Review: ‘As It Happened’ by Clement Attlee

Originally posted on Goodreads

Clement Attlee is regarded by historians, the British public – and even by Margaret Thatcher – as one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers, thanks to his capability and unflinching devotion to the UK and its people. This book affords great insight into the man, the historical context, the workings of government, and the underlying Britishness that allowed parties built on opposing visions of the country’s future to unite and triumph during its darkest hour.

Appreciation of – and alignment with – Attlee’s politics and worldview is probably required to really enjoy this book. The prose is sometimes sluggish and the anecdotes occasionally dull, but insight into the evolution of the Labour movement, Attlee’s role, and the domestic and international politics (and wars) that framed it is fascinating.

Attlee paints a picture of Britain (“the greatest country in the world”) that invites real pride. From the start he recounts the understanding of people that allowed him to function as a leader (“one learns much more of how people in poor circumstances live through ordinary conversation with them than from studying volumes of statistics”). He articulates the need for Labour’s existence (“[the Conservative Party] represents today, as in the past, the forces of property and privilege”), and it is easy to see why it flourished and thrived under his premiership.

This quote best sums up his beliefs:

“A juster distribution of wealth was not a policy designed to soak the rich or to take revenge, but because society with gross inequalities of wealth and opportunities is fundamentally unhealthy.”

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