For all its singing of the 'Red Flag' the socialism of Attlee wanted nothing in common with Soviet Communism. The prosecution of the cold war was safe in his hands. So was the development of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent: whatever has been thought of it subsequently, it seemed obviously necessary to Attlee at the time. Doubtless it was too late to save the countries of eastern Europe from a narrow party tyranny imposed by Stalin, but Labour probably did as much as the Conservatives would have done to protest and resist. Indeed Ernest Bevin may well be claimed as Britain's finest conservative Foreign Secretary since Castlereagh. No Tory Foreign Secretary of this century has so well personified the British bull dog - as Churchill himself recognized. His task was to harness the United States to the defence of Europe and the non-Communist world, while surrendering as little as possible to America's anti-imperial syndrome. British responsibility in Palestine was hurriedly abandoned in 1948, largely under American pressure and fairly disastrously for the future of the Middle East; but on other matters the growing fear of Russia on both sides of the Atlantic was the necessary lever to bring the two into line. The working of the Marshall Plan for Europe's economic recovery owed much to Bevin, while the establishment of NATO in 1949 may well be seen as his supreme achievement and, for better or worse, the principal foundation of British foreign policy for the next half-century.
The welfare state emerged then into the full light of day, on a basis established well before by Lloyd George and even Neville Chamberlain, linked with a far more widespread and deeply pondered anti-Communism than characterized any earlier phase of British history. This undoubtedly helped both the churches and the middle classes overcome their surviving hostility to the degree of socialism to which the government was committed (though, when vested interests were at stake, that hostility was still fierce enough - as within the ranks of the BMA). Nevertheless, all in all, the inheritance of Temple, Tawney, Beveridge; the Christian Socialist idealism of Cripps; the tough anti-Soviet line of Bevin; the sheer sanity and respectability of Attlee; the fact that at heart Conservatives like Butler and Macmillan could go along with quite a large part of Labour's programme: all this ensured that, despite a not too successful economic strategy, Labour's revolution was the most widely supported and the least seriously challenged of all the great legislative reforms of modern British history. It established a modern, benevolent, and rather bureaucratic shape taken for granted by all British governments until the late 1970s.
The creation of a multi-racial Commonwealth
Perhaps the most decisive and unquestionably right of all Labour's achievements was the granting of independence to India in 1947. If there was no reasonable alternative, it is also true that the speed and lack of tergiversation with which it was done owed a great deal to Attlee himself and to his choice of Lord Mountbatten as the last Viceroy. Rapid withdrawal from so vast and ancient a responsibility combined with a last minute agreement to divide the sub-continent into two separate States - India and Pakistan - was an operation too immense and, really, too unplannable not to bring with it some fearful disorder, yet it is probably true that if Attlee and Mountbatten had not committed themselves to a minimum of delay, the overall breakdown of order throughout the country could have been a great deal worse. Since the late eighteenth century Britain had owed much of her world position to the possession of India. Now it had gone and people at home seemed strangely little affected by the ending of this extraordinary relationship, so that the standard histories of Britain mostly understate the significance of what had happened. The development of British Africa may have appeared to offer sufficient imperial compensation for the loss of India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma. At the time it did not occur to people how quickly the rest of the Empire would go too. In the earlier 1950s young colonial officials were still being offered a lifetime of work ahead of them administering some African territory. But in regard to India, Attlee had taken a decision which would constitute a decisive precedent for the Empire as a whole: each land could go when it would, provided a majority so desired and some sort of democratic structure, frail though it might be, had first been established. The Commonwealth Conference of 1949 was almost as pregnant as the founding of NATO for the future shape of Britain's relationship with the rest of the world: India and Pakistan could remain within it as republics and therefore, in due course, many another country too. The creation of a multi-racial Commonwealth rendered the dismantling of the Empire a much easier and more positive exercise than it would otherwise have been.
Christian Democracy as principal political
phenomenon of post-war Europe
Attlee's Britain was the third of 'The Big Three'. It was also the first State of a battered western Europe. Germany, Italy and France had all been damaged by the war a great deal more than Britain, and Germany was now truncated of its eastern pro-vinces, filled with millions of refugees from the east, and divided into four zones of occupation. The relationship between Britain and her main European neighbours would be increasingly important yet never satisfactorily apprehended. On the Continent out of great disaster grew a greater renewal which, while it in some ways paralleled what was happening in Britain under Labour, was also distinctively different. The principal political phenomenon of post-war Europe was Christian Democracy, an animal of which British people tended to be somewhat suspicious. It was, above all, a Catholic phenomenon though in Germany especially it also attracted considerable support among more conservative Protestants. In pre-war Europe the Catholic community had already demonstrated a strong and deeply rootedtendency towards democracy. But still more powerful, especially in Rome, had been the fear that democracy was Protestant in origin and Socialist, if not Communist, in destiny; that it was closely linked with anti-clericalism and the confiscation of Church schools; that Catholicism, being an authoritarian religion, could only really be at home with an authoritarian government. The concordat signed in 1940 between the Vatican and Portugal represents the last important expression of a Catholic political approach which had hitherto in practice steadily crushed Catholic aspirations towards democracy. The collapse of Fascism and Nazism, together with the strong par-ticipation of Catholic radicals in the resistance movements, redrew the politico-religious map of western Europe. Effectively the world was now divided between Communist States on the one hand and countries trying to model themselves on the principles of Anglo-Saxon democracy upon the other. The bulk of European Catholics (and Protestants too) were left with little alternative: except for the lunatic fringe, Christians ceased to flirt with Fascism and plunged instead into 'Christian Democracy', with the blessing of Pope Pius XII and