Category Archives: as it happened

Quote [87] – Practical Continuity Of Government & Party Politics

For instance, despite the violent objections to the Lloyd George Insurance Act by the Conservative Party, it was ultimately accepted and even extended by them.  There are, of course, instances to the contrary, as when the Conservatives reversed the Trade Union Act  passed by the liberal government, and the Labour Party, in their turn, restored the situation – but this was a change in the law, not a change in the economic structure of the country.  I think there is danger here for the stability of the country, especially when the reversal is not based on the national needs but merely on the ideological prejudice of a party. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [86] – An Active Proactive War Prevention Foreign Policy

Foreign Affairs are the province of the foreign secretary and it is, in my view, a mistake for a Prime Minister – save exceptional circumstances – to intervene personally. As It Happened – C R Attlee
‘If you have a good dog, don’t bark yourself’ is a good proverb, and in Mr.Bevin I had an exceptionally good dog.  On the other hand, I am quite opposed to leaving foreign affairs to be dealt with as something outside the ordinary business of Government, a mystery only to be touched by the initiates.


Bevin always stressed the point that prevention of war was not enough.  There must always be a positive policy of raising standards of living throughout the world so as to destroy the conditions in which Russian Communism thrives. As It Happened – C R Attlee


Quote [85] – Freedom, Steering Society Delivering Change


Nationalisation was not an end in itself but an essential element in achieving the ends which we sought.  Controls were desirable not for their own sake but because they were necessary in order to gain freedom from the economic power of the owners capital.

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

s It Happened – C R Attlee


It had always been our practice, in accord with the natural genius of the British people, to work empirically.  We were not afraid of compromises and partial solutions.  We knew that mistakes would be made and that advance would be often by trial and error.  We realised that the application of socialist principles in a country such as Britain with a peculiar economic structure based on international trade required great flexibility. As It Happened – C R Attlee


The old pattern was worn out and it was for us to weave the new.  Thus, the kind of reproach levelled at us by Churchill, that, instead of uniting the country by a programme of social reform on the lines of the Beveridge Report, we were following a course dictated by social prejudice or theory, left us completely unmoved.  We had not been elected to try to patch up an old system but to make something new.  Our policy was not reformed capitalism but progress towards a democratic socialism.

Furthermore, our experience in the war had shown how much could be accomplished when public advantage was put before private vested interest.  If this was right in war-time it was also right in peace.  I therefore determined that we would go ahead as fast as possible with our programme.

As It Happened – C R Attlee


An order of priority was adopted.  It was obvious, for instance, that the coal industry was more urgently in need of reconstruction than Iron and steel.  National Insurance was in a more advanced stage of preparation than the National Health Service.  First things had to come first.  It was also the case that every minister had urgent immediate problems needing solution.  Care was taken that present needs were not subordinated to long-term policy, but equally, present needs must not prevent progress being made with major schemes. As It Happened – C R Attlee
It was difficult to argue that what had been done in war with such good results should not be continued in peace, especially in the view of the situation in which the country was placed.  On the other hand, unless there had been a government with a clear policy and a resolute will we might well have slipped back to the evil conditions of the past.  No doubt we made many mistakes, but there has been in many directions a remarkable advance. As It Happened – C R Attlee


Quote [84] – Attlee, Ministers & Structuring The Executive

I had always felt the need for making very full use of senior non-departmental Ministers for the supervision of particular groups of Ministers and to have men in Cabinet free from absorption in departmental detail and available for considering major policy. As It Happened – C R Attlee


Nowadays, it is inevitable – if Cabinets are to be kept to a reasonable size – that important Departments should not be included.  In theory, I think, right that Ministers in charge if purely administrative Departments, such as the Post Office, Supply and Works, should not be in the Cabinet; but as far as possible they should have the same status and pay as their cabinet colleagues.

Of course, such ministers are summoned to Cabinet for particular items of business, but there is the danger that a Minister in charge of a department may feel himself left out of discussions on policy and, indeed, feel neglected.  To a large extent this was met by the development of a system of Cabinet Committees.

As It Happened – C R Attlee


“Two of my former Parliamentary Private Secretaries were included in the Government.”  “I therefore had to find someone else for this post, which is one of great importance.  It is essential for a Prime Minister to keep in touch with all members of the Party and to have early knowledge of currents of opinion.  This a wise Parliamentary Private Secretary can do. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [83] – False Freedom, For The Few At The Expense Of The Many

The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials.  I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom comparable with the freedom of others,  There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day.  I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair.  There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases.  For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual.  It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor.  Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the state, given to it by parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [82] – Government and A Dynamic Small Executive


  Excessive resort to committees tends to slow down action by discussion of matters which should be decided by Ministers themselves.  In fact, it may tend to a reluctance by Ministers to take decisions in matters within their own field As It Happened – C R Attlee


  I had long been persuaded that a small Cabinet was essential in time of war.  We started with five.  The subsequent numbers varied but never rose above eight. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [81] – Fighting Extremists: Retaining Principles & Believing In Values

On Nazism:

We are fighting the battle of civilisation against barbarism.  To do that successfully we must bring to our aid the spiritual forces in all countries.  We must see to it that in this contest we do not allow the evil things which we fight to master our own souls.

Our aims must be such as commend them to the conscience of mankind.  If we seek a peace wherein moral principles are to prevail, we must carry out those principles ourselves.  If we are conscious all the time that our practise is not in accordance with our precepts we shall be weakened.

As It Happened – C R Attlee


If we really believe in the supreme value of every human individual, and this is the core of our democratic faith, we must change a system of society which does not express this in its institutions.  We still live in a class society.  The recognition of equality opportunity for all has yet to be attained. As It Happened – C R Attlee


One of the most difficult problems in war is to maintain civil liberty while ensuring the safety of the country As It Happened – C R Attlee


  We have to plan the broad lines of our national life so that all may have the duty and the opportunity of rendering service to the nation, everyone in his or her sphere, and that all may help to create and share in an increasing material prosperity free from the fear of want.  We have to preserve and enhance the beauty of our country to make it a place where men and women may live finely and happily, free to worship God in their own way, free to speak their minds, free citizens of a great country. As It Happened – C R Attlee


Quote [80] – Freedom of the individual soul takes different forms at various periods.

It is essential to remember that civilisation takes long to build and is easily destroyed.  Brutality is infectious. As It Happened – C R Attlee
The Labour Party owes its inspiration not to some economic doctrine or to some theory of class domination.  It has always based its propaganda on ethical principles.  We believe that every individual should be afforded the fullest opportunity for developing his or her personality.  The founder of our Party, Keir Hardie, always made his appeal on moral grounds.  He believed that the evils of society were due to the failure to put into practice the principles of the brotherhood of man.

The struggle for freedom of the individual soul takes different forms at various periods.  Here in Britain we have achieved freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of speech and action within the law, freedom for workers to come together.  They are victories which we will not allow to be reversed, but the fight for freedom continues.

The Labour Party is the expression of the revolt of men and women against a materialist system of society which condemns to a narrow and stinted life the majority of our citizens and gives rewards to the greedy and acquisitive.

The Labour Party’s object is the building of a new world on the foundation of social and economic justice.

Labour Party As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [79] – Historic WWII – Optimisms Loss Of Clarity

Labour’s policy of socialism and peace was a whole which could not be divided into unconnected compartments. ‘You cannot have one policy for foreign affairs and run a policy at home on entirely different principles,’ I said ‘I want us to devote ourselves to making people realise that if they want peace they must have social justice at home’. Connection – Domstic &

International policy

As It Happened – C R Attlee




On President Benes:

“He always seemed to me to be too optimistic and too ready to think his diplomatic skills would get his country through all the dangers which faced it, but he was a good democrat and a good European”

International policy / War As It Happened – C R Attlee
“The threat from the Nazis was already developing, but Benes, as always, displayed great optimism.  He always seemed to me in his dealings both with the Germans and later with the Russians to put far too much confidence in his own cleverness.  He did not seem to realise how long a spoon was needed to sup with the devil.”


“No doubt it had many failings, but it was the best Government Spain had had for many years.  We recognised at once that General Franco’s movement  was part of the conspiracy against democracy and most liberals and some Conservatives agreed with us, but, on the whole, the Conservative Party tended to regard Franco as a saviour of society.  In this way they ran true to form, for  hundred years previously they were supporting Don Carlos against the constitutional Government of Queen Christina.” International policy / War As It Happened – C R Attlee
“I also inspected the British contingent of the International Brigade; this was an impressive scene in a Spanish village by torchlight.  The Brigade had saved the Republican cause in Spain.  Serving in its ranks were men of diverse views, but animated with courage, self-sacrifice and devotion, united in the fight for freedom.  It was tragic that all the time the Communists were intriguing and seeking to divert the contest into battle for Communism.


“…Whatever arms are required, they must be for League policy and the fist condition for any assent to more arms is that the Government shall be following a League policy … I say most emphatically, speaking on behalf of this party, that we shall never agree to piling up armaments and following a policy either of imperialism or of alliances, but only collective security through the League.”

“I told the house that in my opinion the Government had ‘destroyed the League of Nations as an effective instrument of peace … None of the small States of Europe are going to trust any more in collective security under the League if they know that the League will not stand by them.”

International policy / War As It Happened – C R Attlee


When Anthony  Eden and lord Cranborne resigned from the Chamberlain Government early in 1938, as a protest against the Prime Minister’s decision to open conversations with Mussolini whilst Italy was carrying on intervention in Spain and anti-British propaganda, I told the House that the policy of the Government was ‘an abject surrender to the dictators’ and that ‘the government, instead of trying to deal with the causes of war, had always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another.   That’ is a policy which sooner or later leads to war.’ International policy / War



As It Happened – C R Attlee



Quote [78] – Historic Action: Planning The Economy For Progress With The Efforts Otherwise Reserved For Wars


The following passage sets out what I considered to be the socialist approach to the economic problem.

“Why was it that in the war we were able to find employment for everyone? It was simply that the Government controlled the purchasing power of the nation.  They said what things should be produced; they said ‘We must have munitions of war.  We must have rifles; we must have machine guns; we must have shells; we must have ammunition; we must have uniforms; we must have saddles.’   They took by means of taxation and by methods of loan, control of purchasing power of this nation, and directed that purchasing power into making those things that are necessary for winning the war.

Today the distribution of purchasing power in the nation is enormously unequal.  I recall a speech by the present Prime Minister, in which he said that one of the greatest reforms in our national life would be a better distribution of wealth among the individuals composing this nation.  I entirely agree with him.”

“That is what we are demanding shall be done in time of peace.  It is possible for the Government, by methods of taxation and by other methods, to take hold of that purchasing power, and to say that, exactly as they told manufacturers and workers that they must turn out shells and munitions of all sorts to support the fighting man, so they must turn out houses and necessities for those who are making the country a country of peace.”

State: Economics & Social Policy As It Happened – C R Attlee


It may not be without interest to recall that twenty-seven years afterwards in my General Election broadcast I struck the same note when I said:

‘… The Labour Party believes that if you want certain results you must plan to ensure them; that in peace as in war the public interest must come first, and that if in war, despite the diversion, and despite the shortage of supply imposed by war conditions, we were able to provide food, clothing and employment for all our people, it is not impossible to do the same in peace, provided the Government has the will and the power to act….’

Instead of deciding on a policy and standing or falling by it, MacDonald and Snowden persuaded the Cabinet to agree to the appointment of an Economy Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir George May of the Prudential Insurance Company, with a majority of opponents of Labour on it.  The result might have been anticipated.  The proposals were directed to cutting the social services and particularly unemployment benefit.  Their remedy for an economic crisis, one of the chief features of which was excess of commodities over effective demand, was to cut down the purchasing power of the masses.