Historical rankings of prime ministers of the United Kingdom

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Winston Churchill is a stalwart favourite of scholars and the British public alike, though seemingly primarily for his premiership between 1940 and 1945.
Clement Attlee, who served as Labour Leader for over 20 years, is almost always very highly rated among prime ministers.
Britain's longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century and first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is generally rated highly, despite being a divisive figure.
Anthony Eden has not fared well in popular opinion polls and historical rankings of 20th-century prime ministers.

Academics, Members of Parliament, the general public and journalists alike have attempted to rank prime ministers of the United Kingdom and prime ministers of Great Britain. Those included below generally consist of only a subset of prime ministers, typically those of the 20th century or those who served after the Second World War.

Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, and Margaret Thatcher generally appear toward the top of rankings, while Anthony Eden generally appears at the bottom.

Academic opinion[edit]

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 prime minister in that survey was judged to be Anthony Eden.[1]

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.[citation needed] The respondents were asked, among other historical questions, to rate all the 20th-century prime ministers in terms of their success and asking them to assess the key characteristics of successful ones. Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 0 to 10 how successful or unsuccessful they considered each prime minister to have been in office (with 0 being highly unsuccessful and 10 highly successful). A mean of the scores was calculated and a league table based on the mean scores.[2] 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 Liberals averaged 5.8 (median of 6.2) and the twelve Conservatives 4.8 (median of 4.1).

In a 2006 issue of BBC History, 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.[3]

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 all 12 prime ministers who served between 1945 and 2010. Churchill's ranking was thus determined from his second term only.[4][5]

In October 2016 the University of Leeds, in conjunction with Woodnewton Associates, surveyed 82 academics specialising in post-1945 British history and politics, following the Brexit referendum. Due to the date range, Churchill's oft-lauded war ministry and caretaker ministry were not in contention and he was judged solely on his second premiership.[6]

Rankings of prime ministers by academics
Prime Minister Party Tenure
BBC Radio 4 1999[1]
University of Leeds/Ipsos Mori 2004[2]
University of Leeds 2010[5]
University of Leeds 2016[6]
The Marquess of Salisbury Conservative 1885–1886
1886–1892
1895–1902
07[a] 10[a] 03[a]
Arthur Balfour Conservative 1902–1905 16 18 04
Henry Campbell-Bannerman Liberal 1905–1908 09 11 02
H. H. Asquith Liberal 1908–1916 04 07 03
David Lloyd George Liberal 1916–1922 02 03 03
Bonar Law Conservative 1922–1923 13 16 05
Stanley Baldwin Conservative 1923–1924
1924–1929
1935–1937
08 08 03
Ramsay MacDonald Labour
National Labour
1924
1929–1935
14 14 05
Neville Chamberlain Conservative 1937–1940 18 17 06
Winston Churchill Conservative 1940–1945
1951–1955
01 02 02 06[b] 07[b]
Clement Attlee Labour 1945–1951 03 01 01 01 01
Anthony Eden Conservative 1955–1957 19 20 06 12 13
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 06 05 02 04 04
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 15 19 05 11 12
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970
1974–1976
10 09 03 05 05
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 11 13 02 09 09
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 12 12 04 07 08
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 05 04 01 02 02
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 17 15 05 08 06
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 06 [c] 03[c] 03 03
Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 10 10
David Cameron Conservative 2010–2016 11

Opinion of Members of Parliament[edit]

In 2013, a group of academic staff and students at Royal Holloway, University of London, conducted a postal survey of British Members of Parliament, asking them to evaluate the success of post-war British prime ministers. Some 158 MPs replied to the survey, a response rate of 24%. The respondents were 69 Conservatives, 67 Labour MPs, 14 Liberal Democrats and 8 MPs from other parties.[7]

The survey used the same question employed in the 2004 and 2010 University of Leeds studies: MPs were asked how successful or unsuccessful they considered each prime minister to have been using a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 meant highly unsuccessful and 10 meant highly successful.

Overall, MPs rated Margaret Thatcher as the most successful post-war prime minister, just ahead of Clement Attlee. With the exception of Edward Heath, who was judged more favourably by Labour MPs than by Conservatives, evaluations were split along party lines: Conservative MPs tended to consider Conservative prime ministers to be more successful than did Labour MPs, and Labour MPs generally gave Labour prime ministers higher scores than did Conservative MPs.

Rankings of prime ministers by Members of Parliament
Prime Minister Party Tenure
2013[7]
Winston Churchill Conservative 1940–1945
1951–1955
04[b]
Clement Attlee Labour 1945–1951 02
Anthony Eden Conservative 1955–1957 11
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 05
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 10
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970
1974–1976
06
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 09
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 08
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 01
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 07
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 03
Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 12

Popular opinion[edit]

2008 Newsnight poll[edit]

The BBC television programme The Daily Politics asked viewers in 2007 to select their favourite Prime Minister out of a list of ten who served between 1945 and 2007 (excluding Churchill).[8] In 2008, BBC Newsnight held a poll of 27,000 people, to decide the UK's greatest and worst post-war prime minister.[9]

Rankings of prime ministers by the general public
Prime Minister Party Tenure
BBC The Daily Politics 2007[8]
BBC Newsnight 2008[9]
Winston Churchill Conservative 1940–1945
1951–1955
01[b]
Clement Attlee Labour 1945–1951 02 02
Anthony Eden Conservative 1955–1957 09 11
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 06 04
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 08 10
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970
1974–1976
04 05
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 07 07
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 10 09
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 01 03
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 05 08
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 03[c] 06
Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 12[c]

Additionally, 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, the Duke of Wellington was in 15th place, Margaret Thatcher was in 16th place, Tony Blair was 67th and David Lloyd George was 79th.[10]

Journalistic opinion[edit]

Both The Times[11] and Iain Dale[12] have specifically ranked all (or almost all) prime ministers of the United Kingdom and prime ministers of Great Britain.

Rankings of prime ministers by journalists
Prime Minister Party Tenure
Robert Walpole Whig 1721–1742 09 14 16 07 10
Earl of Wilmington Whig 1742–1743 50 51 42 52
Henry Pelham Whig 1743–1754 29 19 34 20 19
Duke of Newcastle Whig 1754–1756
1757–1762
41 40 32 41 22
Duke of Devonshire Whig 1756–1757 44 35 44 47 53
Earl of Bute Tory 1762–1763 46 44 49 40 42
George Grenville Whig 1763–1765 48 51 48 39 44
Marquess of Rockingham Whig 1765–1766
1782
32 30 42 38 27
William Pitt the Elder Whig 1766–1768 16 25 14 18 25
Duke of Grafton Whig 1768–1770 49 42 50 49 38
Lord North Tory 1770–1782 50 49 37 44 40
Earl of Shelburne Whig 1782–1783 26 29 41 05 41
Duke of Portland Whig
Tory
1783
1807–1809
39 27 43 37 43
William Pitt the Younger Tory 1783–1801
1804–1806
04 12 05 03 03
Henry Addington Tory 1801–1804 39 36 39 36 26
Baron Grenville Whig 1806–1807 43 39 40 35 36
Spencer Perceval Tory 1809–1812 36 38 47 33 37
Earl of Liverpool Tory 1812–1827 19 22 22 15 20
George Canning Tory 1827 31 08 36 23 54
Viscount Goderich Tory 1827–1828 37 52 51 55
Duke of Wellington Tory 1828–1830
1834
24 18 30 17 33
Earl Grey Whig 1830–1834 08 09 10 06 13
Viscount Melbourne Whig 1834
1835–1841
25 26 21 32 24
Robert Peel Conservative 1834–1835
1841–1846
06 06 08 08 12
Lord John Russell Whig
Liberal
1846–1852
1865–1866
21 15 29 14 18
Earl of Derby Conservative 1852
1858–1859
1866–1868
18 23 19 16 16
Earl of Aberdeen Peelite 1852–1855 42 41 31 43 39
Viscount Palmerston Whig
Liberal
1855–1858
1859–1865
13 11 20 11 17
Benjamin Disraeli Conservative 1868
1874–1880
10 07 06 09 08
William Ewart Gladstone Liberal 1868–1874
1880–1885
1886
1892–1894
03 04 02 04 02
Marquess of Salisbury Conservative 1885–1886
1886–1892
1895–1902
11 10 12 25 09
Earl of Rosebery Liberal 1894–1895 45 46 46 50 46
Arthur Balfour Conservative 1902–1905 30 28 38 31 31
Henry Campbell-Bannerman Liberal 1905–1908 22 24 26 30 23
H. H. Asquith Liberal 1908–1916 11 21 09 26 07
David Lloyd George Liberal 1916–1922 02 02 03 02 06
Bonar Law Conservative 1922–1923 34 47 35 24 49
Stanley Baldwin Conservative 1923–1924
1924–1929
1935–1937
14 20 11 13 11
Ramsay MacDonald Labour
National Labour
1924
1929–1935
33 48 33 29 30
Neville Chamberlain Conservative 1937–1940 35 45 28 52 47
Winston Churchill Conservative 1940–1945
1951–1955
01 01 01 01 01
Clement Attlee Labour 1945–1951 07 05 07 22 05
Anthony Eden Conservative 1955–1957 47 43 45 48 51
Harold Macmillan Conservative 1957–1963 15 17 13 21 21
Alec Douglas-Home Conservative 1963–1964 36 32 27 34 48
Harold Wilson Labour 1964–1970
1974–1976
20 33 17 19 15
Edward Heath Conservative 1970–1974 23 13 18 46 35
James Callaghan Labour 1976–1979 27 31 24 27 34
Margaret Thatcher Conservative 1979–1990 05 03 04 10 04
John Major Conservative 1990–1997 28 16 23 28 28
Tony Blair Labour 1997–2007 16 34 15 12 14
Gordon Brown Labour 2007–2010 36[d] 52 [d] 25 [d] 45 [d] 32
David Cameron Conservative 2010–2016 29
Theresa May Conservative 2016–2019 50
Boris Johnson Conservative 2019– 45 [c]

See also[edit]

Key[edit]

  • A blue background indicates a rank within the first quartile of its respective ranking.
  • A green background indicates a rank within the second quartile of its respective ranking.
  • A yellow background indicates a rank within the third quartile of its respective ranking.
  • An orange background indicates a rank within the fourth quartile of its respective ranking.
  • A yellow-green background indicates a median which does not fall into any quartile, used when the total number of figures ranked is not a multiple of four.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ranking might only cover the Marquess of Salisbury's premiership after 1900 or between 1895 and 1902, not between 1885 and 1886 or 1886 and 1892.
  2. ^ a b c d Ranking only covers Winston Churchill's premiership between 1950 and 1955, not between 1940 and 1945.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ranking completed while the Prime Minister was in office.
  4. ^ a b c d Ranking may have been completed while the Prime Minister was in office.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Churchill, 'Greatest' PM of 20th Century", BBC Politics, 4 January 2000, archived from the original on 29 October 2005, retrieved 23 May 2007
  2. ^ a b Rating British Prime Ministers, Ipsos MORI, archived from the original on 25 November 2015, retrieved 24 November 2015
  3. ^ a b Thatcher and Attlee top PM list, BBC News, 29 August 2006, archived from the original on 14 July 2007, retrieved 24 September 2007
  4. ^ Academics rate Brown one of the worst post 1945 PMs, University of Leeds, archived from the original on 4 November 2010, retrieved 9 January 2011
  5. ^ a b "Gordon Brown 'third worst PM since 1945', poll of historians finds", The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2010, archived from the original on 6 August 2010, retrieved 9 January 2011
  6. ^ a b "David Cameron rated third worst Prime Minister since end of World War Two", The Independent, 12 October 2016, archived from the original on 20 December 2016, retrieved 18 December 2016
  7. ^ a b "The prime ministerial ratings game: a parliamentary perspective", Politics Blog, 5 May 2015, archived from the original on 6 October 2016, retrieved 27 September 2016
  8. ^ a b Your Favourite Prime Minister, 13 June 2007, archived from the original on 11 September 2007, retrieved 8 August 2021
  9. ^ a b BBC Newsnight poll, BBC News, 1 October 2008, archived from the original on 4 October 2008, retrieved 8 August 2021
  10. ^ "100 Great Britons", BBC History, archived from the original on 14 May 2006, retrieved 23 May 2007
  11. ^ a b "The Times's Top 50 Prime Ministers", timesonline.co.uk, retrieved 23 July 2016[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b Dale, Iain (12 November 2020). "Ranking 55 Prime Ministers". Archived from the original on 15 May 2021. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Matthew Parris: my top 50 Prime Ministers", timesonline.co.uk, retrieved 23 July 2016[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Peter Riddell: my top 50 Prime Ministers", timesonline.co.uk, retrieved 23 July 2016[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Ben Macintyre: My top 50 Prime Ministers", timesonline.co.uk, retrieved 23 July 2016[permanent dead link]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]