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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Once an Attlee..?

Is Earl Attlee returning to his family's Labour roots?

The hereditary peer is grandson of Clem Attlee, but has been a Tory since 1997 and is now a Government Whip and transport spokesman in the Lords.

Yet he certainly surprised colleagues in the Lords yesterday when he suddenly accepted a Labour amendment on the Civil Aviation Bill.

The amendment will force the Civil Aviation Authority a fresh duty to take into account the environmental impact of the airports it regulates. At first, Earl Attlee resisted the idea, but after a plea from Labour's transport spokesman Lord Davies, he had a change of heart.

Attlee interrupted his opponent mid-flow and said: "You are very insistent and persuasive. You are clearly convinced that your amendments will improve the Bill. My Bill team manager will probably kill me... but I can accept the amendments."

Peers were a bit stunned at the sudden volte face, particularly on the Tory side. Labour say they'd mobilised big numbers of peers anyway and expected to win the vote, but Attlee's move meant the Government avoided its 52nd Lords defeat.

The curious thing is that Attlee (who certainly looks like his grandfather, as the pic above shows) recently walked into the Opposition offices in the Lords. Thinking he had got lost, one official asked if he knew he was in the office of the Labour party. He had a cryptic line: "I'll get there eventually...."

Once an Attlee, always an Attlee?

Well, there is another angle to all of this. Attlee inherited his title (a hereditary peerage first given to his grandfather in honour of his service as Prime Minister) in 1991 and entered the Lords in 1992 - as a crossbencher. He only joined the Tories shortly before the 1997 general election.

But I hear Attlee only joined the Conservatives because he had not been contacted by Labour. As the grandson of one of Labour's greatest Prime Ministers, he felt this was strange.

I understand that he was waiting for a call from Tony Blair in the run up to the 97 election, but no call came. The Tories chanced their arm and he went with them instead...After yesterday, will Ed Miliband invite him in for the chat he never had with Blair..?

 

UPDATE: My colleague Sam Macrory reminds me of a lovely set of quotes from Earl Attlee in The House magazine on this very topic of Labour's lack of enthusiasm to woo him:

“I think they had a self-denying ordinance in that they didn’t try and get me. I suspect if they tried they would have succeeded. Well, Tony Blair… if he was on a desert island surrounded by sharks he would charm one of the sharks to get him to safety. If someone had said ‘would I like to meet Tony Blair’, it would have been a bit odd to say no – and then I’d have been putty in his hands. They never tried.”

 

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