Elected to Parliament in October 1922, Attlee and held various minor posts in Labour and national governments. He became the head of the Labour Party in 1935 as a compromise candidate, a middle-of-the-road democratic socialist. Attlee and a growing proportion of his party agreed with Winston L. S. Churchill's call for faster rearmament in the face of the threat from Nazi Germany.
Refusing to serve under Neville Chamberlain, Attlee helped to bring about Winston Churchill's government during the crisis of May 1940, when Chamberlain was forced to resign. On 10 May, Churchill named Attlee lord privy seal (he served to 1942) and deputy leader of the House of Commons (effectively deputy prime minister), a position he held from 1942 to 1945. Attlee often chaired cabinet sessions during Churchill's constant travels, and he remained loyal to Churchill throughout the war.
Attlee worked closely with fellow Labourite Aneurin Bevin to develop the 1943 white paper on postwar social plans. He was renowned for his ability to remain calm in a crisis, to outline major positions in few words, and to make hard decisions. Pressed by his party, however, he led Labour out of the national coalition in May 1945 after the defeat of Germany (there had not been a general election for a decade). This led to national elections at which Labour won a resounding victory, and Attlee became prime minister on 26 July 1945. He replaced Churchill as the British representative for the remainder of the Potsdam Conference.
Attlee presided until October 1951 over creation of the British welfare state with its nationalization of health services, steel, coal, railways, and civil aviation. He supervised the granting of independence to India and Pakistan on 14 August 1947, a key step in converting the British Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations. On retiring as party leader, he was made an earl in 1955. He spoke often in the House of Lords against Britain becoming part of the Common Market. Attlee died in Westminster, London, on 8 October 1967. Christopher H. Sterling
Attlee, Clement R. As It Happened. London: Heinemann, 1954.; Beckett, Francis. Clem Attlee: A Biography. London: Richard Cohen Books, 1997.; Harris, Kenneth. Attlee. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982.; Pearce, R. D. Attlee. Boston: Addison-Wesley Longman, 1997.; Williams, Francis A. Prime Minister Remembers: The War and Post-War Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Earl Attlee Based on His Private Papers and on a Series of Recorded Conversations. London: Heinemann, 1961.
Christopher H. Sterling