Saturday, February 26, 2000
F A C T   F I L E

Clement Richard Attlee
By Illa Vij

The following are excerpts taken from Clement Attlee’s autobiography, As It Happened.

"WE cannot make a heaven of our own country and have a hell outside," are the words of Clement Attlee — the man who always thought in global terms. It was he who, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, took the major decision of giving India her freedom. His idealism and regard for human dignity inspired him to become a socialist and think not just of his own nation, but the world, a home for all humanity.

Clement Richard Attlee was born in 1883, in Putney beside the London-river. His father was a solicitor and his mother an active social worker. Till the age of eight, he was tutored at home. Then he was sent to a school in Hertfordshire. At the age of 13 he went to Hailybury. His talent for debate grew as he became older. He passed out from the University of Oxford and then left for London to study law. In 1906, he qualified as a barrister. He stopped practicing law in 1909. In 1910, he became Secretary of Toynbee Hall. When he was 27 years old, he lectured on trade unions at Ruskin College and later lectured on social science, at London School of Economics. He became intensely interested in socialism.

  When World War I broke out, he felt it his duty to volunteer. He saw action in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and the Western Front. He was seriously wounded and was promoted to the rank of major. Soon-after he went to Stepney and in 1919, he was elected to the Stepney Borough Council and served as a mayor. In 1922, he was elected to the House of

Commons, as member for Limehouse, in East End (East London). Two years later, he was under secretary for war in Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet. In 1927, he came to India with the Indian Statutory Commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon.

They came to investigate the results of local self-government.

When World War II broke out and Winston Churchill came to power, Attlee was the first Labour M.P. to be invited to join the cabinet.

In 1940, Attlee led the Labour Party into coalition with the Conservative government. At this time Britain was at war with Germany.

In 1942, Attlee became Deputy Prime Minister and in 1945 he led his party to a glorious victory. He took over the Prime Minister’s office from Winston Churchill. The victory never made him a proud man. Once when asked why people turned against Churchill, he replied "They didn’t turn against him, they turned against the Tories." He was, undoubtedly, a man of principle. His passion for truthfulness, duty, honour, his country and king earned him respect and affection from the people.

He basically lived a happy life and with his wife and four children he made his home, a happy one. He often said to young people "I’d say, by all means go in for something much bigger than yourself." He, without lowering his dignity or forgetting courtesy, battled with national and international problems. He was largely responsible for giving India and Pakistan their freedom. He remained Prime Minister till 1951, when his party was defeated. He retired from the Parliament in 1955, and became Earl Attlee that very year.

Despite his heavy involvement in state affairs, he managed to find time for writing and published a number of books. His works include: The Will and the Way of Socialism The Social Worker As It Happened wilight of Empire.

He was bestowed with honorary degrees by several universities. In his eightieth year he happily undertook an exhausting lecture tour in Japan and plunged into preparations for a trip to Geneva. That is why he often counselled old people by saying "The great thing is never to give up." Attlee died in 1967.

  The following are excerpts taken from Clement Attlee’s autobiography, As It Happened.

On his time at Oxford University

Oxford was at that time predominately Conservative though there was a strong Liberal group, notably at Ballioli, which counted among its undergraduates such men as R. H. Tawney and William Temple, the future Archbishop,

whose influence on socialist thought was in later years to be so great. Socialism was hardly spoken of, although Sidney Ball at St. John’s and A.J. Carlyle, at University College, kept the light burning.

I was at this time a Conservative, but I did not take any active part in politics. I never belonged to any political club. Some of my friends were interested in the University Settlements - Oxford House and Toynbee Hall. I attended some meetings but at that time remained uninterested.

On becoming a socialist

My elder brother, Tom, was an architect and a great reader of Ruskin and Morris. I too admired these great men and began to understand their social gospel. My brother was helping at the Maurice Hostel in the nearby Hoxton district of London. Our reading became more extensive. After looking into many social reform ideas - such as co-partnership - we both came to the conclusion that the economic and ethical basis of society was wrong. We became socialists.

I recall how in October, 1907, we went to Clements Inn to try and join the Fabian Society. Edward Pease, the Secretary, regarded us as if we were two beetles who had crept under the door, and when we said we wanted to join the Society he asked coldly, "Why?" We said, humbly, that we were socialists and persuaded him we were genuine.

I remember very well the first Fabian Society meeting we attended at Essex Hall. The platform seemed to be full of bearded men: Aylmer Maude, William Sanders, Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw. I said to my brother, "Have we got to grow a beard to join this show. H. G. Wells was on the platform, speaking with a little piping voice; he was very unimpressive.