Attlee versus Thatcher: We need to pick better heroes.
Last edited Sat Apr 20, 2013, 05:43 PM - Edit history (1)
'The selection of our heroes says more about us than it does the men and women of our history books. Clement Attlee was the reserved, collegiate Prime Minister who brought us the Post War consensus. Margaret Thatcher was the bullish, one woman army Prime Minister who brought us the neoliberal consensus. The latter is in the process of elevation to level of deity, the former all but forgotten....
On the death of Thatcher in April this year, Parliament was recalled and twelve hours of tributes were delivered in the House of Commons and House of Lords. Today was the day of her state funeral in all but name. The funeral received full military honours and was attended by the great and the good from around the world, with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh playing their role in the deification.
On his death of Attlee in October 1967, parliament was not recalled. Instead a few small tributes were made in Parliament a fortnight later, with this small column in the Guardian at the time to attest to it. His family held a small funeral and his ashes were quietly interred in Westminster Abbey. A humble end for a humble man....
...We need to pick better heroes. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a state of national mourning which not only deifies the woman, but elevates her consensus above its human value. The abandonment of the Post War consensus has cost Britain dearly. We are a less equal, less compassionate, more inward looking nation for it.
(Much more at link):
Attlee saw active service and was wounded in the Great War. He then went on to serve in Churchill's War Cabinet from 1940-45. His life spanned the world shattering conflicts of the first half of the 20 th century.
By contrast Thatcher was a big fish in an increasingly small post war British pond. As I have said elsewhere the fact that some people can not recognise the difference says all you need to know about the UKs problems. We are still a nation in denial about our decline in the world.
From all that I've read about him, he was a notably dreary man, and probably felt he had to present himself as even drearier than he actually was in order to allay the fears of those who saw the prospect of a Labour government as tantamount to a Bolshevik takeover. Attlee seems to have started the Labour tradition of choosing leaders who were as uninspirational and passionless as possible on a personal level.
He was also hurt politically(and I'd argue that this cost him the chance to get a sustainable majority in the 1950 election)by the need to impose a rationing system that may have made it harder for some to see the gains that were being achieved for working people by his government. Churchill used this against him in 1951 by promising "a bonfire of controls"-and even when he did, Churchill and the Tories still LOST to Labour in the popular vote that year, winning their parliamentary majority only because:
a)The constituency boundaries were biased towards Conservative candidates;
b)Labour's vote was concentrated in safe seats in Scotland, Wales, and the North of England(a pattern that continues today)
c)The Conservatives had formed an alliance with a right-wing breakaway group from the Liberal Party, the National Liberals, whose 19 seats were counted as part of the "Conservative majority".
I think that postwar austerity and rationing did harm Attlee's re-election chances. However, he and his policies had an enormous influence on British politics long beyond his term of office. Even many Conservatives, until the 70s, accepted the need for full employment and the welfare state, though they tended to be more pro-business and the Labour Party more pro-union. Attlee moved the centre of political gravity to the left, as Thatcher was to move it to the right. For example, in certain respects the Macmillan Conservatives, who came after Attlee, were to the left of the Blairite Labourites who came after Thatcher.
him EVER saying anything remotely similar to what MacMillian expressed in his "Winds of Change" speech. Blair would have fought to the last man to preserve the Empire.