Starting form a position of charity, he became radicalised by his experiences, becoming an organiser of Stepney Independent Labour Party. By 1912 he still had no fixed occupation, filling in as a part-time lecturer after a stint at Toynbee Hall, which left him feeling somewhat disgusted with the liberal bourgeoisie.
Gaining a job as a lecturer at the London School of Economics, Attlee had a practical sense of ills which had to be alleviated, rather than any theoretical desire for revolution. His targets of slum housing, malnutrition and casual labour are still valid today.
The war in 1914 broke his engagement with social reform, and he was wounded at Gallipoli after gaining a Commission to the rank of Major.
From being mayor of Stepney after the war, Major Attlee was elected as MP in 1922 for the seat of Stepney, Limehouse. Serving in both the 1924 and 1929 Labour governments, he showed a high level of administrative competence yet kept out of the many political crises of the time.
He only just survived the 1931 cull of Labour MPs, developing an oblique and precise style which stood him well in running for the leadership in 1935. Whilst Attlee had been acting leader during George Lansbury's illness, both rivals - Morrison and Greenwood - had gained many enemies. However, his quiet talents as a 'committee man' meant that Attlee failed to impress for several years when first elected leader.
He was a reclusive, enigmatic figure, and had very conventional tastes. A product of the Edwardian era, Attlee was in some respects deeply conservative and very patriotic (Mrs Attlee was a Conservative). He was not modest; as a high achiever, it would not have fitted, given his inner self-confidence and strength of will. After all, he led the Labour Party for no less than twenty years. Politically, his instincts were to remain radical throughout.
"He was the greatest of Labour's leaders and Prime Ministers." AJP Taylor1936 - 1944 It was left largely to Bevin and Dalton to move the Party away from appeasement. Up until involvement in the coalition during May 1940, there was repeated criticism of Attlee from both the right and left of the Party.
During the war, Attlee became an active policy-maker and, when Churchill was out of the country, he fulfilled a domestic co- ordinating role. His interests included a new settlement for Germany after the war and domestic social reform. As his stature grew, he could force Churchill to set up the Cabinet's Reconstruction Committee in 1943, and often slapped down Churchill on matters of welfare policy.
Attlee was to concentrate primarily upon understanding the actual machinery of government. When this was added to his comprehensive knowledge of the Party, it is shown that he was becoming a formidable opponent by this time.
When, in 1944, Herbert Morrison produced a memorandum advocating mass socialisation of industry, Attlee let it die. He thereby neutralised a threat to his leadership from an incorrigibly ambitious rival. Laski's carping on Labour's NEC received similarly short shrift.
Whilst it was his spell as Prime Minister that stakes his claim as
the finest British Prime Minister this century, by 1945 the
wisdom, tact and clarity of Clem Attlee was becoming increasingly