Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

Greatest Prime Minister?


A YouGov survey commissioned by The Sun puts Margaret Thatcher, unsurprisingly, at the top of the list in response to the question “Who do you think has been the greatest British Prime Minister since 1945?”. The full order, according to respondants, is:

  1. Margaret Thatcher 28%
  2. Winston Churchill 24%
  3. Tony Blair 10%
  4. Harold Wilson 6%
  5. Clement Attlee 5%
  6. Gordon Brown 2%
  7. Anthony Eden 1%
  8. Harold MacMillan 1%
  9. Alec Douglas-Home 1%
  10. Jim Callaghan 1%
  11. John Major 1%
  12. Edward Heath 0%
  13. David Cameron 0%

Some commentators have picked up on David Cameron’s position at the bottom; I think that’s rather unfair as you can really only judge a PM by his or her legacy and, clearly, Cameron hasn’t been in office long enough to be able to determine that. Edward Heath’s big fat zero is possibly unfair too, but I suspect he only got that because the survey didn’t allow for negative figures.

It does seem to me, though, that people are voting mainly on a combination of their personal memories and popular mythology. I think Winston Churchill is considerably overrated in this poll: as a wartime leader he was excellent but his post-war government was mediocre at best. And I’m surprised by the lack of votes for Clement Attlee; you would have thought that the PM who gave us the modern welfare state (and massive nationalisation) would be held in higher regard, particularly by those on the left of politics.

If I was placing them in order, I’d have Thatcher at the top (of course), followed by Tony Blair and then Attlee in third place. The rest, I think, are much of a muchness – only the three I’ve chosen managed to rise above mediocrity and approach greatness. Harold Wilson was a good administrator, but too much in thrall to the unions. Jim Callaghan’s government was ineffective primarily because he inherited the long-term consequences of Wilson’s pandering to the unions, though. Callaghan himself was not as inept as he is sometimes painted (although he was, arguably, one of the best political examples of the Peter Principle), but he was simply powerless to make any real difference. John Major and Gordon Brown had the misfortune to be following on from a great leader (and suffering the fallout from their ejection from power). Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home were politicrats who rose to their position almost by default. And I think we’re still waiting for the next great British politician (and no, it won’t be Boris).