Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ranking the Prime Ministers

The Daily Politics is conducting a poll to find out who their viewers think is the best Prime Minister since World War II. They seem to have forgotten that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from 1951-55 and have eliminated him from the poll! Astonishing. Paul Linford gave his views HERE and ranked them all. I feel duty bound to <>plagiarise follow him. Like Paul, my judgement is partly based on whether they left the country in a better state than they found it. Unlike Paul, I think more than two PMs achieved that. Indeed, I would submit that John Major did, although for a variety of other reasons I have ranked him below average. Let me point out immediately that I have judged Winston Churchill only on his 1951-55 period in office, before anyone starts screaming in the Comments!

1. Margaret Thatcher
Leading the BBC poll with 66%. Her conviction dragged the country out of the mire of strikes and malaise which afflicted it in 1979. She truly turned the country round and despite some of the painful episodes along the way, even her opponents now admit her remedies were necessary. Without her, Tony Blair may never have existed. Now there's a thought...
2. Clement Attlee
I disagree with a lot of what he did, but he changed the industrial and social face of the country. He was a PM who left an indelible stamp on the nation. The NHS was a truly great achievement. Our failure since then has been to adapt it to our age.
3. Harold Macmillan
Led the country through an unprecendented period of affluence and managed the transition from Empire in a quiet and calm way. His weakness was his failure to reform the economy and embed Butskellism.
4. Winston Churchill
Was PM for four years in the early 1950s but was ill for much of it, leaving the government rudderless. However, he set the course and let his Ministers get on with it and concentrated on international affairs. Obviously if this was a list of Greatest PMs of the century he would be Number 1. Without him, none of the post war PMs would have held office, hence his high ranking in this list.
5. Tony Blair
His greatest achievement has been to win three elections and make Labour electable. He has provided clear leadership on several issues, albeit flawed leadership. He will go down in history for Iraq and sleaze and deserves criticism for his failure to reform public services and grossly boosting public spending, but there are achievements to his name (if only I could remember what they are!).
6. Harold Wilson
Mired in industrial troubles and at the beck and call of powerful union leaders, Wilson's greatest achievements were to win four elections and stay out of the Vietnam war.
7. John Major
A weak Prime Minister bedevilled by internal party strife. Clung to office for six and a half years and embedded privatisation and competition in the economy, but his European policy was a failure. His 'put up or shut up' resignation in 1995 did little to quell the discontent.
8. Edward Heath
Will be remembered for taking Britain into the EEC but should be equally remembered for his disastrous economic and industrial policy.
9. James Callaghan
I have never quite understood those who rank Callaghan as a good PM. His period in office was distinguished by the worst industrial discord in our history, the Chancellor going cap in hand to the IMF and a weak foreign policy.
10. Alec Douglas Home
His lack of tenure makes it impossible to rank him more highly, but we should not forget he united the Conservative Party after Macmillan's departure and came within a whisker of winning the 1964 election.
11. Sir Antony Eden
Perhaps it is unfair, but Sir Anthony Eden will only be remembered for Suez. But this disastrous adventure affected Britain's standing in the world for 25 years.

43 comments:

JT said...

Regarding your comment on the NHS, "Our failure since then has been to adapt it to our age."

Doctrinaire state socialism is inevitably a disaster in any age...

Ted said...

In foreign affairs I think Blair deserves recognition for Yugoslavia - John Major/Douglas Hurd and the French held back any intervention and watched while internicene warfare and etnnic outrages were committed. The masssacre at Srebrenica, John Major's declared safe zone, is a stain on British & European policy that will remain. It may have been Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks who acted but as Blair and Clinton showed a degree of resolve from NATO and it ended.

Anonymous said...

I have heard people defending Blair in the way that Matthew Paris did recently - by praising him for leaving Britain more relaxed and liberal than in the 90s. Presumably they cite Civil Partnership, and that people are now more relaxed about "foreigners" etc.

I happen to think this relaxation is despite Blair being PM not because of him. I doubt he was in favour of Civil Partnerships and he hasn't actually done much pro-actively about the other stuff. The nation has improved in many ways since 97 but Blair can't really take the credit!

World of Jack said...

Can we rank First Ministers please?

bt said...

Attlee's tenure was an economic disaster that crippled the country for decades - see Corelli Barnett "The Lost Victory" and "The Verdict of the Peace"

Anonymous said...

A very teleological list.

Anonymous said...

Major and Blair for Ireland? Didn't I see a list from Blair somewhere with no Labour people on it? I'm very glad to see Atlee at Number Two in Iain's list. Blair's LAF (Labour Achievement Film, a spot which i fed to Henley) has 50 or 100 pretty good things in it. Though some of the best, like the ascending minimum wage, were against his own instincts I suspect. Matthew Parris did have it right I thought on the general quality of life improvements though I'd welcome more redistribution and even more equality progress over the next Three Terms!

Anonymous said...

The sailor will be rembemered for taking us into the Common Market not EU,He was so conceited he thought he knew better than to ask the people ,his legacy lives on

Anonymous said...

I bet Atlee didn't intend there to be a significant proportion of the population permanently on Welfare sixty years on!

Whoever said that if you pay people to be poor you will end up with professional poor people...?

Anonymous said...

I think in a few years we will look back and it will be Jade Goody.

Ross said...

I sometimes wonder whether John Major was a better PM than he is considered to be. His leadership of the Conservative Party was poor, but his administration created a sustained period of economic prosperity, reduced crime for the first time since Woy Jenkins buggered up Britain's policing, cut taxes etc.

My list would be:

1. Thatcher- Obvious.

2. Atlee- Foreign policy, he brought Britain into Nato.

3. MacMillan- Reasons Iain gave.

4. Churchill- Didn't do much in his second term which is usually a good thing.

5. Major- Reasons given above.

6. Douglas Home- Got lumbered with an impossible task but did not make any enormous blunder.

7. Callaghan- The problems of his administration were largely the legacy of Heath and Wilson, he was like someone taking over a company that was already in administration.

8. Blair- Did reasonably well in the Balkans but has failed in most other aspects of domestic and foreign policy.

9. Wilson- Shallow, economically incompetant.

10. Heath- Did he do anything right?

11. Eden- Suez.

Anonymous said...

Thatcher had the promise of a great leadership but money appears to have diverted her ,she sold off UK PLC to her mates , and left the money in the treasury for this lot to squander ,she wont be remembered

Socialist guru said...

Iain,

Harold Wilson won four elections.

verity said...

Well said, JT!

The creation by Atlee of the NHS was a giant step forward for socialism only. It took responsibility for their own welfare aware from people. It was the thin edge of the wedge.

Marquee Mark said...

Eden gets the wooden spoon because Suez buggered foreign affairs for 25 years; but I strongly suspect that in 25 years time, Blair's Iraq misadventure will have eclipsed Suez. Fifth mightily flatters him because we don't have the benefit of standing back and reviewing with him having been out of office a while.

And whilst we might be a more tolerant nation on gay rights, I think that in terms of religious and racial tolerance, we are ten steps backwards. The proof of that will come at the next election, when Labour's white urban vote is going to desert in huge number to the BNP. The BNP's votes would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

Oh, and John Major should be very near the top, if only for winning an election that spared us from a PM who would have eclipsed Eden from day one - Neil Kinnock.

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Ian, Aren't you a bit hard on Douglas Home? He actually came very close to winning a general election, turning round the fortunes of the Tories after only twelve months in office.

Anonymous said...

marquee mark: major did prevent the danger of kinnock - but he would have been kicked out again after 5 years. we've been stuck with blair for twice as long...

Little Black Sambo said...

"Heath: Will be remembered for taking Britain into the EEC but should be equally remembered for his disastrous economic and industrial policy."

Why "but"?

Anonymous said...

John Majors European policy was a failure? You lot approved his negotiation stance at Maastricht, he won some of the best opt outs you could have hoped for, then you promptly dragged your own party down by completely ignoring his pragmatic scepticism toward Europe.

His policy was not a failure. His MPs were. So sad that many of them now control the Tory Party.

Anonymous said...

"for a variety of other reasons I have ranked him below average"

You been talking to Edwina, Iain?

Liberalone said...

When they started the poll, the Daily Politics clearly stated why thye were not including Churchill (which included that most people could not separate out his war years premiership from the post-war period) - unfortunately I can't find that link now. Whatever one may think of Churchill, I think it is fair to admit that his final years were not his greatest.

John Coles said...

Heath was a lying deceitful bastard and used these talents to lever the countryinto the EU. I hope that history reaches this conclusion, if in a somewhat more urbane way.

no longer anonymous said...

I can't agree with the placing of Attlee. It is notable that in 1945 the Tories were also proposing a free halth service and various other aspects of the welfare state but didn't call for other socialist measures such as nationalisation, excessive controls, redistributive taxation etc. Plus I think it more lightly that the tories would have built the welfare state on a less socialist basis. Corelli Barnett's "The Lost Victory" is a damning indictment of the Attlee regime.

Let's not forget that no Attlee would have meant no Butskellism and no shift to the Left by the Tories.

no longer anonymous said...

Regarding Eden and Suez, one might argue that he actually had a good idea that was unfortunately shafted by the Americans. Disposing of Nasser would have dealt Arab nationalism and the USSR a serious blow.

Anonymous said...

Rank Prime Ministers?

Thet're all pretty 'rank' to me!

Anonymous said...

Every fours years from all politicians we get lies and deceit and how they will help us ,theyv'e only used us to get to the feeding trough ,non of the above I say ,Churchill war's years is time when the people felt somebody did want to help.
The rest can go to hell ,

Anonymous said...

It's rather striking how bad the list is. Like the Stuarts as opposed to the Tudors.

David M said...

Just look what callaghan did, iain. you're confusing him with what he inherited, from both wilson and heath. he kept his government going with no majority for over three years. brought inflation down, started the process of selling of state assets, prevented an argentine invasion of the falklands, began the retreat from keynsianism, ran a genuine cabinet government, sidelined tony benn...ok, he got the timing of the election wrong, but that's a party matter. as a prime minister, he must rank highly. peter hennessey certainly rates him. take off your tory spectacles and have a look at him wth impartial eyes!

Anonymous said...

what would give me an idea who was where on this list ,would be the crime figures listed next to each PM , my guess would be in thatcher's 2nd reign that's when the slide started

Anonymous said...

I must say that your list was rather fair.. although macmillan i below should feature above atlee..

They made... said...

Now a ranked list of post-1970 Home Secs would be interesting...

Anonymous said...

The problem with these lists is that one has to either do it based on how 'great' they were in terms of their impact on the country, or in terms of how positive or negative their impact was. Clearly the latter is more subjective but that shouldn't stop us from trying. So, yes, Attlee did help to fundamentally change the country but does that make him great? I think it makes him awful, for the damaging consequences are still with us - not least, the failing health system.

Anonymous said...

I can remember something from Maastrich which Ive never forgotten when one of our elite in an interview with those so called BBC media persons ,said we have to join Maastrich because Germany is joining together and we could have a war , our crappy press and our free from bias BBC didn't even pick it up

Anonymous said...

Blair at five! God help us!

The man has been a disaster, our problems are only just beginning.

Let's judge him again in 3 years time when the disastrous effects of his (and Brown's) misrule will have become painfully apparent.

propaganda 2 said...

Harold MacMillan did far more for all the people, not just those represented by Labour, in housing education, and general economic well being - him and his Cabinet, than any of the Labour listees; and he sustained a constitutionally run administration, with collective Cabinet responsibility. And all the things listed in the post, just think of his 'Wind of change ' speech.

And his ministers were gloriously entertaining in wholly civilized fashion, with very pretty people.

Clement Atlee was a central planning, puritan bore who lost the Peace.

billy said...

"His greatest achievement has been to win three elections and make Labour electable."

I believe that in making the Labour party electable he changed into something else entirely and it hasn't been for the better. He is much too highly placed here, Iain.

Lerxst said...

Heath: Will be remembered for taking Britain into the EEC but should be equally remembered for his disastrous economic and industrial policy."
Why "but"?

Absolutely, it should be ".... into the EEC and his equally disastrous economic and induatrial policy".

Not to mention The Long Sulk, the longest and most amusing case of sour grapes in modern political history.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
The sailor will be rembemered for taking us into the Common Market not EU,He was so conceited he thought he knew better than to ask the people ,his legacy lives on

Totally agree, I detest the man for that.

Anonymous said...

Blair is without a doubt the worst Prime Minister UK has ever had. The man lied, lied, lied, to his people and to Parliament, even using lies to drag UK into an illegal invasion which has killed countless thousands of innocents, destroyed Iraq, destabilised the fragile Middle East and made UK a major terrorist target. He's also begun dismantling UK democracy, hugely damaged his country and our value system, you don't get much worse than this.

Anonymous said...

Blair is way too high. In 10 years time he'll be viewed as little more than a conman.

I think the 'interregnum' PMs like Callaghan and Major are rated too low and will look increasingly better with time. Both did a great job with lousy, rebellious parties.

Anonymous said...

It's amusing how Heath and Thatcher are contrasted. Often forgotten with Thatcher is the effect of the Falklands on her premiership. Her initial mishandling of the affair is overlooked. The recapture of made her, turning disastrous poll ratings around.

Without the Falklands she would have been just another one term failure like Heath, albeit with even less to show.

Anonymous said...

Traitor Heath should be tenth and Adolf Blair eleventh on that that list Mr. Dale. I would rank Eden nineth because at least he was better than the sell-out and the nazi.

Anonymous said...

"I have never quite understood those who rank Callaghan as a good PM."

Because he inherited an impossibly disastrous situation which he dealt with adroitly and with immense skill and almost triumphed, but for one mistake on election timing, over huge problems almost any one of which dwarfs most recent or current ones.

Most people with political instincts, such as the late Enoch, admired the ease with which, for example, he did his 'How could you think it was me who did that? I'm only PM.' act. You sure you should be in politics, Iain?