Childhood & Early Life
Clement Attlee was born on January 3, 1883 in Putney, Surrey to Henry Attlee and Ellen Bravery Watson. His father was a solicitor.
Clement Attlee received his schooling from Northaw School and then went to the Haileybury College. In 1904, he graduated from University College, Oxford, with a Second Class Honors BA in Modern History. After completing his graduation, he trained as a lawyer.
Continue Reading Below
In 1906, he started working as manager of Haileybury House, a charitable club for working-class boys. There he witnessed the terrible living standards of the slum children which deeply affected his political views.
He developed a view that private charities would do no good for the poor people and income redistribution by the state was the only way out. Thus, he joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908 in order to become actively involved in the country’s politics.
In 1911, Clement Attlee was employed as the UK Government's official explainer. He toured Essex and Somerset on a bicycle, explaining Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George's National Insurance Act at public meetings..
He was a lecturer at the London School of Economics from 1912 to 1914 before being commissioned in the World War I. After the war he came back to the London School and held his position till 1923.
He became the mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1919. The council issued and executed orders and directives against slum-lords who didn’t maintain habitable conditions in their slums. The council also appointed visitors and sanitary inspectors and dealt with the rising issue of infant mortality.
He became the Member of Parliament from Limehouse after the 1922 general elections and also served as Ramsay MacDonald’s parliamentary private secretary in the brief 1922 parliament.
In the 1924 first Labor government led by Ramsay MacDonald he served as the Under-Secretary of State for War.
In 1927, he became one of the members of the Simon Commission but found no ministerial post in the Second Labour Government.
In 1930 he became the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Postmaster-General in 1931.
Continue Reading Below
In the 1931 general elections the Labour Party lost heavily and most of the senior leaders lost their seats. Attlee and George Lansbury were among the few who survived and then Lansbury was elected the Leader with Attlee as his deputy.
Lansbury resigned in 1935 and Attlee became the interim leader before the 1935 elections. Afterwards he won both the first and the second ballots and defeated Herbert Morrison and Arthur Greenwood to become the Leader of the Labour Party.
The Labour Party strongly discouraged the rearmament of UK or the neighbouring countries during the 1920s and the 1930s. But with the steady rise of Nazi Germany the party ditched the idea by 1937.
During the World War II the Labour Party and the Conservatives entered a coalition government led by Winston Churchill. In this period he became Britain’s first ever Deputy Prime Minister in 1942 and then also held the positions of Dominions Secretary and the Lord President of the Council.
After the World War II the coalition was broken and fresh elections were held. Churchill, the Conservative Party’s candidate, being the War-Hero was expected to win but shockingly the Labour Party won and for the first time had enough seats to claim majority in the house.
Attlee was appointed the Prime Minister by King George VI at the Buckingham Palace. He assumed office on 26 July 1945 and in the next three years the government passed over 200 public Acts of Parliament.
In the 1950 general elections the Labour Party won a majority of only five seats but he was re-elected. Although this term didn’t equal his first, still important legislations regarding air and water pollution and industries in urban area were passed.
The Attlee government began to flounder by 1951 and Attlee in order to revitalize the government, called for a snap election. The Labour Party lost the elections and Attlee tendered his resignation as PM the next day.
He continued leading the party as the Leader of Opposition and in the 1955 general election he lost to Anthony Eden. In November, he retired as the Leader of the Labour Party and was succeeded by Hugh Gaitskell.
Personal Life & Legacy
Clement Attlee married Violet Millar on January 10, 1922 and together they had four children, namely, Lady Janet Helen, Lady Felicity Ann, Martin Richard and Lady Alison Elizabeth.
Clement succumbed to pneumonia on October 8, 1967 at the age of 84.