Died when: 84 years 278 days
Star Sign: Capricorn
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, (3 January 1883 – 8 October 1967), was a British statesman and Labour Party politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951. He was the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. In 1940, Attlee took Labour into the wartime coalition government and served under Winston Churchill, becoming, in 1942, the first person to hold the office of Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He went on to lead the Labour Party to an unexpected landslide victory at the 1945 general election; forming the first Labour majority government, and a mandate to implement its postwar reforms. The 12 percent national swing from the Conservatives to Labour was unprecedented at that time and remains the largest ever achieved by any party at a general election in British electoral history. He was re-elected with a narrow majority at the 1950 general election. In the following year, Attlee called a snap general election, hoping to increase his parliamentary majority. However, he was narrowly defeated by the Conservatives under the leadership of Winston Churchill, despite winning the most votes of any political party in any general election in British political history until the Conservative Party's fourth consecutive victory in 1992. Attlee remains the longest-ever serving Leader of the Labour Party. First elected to the House of Commons in 1922 as the MP for Limehouse, Attlee rose quickly to become a junior minister in the first Labour minority government led by Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, and then joined the Cabinet during MacDonald's second ministry of 1929–1931. One of only a handful of Labour frontbenchers to retain his seat in the landslide defeat of 1931, he became the party's Deputy Leader. After the resignation of George Lansbury in 1935, he was elected as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition in the subsequent leadership election. At first advocating pacificism and opposing rearmament, he later reversed his position; by 1938, he became a strong critic of Neville Chamberlain's attempts to appease Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He took Labour into the Churchill war ministry in 1940. Initially serving as Lord Privy Seal, he was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister in 1942. Attlee and Churchill worked together very smoothly, with Attlee working backstage to handle much of the detail and organisational work in Parliament, as Churchill took centre stage with his attention on diplomacy, military policy, and broader issues. With victory in Europe in May 1945, the coalition government was dissolved. Attlee led Labour to win a huge majority in the ensuing 1945 general election two months later. The government he led built the post-war consensus, based upon the assumption that full employment would be maintained by Keynesian policies and that a greatly enlarged system of social services would be created – aspirations that had been outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. Within this context, his government undertook the nationalisation of public utilities and major industries, as well as the creation of the National Health Service. Attlee himself had little interest in economic matters but this settlement was broadly accepted by all parties for three decades. Foreign policy was the special domain of Ernest Bevin, but Attlee took special interest in India. He supervised the process by which India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. He also arranged the independence of Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). His government ended the British Mandates of Palestine and Jordan. From 1947 onwards, he and Bevin pushed the United States to take a more vigorous role in the emerging Cold War against Soviet Communism. When the budgetary crisis forced Britain out of Greece in 1947, he called on Washington to counter the Communists with the Truman Doctrine. He avidly supported the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe with American money. In 1949, he promoted the NATO military alliance against the Soviet bloc. He sent British troops to fight in the Malayan Emergency in 1948 and sent the RAF to participate in the Berlin Airlift. He commissioned an independent nuclear deterrent for the UK. He used 13,000 troops and passed special legislation to promptly end the London dock strike in 1949. After leading Labour to a narrow victory at the 1950 general election, he sent British troops to fight in the Korean War. Attlee was narrowly defeated by the Conservatives under Churchill in the 1951 general election. He continued as Labour leader but had lost his effectiveness by then. He retired after losing the 1955 general election and was elevated to the House of Lords. In public, Attlee was modest and unassuming; he was ineffective at public relations and lacked charisma. His strengths emerged behind the scenes, especially in committees where his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity, and pragmatism proved decisive. Though his appointment as Prime Minister owed more to luck and the unsuitability of his rivals than his own ambitions, he saw himself as spokesman on behalf of his entire party and successfully kept its multiple factions in harness. Attlee is consistently rated by scholars, critics and the public as one of the greatest British Prime Ministers. His reputation among scholars in recent decades has been much higher than during his years as Prime Minister, thanks to his roles in leading the Labour Party, creating the welfare state and building the coalition opposing Stalin in the Cold War.