Clement Attlee

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Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee KG OM CH FRS PC (3 January 1883 – 8 October 1967) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951. Coming from an upper middle class background, Attlee was converted to socialism through working in the East End of London and became MP for Stepney in 1922. He was elected Labour Party leader in 1935 and won a landslide victory in the 1945 election; his government put in place the welfare state including the National Health Service. Attlee was well known for his laconic turn of phrase.


  • … the Peace Treaties must be scrapped … I stand for no more war and no more secret diplomacy.
    • T.W. Walding (ed.), "Who's Who in the New Parliament:Members and their pledges" (Philip Gee, London, 1922), p. 35.
    • Extract from his 1922 election address.
  • There is a denial of the value of the individual. Christianity affirms the value of each individual soul. Nazism denies it. The individual is sacrificed to the idol of the German Leader, German State or the German race. The ordinary citizen is allowed to hear and think only as the rulers decree.
    • Speech (May 1940). Reported in the The Listener (Vol. 23), BBC (1940)
  • I am pleased to see from the laughter on the Ministerial benches that there is no implication on their part to take Sir Oswald Mosley too seriously. It can easily be seen to-day that this idea of a dictator is gradually falling down.
    • The Times, 14 July 1934, p. 7.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 13 July 1934, on the Foreign Office estimates. His remarks about dictatorships gradually falling down was a reference to the Night of the Long Knives in Nazi Germany a fortnight before.
  • We have absolutely abandoned any idea of nationalist loyalty. We are deliberately putting a world order before our loyalty to our own country.
    • Talus, Your Alternative Government (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1945), p. 17.
    • D. M. Touche, Britain's Lost Victory (London: The Individualist Bookshop, 1941).
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Southport, 2 October 1934.
  • We are told in the White Paper that there is danger against which we have to guard ourselves. We do not think you can do it by national defence. We think you can only do it by moving forward to a new world – a world of law, the abolition of national armaments with a world force and a world economic system. I shall be told that that is quite impossible.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 299, col. 45.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 11 March 1935. Attlee's concluding observation was met by Conservative cries of "Hear, hear", with one MP shouting "Tell that to Hitler" according to The Times of 12 March 1935.
  • Mr. Chamberlain's Budget was the natural expression of the character of the present Government. There was hardly any increase allowed for the services which went to build up the life of the people, education and health. Everything was devoted to piling up the instruments of death. The Chancellor expressed great regret that he should have to spend so much on armaments, but said that it was absolutely necessary and was due only to the actions of other nations. One would think to listen to him that the Government had no responsibility for the state of world affairs.
    • "Mr. Attlee on a war budget", The Times, 23 April 1936, p. 16.
    • Broadcast, 22 April 1936.
  • The Government has now resolved to enter upon an arms race, and the people will have to pay for their mistake in believing that it could be trusted to carry out a policy of peace. … This is a War Budget. We can look in the future for no advance in Social Legislation. All available resources are to be devoted to armaments.
    • "Mr. Attlee on a war budget", The Times, 23 April 1936, p. 16.
    • Broadcast, 22 April 1936.
  • When we are returned to power we want to put in the statute book an act which will make our people citizens of the world before they are citizens of this country.
    • C. R. Attlee, The Labour Party in Perspective (Left Book Club, 1937).
  • Not Churchill. Sixty-five, old for a Churchill.
    • Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986), p. 54.
    • At the University College 'gaudy' in Oxford, December 1939, when the dons suggested Winston Churchill should be made Prime Minister.
  • You will be judged by what you succeed at gentlemen, not by what you attempt
    • On formation of Government after landslide victory in 1945.
  • You have no right whatever to speak on behalf of the Government. Foreign affairs are in the capable hands of Ernest Bevin. His task is quite sufficiently difficult without the irresponsible statements of the kind you are making . . . I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome.
    • David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 289.
    • Letter to Harold Laski, Chairman of the Labour Party, in 1946.
  • Attlee: I'm one of those people who are incapable of religious feeling.
    Harris: Do you mean you have no feeling about Christianity, or that you have no feeling about God, Christ, and life after death?
    Attlee: Believe in the ethics of Christianity. Can't believe in the mumbo jumbo.
    Harris: Would you say you are in agnostic?
    Attlee: I don't know.
    Harris: Is there an after-life, do you think?
    Attlee: Possibly.
    • To his official biographer Kenneth Harris two years before his death. In Kenneth Harris, Attlee, pp. 563-4.
  • There were few who thought him a starter,
    Many who thought themselves smarter.
    But he ended PM,
    CH and OM,
    an Earl and a Knight of the Garter.
    • Kenneth Harris, "Attlee" (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1982)
    • Self-penned limerick.


  • A Tory minister can sleep in ten different women's beds in a week. A Labour minister gets it in the neck if he looks at his neighbour's wife over the garden fence.
    • Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986), p. 121.
  • Can't publish. Don't rhyme, don't scan.
    • Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986), p. 128.
    • Response to John Strachey who had to ask permission to publish a collection of poems while a Minister.
  • I move previous face!
    • Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986), p. 128.
    • To Sydney Silverman, a Labour MP who had arrived back at Parliament with a beard. Echoes the motion "I move previous business" used at Parliamentary Labour Party meetings to end discussion on a topic.
  • Not up to the job.
    • Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986), p. 122.
    • Explaining to John Parker why he was being sacked from the government in 1946.
  • The Common Market. The so-called Common Market of six nations. Know them all well. Very recently this country spent a great deal of blood and treasure rescuing four of 'em from attacks by the other two.
    • Peter Hennessy, The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945 (Penguin, 2001), p. 173.
    • Attlee's speech to a group of anti-Common Market Labour backbench MPs in 1967, as recalled by Douglas Jay to Peter Hennessy in 1983. This was Attlee's last ever speech.


  • An empty taxi drew up outside 10 Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out of it.
    • A remark commonly attributed to Winston Churchill; however, Churchill denied the attribution, saying "Mr Attlee is an honourable and gallant gentleman, and a faithful colleague who served his country well at the time of her greatest need. I should be obliged if you would make it clear whenever an occasion arises that I would never make such a remark about him, and that I strongly disapprove of anybody who does."
  • A modest man with much to be modest about.
    • A remark supposedly made by Winston Churchill, this is unconfirmed but the phrase has passed into popular usage.
  • He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show.
  • Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.
    • Francis Beckett, "Clem Attlee", summarizing views expressed in Attlee's "The Social Worker" (1920). This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Attlee himself.

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