Clement AttleeClement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, (3 January 18838 October 1967) was a British statesman and Labour Party 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 Deputy Prime Minister during the wartime coalition government under Winston Churchill, and served twice as Leader of the Opposition from 1935 to 1940 and from 1951 to 1955. Attlee remains the longest serving Labour leader and is widely considered by historians and members of the public through various polls to be one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom.
Attlee was born into an upper-middle-class family, the son of a wealthy London solicitor. After attending 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; with his work briefly interrupted by service in the First World War. In 1919, he became mayor of Stepney and in 1922 was elected as the Member 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 policy of appeasement 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.
As the European front of WWII reached its conclusion, the war cabinet headed by Churchill was dissolved and elections were scheduled to be held. The Labour Party, led by Attlee, won a landslide victory in the 1945 general election, on their post-war recovery platform. Following the election, Attlee led the construction of 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 1948, 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. The Attlee government proved itself to be a radical, reforming government. From 1945 to 1948, over 200 public Acts of Parliament were passed, with eight major pieces of legislation placed on the statute book in 1946 alone.
Attlee's foreign policy focused on decolonization efforts which he delegated to Ernest Bevin, but personally oversaw the partition of India (1947), the independence of Burma and Ceylon, and the dissolution of the British mandates of Palestine and Transjordan. Attlee and Bevin encouraged the United States to take a vigorous role in the Cold War; unable to afford military intervention in Greece during its civil war, he called on Washington to counter the communists there. The strategy of containment was formalized between the two nations through the Truman Doctrine. 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 alongside South Korea in the Korean War.
Attlee had inherited a country close to bankruptcy following 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, where he served until his death in 1967. In public, he was modest and unassuming, but behind the scenes his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity and pragmatism proved decisive. He is often ranked as one of the greatest British prime ministers. In 2004, he was voted the most successful British Prime Minister of the 20th century by a poll of 139 academics. The majority of those responses singled out the Attlee government's welfare state reforms and the creation of the NHS as the key 20th century domestic policy achievements. He is also commended for continuing the 'Special Relationship' with the US and active involvement in NATO. Provided by Wikipedia