19 June 2009

What would Attlee have made of all this

There is timely article today on Clement Attlee and what he stood for and how he conducted himself throughout his life. The piece is by Dominic Sandbrook and relates to a recent book by Frank Field.  It makes for depressing reading in the present political climate.

Perhaps some black ink should be put to good use and his well known quotes and thoughts pinned around the Palace of Westminster:

On Christianity:

Believe in the ethics. Can't accept the mumbo-jumbo.

How Atlee dealt with leadership threats:

After the 1945 election had been called, the Labour Party chairman, Harold Laski, wrote asking him to step down and let someone else lead the party into battle.

But instead of rushing to the lobby to brief against his adversary, Attlee merely sent back a masterpiece of understatement. 'Dear Laski,' his note read. 'Thank you for your letter, contents of which have been noted.'

His approach to Cabinet management:

On one occasion, he summoned a junior minister to No. 10, where the young man expected to be congratulated on the success of his department.

As he sat down, Attlee broke the bad news that he was being sacked. The minister was staggered. 'But why, Prime Minister?' he gasped.

'Afraid you're not up to it,' Attlee said  -  and that was that.

On being a good MP:

A man has to know his stuff; he mustn't talk too much; he must be good-tempered; not conceited; and be known to be a decent chap.

On Leadership:

Men who lobby their way forward into leadership,' he wrote, 'are the most likely to be lobbied back out of it. And a man cannot be a leader if he is afraid of losing his job.

Grown men, who know the score, do not want their leader to be continually beating his breast and advertising his agonies.

A leader 'must have guts. He must be ready to act swiftly, however much he has sweated about what is the right thing to do'.

He must be ready to 'make big decisions', even if they 'make him look a fool, or a coward, or a renegade'. And he must have the guts to 'sack people'  -  for if he doesn't, 'he won't last very long'.

And most importantly, what he thought was needed in political life:

First of all principle, secondly principle and thirdly principle.

I shudder to think what Attlee would make of the modern Labour party and the wider political class of today.

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