Professor David Howell from the University of York gave a presentation to Haileybury staff and pupils just before half term on Haileybury’s most successful old boy, Clement Attlee.
In an engaging talk, filled with anecdotes about Attlee’s life, he introduced us to one of Britain’s most unassuming Prime Ministers. He began with stories of Attlee’s life and his eventual conversion to moderate socialism in the years preceding the First World War.
Attlee was a man whose success was unexpected. In his time at Haileybury, he enjoyed life in the corps (now the CCF) and was a moderate scholar. Howell explained how Attlee, a middle class Protestant male, could be so popular in the East End, filled with Catholic Irish and Jewish immigrants and how he managed to work his way to the top of the Labour Party through some fortuitous accidents.
Professor Howell believes his insights into Attlee’s time as Prime Minister (1945-51) are relevant today. He sees Attlee as a cricket-loving, institutionalised individual who held a cabinet of mavericks together by performing the role of a conciliating team captain. Professor Howell believes this attitude explains Attlee’s growing popularity among historians as today’s politicians focus more on the cult of the individual leader. Professor Howell was not surprised that he has been unable to discover any skeletons in Attlee’s past!