• Attlee was Churchill’s lame duck deputy PM. 
  • In fact he was the first Deputy PM the UK ever had. 
  • I didn’t realise this, but in the UK the role of the Deputy PM isn’t like you’d expect, like it is in Australia or like the Vice-President in the USA. 
  • The Deputy PM doesn’t take over if the PM is incapacitated or resigns. 
  • If the PM is sick or dies, the Deputy does NOT take over. 
  • In the UK, only the sovereign can appoint a PM. 
  • So having a Deputy who is PM-in-waiting is seen as a no no. 
  • One argument made to justify the non-existence of a permanent deputy premiership is that such an office-holder would be seen as possessing a presumption of succession to the premiership, thereby effectively limiting the sovereign’s right to choose a prime minister.
  • But of course you might think “well surely the Monarch can just say “okay I make you PM and I make you Deputy PM and therefore you’ll take over if something happens”, but apparently that would be too much work. 
  • Attlee was the Deputy PM because the Churchill war ministry was a coalition government of men from both major political parties, handpicked by Churchill. 
  • The idea went back to the first World War, when both Asquith and David Lloyd George had a coalition government in which Churchill was a minister, and back then he was with the Liberal Party, because he’d quit the Tories for a while.
  • And Attlee was the leader of the Labor Party.
  • In fact he was the leader for 20 years, from 1935 – 1955. 
  • Not a bad run. 
  • Now remember that Churchill himself HATED socialists more than he hated wasting a cigar, so it was a pretty remarkable thing that he found a way to work with these guys, and it’s something I can respect him for. 
  • Anyway, the UK election had happened before Potsdam, despite Attlee suggesting they should wait until after the defeat of Japan, but the results were still being tallied. 
  • On July 25, the conference took a two-day break so that the most senior British officials could return to London for the tabulation of the votes.
  • There was a three week delay between the vote on July 5 and the results to give the 3 million  troops still overseas time to cast their votes. 
  • Everyone, including Attlee and the British communists, expected Churchill to win, all that seemed in doubt was the size of the majority.
  • But Churchill later claimed that before he left Potsdam he had had a nightmare. “I dreamed that my life was over,” he later recalled. “I saw it—it was very vivid—my dead body under a white sheet on a table in an empty room. I recognized my bare feet projecting from under the sheet. It was very life like. . . . Perhaps this is the end.”
  • I wonder if his corpse was smoking a cigar? 
  • The elections produced a historic surprise, of course – it was a landslide victory for Labour and Clement Attlee. 
  • The Conservative majority in the House of Commons disappeared as the number of Tory seats plummeted from 585 to 213. 
  • Labour emerged as the dominant party, meaning that Clement Attlee would return to Potsdam as Britain’s prime minister, and that Churchill would at least temporarily leave government. 
  • Churchill briefly thought about returning to Potsdam and forcing the new Parliament to vote him out, but he soon bowed to the inevitable and resigned. 
  • Attlee offered Churchill and Eden the chance to return to Potsdam with him as advisers, to show the world the continuity of the British system, but both declined. 
  • Attlee himself could hardly believe that he and his party had won, and by such an enormous margin. 
  • When he went to Buckingham Palace to meet the king, George VI told Attlee that he looked quite surprised to have won. “Indeed I certainly was,” Attlee replied. 
  • Needless to say – everyone back at Potsdam was in shock. 
  • No one quite knew what to make of the change; Winston Churchill now had no role in British policy. 
  • In his diary, Admiral Leahy recorded his concern that, Churchill’s flaws notwithstanding, Britain simply could not go on without him. 
  • The change in government, Leahy wrote, “is in my opinion a world tragedy. I do not know how the Allies can succeed without the spark of genius in his qualities of leadership.” 
  • Now, instead of Roosevelt and Churchill at Potsdam, the Allies had Truman and Attlee, both of whom seemed to Leahy to be grossly inadequate substitutes for their illustrious predecessors.
  • ATTLEE BIO
  • Clement Attlee’s background was about as far removed from Chuchill’s as you could imagine. 
  • Attlee was born into a middle class family, the seventh of eight children. 
  • His father was Henry Attlee (1841–1908), a solicitor, and his mother was Ellen Bravery Watson (1847–1920), daughter of the secretary for the Art Union of London.
  • But young Clement went to Oxford, where in 1904 he graduated BA with second-class honours in Modern History.
  • He trained as barrister and went to work for his father’s firm, but didn’t like it. 
  • In 1906, he became a volunteer at Haileybury House, a charitable club for working-class boys in the East End of London run by his old school, and from 1907 to 1909 he served as the club’s manager. 
  • Until then, his political views had been more conservative.
  • But now he was face to face with the poverty and deprivation of the slum children, and he came to the conclusion that charities would never be able to make a dint in the problem, and that what was needed was government intervention and income redistribution. 
  • And so he became a socialist. 
  • He joined the Labor Party and was employed for a time by the UK gov, where he rode around the country on a bike explaining the new National Insurance Act that was introduced in 1911 by David Lloyd George.
  • That’s right Americans – The UK has had a form of universal health care for over a century. 
  • Do you know the first country to introduce it? 
  • Germany in 1884 under Bismarck. 
  • We should do a BS series on health care. 
  • Anyway, back to Clem. 
  • He was a lecturer at the London School of Economics until WWI broke out. 
  • He tried to join the army, was rejected because he was too old at 31, but tried again and was accepted 
  • He ended up at Gallipoli with my great-grandfather. 
  • the Gallipoli invasion of course was architected by – Winston Churchill. 
  • But Attlee was actually a fan of the idea and had a lot of respect for Churchill as a result. 
  • But he got sick at Gallipoli and was sent home on a ship. 
  • But he said he wanted to stay and fight, and was let off at Malta, where he recovered in a hospital before going back to the front lines. 
  • He ended being injured in Iraq and was sent back to the UK where he recovered, was promoted to Major, and trained soldiers. 
  • Then he ended up the war on the Western Front in France. 
  • After the war he went back to lecturing at the London School of Economics. 
  • He entered politics and became the mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, one of London’s most deprived inner-city boroughs, in 1919. 
  • During his time as mayor, the council undertook action to tackle slum landlords who charged high rents but refused to spend money on keeping their property in habitable condition.
  • Then he wrote his first book, The Social Worker, which laid out his political philosophy. 
  • The book attacked the idea that looking after the poor could be left to voluntary action. 
  • He wrote on page 30:
  • In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community.[21]
  • and went on to say at page 75:
  • Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.
  • In 1922 he became a Minister in the Parliament. 
  • And in 1924 became the Under-Secretary of State for War in the short-lived first Labour government.
  • In 1927 he joined the Royal Commission set up to look at granting India independence. 
  • Which he finally made happen in 1947 during his government. 
  • He became the leader of the Labor Party in 1935. 
  • Although in the next few years he fought against the build up of Britain’s army, believing the money was better spent building up the welfare system, by 1937 he disagreed with Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement of Hitler and came to agree that they needed to rearm and get ready for war. 
  • Then in 1940, Chamberlain was out, and Churchill created his coalition war ministry. 
  • Attlee played a fairly low key role during the war, mostly behind the scenes. 
  • Although in the times when Churchill was overseas, Attlee stepped in and took over as the face of the government. 
  • In many ways, during the war, Churchill was focused mostly on the war, and Attlee had been running the country. 
  • Unlike Churchill, he didn’t have much charisma; 
  • Beatrice Webb, the sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer, who coined the term “collective bargaining”, and was a friend of Ivan Maisky, wrote in her diary in early 1940:
  • He looked and spoke like an insignificant elderly clerk, without distinction in the voice, manner or substance of his discourse. To realise that this little nonentity is the Parliamentary Leader of the Labour Party… and presumably the future P.M. [Prime Minister] is pitiable.
  • Not to mention that he had a Hitler mustache and Himmler’s glasses. 
  • Imagine a balding Hitler wearing Himmler’s glasses. 
  • When the war with Germany was over, both Attlee and Churchill wanted to postpone the election until Japan had been defeated, but there was pressure at home for an election. 
  • The Labor party voted to pull out of the coalition, despite Attlee’s personal views, and Churchill was forced to call an election for July 5. 
  • Britain was bankrupt. 
  • There was a lot of rebuilding to do, and people wanted social reform. 
    • Not one of Churchill’s strengths. 
  • Keep in mind that Britain had been in a depression for the last 25 years, pretty much ever since the end of WWI. 
  • Britain incurred 715,000 military deaths (with more than twice that number wounded), the destruction of 3.6% of its human capital, 10% of its domestic and 24% of its overseas assets, and spent well over 25% of its GDP on the war effort between 1915 and 1918.
  • Germany owed billions in reparations, but Britain in turn owed the U.S. billions in loan repayments.
  • And Britain also lost a huge percentage of its export trade after the war, to Japan and the USA. 
  • The 30s had been a period of mass unemployment, no welfare state, a lack of housing, people were living in slums. 
  • So people were ready for a change. 
  • Labour campaigned on the theme of “Let Us Face the Future,” positioning themselves as the party best placed to rebuild Britain after the war, and were widely viewed as having run a strong and positive campaign talking about policies.
  • In particular, they built on the report produced by the Liberal economist Lord Beveridge in 1942 that proposed a welfare state, where people would be taken care of by the state, from cradle to grave. 
  • His report proposed widespread reforms to the system of social welfare to address what he identified as five “Giant Evils” in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease.
  • The argument was pretty simple: if you could have full employment during the war, funded by the state, why couldn’t you have it in peace time to build houses?
  • Churchill called Beveridge “an awful windbag and a dreamer”.
  • We can imagine what he thought about such a socialist idea. 
  • Here’s Attlee’s campaign speech – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zlcn6JtQX_s
  • The Conservative campaign centred entirely around Churchill being a strong war leader, personality over policy. 
  • Most of the media backed Churchill and claimed he would win. 
  • Especially Lord Beaverbrook, the original Rupert Murdoch, who owned the Daily Express, the world’s largest selling newspaper. 
  • He personally took over the editing of the paper during the election and made it into a propaganda arm of the Tory party. 
  • The bookies had the Tories 5 to 1.
  • Churchill however made some costly errors during the campaign. 
  • In particular, his suggestion during one radio broadcast that a future Labour Government would require “some form of a gestapo” to implement their policies was widely regarded as being in very bad taste, and massively backfired.
  • Here’s a clip. 
  • The woman at the end was Attlee’s daughter. 
  • Churchill’s daughter said she thought her father had lost his touch when it came to domestic politics.
  • After five years of being THE MAN, and sitting around tables with Stalin, he had become more blunt. 
  • But come on – the guy had never been popular in the first place. 
  • He was an emergency wartime PM.
  • Labour won power by a huge landslide, winning 47.7% of the vote to the Conservatives’ 36%
  • When Attlee went to see King George VI at Buckingham Palace to be appointed Prime Minister, the notoriously laconic Attlee and the famously tongue-tied King stood in silence; Attlee finally volunteered the remark, “I’ve won the election.” The King replied “I know. I heard it on the Six O’Clock News.
  • Ernest Bevin was made the new Foreign Secretary.
  • And Churchill? 
  • Well at least his worst fears didn’t come true – he wasn’t dead and he wouldn’t be the man to see the sun set on the British Empire. 
  • That honour would go to Attlee and Bevin. 

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