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The Steady but Unremarkable Clement Attlee

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Published on Jun 20, 2017

The Steady but Unremarkable Clement Attlee
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John Bew, Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee London: Riverrun, 2016), 668 pp, 3000
CLEMENT ATTLEE was blessed by good fortune Wounded at Gallipoli, he survived the military disaster while many of his comrades never left the battlefield When an ailing George Lansbury relinquished the leadership of the Labour Party in 1935, Attlee—virtually alone among Labour’s senior front-benchers to survive the electoral wipeout that the party had suffered four years earlier—was easily elected to replace him When the British public, haunted by visions of the unemployment and homelessness that characterized the aftermath of the Great War, turned away from Winston Churchill and abandoned the Conservatives in the 1945 election, Attlee, still Labour’s leader despite numerous attempts to unseat him, assumed the prime ministership in the great man’s place And as a prime minister surrounded by an exceedingly talented group of cabinet colleagues, ranging from the hardline Socialists Stafford Cripps and the rabble-rousing Nye Bevan to Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin on Labour’s right, he was able to overhaul Britain’s social system while replacing its empire with a loose collection of its former colonies and dominions, which was termed the British Commonwealth now called simply “the Commonwealth”) In Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee, John Bew, an acclaimed historian and professor at King’s College London, has produced a biography that would have readers believe that Attlee’s career was more a product of his talent than of good luck He argues that patriotism and pragmatism, rather than ideology, motivated Attlee throughout his professional life, and led to his success Neither patriotism nor pragmatism necessarily mark one out for greatness, however, and they certainly did not in Attlee’s case

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