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7 December  
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1955: Attlee steps down as Labour leader
Clement Attlee has resigned as leader of the opposition Labour Party, following months of speculation.

Tonight the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, announced in Downing Street that the Queen is to make Mr Attlee an earl.

He is the first Labour leader to accept a hereditary peerage. This will allow him to continue his work for the parliamentary Labour Party from the House of Lords, where the Opposition has little representation.

He made his announcement this morning at the start of a special meeting of the shadow cabinet in the Commons convened to discuss the Middle East.

'Regrettable'

He said: "After the [1951] general election I intimated that I would continue as chairman of the party meantime.

"It is regrettable, however, that since that date there has scarcely been a week passed without one prominent member of the party or another talking about my impending resignation. That certainly does not help the party."

He then announced his immediate resignation and was thanked for his long service to the party and the country.

Herbert Morrison, deputy chairman of the party, will stand in as leader while a successor is found. There are expected to be three candidates - Mr Morrison himself, Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan.

Most Labour MPs believe Mr Gaitskell, at 49 the youngest of the contenders, will be elected leader.

Lasting legacy

Mr Attlee, who is 72 and has recently suffered a stroke, has led his party for 20 years and has had a seat in the House of Commons for 33 years.

In 1942 he became deputy prime minister in the war cabinet under Sir Winston Churchill.

During his six years as prime minister from 1945 to 1951 he oversaw sweeping changes to the welfare state with the introduction of the National Health Service and the nationalisation of key industries - the Bank of England, civil aviation, coal telecommunications, transport, electricity, iron and steel.

He also pushed through the independence of India and Burma.

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Clement Attlee
As prime minister Mr Attlee oversaw the introduction of the welfare state



In Context
Clement Attlee was the son of a solicitor, was educated at Oxford and trained as a barrister.

He joined the independent Labour Party in 1908 and became Labour MP for Limehouse from 1922 to 1950 and West Walthamstow in 1950 to 1955.

He was elected Labour leader in 1935 and saw his party sweep to victory in 1945 and again with a slim majority in 1950. They lost to the Conservatives in 1951 and from then on his leadership was questioned and his health declined.

A week after his resignation he was succeeded by Hugh Gaitskell.

First Earl Attlee died in 1967.

Stories From 7 Dec


 
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