Monday, Dec. 19, 1955

Time to Retire

Big Ben was striking 11 and some Labor M.P.s were still straggling into the House of Commons committee room when Clement Attlee rose from his place and said in his most curt, acid-drop manner: "Before proceeding to the main business for which you have been called, I have a statement to make." Wasting no words, 72-year-old Clem Attlee resigned as leader of the Labor Party, sat down.

Hesitantly, the Laborites struck up a wavering For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

Though most had been impatiently awaiting his resignation ever since he suffered a mild stroke last summer, the room was swept by a wave of pale, nostalgic affection for the unobtrusive-seeming man who had been their leader for a record 20 years. Attlee had intended to linger in power until early next year, but on a recent speaking tour of Scotland, renewed and pointed hints had got under his skin, and he had made his sudden decision almost in a fit of pique. The tributes over, Attlee rose, snapped: "Well, thank you. Thank you very much," and walked straight out of the room.

After lunch, Mrs. Attlee drove their small Hillman in from their suburban home in Prestwood, and Attlee spent the afternoon clearing his parliamentary office of books and files and lugging them to the car. That night came the announcement that he would accept an earldom.

In more militant days, when he was a social worker and M.P. for London's tough Limehouse district, Attlee had said that if he ever went to the House of Lords, it would be as "Lord Luv-a-Duk of Limehouse." Now he chose simple "Earl Attlee" as his title, without any geography at all.*

Words Unsaid. No one could ever find much to say about Clem Attlee: He never uttered a memorable phrase in his life.

Prime Minister Anthony Eden said that in 33 years in Parliament Attlee had never made a personal enemy. Winston Churchill had once called him "a sheep in sheep's clothing." But the meek exterior could give way to a rasping, if understated, effectiveness, and he had learned the secret of triumphing over more impulsive rivals by quietly out-waiting them.

Under this diffident lawyer's son turned social revolutionist, Great Britain, in its nature at home and its holdings abroad, was profoundly and permanently changed. In six years as postwar Premier, Attlee installed Britain's welfare state and nationalized its basic industries. He, more than any other man, dismantled the British Empire and reforged it as a Commonwealth of equals. It was his personal decisions that gave India, Burma and Ceylon their freedom, and created the nation of Pakistan. Said Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hamidul Huq Choudhury: "His name will be remembered as long as the independence of this subcontinent is remembered."

Typically, Attlee was picked as party leader in 1935 only as a stopgap when

Pacifist George Lansbury resigned just before elections. But while more colorful Laborites battled noisily, Attlee quietly gathered supporters, soon was laying down the Labor line with undisputed authority. Before his leadership was a year old, he firmly turned the party from Lansbury's doctrinaire pacifism (he himself was an infantry major at Gallipoli in World War I). He grimly warned Conservatives celebrating "peace in our time" that Munich was "one of the greatest defeats that this country and France have ever sustained." Though leader of a movement traditionally sympathetic to Russia and suspicious of the U.S. Attlee ranged his nation alongside the U.S. in the cold war, in NATO and in Korea.

The New Boy. As a peer, Attlee will no longer be seen in the House of Commons. In the House of Lords, he has no intention of taking over the Labor leadership. "I shall be a new boy," he explained.

"I shall do as I am told." Four years ago, the succession would undoubtedly have gone without a fight to Deputy Leader Morrison. A cockney policeman's son, genial Herb Morrison is a man after every workingman's heart.

But Morrison is now 67, will be 72 before the next scheduled general elections, and his star was somewhat dimmed by an unsuccessful tour as Foreign Secretary.

Many have turned to Labor's fastest-rising star and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell. -The Rivals. Oxford-bred Hugh Gaitskell, sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, was once considered too donnish for the workingman, but now at 49, he has become the right-wing trade unionists' favorite candidate against the rambunctious but embittered left-winger Nye Bevan.

Bevanites admit that Nye cannot command the votes to win. If Morrison were elected, 58-year-old Nye might yet have his turn when Morrison retired, but if 49-year-old Gaitskell wins, Bevan will have been passed over, and probably for good. Over the years, Morrison and Bevan have been the bitterest of personal rivals.

But now Nye is so eager to stop Gaitskell that last week he agreed to withdraw if Gaitskell also would, leaving the field to Morrison.

Gaitskell would have none of that. "I have the highest regard for Mr. Morrison," he said, "but I think the party should have the opportunity of choosing." As 275 Labor M.P.s balloted this week, the odds were on Gaitskell.

* Said the editor of Burke's Peerage: "It really shakes me. A most unfortunate innovation—something -which may result in peers becoming confused wuh American band leaders like Duke Ellington an Count Basic." Nevertheless, there have been previous one-name earldoms: Earl Jowitt, Earl Haig. Attlee's son and heir will be Viscount Prestwood of Walthamstow (Attlee's constituency since 1950).