On at least one occasion since becoming leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has said he aspires to lead the party like Clement Attlee. Well, here, just for Jeremy, is a case study in how to deal with people undermining your leadership.
Clement Attlee gave Harold Laski, Chairman of the Labour Party, no role in the Labour Government that he, Attlee, formed after the 1945 General Election. Laski’s relationship with Attlee had always been a strained one. Laski had once called Attlee “uninteresting and uninspired” in the American press.
After the 1945 General Election had been called, Laski had actually written to Attlee asking him to step down and let someone else lead the party into battle. But instead of rushing to the lobby to brief against his adversary, Attlee merely sent back a masterpiece of understatement. “Dear Laski,” his note read. “Thank you for your letter, contents of which have been noted.”
Laski then tried to have the Potsdam Conference delayed until after Attlee’s position as leader was clarified. He even attempted to bypass Attlee, the leader of the party which he was chairman, by directly dealing with Winston Churchill. Laski then went on to try and pre-empt foreign policy decisions, laying down guidelines for the new Labour Government. Attlee rebuked him:
“You have no right whatever to speak on behalf of the Government. Foreign affairs are in the capable hands of Ernest Bevin. His task is quite sufficiently difficult without the irresponsible statements of the kind you are making … I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome.“