“An empty taxi arrived and Clement Attlee got out”

“An empty taxi arrived and Clement Attlee got out”

Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee 1883-1967 (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

John Andrews in “Who needs a Gov­er­nor, any­way?”  (Den­ver Post, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2012) writes about for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Attlee:

“An emp­ty taxi drove up to 10 Down­ing Street,” joked Win­ston Churchill about the man who defeat­ed him for prime min­is­ter in 1946, “and out of it stepped Clement Attlee.” Droll, but Attlee laughed last. Noth­ing suc­ceeds like success.

Attlee not

Andrews not only indulges in a Churchill red her­ring, but he gets the usu­al word­ing wrong—and the date wrong. Attlee’s Labour Par­ty defeat­ed Churchill’s Con­ser­v­a­tives in July 1945.

Though it’s all over the Inter­net, Churchill nev­er said this about Clement Attlee, and quot­ing Churchill to this effect con­sid­er­ably miss­es his atti­tude toward polit­i­cal opponents.

Queried about the remark, Churchill replied to the effect that Attlee was an hon­or­able and gal­lant* gen­tle­man and that he, Churchill, would dep­re­cate any such remark.

The remark is list­ed in sev­er­al Churchill quo­ta­tion books, always with­out attribution–because there is none.



*In Par­lia­men­tary par­lance, “gal­lant” refers to a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who has served in the forces.

Further reading

Review of Leo McKinstry’s excel­lent Churchill and Attlee. Excerpt:

Leo McKinstry’s book 738 pages—twice the size of the pre­vi­ous Attlee-Churchill book and is riv­et­ing from cov­er to cov­er. Scrupu­lous­ly fair, McK­instry tells the sto­ry, backed by a volu­mi­nous bib­li­og­ra­phy, exten­sive research and pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence. Thus he cap­tures Churchill’s gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it, and Attlee’s great­ness of soul.

“Some­times tur­bu­lent, often fruit­ful, theirs was a rela­tion­ship unprece­dent­ed in the annals of British pol­i­tics,” McK­instry con­cludes. It was part­ly “a reflec­tion of Churchill’s great­ness, and part­ly of Attlee’s patience.” Attlee was the longest-serv­ing par­ty leader of the 20th cen­tu­ry, Churchill one of the longest-serv­ing prime min­is­ters. In 1940-55, one of them was always PM.

There have been oth­er great rival­ries, but the bond between them was unique, espe­cial­ly for per­sons with such oppo­site views. One spoke for lib­er­ty and a “min­i­mum stan­dard” guar­an­teed by the State. The oth­er declared him­self a social­ist, but prac­ticed a far milder form of social­ism than dialec­tic Marx­ists. In the war, Churchill had but one goal: defeat­ing Hitler. Attlee, as Deputy Prime Min­is­ter (a posi­tion Churchill cre­at­ed express­ly for him) ran the coun­try. In doing so, he set him­self up for his own premiership.

2 thoughts on ““An empty taxi arrived and Clement Attlee got out”

  1. I recall this com­ment (and many tears ago) being attrib­uted to the some­what vitu­per­a­tive Dai­ly Express. Is this incorrect?

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