Sharing the Clement Attlee Love

One Lt Col R.L.T Jones wrote into The Telegraph (?!) today showing his appreciation of Clement Attlee:

“SIR – Clement Attlee showed great courage in honouring Britain’s “distant obligation” to protect the people of South Korea from invasion, in the first military campaign under the Charter of the United Nations in 1950.

At that time, Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy, the Armed Forces were overstretched after the Second World War, and there was need for social change at home. Still, Attlee did not flinch from taking the decision to respond. The Armed Forces addressed the new challenge, and the nation became proud that yet again we were doing the right thing for the free world. We did not argue over exit strategy; we got on with the job.

Now, 61 years later, as a result of legal intervention, the Republic of Korea has become a world-class economic and industrial power.

Today Britain has another courageous Prime Minister, and we have joined other responsible nations, again under the Charter of the United Nations, to ensure that the people of Libya may in the future have freedom to control their own affairs. Our Armed Forces have already responded to the initial challenge, Parliament has given massive support for action, and our nation can be proud that we have found our “moral compass” once again.

Lt Col R.L.T Jones
Odiham, Hampshire”

I don’t agree with him entirely (especially when it comes to the parts about exit strategies and David Cameron!) but it’s nice that there are people out there remembering Clement Attlee and all he achieved. Or at least I think it’s nice.

Jude xxx

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The Big Society: What Would Clement Do?

Figure 1: Big Society In Action*

I think that volunteering is A Good Thing™. I volunteer and through my volunteering I’ve made friends, given back to the community (I wish there was a less cheesy way to say that) and improved my CV. If anyone had some free time and wanted to simultaneously improve their own and other peoples’ lives I would definitely recommend they try volunteering. However, it isn’t a replacement for the state and that is why I am sceptical about David Cameron’s Big Society initiative.

Despite dying over 40 years ago Clement Attlee wrote the perfect response to David Cameron’s Big Society in his book The Social Worker (1920):

“Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim. In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice”**

As a bleeding heart lefty type person I completely agree with the Great Clem. As well as being the perfect antidote to the vacuous rhetoric of The Big Society, the above quote reminded me of something that David Cameron said during his 2010 conference speech which worried me at the time:

“Fairness means giving people what they deserve and what people deserve depends on how they behave.”

As Attlee pointed out, if people are dependent on volunteers/do-gooders to help them in their time of need what will happen if these volunteers (who are giving their time in exchange for no wage) decide that their services are “dependent on his view of the recipient’s character” and that the recipient isn’t deserving? I have plenty of other issues with The Big Society concept but they have already been articulated by other people (repeatedly), I have yet to see this issue be discussed on the interweb or in the papers.

Maybe this won’t be a problem but like most of this current government’s policies/initiatives The Big Society doesn’t seem to be very well thought through and I worry about what is going to happen to the needy and vulnerable in our society after David Cameron is finished with his Big Society experiment.

*Image credit: LEGO S&S Wildland Ultra XT (1) by Dunechaser
**Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of Attlee’s book The Social Worker. I got the above quote from Francis Beckett’s biography of Attlee, Clem Attlee.

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