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Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS (3 January 1883 – 8 October 1967) was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He was three times Leader of the Opposition (1935–1940, 1945, 1951–1955).

The son of a London solicitor, Attlee was born into a middle-class family. After attending the public school Haileybury College and the University of Oxford, he practised as a barrister. The volunteer work he carried out in London's East End exposed him to poverty and his political views shifted leftwards thereafter. He joined the Independent Labour Party, gave up his legal career, and began lecturing at the London School of Economics. His work was interrupted by service as an officer in the First World War. In 1919, he became mayor of Stepney and in 1922 was elected Member of Parliament for Limehouse. Attlee served in the first Labour minority government led by Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, and then joined the Cabinet during MacDonald's second minority (1929–1931). After retaining his seat in Labour's landslide defeat of 1931, he became the party's Deputy Leader. Elected Leader of the Labour Party in 1935, and at first advocating pacificism and opposing re-armament, he became a critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini in the lead-up to the Second World War. 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.[note 1]

After the end of World War II in Europe, the coalition was dissolved and Attlee led Labour to a landslide victory at the 1945 general election,[note 2] forming the first Labour majority government. His government's Keynesian approach to economic management aimed to maintain full employment, a mixed economy and a greatly enlarged system of social services provided by the state. To this end, it undertook the nationalisation of public utilities and major industries, and implemented wide-ranging social reforms, including the passing of the National Insurance Act 1946 and National Assistance Act, the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, and the enlargement of public subsidies for council house building. His government also 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.

In foreign policy, Attlee delegated to Ernest Bevin, but oversaw the partition of India (1947), the independence of Burma and Ceylon, and the dissolution of the British mandates of Palestine and Transjordan. He and Bevin encouraged the United States to take a vigorous role in the Cold War; unable to afford military intervention in Greece, he called on Washington to counter Communists there, establishing the Truman Doctrine.[1] He supported the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe with American money and, in 1949, promoted the NATO military alliance against the Soviet bloc. After leading Labour to a narrow victory at the 1950 general election, he sent British troops to fight in the Korean War.[note 3]

Attlee had inherited a country close to bankruptcy after 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. His party was narrowly defeated by the Conservatives in the 1951 general election, despite winning the most votes. He continued as Labour leader but retired after losing the 1955 election and was elevated to the House of Lords; he died in 1967. In public, he was modest and unassuming, but behind the scenes his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity and pragmatism proved decisive. Often rated as one of the greatest British prime ministers, Attlee's reputation among scholars has grown, thanks to his creation of the modern welfare state and involvement in building the coalition against Joseph Stalin in the Cold War. He remains the longest-serving Labour leader in British history.

The Attlee government placed strong emphasis on improving the quality of life in rural areas, benefiting both farmers and other consumers. Security of tenure for farmers was introduced, while consumers were protected by food subsidies and the redistributive effects of deficiency payments. Between 1945 and 1951, the quality of rural life was improved by improvements in gas, electricity, and water services, as well as in leisure and public amenities. In addition, the 1947 Transport Act improved provision of rural bus services, while the Agriculture Act 1947 established a more generous subsidy system for farmers.[111] Legislation was also passed in 1947 and 1948 which established a permanent Agricultural Wages Board to fix minimum wages for agricultural workers.[124][125]

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.[93] Grants were a

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.[93] Grants were also made to meet up to half the cost of supplying water to farm buildings and fields, the government met half the cost of bracken eradication and lime spreading, and grants were paid for bringing hill farming land into use that had previously been considered unfit for farming purposes.[116]

In 1946, the National Agricultural Advisory Service was set up to supply agricultural advice and information.[126] The Hill Farming Act of 1946 introduced for upland areas a system of grants for buildings, land improvement, and infrastructural improvements such as roads and electrification. The act also continued a system of headage payments for hill sheep and cattle that had been introduced during the war. The Agricultural Holdings Act of 1948 enabled (in effect) tenant farmers to have lifelong tenancies and made provision for compensation in the event of cessations of tenancies.[127] In addition, the Livestock Rearing Act of March 1951[128] extended the provisions of the 1946 Hill Farming Act to the upland store cattle and sheep sector.[129]

At a time of world food shortages, it was vital that farmers produced the maximum possible quantities. The government encouraged farmers via subsidies for modernisation, while the National Agricultural Advisory Service provided expertise and price guarantees. As a result of the Attlee government's initiatives in agriculture, there was a 20 per cent increase in output between 1947 and 1952, while Britain adopted one of the most mechanised and efficient farming industries in the world.[130]

The Attlee government ensured provisions of the Education Act 1944 were fully implemented, with free secondary education becoming a right for the first time. Fees in state grammar schools were eliminated, while new, modern secondary schools were constructed.[131]

The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947, an accomplishment helped brought into fruition by initiatives such as the H.O.R.S.A. ("Huts Operation for Raising the School-leaving Age") scheme and the S.F.O.R.S.A. (furniture) scheme.[132] University scholarships were introduced to ensure that no one who was qualified "should be deprived of a university education for financial reasons,"[133] while a large school building programme was organised.[134] A rapid increase in the number of trained teachers took place, and the number of new school places was increased.[135]

Increased Treasury funds were made available for education, particularly for upgrading school buildings suffering from years of neglect and war damage.[136] Prefabricated classrooms were built and 928 new primary schools were constructed between 1945 and 1950. The provision of free school meals was expanded, and opportunities for university entrants were increased.[137] State scholarships to universities were increased,[138] and the government adopted a policy of supplementing university scholarships awards to a level sufficient to cover fees plus maintenance.[132]

Many thousands of ex-servicemen were assisted to go through college who could never have contemplated it before the war.[139] Free milk was also made available to all schoolchildren for the first time.[140] In addition, spending on technical education rose, and the number of nursery schools was increased.[141] Salaries for teachers were also improved, and funds were allocated towards improving existing schools.[81]

In 1947, the Arts Council of Great Britain was set up to encourage the arts.[142]

A Ministry of Education was established, and free County Colleges were set up for the compulsory part-time instruction of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 who were not in full-time education.[143] An Emergency Training Scheme was also introduced which turned out an extra 25,000 teachers in 1945–1951.[144] In 1947, Regional Advisory Councils were set up to bring together industry and education to find out the needs of young workers "and advise on the provision required, and to secure reasonable economy of provision".[145] That same year, thirteen Area Training Organisations were set up in England and one in Wales to coordinate teacher training.[146]

Attlee's government, however, failed to introduce the comprehensive education for which many socialists had hoped. This reform was eventually carried out by Harold Wilson's government. During its time in office, the Attlee government increased spending on education by over 50 per cent, from £6.5 billion to £10 billion.[147]

The most significant problem facing Attlee and his ministers remained the economy, as the war effort had left Britain nearly bankrupt. The war had cost Britain about a quarter of her national wealth.[clarification needed][citation needed] Overseas investments had been used up to pay for the war. The transition to a peacetime economy, and the maintaining of strategic military commitments abroad led to continuous and severe problems with the balance of trade. This resulted in strict rationing of food and other essential goods continuing in the post war period to force a reduction in consumption in an effort to limit imports, boost exports, and stabilise the Pound Sterling so that Britain could trade its way out of its financial state.

The abrupt end of the American Lend-Lease programme in August 1945 almost caused a crisis. Some relief was provided by the Anglo-American loan, negotiated in December 1945. The condi

The abrupt end of the American Lend-Lease programme in August 1945 almost caused a crisis. Some relief was provided by the Anglo-American loan, negotiated in December 1945. The conditions attached to the loan included making the pound fully convertible to the US dollar. When this was introduced in July 1947, it led to a currency crisis and convertibility had to be suspended after just five weeks.[78] The UK benefited from the American Marshall Aid program in 1948, and the economic situation improved significantly. Another balance of payments crisis in 1949 forced Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stafford Cripps, into devaluation of the pound.[78]

Despite these problems, one of the main achievements of Attlee's government was the maintenance of near full employment. The government maintained most of the wartime controls over the economy, including control over the allocation of materials and manpower, and unemployment rarely rose above 500,000, or 3 per cent of the total workforce.[78] Labour shortages proved a more frequent problem. The inflation rate was also kept low during his term.[121] The rate of unemployment rarely rose above 2 per cent during Attlee's time in office, whilst there was no hard-core of long-term unemployed. Both production and productivity rose as a result of new equipment, while the average working week was shortened.[148]

The government was less successful in housing, which was the responsibility of Aneurin Bevan. The government had a target to build 400,000 new houses a year to replace those which had been destroyed in the war, but shortages of materials and manpower meant that less than half this number were built. Nevertheless, millions of people were rehoused as a result of the Attlee government's housing policies. Between August 1945 and December 1951, 1,016,349 new homes were completed in England, Scotland, and Wales.[111]

When the Attlee government was voted out of office in 1951, the economy had been improved compared to 1945. The period from 1946 to 1951 saw continuous full employment and steadily rising living standards, which increased by about 10 per cent each year. During that same period, the economy grew by 3 per cent a year, and by 1951 the UK had "the best economic performance in Europe, while output per person was increasing faster than in the United States".[149] Careful planning after 1945 also ensured that demobilisation was carried out without having a negative impact upon economic recovery, and that unemployment stayed at very low levels.[136] In addition, the number of motor cars on the roads rose from 3 million to 5 million from 1945 to 1951, and seaside holidays were taken by far more people than ever before.[150] A Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act was passed in 1948, which allowed for investigations of restrictive practices and monopolies.[151]

1947 proved a particularly difficult year for the government; an exceptionally cold winter that year caused coal mines to freeze and cease production, creating widespread power cuts and food shortages. The Minister of Fuel and Power, Emanuel Shinwell was widely blamed for failing to ensure adequate coal stocks, and soon resigned from his post. The Conservatives capitalised on the crisis with the slogan 'Starve with Strachey and shiver with Shinwell' (referring to the Minister of Food John Strachey).[152]

The crisis led to an unsuccessful plot by Hugh Dalton to replace Attlee as Prime Minister with Ernest Bevin. Later that year Stafford C

The crisis led to an unsuccessful plot by Hugh Dalton to replace Attlee as Prime Minister with Ernest Bevin. Later that year Stafford Cripps tried to persuade Attlee to stand aside for Bevin. These plots petered out after Bevin refused to cooperate. Later that year, Hugh Dalton resigned as Chancellor after inadvertently leaking details of the budget to a journalist. He was replaced by Cripps.[153]

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. The first two were closely related, and Attlee was assisted by Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. Attlee also attended the later stages of the Potsdam Conference, where he negotiated with President Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the Government faced the challenge of managing relations with Britain's former war-time ally, Stalin and the Soviet Union. Ernest Bevin was a passionate anti-communist, based largely on his experience of fighting communist influence in the trade union movement. Bevin's initial approach to the USSR as Foreign Secretary was "wary and suspicious, but not automatically hostile".[111] Attlee himself sought warm relations with Stalin. He 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. This put Attlee at sword's point with his foreign minister, the Foreign Office, and the military who all saw the Soviets as a growing threat to Britain's role in the Middle East. Suddenly in January 1947, Attlee reversed his position and agreed with Bevin on a hard-line anti-Soviet policy.[154]

In an early "good-will" gesture that was later heavily criticised, the Attlee government allowed the Soviets to purchase, under the terms of a 1946 UK-USSR Trade Agreement, a total of 25 Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines in September 1947 and March 1948. The agreement included an agreement not to use them for military purposes. The price was fixed under a commercial contract; a total of 55 jet engines were sold to the USSR in 1947.[155] However, the Cold War intensified during this period and the Soviets, who at the time were well behind the West in jet technology, reverse-engineered the Nene and installed their own version in the MiG-15 interceptor. This was used to good effect against US-UK forces in the subsequent Korean War, as well as in several later MiG models.[156]

After Stalin took political control of most of Eastern Europe, and began to subvert other governments in the Balkans, Attlee's and Bevin's worst fears of Soviet intentions were realised. The Attlee government then became instrumental in the creation of the successful NATO defence alliance to protect Western Europe against any Soviet expansion.[157] In a crucial contribution to the economic stability of post-war Europe, Attlee's Cabinet was instrumental in promoting the American Marshall Plan for the econo