Clement Attlee was a man born in the governing class who devoted his life to the service of the poor; who was carried off the battlefield three times in the First World War; who stood shoulder to shoulder with Churchill at Britain’s darkest moment, and then triumphed over him at the general election of 1945.
His government of 1945-51 included Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan and was the most radical in history, giving us the NHS, National Insurance, NATO and the atomic bomb. In many ways we still live in a world of Attlee’s creation. It is difficult to think of another individual through whom one can better tell the story of how Britain changed from the high imperialism of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897, through two world wars, the great depression, the nuclear age and the Cold War, and the transition from empire into commonwealth.
Attlee remains underappreciated, rather than simply underestimated: a public servant and patriotic socialist, who never lost sight of the national interest and whose view of humanity and belief in solidarity was grafted onto the Union Jack. John Bew, author of widely praised Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee, looks at the radical Attlee and what his life and work mean today for Britain, politics and the Labour Party.