(By Kenneth Harris) (1982)
A big comprehensive tome on the bland, modest and decent Labour leader who as a rather supine Prime Minister from 1945-1951, gave the Brits post-war austerity and de-colonization. He seems to have oozed integrity, to the point where he was as clean and dull as an Eagle Scout Master (remember the quip “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street and Mr Attlee got out”) but he was an invaluable brake on the zealous excesses of Churchill, within that curious and brilliant creature, the wartime coalition.
This is reflected in the golden vignette of January 1945, when Attlee wrote a polite but devastating critique of the P.M.’s cabinet process. Churchill went nuts and had dictated a furious reply when his wife said to him “I admire Mr Attlee for having the courage to say what everyone is thinking.” The great man rescinded his angry response, wrote a mild reply and then said: “Now let us think no more of Hitlee or Attler. Let us go the Movies.”
Attlee was a great 2IC but no leader.
Update: 8 October 2016 – On the 49th anniversary of Clem’s death, and 34 years since the work reviewed above, a new biography appears (by John Bew). Whereas the Harris biography evoked a contrast then between Attlee (a lifelong member of Club Sensible) and Michael Foot, the rumpled red leader of the British Labour Party, Bew’s work will provide an even starker comparison: Clement Attlee (quiet, patriotic, practical, conservative) and….Jeremy Corbyn.
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