Attlee by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds

This brief political biography is an interesting introduction to the life and work of the most successful leader of the Labour Party. Clement Attlee was apparently a modest man, but contrary to Winston Churchill’s famous remark, his modesty was not really necessary. Although Attlee has had many ideological critics, few of his opponents have had the impudence to condemn his role in the creation of the National Health Service or the welfare state.

Nonetheless, this text does highlight areas where Attlee showed a degree of weakness. His decision to develop nuclear weapons in secret remains a really controversial one. Further, he found it hard to manage the tensions between Aneurin Bevan and Hugh Gaitskell. This management failure permitted the Conservative Party to dominate, even though the postwar settlement was too popular to be abandoned for many years.

The book does try to account for the remarkable achievements of the Labour Party under Attlee. However, it does not really contribute much to appreciating the shifting class forces which swept Labour to power in the landslide of 1945. The author merely replays the arguments of others:

“The factors explaining this left-wing swing have been well-documented  by historians…”

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