Attlee, Clement Richard, First Earl Attlee (1883–1967), a British statesman. He was leader of the Labour party, 1935–55, and served as Great Britain's prime minister, 1945–51. His ministry introduced the welfare state in Britain and began the process of giving up Britain's colonial possessions.
Attlee was born in London of a middle-class English family. He graduated from Oxford University, then practiced law from 1906 to 1909. Welfare work in Limehouse, an industrial district near London's waterfront, converted him to socialism, and in 1908 he joined the socialist Fabian Society and the Labour party. During World War I he served in the British army, rising to the rank of major.
In 1922 Attlee entered the House of Commons as representative for Limehouse. He served in the 1924 and 1929 Labour governments of Ramsay MacDonald. In 1931, with many other Labour politicians, he resigned from the cabinet in protest against MacDonald's increasingly conservative policies. He became deputy leader in Parliament of the opposition to MacDonald's newly formed government, a coalition composed primarily of Conservative and Liberal party leaders. Attlee was elected leader of the Labour party in 1935, thus becoming leader of the opposition.
In May, 1940, as a result of Great Britain's entry into World War II, Winston Churchill formed a coalition government, in which Attlee served. From 1942 to 1945 Attlee was deputy prime minister. In 1945 he was a delegate to the San Francisco Conference, at which the United Nations was organized, and he accompanied Churchill to the Allied conference at Potsdam.
The Labour party victory in the election of 1945 made Attlee prime minister. During the difficult postwar years, his ministry brought many major industries under government control, greatly extended the social services of the government, and granted independence to India and Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Burma.
Churchill's Conservative party defeated the Labour government in the election of 1951, and Attlee again became leader of the opposition. In 1955, at the age of 72, he retired from the leadership of the Labour party. Accepting an earldom, he became a member of the House of Lords. The Order of the Garter was awarded him in 1956. As It Happened (1954) is his autobiography.