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  Clement Richard Attlee (1883–1967), by Sir James Gunn, 1950 Clement Richard Attlee (1883–1967), by Sir James Gunn, 1950
Attlee, Clement Richard, first Earl Attlee (1883–1967), prime minister, was born on 3 January 1883 at Westcott, 18 Portinscale Road, Putney, London, the seventh of the eight children of Henry Attlee (1841–1908), solicitor, and his wife, Ellen (1847–1920), daughter of Thomas Watson of London.

Early years and education

Attlee described his family as ‘happy and united’, and he was brought up in a prosperous Anglican household of remarkable harmony. He followed his brother Tom to board at Northaw Place preparatory school in Hertfordshire when he was nine and then in 1896 at the age of thirteen went on, like all the boys in the family, to Haileybury College. Here he confirmed an unobtrusive atheism—he became disenchanted with church attendance and religious observance—and played rugby and cricket with the handicap of his small stature and lack of any real skill, but enjoyed the rifle corps. Perhaps surprisingly, in view of this mixed experience, Attlee remained devoted to his school, and kept a close eye on his contemporaries in later life. As he wrote to his brother in 1958 on the death of a fellow member of house, ‘I last saw him at an O.H. dinner at Rawalpindi in 1928’ (Attlee papers, Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. c. 4794, fol. 69). He continued to follow the family trail by moving on to Oxford University, although the brothers went to different colleges: Attlee entered University College in 1901 to read history. More happy memories accumulated and a lifelong attachment was formed to the college, although apart from tutorials with Ernest Barker he found the teaching uninspiring. He left in 1904 with a second.

Despite the air of serious endeavour pervading the family, Attlee came down from Oxford with no clear idea of a career to follow. His education, largely untroubled, had made no profound impact upon his character or ambitions. In autumn 1904 he entered the Lincoln's Inn chambers of Sir Philip Gregory, a leading conveyancing lawyer, and was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in March 1906. He had also had a spell in his father's firm of solicitors, which he found boring. Attlee devoted no great energy to the law, and was idling his life away in congenial London company, insulated from most practical cares by living at home. One unfriendly journalist later claimed how Attlee's path to politics had been set by his failure to make a decisive mark in life at school and university (C. Wintour, ‘The man who couldn't quite’, Evening Standard, 22 June 1948). It certainly required a marked diversion from his post-Oxford gentility to begin the move to socialist politics.

Social work and the army, 1905–1919

The fundamental shift in Attlee's life came when he visited a boys' club in Stepney in October 1905. He took to the idea of social work of the settlement type quickly, and became the resident manager in 1907. Attlee's path to the East End had been helped by the fact that the club was supported by his old school Haileybury, and Attlee's initial visit with his brother Laurence was as much out of duty as of genuine interest. But the club was also secular in tone and military in organization, which chimed in with Attlee's preferences. The boys had to join the junior section of the Territorial Army and Attlee also took a commission. He enjoyed the drilling and nights spent under canvas, and found the whole experience absorbing. What was new to Attlee was understanding a different class and its way of life. As he described it in an autobiographical section in his later book The Social Worker:
the rather noisy crowd of boys on bicycles with long quiffs of hair turned over the peaks of their caps, whom he had always regarded as bounders, become human beings to him, and he appreciates their high spirits, and overlooks what he would formerly have called vulgarity. (p. 212)
Attlee's success in getting on with East Enders was based on an acceptance of the fundamental equality and respect due to those of another class; indeed, that class's habit of trust and co-operation was superior to middle-class individualism. His shyness may also have helped him to win the East Enders' trust. As one of them recalled in 1945, ‘He came to us as a shy little man. He became our friend because he had lived with us and got to know our problems and because he had no swank’ (H. Swaffer, ‘What Limehouse thinks of Attlee’, Daily Express, 23 June 1945). This ability to get on with and earn the trust of working people delivered priceless dividends over thirty years later, when he formed the most crucial political relationship of his life: with Ernest Bevin.

On a more practical level, Attlee was able to commit himself more fully to social work on the death of his father in 1908: he now enjoyed the psychological freedom to abandon the law and the financial freedom which exempted him from the need to earn a professional salary. Although his new life had linkages not only with his beloved school but also with the family's support for social service, it was a sharp break from the career at the bar which had seemed mapped out for him and from which he formally withdrew in 1909: ‘I remember, on giving up practice at the bar, being congratulated by my friends in a poor district in much the same terms as would have been employed had I at last given up the drink’ (Attlee, Social Worker, 207).

Attlee soon realized that the conditions which shaped his charges' lives could be improved only by political action. From his brother Tom, a Christian socialist, came the chance to read and discuss the works of Ruskin and Morris, which provided both a moral and aesthetic rejection of industrialism. Rejecting the reformism de haut en bas of the Fabians, Attlee joined the Stepney branch of the Independent Labour Party early in 1908. Because of its small size and the fact that he was one of the few with any time to spare, Attlee quickly became the branch secretary. In 1909 he became secretary at Toynbee Hall, the best-known of the East End university settlements, but after a year he left because the atmosphere there did not chime in with his socialism. He did some lecturing at Ruskin College, Oxford, and then in 1912 was appointed a lecturer in the social service department at the London School of Economics (LSE), after defeating Hugh Dalton largely because of his practical experience in the East End. By 1914 Attlee had carved a niche for himself in London left-wing politics. His involvement had built upon the sense of duty running in his family but also had distinctive elements of his own making.

The First World War provided Attlee with a test of leadership which he grasped fully. He served with the 6th South Lancashire regiment, the tank corps, and the 5th South Lancashires. He saw action twice at Gallipoli, where he supervised the rearguard action at the evacuation of Suvla Bay, then in Mesopotamia, and finally in France in 1918. He caught dysentery at Gallipoli, was wounded by a British shell in Mesopotamia in 1916, and was wounded again in France before the armistice. He became a captain in 1915 and a major in 1917. He found little joy in the organization of depot life in Britain in 1916, nor did warfare itself hold any appeal. Fenner Brockway recalled him talking ‘quietly in private conversations of the barbarities he had seen. He was appalled by the waste of young life’ (Attlee: as I Knew Him, 4). He also thought the class distinctions of the peacetime army ‘a serious menace’ (Lees-Smith, 1.38–42). What really interested him was developing a fighting unit with an officer group drawn from a wide social mix. Although he was often known in the 1920s as Major Attlee, and his moustache and clipped voice suggested an army background, viewed from a military perspective he was unlike the majority of officers. But a successful army career gives the confidence to lead men who may well be of superior intellect and ability and to take decisions vital to their fate. Francis Beckett is surely right to see in the war years evidence of the decisiveness and ruthlessness which characterized his premiership (Beckett, 55).

Entering national politics, 1919–1931

In the 1920s Attlee established a place for himself in national politics by holding office in the two Labour governments led by MacDonald, and he also acquired broader interests by serving between 1927 and 1930 on the Simon commission on the government of India. But the East End continued to be important, and provided the gateway to Attlee's rise in the party in the 1930s. He had meanwhile moved to the suburb of Woodford in Essex following his marriage on 10 January 1922 to Violet Millar (1896–1964). She was the daughter of H. E. Millar of Hampstead. The year before their marriage Attlee had accepted the offer of a trip to Italy with her brother Cedric; Violet and her mother were also in the party. They were to have three daughters and a son during the course of a devoted marriage.

Attlee stood unsuccessfully for Limehouse in the London county council elections of 1919, but was co-opted as mayor of Stepney, largely in recognition of his efforts during the municipal campaign, but also as an acceptable figure in an area where there was considerable rivalry between Jews and Irish Catholics. When his year as mayor ended in November 1920, he was elected an alderman by the other borough councillors, which meant a further five years in office. As mayor, Attlee organized a deputation of London mayors to press the claims of the unemployed before the prime minister, Lloyd George. His principal local interest, however, was in electricity: Attlee was convinced that municipally owned companies could supply electricity more cheaply than private ones. However, he almost came unstuck at the time of the general strike in 1926. As chairman of the Stepney borough's electricity committee, Attlee was threatened with bankruptcy and the ending of his political career when the courts supported the claim of an engineering company that its supply had been disconnected for using power during the strike. The appeal was heard when Attlee was in India, and its success, as he told his brother, ‘was a great load off my mind’ (Attlee to Tom Attlee, 9 Nov 1928, Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. c. 4792). But the controversy had paid dividends; locals were impressed that Attlee had put himself at the head of their cause: according to his successor as mayor, ‘he bore it all on his own shoulders. Before that, we knew he was our friend. Then we knew he was also our champion’ (H. Swaffer, ‘What Limehouse thinks of Attlee’, Daily Express, 23 June 1945).

This development of a local political base was helpful because Attlee's career in the 1920s had been effective but not outstanding. He was adopted as parliamentary candidate for Limehouse in 1919 and was returned as MP at the general election of November 1922; he held the seat until February 1950. His maiden speech blended the experiences of the war with new concerns about unemployment. Of the unemployed, he commented that they were ‘the same men who saved us during the war. They are the same men who served side by side in the trenches’ (Hansard 5C, cols. 92–6). In Attlee's view, unemployment was caused by too much spending power being in the hands of the rich, who frittered it away on luxuries. Redirect purchasing power towards the necessities of life and employment would recover. In 1922 he became parliamentary private secretary to MacDonald when the latter was elected leader of the Labour Party, and in the first Labour government (January–November 1924) he served as under-secretary of state for war. In the period of opposition which then followed he spoke in parliament on electricity questions and local government matters.

Attlee's other major activity was to join Simon's statutory commission to India, appointed by the Conservatives in 1927 to try and forestall what a Labour government might do by the granting of dominion status. Attlee's visit was undoubtedly valuable to him, and provided an absorbing experience, but it did not advance his position in Labour parliamentary politics. First, the commission was understood to be too moderate in its proposals, for while it recommended an increase in self-government for the provinces it was much more cautious about doing so at central government level. Second, its drafting kept Attlee out of ministerial office until 1930, while MacDonald took little interest in what Attlee had found out.

Attlee came into office as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in spring 1930 on Mosley's resignation. He was, ex officio, a member of the Economic Advisory Council and later took on more specific departmental duties by running the Post Office. He thought the leadership was generally too squeamish towards the rich, and especially the rentiers, as it searched for a solution to the budgetary crisis of 1931. In his autobiography Attlee professed to have had little regard for MacDonald, but the unusual severity of his views may have been prompted by the recognition that his own support for MacDonald's leadership had lasted too long.

The 1930s: into leadership

For many Labour MPs whatever political credit they had accumulated in the 1920s was swept away in the electoral débâcle of October 1931. Attlee was one of the lucky ones, and narrowly clung on to Limehouse by 551 votes. His commitment to the constituency had probably stood him in good stead; it was far more effective than anything he might have done in national politics. As most commentators have recognized, this was now Attlee's great opportunity. Those who had proved to be the most resilient were not the most talented. Thirty-two out of the forty-six MPs returned were trade-union-sponsored, and few of these were able speakers. With Lansbury and Cripps, Attlee took on in the party a leading role which could not have been predicted from his limited achievements of the 1920s. It brought with it both heavy parliamentary burdens but also the need to carry the message to the party outside, often to the strongholds in the north. Attlee had no doubt what that message should be: as he wrote to his brother, ‘we want to get the party away from immediates and on to basic socialism’ (Attlee to Tom Attlee, 16 Nov 1931, MS Eng. c. 4792, fol. 44). In 1933, after noting that ‘everywhere I go I find reviving enthusiasm and great meetings’ he also reported that ‘George [Lansbury], Stafford [Cripps] and I all endeavour to give them the pure milk of the word and no blooming gradualism and palliatives’ (Attlee to Tom Attlee, 7 Feb 1933, MS Eng. c. 4792, fol. 55).

It was not difficult for Attlee to give them ‘basic socialism’ or ‘the word’, since he was firmly based on the left. His views were not especially schematic; he believed that socialist plans lost their appeal through being too rigid, and his scepticism about capitalism was moral rather than strictly economic. In the early 1920s he had shown some interest in guild socialism. As he put it simply and straightforwardly in The Labour Party in Perspective, published by the Left Book Club in 1937, ‘the cause [of the evils of capitalism] is the private ownership of the means of life; the remedy is public ownership’ (p. 15). Capitalism, thriving upon and intensifying the individualism of the nineteenth century, could too easily become selfish and indulgent; only socialism could look to the common good. This was seen as common ground in the party, rarely needing explicit or specific development. Thus the sections in The Labour Party in Perspective dealing with proposals for sweeping nationalization provided no discussion of how they were to be implemented, nor any acknowledgement of the problems which might have to be faced. What really interested Attlee was how socialists might best use the government machinery to keep in view the long-term goals among the mass of day-to-day administration. Attlee's most concrete interest in economics at this time was his concern for the unemployed. He impressed trade unionists in the 1930s by showing more sympathy than most for the hunger marchers of 1934.

This rather frenetic period bore fruit when Attlee deputized for Lansbury as leader of the Labour Party during the latter's illness from December 1933 to June 1934 and as a consequence was elected to the national executive committee for the first time. Some of the big names had begun to win their way back into the party, including Arthur Greenwood at a by-election in 1932, but the years after 1931 belonged to Attlee, and his competent understudying of Lansbury reinforced his position. Cripps made a vital contribution at this time. Attlee was hard pressed financially, and stepping in for Lansbury reduced the opportunities for supplementing his income. Attlee's thoughts of withdrawing from politics were banished when a donation from Cripps enabled the party to pay a salary to its deputy leader. Lansbury resigned the party leadership in October 1935 following the Brighton conference and Attlee was elected leader until the new session of parliament after the general election which followed almost immediately in November 1935. At this stage there was still no expectation that Attlee was to be leader on a more permanent basis, and his role in the election campaign had not decisively changed the position.

The strongest candidate whom Attlee faced at this and subsequent challenges to his leadership was Herbert Morrison, whose background was stronger than Attlee's in both national and local government. He had been minister of transport in the 1929–31 government and leader of the London county council, both bigger jobs than Attlee had managed. Morrison was regarded by many as the favourite to become leader in 1935, and played the most prominent role in the general election campaign that year. However, Morrison came second to Attlee on the first ballot of the leadership contest and when the votes of the third-place candidate, Arthur Greenwood, were redistributed Attlee won comfortably. Three factors probably weakened Morrison's position. First, those MPs who had returned after the 1931 election voted for Attlee out of regard for his steady leadership both inside and outside parliament. Second, Morrison was regarded as very much a London-based politician without much sympathy for those outside, and the ‘provincials’ who had followed Greenwood then switched to Attlee on the second ballot. Third, Morrison did not have much support from the trade unions, principally because Ernest Bevin took against him. Attlee, in contrast, had considerable support from the trade unions, especially the miners. Two miner MPs, David Grenfell and Tom Williams, had supported his continuation as leader in October 1935. Moreover, Morrison lost himself many friends in the campaign itself through being evasive about how completely he would devote himself to the leadership of the parliamentary party in the light of his role on the London county council.

This set a pattern for the future. Morrison was linked with further leadership challenges to Attlee in 1939, 1945, and 1947, but in all three cases the outcome was the same: failure, obviously, but also the compounding of his reputation as a schemer and the weakening of his stature. Although Attlee attracted frequent criticism as a leader because he appeared to lack charisma, and seemed not to be especially powerful or decisive, the fact that his major rival, Morrison, was also a man of greater personal and political flaws shows that Attlee's position was more secure than it might at first appear. The other figure occasionally considered as an alternative to Attlee was Arthur Greenwood, his deputy. Attlee had been glad to see him back in the Commons in 1932 as an experienced politician with a secure background in the party, and Greenwood did well in September 1939, when, with Attlee ill, he led the opposition with conviction as Chamberlain wavered towards Hitler. But Greenwood was never a serious candidate for leader on a permanent basis; drink had spoiled a promising career.

The most difficult issue facing Labour in the 1930s was foreign policy, and the party was not able to reap any real advantage from Chamberlain's apparent paralysis in the face of a deteriorating international situation. Attlee's view was that nations should surrender some of their sovereignty over foreign affairs in the interests of international peace. Up to 1937 this was expressed as support for the League of Nations and progressive disarmament, with armed forces being only at the disposal of the international body. Economic co-operation too, it was thought, would diminish the causes of discord. Within the party this ‘line’ defined itself against two contrasting views: unilateral disarmament and a grouping of socialist nations against their capitalist rivals. While the former was perhaps easier to defeat, the latter did have as its strategic expression alliance with the Soviet Union, which made some sense. There was also Bevin's powerful voice to contend with, as he proclaimed the ‘realism’ of non-intervention in Spain (with which Attlee disagreed) and the value of rearmament, which the left abhorred. Rearmament focused these differences precisely. In the mid-1930s Labour had opposed increased spending on the air force, even though Hitler had announced conscription and the build-up of a military air force. Until June 1937 the party had voted against the estimates for defence expenditure. Although this was a conventional way of criticizing policy, it probably cut little ice with the wider electorate. In July 1937 the national executive committee decided that to continue to vote against arms estimates was wrong, and so the ‘rearmers’ had won the day. This endorsement of rearmament was accepted at the Edinburgh conference in October 1937, and Cripps's campaign for closer co-operation with the Communist Party was also defeated. But this shift to a ‘harder’ foreign policy could not remove the doubts surrounding Labour and foreign policy, and Attlee's refusal to support conscription in April 1939, on the ground that it would be less effective than relying upon volunteers, also encouraged the view that behind Labour's criticisms of Chamberlain lay a policy which was irresolute and impractical.

The Second World War

The war was a transforming experience for the Labour Party, and for some of its key individuals. Both Bevin and Cripps emerged as masters in the exercise of a government machine enormously expanded by the war. Bevin showed real authority in his direction of Labour and in cabinet deliberations. This grew out of the impressive leadership of the Transport and General Workers' Union. But his development as an individual of parallel stature to Churchill was a factor of the war. Cripps had rescued himself from a reputation as a brilliant but maverick left-winger by an impressive performance as minister of aircraft production. Morrison also developed as a key figure on the home front, and also made important contributions to the role of the party. It was he who made the key speech which kept the parliamentary party loyal to the coalition in 1943, when it had become disillusioned with what it took to be the Conservatives' lukewarm attitude to the Beveridge report.

For Attlee the experience was less dramatic: he did not emerge as one of the big men of the war. As leader of the Labour group in the coalition, he had major responsibilities thrust upon him from the outset. He was appointed lord privy seal in May 1940 at the start of the coalition, and was the chairman of the food and home policy committees. He and Greenwood were both acting as ‘super, non-departmental co-ordinating ministers’ (Chester, Lessons, 7). This role lasted until February 1942, when Attlee became secretary of the dominions and deputy prime minister. But ‘Attlee had proved to be no heavyweight’ when chairing the food and home policy committees, and his change of role in 1942 seemed to both confirm but also mask his lack of real influence (Addison, 280). He had to stand in for Churchill, especially when the latter was away from the country, and Attlee admitted to his brother in 1943 that ‘it is not easy to sub for the P. M. It is obviously futile to put on Saul's armour, but I seek in a more pedestrian style to preserve a mean between dignity of language and dullness’ (Attlee to Tom Attlee, 19 May 1943, MS Eng. c. 4793, fol. 33).

Attlee's behaviour appeared to open up the danger that the war would pass Labour by. Within the government process the initiative had seemed by 1942 to have passed out of their hands and into those of Sir John Anderson, chairman of the lord president's council and a non-party figure, who acquired major influence over social and economic policy. Labour Party members outside the coalition were becoming increasingly restive over both the conduct of the war and the apparent foot-dragging over the social reforms inspired by Beveridge, which the population deserved both by virtue of the war effort and the experiences of the 1930s, and at the same time Attlee seemed to be a rather defensive and uninspiring figure who was unable to assuage these doubts. The possibility emerged of the party appearing to be a divisive and unpatriotic force during the war and therefore handing the Conservatives an electoral victory at its end. Unlike the Liberals in the First World War, whose split created a major opportunity for Labour, the Conservatives had remained united after the fall of Chamberlain and so posed a far more serious challenge. Events of course transpired wholly differently, with Labour winning a major victory which ushered in a great reforming ministry. A good deal of the credit for this lies with Bevin and Morrison, who overshadowed Attlee during the war, especially on the lord president's committee and in the deliberations about planning for the post-war period. Attlee, although he became chairman of the lord president's committee in September 1943, seems to have played a lesser role in shaping these deliberations. Given that the leftward shift in public opinion during the war took the Labour Party by surprise, and was underestimated by it, what role did Attlee play in Labour's transformation?

Attlee set the context within which the other Labour ministers operated. First, this meant reviewing the machinery of government as it stood in May 1940. This was a matter in which Attlee had long been interested. In his The Labour Party in Perspective he was particularly concerned at how administration of immediate policy eclipsed the development of longer-term strategy. Cabinet government as it operated in the 1930s was burdened with a good deal of business which was particular to departments and where the fundamental and the detailed were mixed rather than separated. Attlee had two solutions for this. The first was to assign key ministers without heavy departmental responsibilities to co-ordinate major policy areas, such as defence, social services, or economic policy. The second was to develop a committee system which would link departments and assist in resolving and clarifying issues at a sub-cabinet level. Attlee pursued both these approaches during the war. Apart from the secretaryship of the dominions he had no departmental responsibilities, but was involved right across the policy spectrum, from domestic to foreign affairs. This led to a good deal of committee work: ‘he sat on every committee of importance, creating several of them himself’ (Burridge, 142). One of the first tasks of Attlee and Greenwood in the Churchill coalition had been to reform the mass of committees which had developed around the cabinet in the 1930s into a more efficient system, which meant abolishing some and creating others. From this position Attlee exercised a powerful patronage of his own party men. He secured for Dalton, against Churchill's opposition, the directorship of subversive operations in occupied Europe. Between 1940 and 1945 the number of Labour junior ministers had increased from eight to seventeen. Moreover, Attlee was able to protect the planning for reconstruction from the meddling of both Beaverbrook and Bracken, and was not slow to criticize Churchill for his rambling and erratic conduct of cabinet business. He was generally thought more efficient at dispatching an agenda, and shrewder in strategic grasp, than the prime minister.

A great benefit of the war from Attlee's point of view was his friendship with Ernest Bevin. Although they had known each other in the 1930s, it was only when they worked together on committees in the wartime administration that they came to appreciate each other's qualities. Bevin realized that Attlee was one of those rare politicians who could be trusted, and whom colleagues had seriously underestimated. Attlee perhaps gained more, in that he received unshakeable loyalty from one of the great figures of twentieth-century politics. He admired Bevin's intellectual capability and administrative grip, as well as the sheer fertility of his mind. Bevin was going to be the key figure in any post-war Labour administration. Had he lost faith in Attlee, rather than just being occasionally frustrated at his indecisiveness, then the hopes of those who schemed for the high office would have been more realistic. As it was, Bevin's refusal to consider Attlee's removal was the rock of his premiership and the obstacle on which all subversive efforts foundered. Once again, Attlee had evinced more loyalty from representatives of the working class than from those nearer his social rank.

A good indication of Attlee's war record was the meeting with the party after the triumphant result of the general election held in July 1945. In view of Morrison's greater visibility and public success it was not unrealistic to envisage Attlee being replaced after the election but before accepting office. However, most MPs had no idea of the scheme: as one recorded, when he joined the party meeting, ‘no one could doubt that Attlee had come into his own’. He did not disappoint his audience: ‘Attlee's speech was typical. Without a trace of emotion he alluded to the tremendous nature of our victory’ (Diaries of James Chuter Ede, 28 July 1945, 228–9). Attlee took office as prime minister on 26 July 1945.

Government 1945–1950: foreign policy

Attlee's regard for Bevin which had developed during their wartime work was not merely of value in protecting his political position when prime minister: it was of crucial significance in shaping Britain's foreign policy after 1945. Attlee's friendship with Bevin deepened as time went on: ‘The more I saw of him the greater was my affection for him’ (F. Williams, Ernest Bevin: Portrait of a Great Englishman, 1952, preface, 8). Partly because Bevin carried such a heavy load, and partly no doubt because their larger strategy did not entail an obviously ‘socialist’ foreign policy, thereby risking continuing criticism from the left, Attlee sought to screen Bevin from cabinet scrutiny. Attlee often kept Bevin behind after cabinet meetings to discuss (and settle) major policy issues. In return, Bevin knew the value of Attlee's support and therefore sought his approval over even minor details. As Bevin told one of his officials, ‘Better get Clem's agreement. I value his judgement and if things should go wrong we will be better off if he has agreed’ (as recalled by Sir Frank Roberts, Bevin's principal private secretary; Ovendale, 39).

Attlee showed no real change in his fundamental analysis of international relations after 1945. National sovereignty encouraged aggression: ceding part of that sovereignty to an international organization was therefore the key to world peace. So Attlee enthusiastically supported the United Nations. But he recognized that this organization was in its infancy. The UN in 1945–51 was not yet an integral part of nations' foreign policies, so it was inevitable that countries had to look to their own interests. NATO, with its direction of multi-national force at the Soviet Union, diverged sharply from the ideal of the 1930s whereby supra-national organizations should be inclusive and not confrontational. The reality of American supremacy and the likelihood of Soviet imperialism were the key facts which had to be acknowledged after 1945. In recognizing these, Attlee showed how foreign-policy imperatives had changed rapidly and fundamentally at the end of the war. For many the victory over Germany had been achieved more through the sacrifices of Stalin's people than through the material superiority conferred by the Americans, but the hope that the wartime experience would fulfil the expectations which some had expressed in the 1930s, of an alliance of the left between Britain and the Soviet Union, were soon dashed.

Britain was still a world power, but with slighter resources great skill was required to maintain that position. Britain achieved a fairly ruthless assessment of its own imperial position, an assertion of independence in atomic defence, and the commitment of the USA to the defence of Europe. The price of this can be much debated. The economic crises which dogged the Labour government were in part an outcome of this strategy, because military payments which flowed out of the country to sustain British troops abroad accounted for a major part of Britain's payments deficit. Moreover, the terms of the American loan which enabled Britain to cover the cracks could not be sustained, both in respect of interest payments and the convertibility of the pound into the dollar in summer 1947. As the wartime alliance with the USA which Labour continued into the peace turned into one of American preponderance, the wisdom of this strategy might have been criticized, especially when it led to renewed rearmament at the outset of the Korean War in 1950. But in a world where Britain had many interests and few friends, the decision to maintain the Atlantic alliance was understandable. Moreover, Labour's domestic programme enabled the Attlee government to claim that the party's essential political agenda was being pursued. When Attlee addressed the houses of congress in November 1945 he was particularly concerned to stress how far Labour intended to preserve the core of the Anglo-American political tradition, namely individual freedom. He wanted to reassure the Americans of the gulf which separated the Labour Party from communism. But he was also forthright about the line of difference between them:
You will see us embarking on projects of nationalisation, on wide all-embracing schemes of social insurance designed to give security to the common man. We shall be working out a planned economy. You, it may be, will continue in your more individualistic methods. (Purpose and Policy, 150)
The resolution with which the Attlee governments faced challenges to the West in Europe and Asia was the first of many occasions when the party showed itself as aggressive in its defence of British interests as the Conservatives. Labour had become a committed ‘war’ party.

The greatest responsibility for Labour's foreign policy was Bevin's. As Attlee famously remarked, to explain his apparently subordinate role, ‘If you've got a good dog, you don't bark yourself’ (Williams, A Prime Minister Remembers, 149). At the most general level, Attlee was initially sceptical whether Britain had the resources to sustain its empire, but over time the commitment from Bevin and the service chiefs, as well as American interest in a British role against communism, served to change this view. More specific examples of Attlee's influence, however, can be seen both in policy areas where he took charge, and also where he and Bevin acted in concert. India was the prime case of the former, where the normally low-key Attlee ‘burned with fire’ in his determination to achieve an orderly path to independence (Morgan, Labour in Power, 219, citing an aide of Louis Mountbatten, viceroy of India). The difficulties in achieving this aim lay with the eagerness of the Congress Party to move quickly to independence and the desire of the Muslims to establish Pakistan as their own separate state. Attlee realized that the Indian army could not easily maintain order, and therefore to delay would be to risk a humiliating retreat from a hostile territory. Under Attlee's direction the cabinet came round to the idea of partition, and it was his decision to replace the embattled Wavell with the more positive Mountbatten, as well as to set a particular date for withdrawal. This was a dreadful time for Britain: the same month of February 1947 when Attlee had declared Britain would hand over India not later than June 1948 (it actually took place nearly a year earlier, in August 1947) saw the announcement of the withdrawal from Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the intention to refer the Palestinian problem to the United Nations. The immediate post-withdrawal period was turbulent and violent, and, although Attlee had moved quickly, he seemed to have achieved a necessary escape rather than the orderly path to independence which he had professed to desire.

In Europe the most decisive challenge to the West arose over Berlin, which was shared out between the allies as occupying forces, even though it lay deep within the Soviet zone of occupation. When the Soviet Union began to put pressure on the other occupying powers in Berlin by cutting off necessary supplies, it seemed possible that the difficulty of maintaining a western position in Berlin would encourage withdrawal. The most resolute grasp of the position, aside from that of the Berliners themselves, came from Bevin, backed by Attlee, in not only capitalizing upon the psychological as well as practical impact of an airlift of supplies, but also in relations with Moscow: ‘never was Bevin's capacity for action and the value of his relationship with Attlee more clearly displayed’ (Bullock, 575).

Over Berlin, Attlee and Bevin had appeared, at least initially, to have moved more quickly than the Americans to a commitment to defend Berlin, and face the consequences of another war. Over Korea, towards the end of his time as prime minister, Attlee's role was rather different. Here his aim was to limit the USA's response to the defence of South Korea, and not to let it spill over into hostility towards communist China, which would have had damaging repercussions on British interests in Asia. One dimension to American policy which troubled Attlee was the possibility that the Americans would use the atomic bomb. Attlee's visit to Washington in December 1950 was intended to remove that possibility. How far President Truman was considering using the bomb is open to doubt, but Attlee was successful in striking up a rapport with Truman and encouraging a more measured American policy towards Korea.

Attlee had also been instrumental in Britain's own development of the atom bomb, which in itself made a stark contrast to Labour's policy towards arms in the 1930s. The key decisions were taken in autumn 1946. Attlee's role lay partly in supporting Bevin's view that any British foreign secretary needed a nuclear deterrent in order to be able to negotiate as a major power, but also in the way the policy-making process was structured. The question was never laid before cabinet, and those who opposed the programme on financial grounds, namely Cripps and Dalton, were excluded from the secret cabinet committee which took the plunge. Although one of the main aims of British policy was to commit the USA to defend Europe, it was not apparent in 1946 that this had been achieved, and after the bruising negotiations over financial help for post-war reconstruction, some effective backing to British foreign policy was thought vital. While Attlee had been willing to set aside financial considerations in pressing ahead with a nuclear deterrent, he was critical of pressures for defence spending, which seemed to rely upon historic rather than current strategic considerations. Thus he was increasingly sceptical that the eastern Mediterranean, especially Greece, required a British presence. Britain's foreign policy under Attlee and Bevin embodied some fundamental decisions which, in assuming that Britain was to continue to be a major power, might have laid heavy burdens upon a small economy; traditional commitments, however, were not maintained uncritically.

An obvious consequence of this activity was a far more public role for Attlee. However much Bevin was the major figure in British diplomacy, Attlee had an irreducible significance which demanded a public presence. Short in stature and diffident in demeanour, he did not become instantly recognizable, nor did his unobtrusive manner when travelling around London change this. As a woman told him when he was changing trains at Baker Street, ‘Have you ever been told you look just like Mr Attlee?’ ‘Frequently’, he replied (Beckett, 210). He was still laconic and downbeat in his public speaking, but this did not prevent him leaving a profound impression on those whose approach was more expansive. Nye Bevan congratulated him on his speech on the nature of the Labour Party to the houses of congress in November 1945, ‘That was a noble speech. I felt very proud’ (Campbell, 187). Attlee's calm deflation of Churchill's scaremongering during the 1945 election campaign, when the Conservative leader claimed that Labour might usher in a socialist version of the police state, was part of an effective performance, and the parliamentary party found in the succeeding years that Attlee continued to get the better of his opponent in Commons debates.

Government 1945–1950: domestic politics

The Attlee governments combined a forthright international position, backed by force, with an equally self-confident domestic policy which combined the difficult transition from a war to a peacetime economy with radical developments in social welfare. For the members of those governments they were a triumphant success. It was true that, by 1951, there were sharp differences of opinion about whether to continue with a programme of nationalization of industry, while the budget dispute of 1951 between Gaitskell and Bevan over health charges cracked the unity of purpose which had been so striking before. But as to the success of the overall project there seemed to be no doubt. Indeed the nervousness of the incoming Conservative government in 1951 about making inroads on welfare services showed how far Labour had prescribed the governing agenda. While legitimate doubts could be entertained about sacrificing industrial efficiency to achieving total output, the need to run a high level of exports with, at the same time, austerity at home, was producing real results. As prime minister and overall architect of this government of reform, Attlee deserves enormous credit. Because he was so apparently modest in his demeanour, at times slow to exert his authority, and subject also to challenges for his office, historians have sometimes been unsure just how much responsibility falls to Attlee rather than to the major figures who held office in his governments—notably to Bevin but also, especially on the domestic front, to Stafford Cripps.

The core discipline of the 1945–50 Labour government was economics. The expertise of Dalton, Gaitskell, and Jay, which was also brought to the service of Cripps, gave them confidence to chart a route towards counter-inflation and industrial growth as well as to defend their aims against the pressure from the Treasury to scale back the welfare state. The key wartime development which was their instrument, namely national income accounting, was one which left Attlee's world far behind. The new method of measuring activity was explained to him during the war by his assistant, the economist Evan Durbin. Attlee's economic analysis was driven by ethical considerations: a miner was productively employed whereas a butler or a footman was not. It was wrong to employ people in jobs that one might easily do oneself, especially in domestic settings. By contrast, national income measurement, as Durbin explained, had to give full weight to any activity which was paid for, ‘however wasteful some of these may be judged by the moral standards of a socialist’ (memorandum of 1 July 1943, Piercy papers, BLPES, 8/2). Attlee was never going to be fully at home with a system which set on one side some of his basic assumptions. It was, in fact, during a financial crisis—that arising over the convertibility of the pound in the summer of 1947—when Attlee's lack of direction seemed to call into doubt his authority as a leader. For the first eighteen months of the peace the changeover from the war economy and the implementation of Labour's reform programme, although demanding, did not seem to involve any painful choices. In the first half of 1947 the government was shaken from three directions: by a shortage of fuel supplies during an especially harsh winter; by criticisms within the government from Bevan, Cripps, and Dalton over the slow progress towards iron and steel nationalization; and by the need to make sterling freely convertible under the terms of the American loan. Britain did not have the dollars to meet this requirement, but the cabinet took five weeks to decide to suspend convertibility. The same drift was apparent in 1949, when a weakening of the pound led eventually to devaluation. The upshot in 1947 was that Attlee faced critics over his apparent indecisiveness, their aim being to replace him with Bevin. In one of the best-known and most revealing episodes of Attlee's premiership Bevin refused to abandon him, and when Cripps persisted with his plan, he was disarmed by Attlee's offering him a new post as minister for economic affairs.

It was for these skills of political management, of keeping a talented team on course, that Attlee is chiefly credited. As in the failed leadership challenge of 1947, this was sometimes a question of how to handle individuals. Thus Attlee had protected Bevin from undue scrutiny of his foreign policy, and he did the same for Bevan by shielding him from Morrison's criticisms of his plans for hospitals and housing. In reverse, his absence through illness when the Bevan–Gaitskell dispute began to fester and then explode was a telling indication of his significance. Attlee could be completely forthright and abrupt in his treatment of colleagues by letter. When Laski told Attlee that he lacked the qualities of a great leader, Attlee simply replied: ‘Thank you for your letter, the contents of which have been noted. C. R. Attlee’ (Harris, 254). More significantly, he was similarly direct towards Bevin when the latter criticized his position over India but did not offer a viable alternative plan. When Lord Ammon wrote to Attlee in 1950 complaining about his dismissal from the chairmanship of the National Dock Labour Board, he received the following terse reply: ‘I have received your letter and noted your observations. I am quite unable to understand your attitude’ (Attlee to Ammon, 29 Dec 1950, Attlee papers, box 53, fols. 70–71).

But it was also a question of structures as well as people. Attlee had already in the 1930s given some thought to the problems which a reforming government might face in separating considerations of fundamental strategy from day-to-day administration. During the war he had played a part in developing, and had seen in operation, a cabinet system with attendant committees which was intended to deal with a vast volume of business and yet retain clear sight of essential strategic issues. Attlee was able to draw upon this system when in government. He set up a home affairs committee to cover legislation to which the government was committed, plus further committees on economic policy, production, defence, Commonwealth affairs, and nuclear defence. These each generated their own subcommittees. Attlee chaired defence and economic policy committees. The cabinet itself Attlee ran punctiliously, getting through the agenda and not letting it be waylaid by discursive exploration of policy issues. His was never the tactic of letting discussion run on until opposing arguments had played themselves out and a consensus emerged. Below the cabinet the intention was that the inter-departmental committee system would protect it from a good deal of lower-order decision-making as well as encourage the resolution of differences between departments. Perhaps inevitably, the system never worked perfectly, with many issues not of the first importance still reaching cabinet level. None the less, it was a valuable attempt to adapt government machinery for a party which would always come into office with reforming ambitions. Certainly under Churchill and Eden the system became far more disorganized, and was eventually revived by Macmillan for a purpose different from that which Attlee intended—namely, to bolster Macmillan's own authority.

There was a larger sense in which some of the problems of running a reforming government committed to planning were never solved. The biggest was to provide proper departmental and personal responsibility for economic planning separate from the role of the chancellor of the exchequer and the Treasury, which were concerned primarily with domestic government expenditure and external finance, both major areas at this time. It seemed that some progress had been made with the establishment in 1947, somewhat belatedly, of the ministry of economic affairs and the appointment of Cripps at its head. However, Dalton's resignation after his autumn budget in the same year brought Cripps to the chancellorship and unified two positions which ought to have been separated. Morrison had lost his economic co-ordinating functions as lord president when the ministry of economic affairs was formed. Home and overseas economic policy were brought under a new economic policy committee chaired by Attlee. This committee corresponded to Attlee's wish to have a small group of key ministers overseeing an area of policy. But machinery could not solve all the problems of government. The load on key individuals was enormous. One experienced observer, who had served the cabinet as a civil servant during the war, commented that
during 1946–51 the most successful Minister in this field [economic policy], Sir Stafford Cripps, nearly killed himself by overwork and had to resign, and many of the leading people concerned, Ministers and officials, finished up worn out and much less fit than when they started. (Chester, ‘Machinery of government’, 362)
Co-ordination of the many different policy areas which planning required put an enormous, and sometimes unbearable, strain on the chief individuals involved. But to have left more decisions with departments would have threatened the success of planning and co-ordination. As Dalton recognized, this was a fundamental problem for a Labour government, which would always want to use the administrative machine to its fullest extent to fulfil its reforming purpose. But if anyone was responsible for directing the government machine in 1945–51 and for deciding how much it should attempt to do, then that person was Attlee. The fact that he had devoted particular attention to this aspect of the party's activities made the ‘overload’ experienced by his governments all the more poignant.

The final years: 1951–1967

Although, as in previous elections, Attlee campaigned well in the general election of February 1950, Labour's majority was reduced to five. Resentment towards austerity and the alleged sufferings of the middle classes from the effects of anti-inflation policies were probably explanation enough for the loss of seats, although Attlee himself drew attention to the way the Parliamentary Boundary Commission's changes had worked against them. Attlee's own seat of Limehouse had been absorbed into a single constituency for Stepney, and instead he contested West Walthamstow, which he won with a comfortable majority. However, the government lost two of its major figures when Cripps resigned in October 1950 and Bevin in March 1951, both on health grounds. Attlee's touch, too, seemed to weaken. As his government was battered by an internal crisis over the 1951 budget and faced challenges to its authority abroad when the Anglo-Iranian oil company was nationalized and Egypt claimed sovereignty over Sudan, so Attlee's reticent style of leadership seemed more and more a liability. The row which arose over Gaitskell's imposition of health charges had its origins in Cripps's period when he had wanted to put some limit on the expanding health budget under Bevan's control. But the amount at stake in Gaitskell's budget—£23 million—seemed minuscule in the light of the size of the budget and also in the context of the defence spending which Britain was being asked to shoulder for the Korean War. The dispute festered, and although it must be admitted that Attlee was ill in hospital with an ulcer, his guidance was minimal. He was in the awkward position of being more in sympathy with Bevan's views than with Gaitskell's, but having to support his chancellor in order to prevent his own authority from coming into question. His indecision undoubtedly made things worse, and the upshot was the damaging resignations in April 1951 of Bevan, Harold Wilson, and John Freeman. The lack of common purpose which the dispute revealed and intensified showed that the government was running out of steam.

Attlee's choice of the date for the election which would resolve the problem of a tiny majority—October 1951—also seemed flawed. It was influenced by Attlee's view that the king's projected tour of Africa in February 1952 demanded an early contest. It was very much Attlee's decision, and some of his colleagues questioned its merits. Had he waited until summer 1952, it is arguable that fairer economic conditions would have benefited the party. As it was, Conservative gains, notably (but not solely) in London and the south-east, supported by a weak Liberal presence, were enough to give them a majority of seventeen over Labour, and Attlee relinquished office on 26 October.

The party then entered a period of acute internal dissension, driven by those around Bevan, which challenged Attlee's authority. His reticence in the face of these challenges—during the conference at Morecambe in 1952, and in 1954–5 over defence—appeared to underline how powerless Attlee was to stop the party's decline. Since it was widely believed that his continuation as leader of the opposition was a way of blocking Morrison's succession, his position seemed to lose its purpose. After Labour's defeat in the general election of May 1955, Attlee, who had held his seat at West Walthamstow, stepped down as party leader in December. He left the House of Commons on his elevation to the peerage as Earl Attlee and in November 1955 he entered the Lords.

Attlee's stature in the labour movement was, however, still considerable, and he campaigned with good effect in the elections of 1959 and 1964, and also made an intervention in 1966. In his retirement he travelled extensively and wrote articles and reviews for the newspapers. In June 1964 his wife, Violet, died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage. Although Violet's health was frequently poor, she showed considerable stamina in acting as Attlee's driver during election campaigns, often covering long distances in idiosyncratic style. She was herself Conservative in politics, and could be awkward in her dealings with Attlee's staff, but the domestic happiness they enjoyed was a powerful support for his long career. Attlee died after pneumonia on 8 October 1967 in Westminster Hospital. The funeral service took place at the Temple Church on 11 October; until just before his death Attlee had lived in a flat in King's Bench Walk in the Temple. His ashes were buried on 7 November in Westminster Abbey.

Attlee was sworn of the privy council in 1935, was made CH in 1945, and KG in 1956. He became an honorary bencher (Inner Temple) in 1946 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1947. He was made an honorary fellow of University College, Oxford (1942), of Queen Mary College, London (1948), and of the LSE (1958). His son succeeded to the earldom.

Personal qualities and political significance

Contemporaries and historians have been struck by the discrepancy between a man so apparently ordinary in demeanour and habits and a career spent at the centre of British politics and government over a twenty-year period between 1935 and 1955. His life certainly was at one with his modest stature. His relaxation and pleasures outside politics were entirely consistent with his background and upbringing. He enjoyed the dinners and gatherings organized by the important, but not necessarily formative, institutions of his life, namely Haileybury College and Oxford. He was devoted to his family and took a close interest in children. Some of the poetry he wrote in his youth, such as Socialism (1908) and Limehouse (1912), refers to the hardships of children and the eventual fulfilment of family life which might follow political reform. He liked travel and had enough knowledge of European architecture to be concerned at the damage being done by allied bombing during the invasion of 1944. He was good at carpentry and enjoyed repairing the woodwork around his garden.

Those who lead such deeply grooved lives, which draw their strength from certain institutions and settings, sometimes find the unpredictability and heavy demands of major office an enormous and visible strain. What is perhaps remarkable about Attlee is that he displayed no such doubts or soul-searching. This was not born of any self-deception. He knew he was very shy, and he appreciated he had few striking intellectual gifts, and that he owed a great deal to the Labour Party for the fame he achieved. He did not seem to have been moved by self-doubt, nor by any concern for the opinions others held about him, even though the institutions which he valued so highly—school and university—were those where the judgments of one's peers and betters were usually so important. His unrevealing autobiography, As it Happened (1954), is the clearest example of his indifference towards some of the conventions of his own class. His experiences of war and social work must have given him the confidence to trust his abilities and judgments. His actions were always measured and never impulsive, as is sometimes the case with less secure men. This self-sufficiency may explain how he endured the rigours of high office for so long, surviving crisis after crisis with apparent vigour. When Francis Williams asked him how he could survive under such a heavy workload, his reply rings true:
By not worrying. Clearing off every day's job before the end of the day. You take a decision and have done with it. No good keeping on asking yourself if you've done the right thing. It gets you nowhere. (Williams, A Prime Minister Remembers, 79)
Although a single life cannot epitomize so diverse an organization as the Labour Party, Attlee's combination of radical political views with support for so much that was conventional in society has summed up for many the limitations of British social democracy. When Attlee addressed the houses of congress in November 1945, he tried to reassure them about his government by pointing out that ‘The Old School Tie can still be seen on the Government benches’ (Purpose and Policy, 149). But the larger context for this remark was that the party drew on a wide cross-section of the population. And this was the point about the party under Attlee, epitomized by his close relationship with Ernie Bevin. The public school, Oxford graduate, militarily experienced prime minister was in close step with the orphaned Bristol barrow boy who had left school at thirteen to become leader of one of the most powerful trade unions in Europe. Their judgments on matters big and small usually coincided. This showed what the party could achieve, by integrating the classes in a common purpose. That the two classes could learn from one another was what Attlee had discovered and practised in the East End, and its shining example was his relationship with Bevin. This was a powerful but transient achievement. While his relationship with Bevin may have realized Attlee's ideal for political life, the party could not perpetuate it, however often it resurrected the memory of 1945–51. The historic identity of the party with the trade unions seemed to weaken its claim to be an instrument of government. Although in Attlee's period his Treasury ministers had managed to reconcile their version of socialism with economic management, this was to become increasingly difficult. The Attlee governments appeared to be an interlude, perhaps created by the war, between the torment of 1929–31 and the nightmares of 1967–9 and 1978–9. When the party regained power in 1997, with a victory more emphatic than in 1945, it had fundamentally modified its relationship with the trade unions, and Blair, its leader, now spoke of the Attlee period not as a guide to what might be achieved, but as a warning of how divisions within the party could undermine its reforming purpose. The Attlee inheritance was finally exhausted.

R. C. Whiting

Sources  

K. Harris, Attlee (1982) · T. Burridge, Clement Attlee: a political biography (1985) [incl. full bibliography of works by Attlee] · K. O. Morgan, Labour in power, 1945–1951 (1984) · K. O. Morgan, Labour people: leaders and lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock (1987) · F. Williams, A prime minister remembers (1961) · Attlee: as I knew him, London Borough of Tower Hamlets Library Service, Local History Series, 5 (1983) · C. R. Attlee, The social worker (1920) · C. R. Attlee, The labour party in perspective (1937) · H. B. Lees-Smith, ed., The encyclopaedia of the labour movement, 1 (1928) [articles by Attlee on the army and conscription] · Purpose and policy: selected speeches by the prime minister, the Rt. Hon. C.R. Attlee, C.H., M.P., ed. R. Jenkins (1947) · C. R. Attlee, As it happened (1954) · R. Jenkins, Mr Attlee: an interim biography (1948) · A. Bullock, The life and times of Ernest Bevin, 3 (1983) · Labour and the wartime coalition: from the diaries of James Chuter Ede, 1941–1945, ed. K. Jefferys (1987) · P. Addison, The road to 1945 (1977) · J. Campbell, Nye Bevan: a biography (1987) · B. Donoughue and G. Jones, Herbert Morrison: portrait of a politician (1973) · R. Ovendale, ed., The foreign policy of the British labour governments, 1945–51 (1984) · F. Beckett, Clem Attlee (1997) · R. McKenzie, British political parties (1963) · letters to Tom Attlee, Attlee papers, Bodl. Oxf., MSS Eng. c. 4792–4 · newspaper cuttings, People's History Museum, Manchester · D. N. Chester, ‘Machinery of government and planning’, The British economy, 1945–50, ed. G. D. N. Worswick and P. H. Ady (1952), 336–64 · D. N. Chester, Lessons of the British war economy (1951) · B. Pimlott, Labour and the left in the 1930s (1977)

Archives  

Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and papers · CAC Cam., corresp. and papers · TNA: PRO, official corresp. and papers |  BL, corresp. with Sir Sydney Cockerell, Add. MS 52703 · BLPES, Piercy papers · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Viscount Addison · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Tom Attlee · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Patricia Beck · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with E. R. Dodds · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with A. L. Goodhart · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with third earl of Selborne · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Shawcross · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with R. R. Stokes · Bodl. RH, corresp. with Sir R. R. Welensky · Bodl. RH, corresp., mainly with Arthur Creech Jones · Bodl. RH, corresp. with Sir R. R. Welensky and associated papers relating to his visit to Rhodesia · CAC Cam., corresp. with A. V. Alexander · CAC Cam., corresp. with Ernest Bevin · Durham RO, corresp. with Lord Londonderry · King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., corresp. with Sir B. H. Liddell Hart · Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester, corresp. with Morgan Phillips · Lpool RO, corresp. with seventeenth earl of Derby · NL Scot., corresp. with Arthur Woodburn · NL Wales, corresp. with Clement Davies · NL Wales, letters to Desmond Donnelly · NL Wales, corresp. with Huw T. Edwards · NL Wales, letters to James Griffiths · Parl. Arch., corresp. with Lord Beaverbrook · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Sir Henry Dale, CAB 127/213 · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Hugh Dalton, CAB 127/211 · U. Hull, Brynmor Jones L., corresp. with Lord Ammon · U. Hull, Brynmor Jones L., letters to Harold Laski · U. Sussex, corresp. relating to world government associations · U. Warwick Mod. RC, corresp. with A. P. Young  

FILM

 

BFINA, ‘Clement Attlee’, 15 Feb 1978 · BFINA, documentary footage · BFINA, news footage · BFINA, party political footage · IWM FVA, actuality footage · IWM FVA, news footage

 

SOUND

 

BL NSA, ‘Candidates for greatness’, M7502 WG1 · BL NSA, ‘Living with Clement’, B4679 102 · BL NSA, current affairs · BL NSA, documentary recordings · BLA NSA, oral history interviews · IWM SA, ‘official announcement of victory over Japan’, BBC, 1967, 3375 · IWM SA, oral history interview · IWM SA, recorded talk


Likenesses  

W. Stoneman, three photographs, 1930–41, NPG · photographs, 1930–66, Hult. Arch. · F. Man, double portrait, photograph, 1939 (with A. Greenwood), NPG · Y. Karsh, two bromide prints, 1944, NPG · H. Coster, photographs, 1945, NPG · photograph, 1945, Hult. Arch.; repro. in Bullock, Life and times of Ernest Bevin, facing p. 464 · G. Harcourt, oils, 1946, NPG · D. Birley, oils, 1948, University College, Oxford · R. Moynihan, oils, 1948, Oxford and Cambridge University Club, London · J. Gunn, oils, 1950, priv. coll. [see illus.] · D. Fowler, oils, 1955, Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Hertfordshire · L. B. Gowing, oils, 1962, Inner Temple, London · D. McFall, bronze head, 1965, NPG · J. S. Lewinski, photograph, c.1967, NPG · H. L. Oakley, silhouette, NPG · I. Roberts-Jones, statue, Palace of Westminster, London · G. Woodbine, group photograph (General election, 1935), NPG; repro. in Daily Herald

Wealth at death  

£7295: probate, 4 Jan 1968, CGPLA Eng. & Wales