Letter: Transition from deputy to leader

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From Professor Ben Pimlott

Sir: Isabel Hilton's interesting article about Margaret Beckett ('So why not Margaret?', 19 May) is wrong on one relevant point. She writes, 'it is true, historically, that no deputy leader has yet managed the transition to leader'. In fact, Labour's most celebrated leader made just such a transition.

Clement Attlee was deputy leader of the Labour Party from 1931 to 1935. When George Lansbury resigned from the leadership, Attlee was made acting leader and - as such - led the party during the 1935 general election. After the election, he beat Herbert Morrison and Arthur Greenwood for the leadership in a three-cornered contest, and remained in post for the next 20 years.

Attlee's victory over his rivals in 1935 took some people by surprise. It was attributed partly to his competence as deputy leader and partly to the way he had conducted himself while temporarily holding the top job.

Yours faithfully,

Department of Politics

and Sociology

Birkbeck College

University of London

London, WC1

19 May

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