Why I Love Clement Attlee

Figure 1: My Tatty Devine “Attleeite” necklace

I’ve never been a fan of Tony Blair.

I was nine when he was first elected and I was more concerned about the fate of Humphrey (Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office) than what another five years of Conservative rule would mean for the country. Also, I was a fan of John Major (I still have my signed picture of him); I knew nothing about his policies but he reminded my nine year old self of my Grandpa.

As I matured (and begun to realise that the NHS didn’t just magically appear one day) Tony Blair decided to declare war on “terror”.

Growing up I felt that it didn’t matter who was in charge (though I did vow never to vote Conservative), no politician could really be trusted. This meant that politics never interested me, “plus ça change” and all that. When I was 17 I went to college; I studied Modern Studies and Sociology and I started to develop an interest in politics. I read up on the politicians of the past and stumbled upon the late, great Clement Attlee.

As far as I am concerned Clement Attlee is the greatest politician who has ever lived. He came from a middle class background and yet he truly cared about social justice; he was a hard and efficient worker; he believed in the concept of Collective Cabinet Responsibility; was an honest human being with great morals and his premiership created a consensus, which lasted until Thatcher came along in 1979.

Blairites continually talk about Blair winning three elections in a row but he just followed Thatcher’s consensus; Attlee may have only been Prime Minister for six years but during those six years he achieved pretty much everything that was set out in the Labour Party’s ambitious 1945 manifesto. Attlee may have lost the battle (the 1951 general election) but he won the war, forcing the Conservatives to re-evaluate their position and accept the welfare state Attlee created. Also, Attlee was up against Winston Churchill, a charismatic war hero, not a suicidal Conservative party with William Hague at the helm.

There is constant talk of “new politics”; Tony Blair talked about it in 1997 and Nick Clegg and David Cameron are talking about it now. In my opinion we don’t need new politics; we need the old politics of Clement Attlee’s 1945 government. The idea of George Osborne standing down as Chancellor of the Exchequer because he leaked details of his budget to the press before revealing it to parliament sounds ridiculous (it’s become common practise to read about policy in the press before it is put before parliament) but that’s exactly what Hugh Dalton did in 1947 and that incident is telling of the high standard of behaviour Attlee demanded from his ministers.

It’s because of Clement Attlee I joined the Labour Party. His legacy gives me faith in what can actually be achieved through politics and that there can be such a thing as an honest politician.

This blog post is dedicated to my friends and family who put up with me banging on about Clement Attlee all the time

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