Attlee was really a Tory, says his daughter-in-law

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Clement Attlee (right), the Labour leader whose landmark election victory in 1945 toppled Winston Churchill, whose reforms established the Welfare State and who is a political hero of Tony Blair, was secretly a Tory, his daughter-in-law said yesterday.

Margaret, Countess Attlee, whose stepson this week announced his intention to transfer allegiance from the Lords cross-benches and join the Conservative peers, added that her husband, the second Earl Attlee, discussed with Tory whips his desire to cross the floor in the days just before his death. The second Earl never took the Labour whip in the Lords when he succeeded to the title after his father died in 1967.

"I find it of interest that his son, the third Earl, has also committed himself by pledging his allegiance to the Tories. But I have always believed that Clement was a Conservative with a conscience. He was not a tremendous left-winger and that was the family tradition."

But the late prime minister's politics were always at odds with his family, said his cousin, Helen Rogers: "He was known as Bolshie Clem in the family. It was seen as rather amusing that he became a Labour MP. The rest of the family voted Tory and it was quite a surprise that Clem went the other way."

Some members of the family refused to speak to Attlee when he first joined the Labour Party.

Mrs Rogers' mother, Hilda Attlee, apparently said: "I won't have that man in my house again." But once he was prime minister she held a party in his honour.