HAIRCUT 100: Day 39, No. 39. The Right Honourable Clement Attlee MP (1883-1967), leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955, Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, father of the modern Welfare State. Currently spinning in his grave. An Oxford graduate, Attlee was appalled at the poverty he saw in London’s East End while working for a charity in Limehouse, joining the Independent Labour Party in 1908. He volunteered for military service at the outbreak of the First World War and rose to the rank of Major. He became Mayor of Stepney in 1919 and the MP for Limehouse in 1922, becoming Labour leader in 1935. During the Second World War, he was Deputy Prime Minister in Winston Churchill’s coalition government. In 1945, he led Labour to a landslide victory and set about changing the country for the better. ‘A modest man,’ Churchill allegedly said of him, ‘but then he has so much to be modest about.’
His government’s major achievements include:
The National Health Service Act, 1946, which made healthcare free on the basis of citizenship and need rather than the payment of fees or insurance premiums.
The National Insurance Act, 1946, which introduced social security, in which persons of working age had to pay a weekly contribution and in return were entitled to a wide range of benefits when they could no longer work.
The Nationalisation of Public Utilities (1946 – 47): Coal, Electricity, and Railways, reigning in the Victorian excesses of unregulated free market capitalism.
The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, meant that land ownership alone was no longer sufficient to develop, with planning permission now required.
The Children Act, 1948, established a comprehensive childcare service, reforming services providing care to deprived and orphaned children.
The Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act, 1948, registered and regulated paid child-minders, also introducing inspections to check methods and facilities met basic minimum standards.
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, created National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales, giving the public rights of way and access to open land.
Attlee led the decolonialization of the British Empire, and his government achieved full domestic employment. Although voted out of government in 1951, several academic historians have argued that Attlee was the most successful British Prime Minister of all time. He died in 1967, aged 84. It is the legacy of Attlee’s post-war Labour government that is presently being systematically dismantled, recreating the kind of Dickensian poverty and social division that men like Clement Attlee fought so hard to defeat. ‘I am already seething with social injustice…’
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