Historical rankings of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

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The Times constructed a poll for the first time of all British Prime Ministers in the lead-up to the 2010 general election. Before this there were two polls in 1999 and 2000, carried out by BBC Radio 4 and the British Politics Group; both consulted only a relatively small number of experts. A wider-reaching poll was conducted in 2004 by the University of Leeds and Ipsos MORI. All rankings involved only prime ministers from the 20th and 21st centuries, with no coverage for the other 31 pre-20th-century Prime Ministers.

2010 University of Leeds survey of postwar PMs[edit]

Clement Attlee is highly rated for his post-war leadership and social reforms.

In 2010, the University of Leeds and Woodnewton Associates carried out a survey of 106 academics who specialised in British politics or British history, to rank the performance of prime ministers since 1945.[1][2]

# Prime Minister Years in Office Political party
1 Clement Attlee 1945–1951 Labour
2 Margaret Thatcher 1979–1990 Conservative
3 Tony Blair 1997–2007 Labour
4 Harold Macmillan 1957–1963 Conservative
5 Harold Wilson 1964–1970, 1974–1976 Labour
6 Winston Churchill (1940–1945), 1951–1955 Conservative
7 James Callaghan 1976–1979 Labour
8 John Major 1990–1997 Conservative
9 Edward Heath 1970–1974 Conservative
10 Gordon Brown 2007–2010 Labour
11 Alec Douglas-Home 1963–1964 Conservative
12 Anthony Eden 1955–1957 Conservative

Mori/University of Leeds survey[edit]

In 2004, the University of Leeds and Ipsos Mori conducted an online survey of 258 academics who specialised in 20th-century British history and/or politics. There were 139 replies to the survey, a return rate of 54% - by far the most extensive survey done so far. The respondents were asked to rate all the 20th-century British Prime Ministers in terms of their success and asking them to assess the key characteristics of successful PMs.

Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 0 to 10 how successful or unsuccessful they considered each PM to have been in office (with 0 being highly unsuccessful and 10 highly successful). A mean of the scores could then be calculated and a league table based on the mean scores.[3]

The five Labour Prime Ministers were, on average, judged to have been the most successful, with a mean of 6.0 (median of 5.9). The three Liberal PMs averaged 5.8 (median of 6.2) and the twelve Conservative PMs 4.8 (median of 4.1).

Prime Ministers by average scholar rank[edit]

# Prime Minister Years in Office Political party Mean Score
1 Clement Attlee 1945–1951 Labour 8.3
2 Winston Churchill 1940–1945, 1951–1955 Conservative 7.9
3 David Lloyd George 1916-1922 Liberal 7.3
4 Margaret Thatcher 1979–1990 Conservative 7.1
5 Harold Macmillan 1957–1963 Conservative 6.5
6 Tony Blair 1997-2007* Labour 6.3
7 Herbert Asquith 1908–1916 Liberal 6.2
8 Stanley Baldwin 1923–1929, 1935–1937 Conservative 6.2
9 Harold Wilson 1964–1970, 1974–1976 Labour 5.9
10 Lord Salisbury 1895–1902 Conservative 5.8
11 Henry Campbell-Bannerman 1905–1908 Liberal 5.0
12 James Callaghan 1976–1979 Labour 4.8
13 Edward Heath 1970–1974 Conservative 4.4
14 Ramsay MacDonald 1924, 1929–1935 Labour 3.7
15 John Major 1990–1997 Conservative 3.7
16 Andrew Bonar Law 1922–1923 Conservative 3.5
17 Neville Chamberlain 1937–1940 Conservative 3.4
18 Arthur Balfour 1902–1905 Conservative 3.4
19 Alec Douglas-Home 1963–1964 Conservative 3.3
20 Anthony Eden 1955–1957 Conservative 2.5
  • *Poll taken in 2004, while Blair was still in office.

Previous surveys[edit]

BBC Radio 4 Poll[edit]

Winston Churchill is a stalwart favourite of scholars and the public alike for his leadership during the Second World War.

In December 1999 a BBC Radio 4 poll of 20 prominent historians, politicians and commentators for The Westminster Hour produced the verdict that Churchill was the best British Prime Minister of the 20th century, with Lloyd George in second place and Clement Attlee in third place. As Blair was still in office he was not ranked. The worst PM in that survey was judged to be Anthony Eden.[4]

  1. Churchill (Con)
  2. Lloyd George (Lib)
  3. Attlee (Lab)
  4. Asquith (Lib)
  5. Thatcher (Con)
  6. Macmillan (Con)
  7. Salisbury (Con)
  8. Baldwin (Con)
  9. Campbell-Bannerman (Lib)
  10. Wilson (Lab)
  11. Heath (Con)
  12. Callaghan (Lab)
  13. Bonar Law (Con)
  14. MacDonald (Lab)
  15. Douglas-Home (Con)
  16. Balfour (Con)
  17. Major (Con)
  18. Chamberlain (Con)
  19. Eden (Con)

British Politics Group Poll[edit]

In 2000 the British Politics Group, a network of UK and American scholars of British politics, ran another poll which received only 22 responses, with the top three ranked in order as Churchill, Attlee and Lloyd George. Again as Blair was still in office he was not ranked.[5]

  1. Churchill (Con)
  2. Attlee (Lab)
  3. Lloyd George(Lib)
  4. Thatcher (Con)
  5. Macmillan (Con)
  6. Asquith (Lib)
  7. Wilson (Lab)
  8. Salisbury (Con)
  9. Heath (Con)
  10. Baldwin (Con)
  11. MacDonald (Lab)
  12. Callaghan (Lab)
  13. Campbell-Bannerman (Lib)
  14. Chamberlain (Con)
  15. Balfour (Con)
  16. Major (Con)
  17. Douglas-Home (Con)
  18. Bonar Law (Con)
  19. Eden (Con)

BBC History Magazine list[edit]

Margaret Thatcher has fared well in popular opinion polls.

Historian Francis Beckett ranked the 20th-century Prime Ministers with points out of five in 2006, based on how well the leaders implemented their policies - not on the policies themselves. Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee shared the highest ranking.[6]

5: Clement Attlee
5: Margaret Thatcher
4: Winston Churchill
4: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
4: Edward Heath
4: Harold Macmillan
3: Herbert Henry Asquith
3: Stanley Baldwin
3: Tony Blair
3: David Lloyd George
3: Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, Lord Salisbury
3: James Harold Wilson
2: Arthur James Balfour
2: James Callaghan
1: Sir Alec Douglas-Home
1: Andrew Bonar Law
1: James Ramsay MacDonald
1: John Major
0: Neville Chamberlain
0: Robert Anthony Eden

Popular opinion[edit]

Newsnight poll[edit]

In September 2008 the BBC Newsnight programme conducted an online poll. Asking voters to decide who they thought was the greatest and worst of postwar Prime Ministers. 27,000 people responded, and decided that Winston Churchill was the greatest, with Attlee second, and Gordon Brown last.[7]

Harold Macmillan

The full results were:

1. Winston Churchill
2. Clement Attlee
3. Margaret Thatcher
4. Harold Macmillan
5. Harold Wilson
6. Tony Blair
7. Edward Heath
8. John Major
9. James Callaghan
10. Alec Douglas-Home
11. Anthony Eden
12. Gordon Brown

Other polls[edit]

In a BBC poll to find the 100 Greatest Britons in 2002, five Prime Ministers were ranked in the top 100. Winston Churchill was voted greatest Briton, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was in 15th place, (though not featured in contemporary polls, as he was a 19th-century politician), Margaret Thatcher was in 16th place, Tony Blair was 67th and David Lloyd George was 79th.[8]

The BBC television programme The Daily Politics asked viewers in 2007 to select their favourite Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher topped the list with 49% of the vote, with Clement Attlee coming second with 32%.[9]

Prime ministers ranked by The Times and its correspondents
# Name Party Term in office The Times overall [10] Matthew Parris [11] Peter Riddell [12] Ben MacIntyre [13]
1 1 Robert Walpole Whig 1721–1742 9 14 16 7
2 2 Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington Whig 1742–1743 50 51 42
3 3 Henry Pelham Whig 1743–1754 29 19 34 20
4 4
6
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Whig 1754–1756
1757–1762
41 40 32 41
5 5 William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire Whig 1756–1757 44 35 44 47
6 7 John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute Tory 1762–1763 46 44 49 40
7 8 George Grenville Whig 1763–1765 48 51 48 39
8 9
13
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham Whig 1765–1766
1782
32 30 42 38
9 10 William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham Whig 1766–1768 16 25 14 18
10 11 Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton Whig 1768–1770 49 42 50 49
11 12 Frederick North, Lord North Tory 1770–1782 50 49 37 44
12 14 William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne Whig 1782–1783 26 29 41 5
13 15
20
William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland Whig 1783
1807–1809
39 27 43 37
14 16
18
William Pitt the Younger Tory 1783–1801
1804–1806
4 12 5 3
15 17 Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth Tory 1801–1804 39 36 39 36
16 19 William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville Whig 1806–1807 43 39 40 35
17 21 Spencer Perceval Tory 1809–1812 36 38 47 33
18 22 Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool Tory 1812–1827 19 22 22 15
19 23 George Canning Tory 1827 31 8 36 23
20 24 Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich Tory 1827–1828 37 52 51
21 25
28
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington Tory 1828–1830
1834
24 18 30 17
22 26 Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey Whig 1830–1834 8 9 10 6
23 27
30
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne Whig 1834
1835–1841
25 26 21 32
24 29
31
Robert Peel Conservative 1834–1835
1841–1846
6 6 8 8
25 32 John Russell, 1st Earl Russell Whig 1846–1852 21 15 29 14
26 33
36
39
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby Conservative 1852
1858–1859
1866–1868
18 23 19 16
27 34 George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen Peelite 1852–1855 42 41 31 43
28 35
37
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston Whig
Liberal
1855–1858
1859–1865
13 11 20 11
29 38 John Russell, 1st Earl Russell Whig 1865–1866 21 15 29 14
30 40
42
Benjamin Disraeli Conservative 1868
1874–1880
10 7 6 9
31 41
43
45
47
William Ewart Gladstone Liberal 1868–1874
1880–1885
1886
1892–1894
3 4 2 4
32 44
46
49
Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury Conservative 1885–1886
1886–1892
1895–1902
11 10 12 25
33 48 Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery Liberal 1894–1895 45 46 46 50
34 50 Arthur Balfour Conservative 1902–1905 30 28 38 31
35 51 Henry Campbell-Bannerman Liberal 1905–1908 22 24 26 30
36 52 H. H. Asquith Liberal 1908–1916 11 21 9 26
37 53 David Lloyd George Liberal 1916–1922 2 2 3 2
38 54 Bonar Law Conservative 1922–1923 34 47 35 24
39 55
57
59
Stanley Baldwin Conservative 1923–1924
1924–1929
1935–1937
14 20 11 13
40 56
58
Ramsay MacDonald Labour 1924
1929–1935
33 48 33 29
41 60 Neville Chamberlain Conservative 1937–1940 35 45 28 52
42 61
63
Winston Churchill Conservative 1940–1945
1951–1955
1 1 1 1
43 62 Clement Attlee Labour 1945–1951 7 5 7 22
44 64 Anthony Eden Conservative 1955–1957 47 43 45 48
45 65 Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 15 17 13 21
46 66 Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 36 32 27 34
47 67
69
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970
1974–1976
20 33 17 19
48 68 Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 23 13 18 46
49 70 James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 27 31 24 27
50 71 Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 5 3 4 10
51 72 John Major Conservative 1990–1997 28 16 23 28
52 73 Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 16 34 15 12
53 74 Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 36 52 25 45
54 75 David Cameron Conservative 2010— N/A N/A N/A N/A

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]