chapter  3
9 Pages

Attlee and His Ministers

Victory in 1945 came as a shock to many Labour politicians. How could Labour, led by the timid Attlee, have triumphed over the Conservatives, led by the charismatic war hero Churchill? Perhaps the party had won despite its leader. Immediately the results became known Attlee was urged to stand for re-election by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) before accepting George VI’s invitation to form a government. Here was a scarcely veiled attempt to replace him by a ‘bigger’ personality as party leader and thus as Prime Minister. Attlee had led the party since 1935, but many had regarded his appointment as provisional and now thought his period as caretaker had gone on quite long enough. Attlee, however, ignored the advice and formed a government. He did not worry over others’ doubts about his ability. He did not listen to political gossip and consulted the press mainly for the cricket scores and The Times crossword. Perhaps he was unaware of some of the choicer criticisms. It was said, for instance, that when Attlee joined Stalin and Truman, replacing Churchill at Potsdam, the Big Three became the Big Two-and-aHalf. Bevan wrote that Attlee was determined to make a trumpet sound like a tin-whistle, and George Orwell compared him to ‘a recently dead fish, before it has had time to stiffen’. The Economist once wrote that the arid and uninspiring Attlee ‘touches nothing that he does not dehydrate’. One wit told the story of the arrival at 10 Downing Street of an empty taxi, out of which emerged Mr Attlee.