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Clement Attlee is my favourite Prime Minister
on 29 December 2014
Well done, my daughter, for getting me this for my Christmas! Clement Attlee is my favourite Prime Minister, and remains so after reading this latest biography of the unpretentious little man who changed life in Britain to a far greater extent that any other Prime Minister. I was born in 1948, and feel that, almost 70 years later, I owe everything to Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan.
My one gripe is that not enough time is spent on his greatest achievement - the National Health Service. It was of course the Welsh wizard Nye Bevan who did the nitty gritty, but he was well supported by his Prime Minister who, I was slightly surprised to learn, was being groomed as Clem's successor.
The author tends to a certain extent to fall into the trap of implying that the late 1940s were a time of misery for working people. In fact, they were considerably better off that they had been before the War. It was the middle classes who were squealing because this was a government determined to improve the lot of the common people, economic crisis or not!
Jago is good on Attlee's background, his first world war career and his brilliant running of the Government in the second world war when Churchill was not there, and even when Churchill was! Churchill was the inspiration, full of bluster and bombast, whereas Attlee was the quiet, efficient administrator. Both were equally necessary to save Europe from barbarism and slavery.
Famously laconic himself, Attlee's running of Cabinet meetings was exemplary, with an agreeable determination not to let anyone talk too much! Indeed his greatest strength was his ability to co-ordinate disparate and difficult, but brilliant characters like Bevin, Cripps, Bevan, Dalton and Morrison and bring out the best in them even those whom he did not like - Morrison and Dalton, for example.
The author gives him a great deal of credit (deservedly) for what he did in India, but is more damning with faint praise for Attlee's determination to extricate Britain from Palestine - a place where they could not possibly win. I often think that the withdrawal from the Middle East is a lesson that his successors might have learned and applied a little sooner to places like Rhodesia and Northern Ireland.
We could have done with a little more on Attlee's love of cricket - although he did arrive one day in Eastern Europe and was disappointed to find that no-one knew the cricket scores! And we might have got the story of his attendance at the England v Scotland game at Wembley in 1947. It was a 1-1 draw, and Attlee's summing up was a masterpiece of brevity and diplomacy (for he was an Englishman for whom Scotsmen voted in their droves) "Both sides played well"!
An excellent biography from Mr Jago! As for Clement Attlee, I just keep loving that man!