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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > October 2016 > The progressive pilgrim

The progressive pilgrim

It took a shy man with conservative instincts to reset British society in the 1940s. Labour is now crying out for another Clement Attlee

Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee

by John Bew (riverrun, £30)

On 3rd August 1945 at 10.45am, newly victorious Labour MPs assembled in Westminster to take their oath of allegiance. Clement Attlee, the new prime minister whose party had just won by a landslide, gave his fellow MPs three pieces of advice: do not talk in the lobby of the House of Commons; do not loiter or dine in West End restaurants; and never converse with William “Max” Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook). As to himself: “I am a very diffident man,” he explained. “I find it very hard to carry on conversation. But if any of you come to see me, I will welcome you. I will receive you and I will discuss your problems with you.”

This is the Attlee we know: straightforward, decent, conservative, even a little dull in the face of epochal events. John Bew’s new account serves up an altogether more compelling story of Attlee— the wartime deputy prime minister inspired by John Milton; the political lion who bested Winston Churchill in the Chamber; the Atlanticist who shaped US President Harry S Truman’s geopolitics; and, all the while, a Labour leader who remained true to his radical, socialist creed.

As such Citizen Clem comprises a great work of personal biography, social history, political philosophy, international relations and ferrets-in-a-sack Labour Party infighting. As the do-or-die 2016 Labour Party Conference opens and Britain stands at its most internationally exposed since the Suez crisis, this 500-page doorstopper could not have landed at a more timely moment.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s October issue: Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz tells our new Editor Tom Clark why globalisation has made him more radical. Rachel Holmes asks whether more women leaders really help women. Five hundred years on, what does Thomas More’s “Utopia” tells us about political idealism. And Tristram Hunt on why Labour needs another Clement Attlee. Also in this issue: David Runciman on why more members isn’t always a good thing for a political party. Will Self on why we’re all turning into robots. Your handy graphic guide to Brexit. Plus: David Willetts on what Theresa May’s industrial strategy should look like. And Kenneth S Rogoff argues we should abolish cash.
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