The Man Who Made Modern Britain
Oxford University Press 2017
As Labour Party leader, member of Winston Churchill’s governing coalition during the Second World War, and prime minister of the epochal postwar government that established the welfare state, Clement Attlee played a decisive role in the history of modern Britain. In Clement Attlee: The Man Who Made Modern Britain (Oxford University Press, 2017; published in the UK as Citizen Clem), John Bew recounts the life and career of this modest yet deeply patriotic individual who dedicated his life to improving the condition of his fellow Britons. The son of a successful lawyer, Attlee enjoyed a comfortable upbringing until a trip to London’s East End exposed him to the degree of poverty in which many Britons lived. Dedicating himself to social work, he lived in the London slums until the outbreak of war in 1914 led him to volunteer for service. After the war he was elected to the House of Commons, where he often was overshadowed by the more dynamic personalities among his colleagues. Despite this, he weathered the tumult created by the fracturing of the Labour Party in 1931 and, as one of his party’s few remaining leaders in Parliament, he was quickly catapulted into the top post. As Bew demonstrates, this was not just a matter of luck but a reflection of political skills that his opponents frequently underestimated and which made it possible for him to lead so successfully both a cabinet of ambitious rivals and a nation recovering from the most debilitating war in its history.