Clement Attlee PM 1945-1951
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by Simon King



Clement Attlee walked into the heart of Buckingham Palace, a large room draped with tassels, perpendicular clocks, mirrors, framed photographs and gold-plated sabres. The morning sunlight shone through the room, which brought all of the displayed objects to prominence. The latest incumbent took off his bowler hat, which revealed his bald head. He took a seat in a large arm chair and leant his hand on his knee, as he smiled modestly. His yellow teeth gleamed beneath his grey moustache.

King George VI sat on the chair on the other end of the room. He sat stiffly and smiled awkwardly as he clutched the arms of his chair. His lapels were adorned with numerous insignia.  Gold-rimmed tassels hung from his shoulders. He had handsome features, a sharp jaw and a short nose.  

Clement was a surprising, nearly accidental prime minister whilst George IV was also something of an accidental king. The former had been a rallying deputy prime minister during the Second World War, who had opposed appeasement with Hitler when the majority of Conservatives supported it. He had now led his party to a surprising landslide, one of the largest in history. Meanwhile, George IV was never meant to be king. His brother had abdicated following an illicit love affair and he had always been a reluctant king. He was shy, had a stammer and sometimes seemed to shirk from his responsibilities. However, he had played a large part in unifying the nation during the war, since he seemed to sympathise with the hardship of millions.

And both of these men found each other. After all, if a maverick politician like Churchill could be a war hero, why couldn’t the socialists ask his majesty to form a government? Such were the twists and turns of history, but these socialists were now a rather conservative lot. They did not want to abolish the monarchy, in fact they supported it. Yes, they did want to nationalise utilities and major industries, but only after remunerating the previous owners. Yes, they did want to grant more powers to trade unions, but they did this because they wanted to establish industrial harmony between capital and labour. Yes, they did want to establish a national health service and other social services, but these were benign measures designed to improve the lives of everyone. Churchill’s prattle about these being totalitarian measures which mirrored the gestapo were indeed nonsense.

Both men smiled awkwardly as the pendulum clocks ticked. Clement shuffled his fingers whilst George fixed his gaze on the floor. ‘Well, Clement,’ George uttered. ‘It looks like you need to form a government.’

‘Yes,’ Clement answered, ‘quite.’ Attlee was, after all, famed for his laconic style. 

The pendulum clocks continued to tick. George IV, clearly, came from a regal background, but did not seem to wholeheartedly embrace his role. He had a speech impediment, which made him nervous. Churchill also had a speech impediment, but his confident bluster carried him through. On the other hand, Attlee was a shy man who did not always look forward to speeches. Indeed, his speeches were monotone and flat. He would say that ‘all men are brothers’ in a quiet and dull voice, yet this was the man who was presiding over the vast labour movement. Brusque confident man surrounded him, such as Bevin, Cripps, Bevan, Morrison and Dalton. However, although Attlee was seen as a lesser figure, he created harmony between all of these competing factions. How could a curt and rough man like Bevin achieve this? And how in good heavens could a rabble-rousing leftist like Bevan achieve this feat? Only a modest man like Attlee could do it.

‘What is it like to lead the Labour party, Clement?’ George asked.

Clement smiled, as he fiddled with his bowler hat. ‘It is much rather like gardening,’ Clement said, oblivious to the inherent banality of his words. ‘You are dealing with many competing aspects. It is like the whole of society, which is made up of different people. My job is to bring harmony to these different aspects.’

Both men avoided making eye contact and smiled when they did. ‘And what is it like to be king?’

George IV felt somewhat intimidated by this question and thought that he might start stammering. ‘Well Clement, it is very similar. It is about unifying the nation. It is about reminding people that, although we might be rich or poor, bankers or clerks, miners or school teachers, that we are all one people and one nation.’

Attlee placed his bowler hat back on his bald head. ‘Well, it is time for me to head off.’

Both men raised. It was time for Attlee to run the nation whilst it was time for George IV to be a unifying figure head. The task did not seem easy. The country was in serious debt, bankrupt and war-time rationing was rife. Meanwhile, this did not seem commensurable with Labour’s ambitious rebuilding programme. Both men shook hands.

‘Good luck Clement,’ George IV said. He rather liked Clement. This was now 1945 and it was not at all incongruous for the king to like the leader of a socialist party. ‘We must both bring wealth, liberty, prosperity and fairness to our great nation.’

Clement smiled and straightened his tie. He seemed to face adversity and economic hardship with equanimity. Although Churchill pompously claimed that socialism was the equals sharing of miseries, Attlee knew that he wanted fair shares for all without sacrificing our rights and liberties. He walked out of Buckingham Palace.



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