This small book about Clem Attlee, Labour's great post war Prime Minister, is one of two such books I read recently, the other concerning Lloyd George, a man who could make Tony Blair look innocent. These small but well written books are great overviews of the lives and works of previous Prime Ministers. Attlee comes out of his looking like a humble man from a wealthy background who found his role in life in bringing about a fairer society, and this he did well. Not the type to enrapture audiences, his speeches were short and to the point, and some say somewhat lacking, but his heart was for the people. His lawyer father in the better class district of Putney, better class then, saw his son spend more and more time in the youth club in the east end of London endevouring to improve the lives of the people there. After much time in local councils and as MP he fell into the leadership of the Labour Party as all the other contenders fell out! When the war arrived his office management style suited many and when Winston Churchill toured the war areas Attlee ran the cabinet as deputy PM. Efficient, short of words yet to the point he allowed others to debate while he summed up the discussion. Almost always his summary was accepted. His leadership saw the nationalisation of the railways, electric companies, gas and water boards. The pride of all was the National Health Service, the greatest thing ever produced in this nation, now sadly put on sale by the Conservative Party. Attlee lived humbly, his holiday was driving his wife around the south west in their little car, no escort, no publicity. His like will never lead us again sadly.
Lloyd George however was very different. While keen to improve the state of the nation, he introduced pensions, dole money and more in his 1909 budget, he was very happy to pocket any cash that came his way. Very able and far from slow in coming forward his speeches could rouse an audience and bring others round to his viewpoint, or just bamboozle them. His work rate was also enormous, the Great War could not have been won without him! With the nation behind Germany in every way he alone improved munition work, fighting spirit and every area of the home front and much of the firepower at the front itself. His failing was he was no soldier and thought the war could be won by the back door. Hence he and his friend Churchill produced the failed Gallipoli campaign, the waste of Salonika, and encouraged other Middle East enterprises. In between all this he noticed lots of women around, especially his secretary. There is no doubt he was one of the , if not the, most important politician of the early twentieth century. His morals were simple, 'me first!' 'If it works, do it,' let others worry. While he actually loved his wife he managed to love his secretary and 'venture' with others along the way, women do like a 'powerful man' don't they. His failure to support Field Marshall Haig could have cost us the war, his attempt to smear Haig via his memoirs, by insinuating Haig cost 750,000 British lives, fails when we remember Lloyd George was Prime Minister! His memoirs read could have been titled 'It wasn't me, it was him!' He was however wrong!
Attlee a powerful politician, unassuming but capable, Lloyd George loud, aggressive, powerful yet which benefited the nation more. Both partook of major war efforts, both attempted to lift the poorest, both made major changes to British society and the world order. Lloyd George shaped the Middle East during the twenties, Attlee brought about the 'end of Empire.' Attlee was clearly the better man, as a man, Lloyd George the more powerful politician who got things done. he could not however fire Haig, there was none better!