'The dullest man in English politics (who) looked more pathetic than dangerous' wrote an American journalist in 1941, yet with Churchill, Attlee dominated politics in the 1940s and his name is increasingly evoked in the current battle for the soul of the Labour Party.
Clement (later Earl) Attlee who was born in 1883, shared with Churchill the centre of government through the eventful years of the 1940s. This decade saw the passing of the British empire as the price extracted by others for Britain's standing 'alone' against Hitler, a heightened awareness of the evil of tyranny and the virtue of freedom, and the emergence within British society of a communal ideal derived from the people's everyday experiences of war and peace. Attlee's socialism, like this famous electoral triumph in 1945, belonged to the mood of victory, applying to the home front a corrective to war's destructiveness. The nation was committed with exceptional unanimity to building and re-building economic institutions and social life. Nationalisation of large industries (railways, gas, electricity, coal, road transport, iron and steel) was complemented by new standards of health, housing and education provided from the cradle to the grave. The new government which Attlee headed was the agent of change – organising, rationalising and humanising the purposes of the state in a manner reminiscent of the civic pride which flourished among Italian Renaissance states.