Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955.
Birth: 3 January 1883, London
Death: 8 October 1967, London
Political party: Labour
Dates in office: 1945 to 1951
Clement Attlee was leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955, and served as Britain’s Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951. As Prime Minister, he enlarged and improved social services and the public sector in post-war Britain, creating the National Health Service and nationalising major industries and public utilities. Attlee’s government also presided over the decolonisation of India, Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon and Jordan, and saw the creation of the state of Israel upon Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine.
Born to a middle-class family in London, Clement Attlee studied at Oxford University, and then trained as a lawyer. He went on to manage Haileybury House, a charitable youth organisation in Limehouse, east London. This experience clearly had a profound impact on Attlee, whose political views were shaped by the poverty he witnessed in London’s East End, and in 1908, he joined the Independent Labour Party. Upon the advent of the First World War, he applied for a Commission and served as a Captain. His reputation as an effective, efficient leader gained him promotion to the rank of Major, a title that would stay with him beyond his military life.
On returning from the war, Attlee moved into politics, becoming Mayor of Stepney in 1919 and MP for Limehouse in 1922. He continued to rise within the Labour Party, and was elected its leader in 1935, following the resignation of George Lansbury. During the Second World War, he was called into Winston Churchill’s coalition government, notably holding the title of Deputy Prime Minister from 1942 to 1945. When a general election was called at the peak of the war in Europe, Attlee led the Labour Party to a surprising landslide victory, winning 393 seats to the Conservative’s 213, and 48% of the public vote.
His period as Prime Minister was one of intense activity. The notoriously blunt, relatively quiet man was nevertheless very skilled at quick, decisive action. His leadership style was apparently collective, but once the Prime Minister had let his Cabinet voice their opinions, he would quickly make decisions with military precision. As a result, practically all of Labour’s manifesto pledges were implemented under Attlee. Despite the Second World War leaving Britain effectively bankrupt, he managed the creation of the National Health Service, part of the Welfare State that sought to provide ‘cradle to the grave’ care for British citizens. On top of this, many of Britain’s largest industries – such as coal mining, electricity and the railways – were brought under state control, despite recurring currency crises and shortages of food and resources so severe that rationing had to be maintained long after the war.
Attlee’s time as Prime Minister also saw intense foreign policy activity. He placed great faith in Ernest Bevin, his Foreign Secretary, and together they oversaw Indian independence, American loans and ‘Marshall Aid’ for the rebuilding of Britain and Western Europe, the Berlin airlift and Britain’s commitment to the United Nations.
In the 1950 General Election Labour lost its majority, and by the time of its defeat in the general election of 1951, the Labour government had worked itself to near exhaustion. Attlee, however, continued to lead the Labour party until 1955, and died in 1967, aged 84.
More than one survey of academics has voted Attlee the most successful British Prime Minister of all time.
Birth: 30 November 1874, Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Death: 24 January 1965, London
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 1951 to 1955, 1940 to 1945
Winston Churchill was an inspirational statesman, writer, orator and leader who led Britain to victory in the Second World War. He served as Conservative Prime Minister twice – from 1940 to 1945 (before being defeated in the 1945 general election by the Labour leader Clement Attlee) and from 1951 to 1955.
Winston Churchill was born on 30 November 1874, in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire and was of rich, aristocratic ancestry. Although achieving poor grades at school, his early fascination with militarism saw him join the Royal Cavalry in 1895. As a soldier and part-time journalist, Churchill travelled widely, including trips to Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt and South Africa.
Churchill was elected as Conservative MP for Oldham in 1900, before defecting to the Liberal Party in 1904 and spending the next decade climbing the ranks of the Liberal government. He was First Lord of the Admiralty (the civil/political head of the Royal Navy) by the time of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, which he created. Heavily criticised for this error, he resigned from this position and travelled to the Western Front to fight himself.
The interwar years saw Churchill again ‘cross the floor’ from the Liberals, back to the Conservative Party. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924, when he controversially opted for Britain to re-join the Gold Standard. Following the Tory electoral defeat in 1929, Churchill lost his seat and spent much of the next 11 years out of office, mainly writing and making speeches. Although he was alone in his firm opposition to Indian Independence, his warnings against the Appeasement of Nazi Germany were proven correct when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
Following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940, Churchill was chosen to succeed him as Prime Minister of an all-party coalition government.
Churchill, who also adopted the self-created position of Minister for Defence, was active both in administrative and diplomatic functions in prosecuting the British war effort. Some of his most memorable speeches were given in this period, and are credited with stimulating British morale during periods of great hardship. However, Labour leader Clement Attlee’s unexpected General Election victory in 1945 saw Churchill out of office and once again concentrating on public speaking. In his 1946 speech in the USA, the instinctive pro-American famously declared that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent”, and warned of the continued danger from a powerful Soviet Russia.
By his re-election in 1951, Churchill was, in the words of Roy Jenkins, “gloriously unfit for office”. Ageing and increasingly unwell, he often conducted business from his bedside, and while his powerful personality and oratory ability endured, the Prime Minister’s leadership was less decisive than during the war. His second term was most notable for the Conservative Party’s acceptance of Labour’s newly created Welfare State, and Churchill’s effect on domestic policy was limited. His later attempts at decreasing the developing Cold War through personal diplomacy failed to produce significant results, and poor health forced him to resign in 1955, making way for his Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Anthony Eden.
Churchill died in 1965, and was honoured with a state funeral.