Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee
The gallons of ink spilled on Winston Churchill – and the huge appetite for books about him – have created something of an imbalance in our understanding of twentieth-century Britain. Not only does Clement Attlee’s life deserve to have a rightful place alongside the Churchill legend, it is also more emblematic, and more representative, of Britain in his time. It is difficult to think of another individual through whom one can better tell the story of how Britain changed from the high imperialism of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897, through two world wars, the great depression, the nuclear age and the Cold War, and the transition from empire into commonwealth.
The story of Attlee is also much more dramatic than he himself ever made out – and not without an element of heroism. Here was a man born in the governing class who devoted his life to the service of the poor; who was carried off the battlefield three times in the First World War; who stood shoulder to shoulder with Churchill at Britain’s darkest moment, and then triumphed over him at the general election of 1945. His government of 1945-51 included Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan and was the most radical in history, giving us the NHS, National Insurance, NATO and the atomic bomb. In many ways we still live in a world of Attlee’s creation.
This book will pierce the reticence of Attlee and explore the intellectual foundations and core beliefs of one of the most important figures in twentieth-century British history, arguing that he remains underappreciated, rather than simply underestimated. It will reveal a public servant and patriotic socialist, who never lost sight of the national interest and whose view of humanity and belief in solidarity was grafted onto the Union Jack.
CITIZEN CLEM was published on 1st September 2016 by Riverrun.
“Easily the best single-volume, cradle-to-grave life of Clement Attlee yet written. Professor Bew updates but also betters all the other biographies with this intelligent, well-researched and highly readable book. Scholarly and perceptive, it tells the story of how quiet determination and impeccable political timing wrought a peaceful revolution.”
— Andrew Roberts
“The brilliant young historian John Bew urges Labour to recapture something of the ethos of the Attlee period”
“In this monumental biography, John Bew sets out to explore, not just the scale of the achievement, but to discover what made Attlee tick . . . A good book about a remarkable man”
— Chris Mullin, Guardian
“Fascinating . . . He writes with flair and considerable intellectual confidence . . . Bew believes that Labour has lost a sense of historical mission . . . This insight seems right to me.”
— Jason Cowley, Financial Times
“This biography makes a strong case for Attlee’s greatness . . . Such contradictions deserve a discerning biographer, and in John Bew, Attlee has the man he deserves. He has written with verve and confidence a first-rate life of a man whom he correctly argues has been under-appreciated . . . What a life and what a man.”
— Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
“Outstanding . . . This excellent new life of Labour’s greatest leader . . . To a large extent, and despite long stretches of Tory government, we still live in the society that was shaped by Clement Attlee . . . Bew’s achievement is not only to bring this curious and introverted man to life, but to make him oddly loveable. He steps out like a character from the pages of the social novels of H. G. Wells or George Orwell . . . To read this book in the shadow of the present Labour leadership election is a salutary experience.”
— Robert Harris, Sunday Times
“An absorbing new life of Clement Attlee shows how a quiet man from the suburbs became Labour’s unlikely postwar hero . . . So how did a man who was the object of so much private derision by his peers come to preside over Labour’s greatest (some might say only) radical government? Bew puts the question at the core of his story. He answers it convincingly by mixing arresting narrative with a thorough study of the people and policies of the Labour movement at a time of hardship interspersed by war and fierce ideological difference . . . The book is replete with amusing vignettes . . . This book will become required reading for the present-day Labour party.”
— John Kampfner, Observer
“Magisterial . . . A great work of personal biography, social history, political philosophy, international relations and ferrets-in-a-sack Labour Party infighting . . . Bew explores in great detail Attlee’s pilgrim’s progress toward socialism with a thorough critique of his literary, cultural and political reading. . . As the Labour Party retreats towards ideological self-immolation, as Britain stumbles on the world stage, and as European social democracy stands in peril, we need another Attlee more than ever. In the absence of which, we have Bew’s brilliant book”
— Tristram Hunt, Prospect