Thursday, August 05, 2010

Guest Post: The Greatest Prime Ministers of All Time


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.


jwildbore said...

Enjoyable bollocks!

How any sensible publication can reasonably rank Prime Ministers from the dawn of time to today is beyond me. To then extrapolate this into a giant poll-of-poll is wonderfully daft.

Brought a smile to my face.

Jon said...

This is some fantastic work! My only criticism would be of the placement of Lord North, the statistics place him where they do because of the loss of the 13 Colonies. He was aside from this a good Prime Minister. Economically literate, popular in Westminster and the country as well as being a sound defender of the empire, as shown by his handling of the Falklands Crisis. While North deserves some of the criticism for the loss of America he was not the sole or even main culprit. There were inept generals refusing to work together and previous and contemporary members of government in the UK whose actions alienated the revolutionaries far more than North's policies.

This sort addendum aside however its a fantastic list and I hope to put it to use!

Thank you.

FX Man said...

I know one person who disagrees with this.

Kevin the Chimp said...

Where is Neville Chamberlain??

John Holmes said...

Interesting but the size of a poll is irrelevant if the sample isn't representative. Weighting purely by the sample size is, therefore, fairly pointless.

Dick the Prick said...

But but but Gordon saved the world, it started in America, it was the right thing to do and this is about cuts, not investment.

anne riddle said...

Dick - Surely you mean "investment,not cuts"?

Gallimaufry said...

@ Kevin The Chimp
"Where is Neville Chamberlain?"

Westminster Abbey. He doesn't get out much nowadays.

gordon-bennett said...

Atlee was a good PM only if you are a socialist.

So much of his dogmatic nationalisation policies had to be overturned that he should be a lot lower in the approval ratings.

Thatcher had to privatise and, as a result, what had up to then cost the taxpayer £5Bn pa afterwards paid the taxpayer £5Bn in taxation receipts - a turnaround of £10Bn.

Don't forget that any ratings by journalists have to be taken with a pinch of salt because most of them are lefties, if not outright socialists.

Nicholas said...

Pitt the Elder is the best Prime Minister this country had. He was always concerned with advancing the wealth and power of Britain. As Horace Walpole said, "he taught the nation to speak again as England used to speak to foreign powers."

John said...

What a load of shite.

Steve Tierney said...

I'd put Heath at the bottom.

xxx said...


xxx said...

jwildbore. Thanks. Daft but fun, as you say.

Kevin. I have no idea! He's slipped through my net somewhere. He was, I think, 11th from bottom though.

John Holmes. Sample sizes. Yes, I was just going with what I had available. Hence adding as many polls as I could to get, hopefully, the best rounded result.

John. Cheers!

Ross said...

It's not a bad ranking, I'd cetainly agree with the top two. I believe Edward Heath & Harold Wilson are overrated and Lord Salisbury probably should be higher.

awkwardgadgee said...

If there is an argument about the best PM in history, and there is, at least there can be no doubt about who was the worst.

By a long country mile, even worse than the Broon, the award must go to Grocer Heath.

Anoneumouse said...

Ah yes, UEA statistical analysis at work eh

trevorsden said...

Johns perspicacity aside, its a fun list.

There is one complete incontrovertible fact, absolutely no on on that list in the entire history of British Prime Ministers went out of his way to insult a little old lady from Rochdale, just out shopping for a loaf of bread.

Dick the Prick said...

Dear Anne - hyup, mae culpa. Gosh, i'm just so glad he's gone. Very much like polls but, really; ding dong the witch is dead etc (don't really know the words but defo feel the sentiment). Cheers, DtP.

Peter said...

Blair has to be in the bottom 10.
He established the nanny state.
He created the massive public sector we have today and started the deficit.
And he took us into an illegal war in Iraq.

Weygand said...

Excuse me, but all these posts about LBC - which we don't listen to very often in Yorkshire - and lists (all of which are subjective nonsense) are becoming extremely dull (and reminiscent of those fillers in the Sunday Supplements) and are driving me mad.

Is this a must read political blog or the falling booster rocket which launched you to what are now pastures new?

PS Only someone who cared would bother to ask.

Iain Dale said...

Fair question. There's bugger all news around at the moment to blog about so yes, I will take the odd guest post, and as I spend 5 hours of my day at LBC doing a phone in I will of course write the odd post about the experience, if something out of the ordinary happens.

August is always an odd time in the blogging world.

Terry said...

Good to see the occasional guest post Iain. It was mentioned in your questionnaire about the future direction of your site.
August is the "silly season" so why not a bit of fun like this. Brown and Heath should occupy the last 2 places and Eden, dogged by ill health, moved up to Heath's place.
Variety is the spice of life and you are providing it. Great.

Weygand said...

Well good luck with LBC et al - but don't give up the day job quite yet.

This is just the calm before the storm.

Dick the Prick said...

Not just blogging world, bud.

Paddy Briggs said...

Your methodology looks fine if public opinion is to be the determinant. But it’s a wee bit more complex than this isn’t it? Churchill was truly great for five years when greatness was needed. But he was truly abysmal for nearly four years when at the age of 77 he should never have been let near Number 10 again. Indeed the Churchill/Eden six years were utterly disastrous – two Victorians unsuited to the building of a modern peacetime Britain. We never recovered competitively from this lacuna. Macmillan was a remarkable personality and a clever man – but another Victorian. We had three successive PM’s post Attlee whose attitudes were formed by their First World War experiences at a time when we needed to look forward. Harold Wilson, Britain’s’ first PM born in the 20th Century, was “only” 58 when he came into office as a moderniser and history is judging him well I think. Unlike Attlee, Eden, Thatcher, Blair and Brown he kept Britain out of silly wars – his resolve on Vietnam was a good and courageous decision from which his successors should have learned. Blair, like Churchill, was a paradoxical mixture of the good and the bad. It’s his own bloody fault that Iran and Afghanistan have destroyed his legacy which otherwise would have been pretty good. Brown was uniquely unqualified to be PM (unlike Eden who was over-qualified but useless) – but he was the right man in the right place at the right time when the financial markets (etc) went belly up. Brown’s leadership was impressive and the actions that he took mostly right. He will be judged well in this respect – but not in any other I fear. Although his leaving of office was moving and decent – as, deep down, is the man himself.

Tom Greeves said...

It's Thatcher.

She revolutionised the economy, stood firm against the invasion of British territory, and made it impossible for any government to be really hard left in the foreseeable future.

Churchill usually gets the nod, but he was far more prone to bad judgement than Thatcher, and I'm not sure she would have a) bombed Dresden out of spite or b) given half of Europe to the Reds after WW2.

Nicholas said...

Tom Greeves, Thatcher revolutionised the economy but Churchill saved Britain. That places him above Thatcher. Churchill did not "give" the Soviets half of Europe, they conquered it and once the Red Army was there, there was no way of getting them out of it except by force. Unless you think Churchill should have ordered the British Army to attack the Red Army then your criticism holds no water.