Clement Attlee, 1945, and the Year of Hope in Britain

Professor Richard Toye talks about a pivotal year in British history – 1945. The end of war, a landslide election for the Labour Party under Clement Attlee, and the start of the modern British welfare state. He explains why Labour won the election, why Churchill and the Conservatives lost, and what the Labour government of 1945-1951 tried to accomplish. Episode 532.

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Richard Toye, Age of Hope: Labour, 1945, and the Birth of Modern Britain

2024 marks the centenary of the first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. What legacy of the past have they left behind? How far has each Labour administration influenced succeeding administrations? Above all, was the Attlee government of 1945 really the golden period of Labour power?

Professor Richard Toye explores Labour’s exercise of power as a continuum, setting Attlee’s administration in long-term historical context between the first Labour Government of 1924 and the current party under Keir Starmer. Within this context he shows why the Attlee administration matters so much and how successive Labour governments have fashioned it in their own image.

Into this story are woven the foundation of the Labour Party in 1900, the First World War, the General Strike of 1926, the Spanish Civil War and the coalition war-time government under Churchill. Also discussed are the great names of Labour history: Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee himself, Ernest Bevin, Aneurin Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson and Ellen Wilkinson.

Covering Labour’s history all the way up to the present – including Wilson and Blair’s attempts to wrap themselves in Attlee’s mantle and Corbyn’s version of Attlee focussed on the NHS and the welfare state – Age of Hope is an incisive, informative look at a political party that has been fundamental in shaping modern Britain and will be equally instrumental in its future.

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