GUEST POST BY STEPHEN BRAY
The Third Worst Prime Minister Since the War? Well, it’s actually even more disappointing news for Gordon than that. Second Worst, the pundits would have it. Also, it appears that he is the Fifth Worst of all time.
How do I reckon this? Well, the first notable “Best Prime Minister” poll took place on Radio 4 towards the end of 1999 when 20 Political Pundits and Historians offered their opinions as to the Greatest PMs of the 20th Century. Churchill won, followed by Lloyd George and then Attlee. Major, Chamberlain and Eden came at the bottom of the pile. Blair wasn’t yet included in these things.
Given a love of polls and statistics, my interest was duly piqued by this, and I began to keep track of these things as more and more were published, taking in Blair’s Premiership, and eventually Brown’s too. The largest poll was one for Newsnight in 2008 comprising of 27,000 voters. The most wide ranging was that done by the Times earlier this year that covered every PM from Walpole to Brown. Six of its journalists picked the winners and losers this time.
After a time, I began to wonder how one could amalgamate all of these polls together and somehow work out a way of balancing the huge amount of people who had voted in polls involving Churchill to the few who had voted in those wide ranging enough to cover Goderich, Wilmington etc.
The answer was simple in concept, but quite tricky in execution. Basically, one takes the ranking that each poll or pundit gives each PM, and gives that a percentage (with 100% going to 1st place, etc). The poll is that weighted based on how many people voted. i.e. Matthew Paris’ opinions will have a weighting of just ‘1’ whereas the Newsnight poll will have a weighting of ‘27,000’ to reflect the amount of people who expressed their opinions that time ‘round.
This weighted average is then combined with a figure giving the average percentage each PM scored in the various polls. The two scores are then further averaged, partially to ensure things aren’t skewed too heavily in favour of the epic Newsnight poll.
And the results from all this?
Churchill triumphs with a total of 94% of the maximum possible score, with Gladstone (92%), Pitt the Younger (91%), Attlee (91%) and Lloyd George (91%) following close behind. Fifth place goes to Peel (88%), and the rest of the Top 10 is made up of Disraeli, Walpole, Thatcher and Earl Grey. The only other PM to get over 75% of the maximum score is Harold Macmillan.
Positions 12 through to 43 are taken by Palmerston, Asquith, Pitt the Elder, Baldwin, Derby, Salisbury, Wilson, Russell, Liverpool, Blair, Melbourne, Wellington, Campbell-Bannerman, Shelburne, Pelham, Heath, Major, Canning, Callaghan, MacDonald, Rockingham, Perceval, Portland, Aberdeen, Balfour, Bonar Law, Addington, Douglas Home, Newcastle, and William Grenville.
The bottom ten consists of Devonshire (22% of the maximum), Bute, Rosebery, George Grenville, Grafton, Gordon Brown, Eden, Lord North, Goderich and finally the Earl of Wilmington.
Agree? Disagree? I look forward to your own opinions.