Josh Marshall marvels that Clement Attlee’s grandson John has turned up in the House of Lords as a Tory (link). For someone as well schooled as Josh, this represents an odd lack of historical perspective: in fact, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. Lloyd George, the last liberal prime minister—two of his kids crossed the aisle. His son Gwylim wound up as a conservative home secretary, while his daughter Megan went labour (link). Franklin Roosevelt’s youngest son John became a Republican so he could vote for Eisenhower (link)—and, come to think of it, Eisenhower’s son John returned the compliment in 2004 when he voted for John Kerry and against George w. Bush (link).
But there are two other reasons why there might be less here than meets the eye. One, Attlee was hardly a man of the left. Yes, he presided over the first labour government, brought in socialized medicine and whatnot. But Attlee himself was temperamentally the most conservative of men—the wonk’s wonk, the little man with the bowler hat. Indeed, he and his labor cohort won the 1945 election because they had demonstrated that they could run the country during the World War II—it was Attlee and the labourites who kept the home fires burning as part of the wartime coalition government while Winston Churchill ran the war.
Two, the transition from then to now may not be as radical as it seems. It was John’s father, Martin Attlee (Clement’s son) who left the labourites; he switched to the Social Democrats back in 1982, when labour had toppled into hard leftism (link). Wiki says that John began his career on the cross benches but joined the conservatives in 1997 (link). His brief is “transport,” particularly “heavy transport,” which sounds a lot like a wonk’s brief for me—Wiki desribes his industry specialty as “field of commercial vehicle recovery and repair.” I don’t marvel so much at the idea of Lord Attlee as a conservative than I do at the notion of his grandfather driving a tow truck.