Mutual respect has disappeared from the political landscape, replaced by animosity and distrust.
But it need not be so, as Leo McKinstry’s superb account of one of the great political rivalries — and double acts — of the 20th century shows...
As for which of them came out on top in the end, what is perhaps most significant is that — as McKinstry points out — when the Tories returned to power in 1951, Churchill did not try to scuttle everything the Attlee government had done.
Most of these weird chimes from the past are, of course, the purest happenstance. But they serve various useful functions. Not only do they illustrate the role of luck in history – so vital in the careers of both men – they also nudge us away from the condescension we all too often feel towards our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations: bowler-hatted, starch-collared and politically incorrect. Besides, a few of these uncanny foreshadowings do portend matters of substance and unnoticed continuities. As our politics deviates in unexpected ways from the familiar model of the two-party class-based system, we can see that the classic template was itself an aberration.
Dual biographies are a tricky endeavour. McKinstry rises to the challenge brilliantly. His account is elegantly structured, his prose is lucid, he explains complex events with clarity, his anecdotes are telling and often funny, his judgments are assured and he brings to gripping life the characters of the leading men and the rest of the cast. While never blind to their flaws, he rightly finds huge amounts to admire in both men. “If Churchill was the giant of the war, Attlee was the hero of the peace.”... Surveying the stunted political leadership that blights contemporary Britain, there is some consolation in remembering a time when giants guided the destiny of this sceptred isle.