had just re-entered parliament in the recent election, and Arthur Greenwood: Morrison was seen as the favourite, but was distrusted by many sections of the party, especially the left wing.

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Attlee was able to come across as a competent and unifying figure, particularly having already led the party through a general election.

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Attlee went on to come first in both the first and second ballots, formally being elected Leader of the Labour Party on 3 December 1935.

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Attlee condemned this: "We say that any suggestion of an alliance of this kind—an alliance in which one country is bound to another, right or wrong, by some overwhelming necessity—is contrary to the spirit of the League of Nations, is contrary to the Covenant, is contrary to Locarno is contrary to the obligations which this country has undertaken, and is contrary to the professed policy of this Government".

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Attlee was supportive of the Republican government, and at the 1937 Labour conference moved the wider Labour Party towards opposing what he considered the "farce" of the Non-Intervention Committee organised by the British and French governments.

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In 1938, Attlee opposed the Munich Agreement, in which Chamberlain negotiated with Hitler to give Germany the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland:.

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Attlee has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition.

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Attlee has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence.

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In 1937, Attlee wrote a book entitled The Labour Party in Perspective that sold fairly well in which he set out some of his views.

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Attlee argued that there was no point in Labour compromising on its socialist principles in the belief that this would achieve electoral success.

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Attlee remained as Leader of the Opposition when the Second World War broke out in September 1939.

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Attlee was initially the Lord Privy Seal, before becoming Britain's first ever Deputy Prime Minister in 1942, as well as becoming the Dominions Secretary and Lord President of the Council on 28 September 1943.

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Attlee himself played a generally low key but vital role in the wartime government, working behind the scenes and in committees to ensure the smooth operation of government.

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Attlee himself instituted, and later chaired the third body, the Lord President's Committee, which was responsible for overseeing domestic affairs.

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Attlee himself had largely been responsible for creating these arrangements with Churchill's backing, streamlining the machinery of government and abolishing many committees.

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Attlee acted as a conciliator in the government, smoothing over tensions which frequently arose between Labour and Conservative Ministers.

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The Attlee government proved itself to be a radical, reforming government.

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The Attlee government was committed to rebuilding British society as an ethical commonwealth, using public ownership and controls to abolish extremes of wealth and poverty.

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The Attlee government extended the powers of local authorities to requisition houses and parts of houses, and made the acquisition of land less difficult than before.

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The Attlee government abolished the marriage bar in the Civil Service, thereby enabling married women to work in that institution.

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Attlee's government carried out their manifesto commitment for nationalisation of basic industries and public utilities.

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Attlee government placed strong emphasis on improving the quality of life in rural areas, benefiting both farmers and other consumers.

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Attlee's government made it possible for farm workers to borrow up to 90 per cent of the cost of building their own houses, and received a subsidy of £15 a year for 40 years towards that cost.

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Attlee government ensured provisions of the Education Act 1944 were fully implemented, with free secondary education becoming a right for the first time.

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Attlee's government failed to introduce the comprehensive education for which many socialists had hoped.

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In foreign affairs, the Attlee government was concerned with four main issues; post-war Europe, the onset of the Cold War, the establishment of the United Nations, and decolonisation.

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Attlee attended the later stages of the Potsdam Conference, where he negotiated with President Harry S Truman and Joseph Stalin.

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Attlee put his trust in the United Nations, rejected notions that the Soviet Union was bent on world conquest, and warned that treating Moscow as an enemy would turn it into one.

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Suddenly in January 1947, Attlee reversed his position and agreed with Bevin on a hard-line anti-Soviet policy.

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Attlee called it one of the "most bold, enlightened and good-natured acts in the history of nations".

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London dock strike of July 1949, led by Communists, was suppressed when the Attlee government sent in 13,000 Army troops and passed special legislation to promptly end the strike.

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Attlee's response reveals Attlee's growing concern that Soviet expansionism, supported by the British Communist Party, was a genuine threat to national security, and that the docks were highly vulnerable to sabotage ordered by Moscow.

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Attlee noted that the strike was caused not by local grievances, but to help communist unions who were on strike in Canada.

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Attlee agreed with MI5 that he faced "a very present menace".

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Decolonisation was never a major election issue but Attlee gave the matter a great deal of attention and was the chief leader in beginning the process of decolonisation of the British Empire.

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In 1954, a Labour Party delegation including Attlee visited China at the invitation of then Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai.

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Attlee became the first high-ranking western politician to meet Mao Zedong.

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Attlee orchestrated the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947.

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Attlee became the Labour Party expert on India and by 1934 was committed to granting India the same independent dominion status that Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa had recently been given.

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Attlee faced strong resistance from the die-hard Conservative imperialists, led by Churchill, who opposed both independence and efforts led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to set up a system of limited local control by Indians themselves.

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Attlee set up the Cripps Mission in 1942, which tried and failed to bring the factions together.

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Attlee retained a fondness for Congress and until 1946, accepted their thesis that they were a non-religious party that accepted Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and everyone else.

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Attlee suggested in his memoirs that "traditional" colonial rule in Asia was no longer viable.

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Attlee said that he expected it to meet renewed opposition after the war both by local national movements as well as by the United States.

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Attlee was the Labour expert on India and took special charge of decolonisation.

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Attlee found that Churchill's viceroy, Field Marshal Wavell, was too imperialistic, too keen on military solutions, and too neglectful of Indian political alignments.

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Attlee sponsored the peaceful transition to independence in 1948 of Burma and Ceylon.

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Attlee's record for settling internal differences in the Labour Party fell in April 1951, when there was a damaging split over an austerity Budget brought in by the Chancellor, Hugh Gaitskell, to pay for the cost of Britain's participation in the Korean War.

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Attlee tendered his resignation as Prime Minister the following day, after six years and three months in office.

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Many Labour MPs felt that Attlee should have retired following 1951 election and allowed a younger man to lead the party.

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At one time, Attlee had favoured Aneurin Bevan to succeed him as leader, but this became problematic after Bevan almost irrevocably split the party.

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Attlee retired as Leader of the Labour Party on 7 December 1955, having led the party for twenty years, and on 14 December Hugh Gaitskell was elected as his successor.

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Attlee subsequently retired from the House of Commons and was elevated to the peerage as Earl Attlee and Viscount Prestwood on 16 December 1955, taking his seat in the House of Lords on 25 January.

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Attlee believed Eden had been forced into taking a strong stand on the Suez Crisis by his backbenchers.

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Attlee claimed that if Britain became a member, EC rules would prevent the British government from planning the economy and that Britain's traditional policy had been outward-looking rather than Continental.

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Attlee lived to see the Labour Party return to power under Harold Wilson in 1964, but to see his old constituency of Walthamstow West fall to the Conservatives in a by-election in September 1967.

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Attlee died peacefully in his sleep of pneumonia, at the age of 84 at Westminster Hospital on 8 October 1967.

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Attlee was cremated and his ashes were buried at Westminster Abbey.

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Attlee's estate was sworn for probate purposes at a value of £7,295, a relatively modest sum for so prominent a figure, and only a fraction of the £75,394 in his father's estate when he died in 1908.

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Attlee's government presided over the successful transition from a wartime economy to peacetime, tackling problems of demobilisation, shortages of foreign currency, and adverse deficits in trade balances and government expenditure.

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Attlee proved a loyal ally of the US at the onset of the Cold War.

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Attlee thought of it as an institution that was a power for good in the world.

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Attlee was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Queen Mary College on 15 December 1948.

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On 30 November 1988, a bronze statue of Clement Attlee was unveiled by Harold Wilson outside Limehouse Library in Attlee's former constituency.

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