Meet the Woman Behind Winston Churchill
It was supposed to be a mundane morning. But suddenly, the low-key event ...read more
The Surprising History of 10 Downing Street
Although 10 Downing Street appears to be a modest-looking terrace house from the outside, there’s more than meets the eye behind its gleaming black front door. The original residence, built on the site of a medieval brewery, is a portal to 100 rooms in several larger houses ...read more
Labour party returns to power in Britain
After 18 years of Conservative rule, British voters give the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, a landslide victory in British parliamentary elections. In the poorest Conservative Party showing since 1832, Prime Minister John Major was rejected in favor of Scottish-born Blair, who ...read more
Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Britain
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, is called to replace Neville Chamberlain as British prime minister following the latter’s resignation after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons. In 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Nazi ...read more
British prime minister Spencer Perceval assassinated
In London, Spencer Perceval, prime minister of Britain since 1809, is shot to death by deranged businessman John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Bellingham, who was inflamed by his failure to obtain government compensation for war debts incurred in Russia, gave ...read more
List of prime ministers of the United Kingdom by age
This is a list of prime ministers of the United Kingdom by age. This table can be sorted to display prime ministers of the United Kingdom by name, order of office, date of birth, age at appointment, length of retirement, or lifespan. Age at appointment is determined by the day a prime minister assumed office for the first time. Length of retirement is determined from the day a prime minister leaves office for the final time until their death.
Two measures of longevity are given this is to allow for the differing number of leap days occurring within the life of each Prime Minister. The first figure is the number of days between date of birth and date of death, allowing for leap days in parentheses the same period given in years and days, with the number of whole years that the Prime Minister had lived, and the days being the remaining number of days from their last birthday. Where the prime minister in question is still living, their longevity is measured up to 26 June 2021.
23 things you (probably) didn’t know about No 10 Downing Street, the official residence of Britain’s prime ministers
Felicity Day takes a glimpse behind the world’s most famous front door, reveals 23 fascinating facts about the official residence of the prime minister and the events that have taken place within its walls
This competition is now closed
Published: April 3, 2021 at 7:24 am
It was given as a gift from a king
In 1732 a grateful King George II presented Sir Robert Walpole with a house on Downing Street. Walpole, who is usually recognised as the first to have and to use the powers of a prime minister, refused the property as a personal gift. Instead, he agreed to accept it as an official residence for the First Lord of the Treasury, to which post – held by Walpole for more than 20 years – “he got it annexed for ever”.
No 10 Downing Street was initially No 5
The king’s gift was, in fact, two houses: one fronting onto Downing Street and a larger one overlooking Horse Guards behind. Walpole moved in only once the two had been combined and refurbished, becoming the first premier to call Downing Street home in September 1735. The house was then actually No 5, and remained so until 1779 when it was renumbered.
Its historic colour is the result of air pollution
No 10 Downing Street’s distinctive brickwork is not actually black – restoration works in the 1960s revealed that the terrace was built with yellow bricks, subsequently blackened by two centuries of inner-city air pollution. A black colourwash is used today to maintain its historic appearance.
A brewery once stood the land
The land on which Downing Street stands was once part of the ancient Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman settlements of Thorney Island. Later home to a brewery, it was in the hands of the Crown by the reign of Henry VIII, sitting on the edge of the king’s vast Whitehall Palace site.
A house there was leased by Elizabeth I to one of her favourites, Sir Thomas Knyvet, in 1581, and it was his niece, Mrs Hampden, who was residing in it when the land was confiscated under Oliver Cromwell (although she still continued to live there).
The house was built by one of Oliver Cromwell’s spymasters
A “perfidious rogue” and “ungrateful villain” was how diarist Samuel Pepys described the man who gave his name to Britain’s most famous street. Sir George Downing was a former preacher who became one of Cromwell’s most high-profile spymasters in the wake of Charles I’s execution in 1649, only to switch sides when the Restoration loomed.
Having traded his secrets for a pardon from the exiled Charles II, Downing went on to round up his former comrades for execution, receiving a baronetcy from his grateful king and settling into a new life as a government administrator – admired for his capabilities, but despised for his self-interest.
The former Crown land in Whitehall, Downing had acquired in 1654. Undeterred when the transfer was declared null and void at the Restoration in 1660, Downing brazenly told the king that it had come to him in payment of a debt, and was granted a lease of the site and liberty to build on it. With an eye solely to profit, he erected a series of 15 to 20 terraced houses and gave the street his name.
It wasn’t built to last
Sited on boggy ground and cheaply constructed with shallow, ineffective foundations, Sir George Downing’s terrace was not built to last. An £11,000 ‘Great Repair’ begun in the 1780s was the first of a series of works that failed to fix the issues.
Having suffered a battering in the Blitz, No 10 was in a desperate state by the 1950s: riddled with dry rot, the risk of fire was so great a firefighter was employed full-time, and there were concerns that the uneven floors might give way. Demolition was, however, rejected as an “act of impiety” and in 1960, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan moved out while the foundations were strengthened and the building renewed – a project that took three years and cost over £1 million.
One prime minister used it to try and convince prostitutes to change their ways
William Ewart Gladstone had one of the most eccentric hobbies of all the prime ministers who have ever resided in Downing Street: late in the evening he would walk to Soho, pick up one or two ladies of the night and take them back to No. 10, where he would attempt to convince them of the error of their ways.
The iconic black door was briefly painted green
The most famous front door in the world has not always been black: in 1908 it was painted green on the instructions of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, only to go back to black at the end of his tenure in 1916. Originally made of oak, the door was replaced with a heavy-duty steel version for security reasons in the 1990s.
A ‘lady in pink’ may haunt the house
Only one prime minister in history has ever reported a ghostly presence at No 10 Downing Street: Harold Wilson and his cleaner both claimed they had – separately – seen a lady dressed in pink in the private apartment.
Alms have been given from its door
Some of Downing Street’s most famous visitors have been greeted and photographed on its doorstep, but during the 18th-century premiership of Lord North you were more likely to find a group of poor people huddled there, as every Sunday he handed out money and food.
Protestors used to be able to march up to the front door
In the centuries before the famous gates to Downing Street arrived in 1989, protesters could – and did – march right up to the prime minister’s front door: most notably the suffragettes.
During the so-called ‘battle of Downing Street’ on 22 November 1910, a total of 159 people (including three men) were arrested while taking part in protests against Herbert Asquith. The suffragettes would return to Downing Street time and again during the course of their campaign, breaking windows, chaining themselves to railings and directly confronting politicians.
The IRA attacked No 10 in 1991
The Irish militants targeted No 10 on 7 February 1991. Prevented from getting into Downing Street itself by the gates installed less than two years previously, they fired their three mortar bombs from a transit van parked out on Whitehall.
There were no mod-cons for incoming prime ministers
When Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald came to power in January 1924, he and daughter Ishbel were shocked to find that the state provided so little furniture for the large and rambling house at Downing Street, and none of the cutlery, crockery or silver necessary for official entertaining – not even any bedsheets.
Unlike most of his predecessors, MacDonald had no luxury country home on which to call, and the provisions of his modest house were nowhere near sufficient. Ishbel was sent to the January sales to stock up, and would later recall having to help her father by funding more items from a small personal inheritance.
Nor were there any servants
Engaging (and paying for) Downing Street’s domestic staff has always been the responsibility of the tenant. During David Lloyd George’s tenure the staff were all Welsh nationals, who spoke to each other – and often the prime minister’s family – in Welsh.
By the mid-19th century it was surrounded by brothels and gin parlours
Minutes from the Houses of Parliament, we can think of no better location for the prime minister’s residence than Downing Street. It was not so in the early 1800s. By then, it was “a dingy solitary street with a dirty public house on the corner and a row of third-rate lodging houses between it and the Foreign Office” – a building which was itself dilapidated.
The surrounding area was becoming seedier every year, too – by 1846 there were 170 brothels and 145 gin parlours within the vicinity. Plans to demolish the entire north-side terrace were seriously considered, but numbers 10, 11 and 12 survived.
- The gin craze: why did it sweep across London and much of England during the first half of the 18th century
Not every prime minister has called it home
It has never been a requirement for the prime minister to live at Downing Street. Many Georgian and Victorian premiers – including Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel and Viscount Palmerston – preferred to remain in their own London townhouses, using No 10 as an office, or allowing their chancellors to move in. Of the 31 men in office between 1735 and 1902, only 16 resided there. Some more recent prime ministers have elected to live in the spacious flat at No 11.
One operation has been performed in the house
The only operation known to have been carried out at No 10 is the removal of a facial cyst troubling William Pitt the Younger in 1786. He reportedly rebuked the surgeon for taking half-a-minute longer to perform the procedure than his estimate of six minutes.
Royal visits are not unheard of
Although the monarch has not attended cabinet meetings regularly since the reign of George III, the royals have been frequent visitors to No 10. Queen Caroline came for breakfast a week after Sir Robert Walpole moved in Edward VIII was smuggled in for secret talks with Stanley Baldwin about his proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson and George VI risked the air raids to dine with Winston Churchill during the Second World War.
‘Mousers’ are among No 10’s most important residents
Mice have long stalked the corridors of No 10, meaning that government officials have often relied on ‘mousers’ for help. Larry is just the latest in a long line of feline residents, including Winston Churchill’s so-called ‘Munich Mouser’. Churchill’s nickname for the cat reflected the fact that the moggie’s previous owner, Neville Chamberlain, had signed the controversial Munich Agreement in support of German appeasement.
The first Downing Street Christmas tree was introduced by Thatcher
Downing Street’s Christmas tree is one of its more recent traditions, begun by Margaret Thatcher. Since 1999, it has been supplied by the winner of a competition organised by the British Christmas Tree Growers Association.
It was a wartime hub in WWI, but not WWII
During the First World War, No 10 was a hive of activity. In January 1917, David Lloyd George set up a group of wooden huts on the lawn (known as the ‘garden suburb’) in order to house extra staff.
It was much quieter in the Second World War. Amid concerns about the house’s stability, Winston Churchill was persuaded to move into a flat above the underground bunker we now know as the Churchill War Rooms. He did, however, insist on using No. 10 regularly for meetings and dinners, so certain rooms were reinforced with steel and a shelter was constructed under the house, where the prime minister was once forced to seek refuge with George VI.
There are 61 years separating the oldest and youngest incumbents
Taking office aged 24 in 1783, William Pitt the Younger is Britain’s most youthful premier to date – but also the youngest to live at No 10, moving in as chancellor aged 23. William Ewart Gladstone was the oldest incumbent, leaving Downing Street at the age of 84.
It is unclear why the zero in ‘No 10’ is askance
Theories abound as to why the zero on No 10’s front door is slightly askew. Some believe the original number was badly fixed and the position has been forever preserved in tribute others that its angle was deliberate, replicating the tilted letter ‘O’ in an ancient Roman style of lettering that had been adopted as a typeface by the Ministry of Works.
Felicity Day is a freelance writer specialising in the history of the Georgian and Regency eras
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Cherry, Plum, and Chrysanthemum)
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (informally abbreviated to PM) is the head of government of the United Kingdom and the foresitter of the cabinet. Along with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister directs both the law-doing (Cabinet) and the law-making ( Rikesday ) bodies of the United Kingdom. Together with the rest of Cabinet, the Prime Minister is responsible to the monarch, to Rikesday, to their party, and ultimately to the voters, for the government's policies and actions.
The office of Prime Minister is not established by any law set but exists only by long-established wonelaws , whereby the reigning monarch appoints as Prime Minister the person most likely to command the confidence of the Folkthing this person is typically the leader of the political party or coalition of parties in the thing which wins most seats after a general election. The position of Prime Minister was not created it evolved slowly and organically over three hundred years due to numerous parliamentary sets , political developments, and accidents of history.
By the 1830s, the Westminster system of government (or cabinet government) had emerged the prime minister had become primus inter pares or the first among equals in the Cabinet and the head of government in the United Kingdom. The political position of Prime Minister was enhanced by the development of modern political parties, the introduction of mass communication and photography. By the start of the 20th century the modern premiership had emerged the office had become the pre-eminent position in the constitutional hierarchy alongside the King/Queen, Rikesday and Cabinet.
After 1902, the Prime Minister rarely but sometimes comes from the Athelthing , provided that his/her government could form a majority in the Folkthing. Nevertheless, as the power of the athelings waned during the 19th century, the Prime Minister who comes from the Athelthing usually holds lesser authority compared with the one who sits as a Fellow of Day (FD) in the lower house. An atheling who serves as prime minister can sits together with Fellows of Day from his/her party in the Folkthing, but has no voting right. The Prime Minister who serves as the leader and a Fellow has further authority in the law-making process, enhanced by the Rikesday Set 1911 which marginalized the influence of the athelings.
As a part of Anglo-Irish compromise in 1915, in principle, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have since share equal responsibilities within the Union government, and their decisions are made jointly. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister jointly appoint the individuals in charge of foreign and defense affairs (and formerly, also of colonial one). However, as the British parliament has seniority over its Irish counterpart, so does the Prime Minister within the government.
As the government of the United Kingdom has powers over non-Irish areas as well as over six Ulster counties, therefore the UK governmental offices administer the British component of the union without any separate or specific British government of its own. By theory, the collapse of parliamentary mandate over the Deputy Prime Minister does not follows up with the collapse of Union government in general. In fact, previous joint appointments can be kept by the Prime Minister, unless the officeholders are Irish parliamentarians, thus caretakers to said positions are needed. However, as the dissolution of Dáil Éireann usually follows the dissolution of Rikesday, such case as said before is rarely happens.
The prime minister is ex officio also First Lord of the Gavelgild and Minister for the State's Rareknack . Indeed, certain privileges, such as residency of 10 Downing Street, are accorded to prime ministers by virtue of their position as First Lord of the Gavelgild. The status and law-doing powers of the British prime minister means that the incumbent is consistently ranked as one of the most powerful democratically elected leaders in the world.
3 Theresa May
Theresa May is a British politician who became the United Kingdom's second female prime minister. She served as prime minister from 2016 to 2019. During her prime ministership, May's involvement in the Brexit negotiations gave rise to the Brexit withdrawal agreement. She is also credited with co-founding Women2Win, which promotes women empowerment.
List of British Prime Ministers
The Prime Ministers of Britain (technically of the United Kingdom) are the Head of Government in that nation, though the Head of State is the reigning King or Queen. In modern British government and politics, the Queen is said to “reign, but she does not rule,” meaning that while she is the Queen, and has certain powers, all true political power rests with the elected representatives of the people. To this end, voters in Britain select, in elections, Members of Parliament to form the legislative branch of government (in the United States, the legislative branch is Congress). The political party with the most members in Parliament (or a coalition of parties if none has a majority), selects the Prime Minister, who becomes the leader of the government.
While the term Prime Minister was used informally since at least the 1730s, it was only first used officially by the government in a document in 1878 in a document signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Historians consider Robert Walpole to be the first Prime Minister who became head of government in 1721. The current British Prime Minister is Boris Johnson, who won election in 2019.
Below is the list of British Prime Ministers, with the years they served, the political party to which they belonged, and which monarch reigned during their time in office. Several Prime Ministers served more than once.
Sir Robert Walpole (1721-1742) -Whig Party-During the reigns of King George I and George II
Spencer Compton, the 1st Earl of Wilmington (1742-1743)-Whig Party -During the reigns of King George II
Henry Pelham (1743-1754)-Whig Party -During the reign of King George II
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle (1754-1756) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George II
William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1756-1757) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George II
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle (1757-1762) -Whig Party -During the reigns of King George II and George III
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1762-1763) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III
George Grenville (1763-1765) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1765-1766) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (1766-1768) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton (1768-1770) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
Frederick North, Lord North (1770-1782) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during most of the American Revolution. Lost the American colonies.
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1782) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III [PM for only 97 days]
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1782-1783) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1783) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III
William Pitt the Younger (1783-1801) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during the start of the wars against France in the French Revolutionary Wars and the first part of the Napoleonic Wars.
Henry Addington (1801-1804) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during part of the Napoleonic Wars
William Pitt the Younger (1804-1806) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during part of the Napoleonic Wars
William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1806-1807) -Whig Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during part of the Napoleonic Wars
William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1807-1809) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during part of the Napoleonic Wars
Spencer Perceval (1809-1812) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George III **Prime Minister during part of the Napoleonic Wars. Perceval was assassinated in 1812 in part due to his harsh domestic policies in support of the war effort.
Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1812-1827) -Tory Party -During the reigns of Kings George III and George IV **Prime Minister during the last part of the Napoleonic Wars and the whole of the War of 1812 with the United States, though the lead up to that war was under Perceval's government. Under Jenkinson, Britain took part in the post-Napoleonic Wars Congress of Vienna that reshaped the map of Europe.
George Canning (1827) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George IV
Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich (1827-1828) -Tory Party -During the reign of King George IV
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1828-1830) -Tory Party -During the reigns of Kings George IV and William IV
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1830-1834) -Whig Party -During the reign of King William IV
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1834) -Whig Party -During the reign of King William IV
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1834) -Tory Party -During the reign of King William IV [PM for only 23 days-considered a caretaker government]
Sir Robert Peel (1834-1835) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King William IV
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1835-1841) -Whig Party -During the reign of King William IV
Sir Robert Peel (1841-1846) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King William IV and Queen Victoria
Lord John Russell (1846-1852) -Whig Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (1852) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen (1852-1855) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria **Prime Minister who led Britain into the Crimean War
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1855-1858) -Whig Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (1858-1859) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1859-1865) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (1865-1866) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (1866-1868) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Benjamin Disraeli (1868) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
William Ewart Gladstone (1868-1874) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1874-1880) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
William Ewart Gladstone (1880-1885) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1885-1885) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
William Ewart Gladstone (1885-1886) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1886-1892) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
William Ewart Gladstone (1892-1894) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1894-1895) -Liberal Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1895-1902) -Conservative Party -During the reign of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII **Prime Minister during the first part of the Second Boer War (AKA the South African War)
Arthur Balfour (1902-1905) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King Edward VII **Prime Minister during last part of the Second Boer War
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-1908) -Liberal Party -During the reign of King Edward VII
H. H. Asquith (1908-1916) -Liberal Party -During the reigns of King Edward VII and George V **PM during first part of World War One
David Lloyd George (1916-1922) -Liberal Party -During the reign of King George V **PM during last part of World War One and the Irish War
Bonar Law (1922-1923) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King George V
Stanley Baldwin (1923-1924) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King George V
Ramsay MacDonald (1924) -Labour Party -During the reign of King George V
Stanley Baldwin (1924-1929) -Conservative Party -During the reign of King George V
Ramsay MacDonald (1929-1935) -Labour Party/National Labour Party -During the reign of King George V
British Prime Ministers List
Each Prime Minister is listed in chronological order with an interactive link to the periods where we have related information and an overview to that period in history. This will link to a selection of overviews, profiles and biographies of some of the more notable characters. Simply click on the Prime Ministers name where you see a link and you will be taken to the related article. Additional and key members of the House of Lords and the history of the political leadership of the particular historic periods and how they relate to our historic themes will also be covered, so worth a look there too. Launching this list in 2015, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill, seems fitting.
“The main essentials of a successful Prime Minister are sleep and a sense of history”
Harold Wilson Prime Minister 1964 – 1970 and 1974 – 1976
How long has Britain had what is called a prime minister?
We take for granted that we are led in Government by a Prime Minister but the idea of a Prime Minister was not a status created, more it was one that evolved after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. There was a need for spokesperson, a head who could deliver control of the Parliament for the monarch. It was a term used in the first place to insult someone that was felt to have got above their station, after the monarch was thought to be the ‘prime’ minister.
Robert Walpole was First Lord of the Treasury and found himself in the extended role of being that prime spokesman but the idea of such a role was still not considered justifiable. For decades after Walpole, the post of Prime Minister was still not established but rather assumed that those holding the post of First Lord of the Treasury would also be Prime Minister.
By the end of the 18th century the office of Prime Minister was accepted.
Astonishingly, it was only in 1885 that the list of government ministers printed in Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, first used the title Prime Minister and the first statutory reference to the Prime Minister came in the Chequers Estate Act 1917. In 1977 public recognition of the existence of a ‘Prime Minister’s Office’ was entered in the Civil Service Yearbook.
Whilst the idea of a Prime Minister has been accepted, the role has remained largely informal, it’s powers being a matter of convention rather than law. It is expected that the Prime Minister will take the lead on significant matters of state.
The UK’s five greatest prime ministers
Legendary former British leaders Winston Churchill (L) and Clement Attlee&nbsp
The UK is facing an uncertain future as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt battle to claim the Tory leadership - and with it, the keys to No. 10.
As the nation prepares for the onset of a new political era, many commentators are looking back over that of Theresa May. The Guardian’s Owen Jones argues that May is “the worst prime minister – on their own terms – since Lord North’s reign in the late 18th century, when the US colonies declared their independence”.
Many other critics agree, citing her disastrous decision to hold a snap election in 2017 and mishandling of Brexit negotiations. Indeed, an unnamed Tory backbencher told Sky News that “every passing day she remains as prime minister, she is seizing from John Major the mantle of the worst prime minister in living memory”.
Amid all this talk of legacies, The Week takes a timely look back at five former British leaders whose reigns are widely - if sometimes controversially - viewed as having changed the country for the better:
1. Clement Attlee (Labour, 1945-1951)
When it comes to lasting legacies, few British politicians can match the pedigree of Clement Attlee and his radical welfare reforms, which remain vital pillars of British society.
Attlee, who died in 1967, was voted the most successful British PM of the last century in a 2004 survey conducted by Ipsos MORI and the University of Leeds. “Respondents were asked to give their views on the greatest domestic and foreign policy successes and failures of the 20th century, and the majority of those responses singled out the Attlee government’s welfare state reforms and the creation of the NHS as the key 20th century domestic policy achievements,” the survey report says.
Attlee also claimed the top spot in two subsequent surveys by the university, in 2010 and 2016.
Dick Leonard of the Fabian Society, Britain’s oldest socialist think-tank, credits the Attlee government with transforming Britain for good. “It created the welfare state, including the NHS, rebuilt the ruined economy, nationalised a series of industries, whose record was a great deal better than it has been credited with, gave freedom to India, and played a vital role in the creation of Nato,” Leonard says.
2. Tony Blair (Labour, 1997-2007)
During most of his term, it seemed unfathomable that Tony Blair would leave office as one of the most controversial UK politicians of the 21st century.
After taking power in the largest landslide in British electoral history, he set about revitalising the sluggish post-Thatcher economy, and introduced the minimum wage, before enacting a series of foreign policy decisions that initially enhanced but eventually tarnished his reputation, in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq.
Given that record, it is a “great myth” that Blair didn’t achieve anything in office, insists GQ. “It’s not just Northern Ireland and the minimum wage: he left a vast legacy. Civil partnerships. Bank of England independence. The Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Parliament. A mayor of London. A plunging crime rate. Even abroad, his brand of liberal interventionism in Sierra Leone and Kosovo was a success. He is a hero to Kosovan Albanians, many of whom have named their children Tonibler in his honour,” the magazine says.
But as the BBC points out, his extremely divisive decision to intervene militarily in Iraq has “come to dominate the Blair legacy to such an extent that many of his notable achievements. are doomed to shelter under its shadow”.
3. Margaret Thatcher (Conservative, 1979-1990)
Â© Richard Baker 2007. All rights reserved.
Perhaps the most polarising PM in British history, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is that of free-market policies including trade liberalisation, deregulation, sweeping privatisation, breaking the power of the unions, individualism and the creation of an “enterprise culture” - an ideology that has come to be known as “Thatcherism”.
The former leader, who died in 2013, sought to impose a “creed of thrift, of self-reliance, of aspiration, of liberty in the purest sense”, and of “unswerving, ironclad patriotism – seen most obviously in her decision to launch a task force to reclaim the Falkland Islands, when so many siren voices suggested she let the junta’s aggression stand”, says The Daily Telegraph.
However, her boot-strap policies and harsh attitude toward striking miners has made her one of the most hated politicians in UK history among certain communities.
“She destroyed too many good things in society, and created too many bad ones, then left a social and moral vacuum in which the selfishly rich and unimaginatively fortunate could too easily destroy still more of what they don’t need and can’t see that everyone else does need,” author Emma Darwin has argued.
Nonetheless, Thatcher remains a towering figure, and an icon for Conservatives and free-trade enthusiasts the world over.
4. Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1940-1945 and 1951-1955)
Repeatedly voted the greatest Briton of all time, Churchill is almost certainly the most iconic British PM, according to the BBC.
“The case for him is a powerful one, of course,” the broadcaster adds. “He was first a government minister in 1908, and occupied most of the top jobs in politics during half a century. He finally retired in 1955, having served as prime minister for a total of nine years.
“But it was his extraordinary leadership in WWII that marked him out.”
However, Churchill’s reputation has been tarnished by increasing scrutiny in recent years of his relationship with British India. The legendary Tory, who died in 1965, considered independence leader Mahatma Ghandi a threat to the British Empire, and has been accused of triggered a devastating famine in Bengal in 1943 through large-scale exports of food from India. Churchill has also been criticised for his tough attitudes on unions and workers rights, including a notorious incident in which soldiers were deployed in response to strikes in Tonypandy in South Wales during his tenue as home secretary.
5. David Lloyd George (Liberal, 1916-1922)
David Lloyd George, the MP for Caernarfon Boroughs, had already served as chancellor, minister of munitions and secretary of state for war during the First World War by the time he became PM in 1916. He was the first and only Welshman to hold the office and is the only British leader to have spoken Welsh as his first language.
As chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, who died in 1945, oversaw the introduction of many reforms which “laid the foundations of the modern welfare state”, says the North Wales Daily Post. But his biggest achievement came during his tenure as PM, when he played a major role at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that reordered Europe after the defeat of the Central Powers.
Indeed, Lloyd George was “acclaimed as the man who had won the War”, as well as leaving a positive social legacy for post-war Britain, says the UK government’s history portal.
Who is your favorite British Prime Minister?
British Conservative Party politician and Prime Minsiter of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher (1925 - 2013) at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, UK, 10th October 1980. (Photo by Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Image: Getty Images
British politics. Drama, comedy, and horror, all mixed into one entity. With Brexit still dominating the headlines, this doesn't look set to change anytime soon.
Throughout the years, we have seen a range of British Prime Ministers. Some have had real success, while some have been ridiculed and derided by the British public.
It is rare, however, that we will ever reach a consensus on just who is the best British Prime Minister.
In order to make up our minds, let's take a look at some of the most prominent PM's over the years.
Winston Churchillis renowned worldwide for his leadership throughout WW2, where he led the United Kingdom as it faced perhaps the biggest challenge ever seen by the country. Despite his successes, Churchill was a controversial figure and is still disliked by many to this day due to his views when it came to issues such as race and imperialism. Needless to say, Churchill remains one of the most popular leaders of the United kingdom, and his legacy lives on today.
April 1939: British Conservative politician Winston Churchill. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Known as 'The Iron Lady', Margaret Thatcher is to this day known as one of the most hard-nosed Prime Ministers we have seen. She divided opinion with her controversial treatment of the mining community and had less than favorable relationships with trade unions. Thatcher narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the IRA in 1984, which ended up endearing her to an even larger fervent support, who admired her resilience in the face of danger. As disliked as she is loathed, Thatcher certainly divided opinion in the UK.
October 1985: British prime minister Margaret Thatcher looking pensive at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Tony Blair was PM from 1997 to 2007 - a long time indeed. Blair was a charismatic and personable leader, who ushered in a new era for the United Kingdom and the Labor Party. Tony Blair is perhaps best remembered for the role he played in strengthening the relationship between the UK and the USA. He struck up a friendship with then-president George Bush, and the two created an often-maligned foreign policy that would go on to accent both of their careers. While Blair has been criticized for his leadership during this time, polls indicate history will remember the Labor man well.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair addresses the media after attending the European People's Party (EPP) Group Bureau meeting at Druids Glen on May 12, 2017 in Wicklow, Ireland. Brexit and negotiating objectives will top the agenda at the meeting alongside the unique circumstances regarding the hard border issue between northern and southern Ireland, the only physical border between the United Kingdom and Europe. Mr Blair has signaled a return to politics in light of the Brexit vote. The meeting also features European Commission Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Clement Attlee served as PM from 1945-1951, and regularly tops polls when it comes to ranking Prime Ministers. An unlikely Prime Minister due to his unassuming and reserved public figure, Attlee took over leadership following Winston Churchill's resignation. His tenure as PM was marked by his success in transition Britain from a postwar economy, to a successful and peaceful nation, which gained him praise worldwide. Margaret Thatcher described Attlee as 'all substance and no show'.
Future Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee (1883 - 1967), circa 1930. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Poor old Theresa May. While she will not be remembered fondly, and will almost certainly be perpetually among the lowest-ranked Prime Ministers, it has to be noted that she was left with a poison chalice in Brexit. Theresa May huffed and puffed, and truly did try her best to get a Brexit deal over the line, but it simply was not good enough. And that will be her legacy.
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street on May 24, 2019 in London, England. The prime minister has announced that she will resign on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
List of prime ministers of the United Kingdom by education
A list of prime ministers of the United Kingdom and the educational institutions they attended. As of November 2020 [update] , of the 55 prime ministers to date, 28 were educated at the University of Oxford (including 13 at Christ Church), and 14 at the University of Cambridge (including six at Trinity College). Three attended the University of Edinburgh, three the University of Glasgow, and two Mason Science College, a predecessor institution of the University of Birmingham. John Major was (as of 2021) the last of the eight prime ministers who did not attend university after leaving secondary education. A number of the prime ministers who attended university never graduated.
Twenty prime ministers were schooled at Eton College, of whom nine were educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, including all three who held office between 1880 and 1902 (Gladstone, Salisbury, Rosebery). Seven were educated at Harrow School and six at Westminster School. Ten prime ministers to date have been educated at only non-fee-paying schools these include all five who held office between 1964 and 1997 (Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major). Theresa May was educated at both independent and grammar schools. Three did not receive (primary or secondary) school education and were homeschooled during childhood.
Fifteen prime ministers trained as barristers at the Inns of Court, including 12 at Lincoln's Inn (although not all were called to the bar). Two (Wellington and Churchill) completed officer training at military academies.
Although William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (in 1746) and James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave (in 1757) briefly attempted to form governments, neither is usually counted as Prime Minister. They are not listed below.
The Earl of Bute (Groningen & Leiden): the only Prime Minister to graduate from a university outside the UK.
William Pitt the Younger (Pembroke, Cambridge): home schooled went to Cambridge aged 14, graduated at 17, MP at 21, Prime Minister at 24. MP for Cambridge University.
W. E. Gladstone (Eton Christ Church, Oxford Lincoln's Inn): attended the three institutions with most alumni prime ministers. MP for Oxford University.
Margaret Thatcher (Somerville, Oxford): the first female PM, educated at an all-female school and college studied Chemistry, the only PM with a science degree.
Gordon Brown (Edinburgh): the only Prime Minister to complete a PhD. Served as University Rector 1972–75, while still a student.