First Among Equals
Well, in war, you can only be killed once. But in politics, many times.
All the current opprobrium thrown at Boris Johnson had me thinking of who the worst prime minister might be that we’ve had in the UK. There are not as many to consider as you might think. It’s surprising to me that Britain has had only Fifty-Five Prime Ministers over some three hundred years.
Judgement of competence should not be based on a PM’s political position, be it of the left or right, but on how well they served the country’s interest. For instance, in a recent survey, David Cameron ‘won’ the dubious award of worst PM. This was because of what many saw as the impact of Brexit on the economy of the UK. He allowed a referendum and then did not deliver the case to stay. But, of course, that’s one perspective. Those who felt that Brexit was the best thing for the UK would regard Cameron highly. Such is the way when trying to judge the worst or best PM.
Anyway, I’ve tried to offer here a non-political synopsis of those PMs, to use a football analogy, which people feel would be battling against relegation from the ‘Premier’ league,
Spencer Perceval was so unpopular with his colleagues that despite offering it to five different men no one would serve as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. The accusation against him was that he ‘lacked ambition. Incidentally, Perceval is the only UK PM assassinated.
The Duke of Wellington may have been a great soldier but not such a great PM. It did not go down well that he felt 10 Downing St was too small for his needs and lived in the much grander Apsley House. Added to this was that he set himself against any form of extending the vote to the wider populace. The nickname “Iron Duke” originated from this period when he experienced much personal and political unpopularity. A mob stoned Apsley House, and a hostile crowd greeted Wellington at the momentous opening of the first inter-city railway in the world. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Wellington’s government eventually fell in 1830 after a summer and autumn of riots across the country.
Arthur Balfour also had little time for equality for women in terms of their right to vote and once said he was “not convinced the majority of women actually wanted the vote”. In addition, his stance on Ireland added to his woes as PM. Then there was his position on tariffs on goods rather than Free Trade. His unpopularity among colleagues caused many resignations from his cabinet. When he went to the country, the opposition Liberal party won with a landslide, and Balfour lost his seat.
Another who comes to mind is Anthony Eden. Initially, people loved Eden and gave him a large majority in the 1955 election. Yet many of Eden’s contemporaries had doubts about his ability. One even remarked, “anybody would make a better prime minister than Anthony, who would make the worst prime minister since Lord North”. And then came the Suez debacle. Eden’s backdoor deal with France and Israel to disastrously invade Egypt shattered the illusion of Britain being a player on the world stage. Moreover, it gave the USSR’ permission’ to invade Hungary.
Lord North mentioned above was PM when Britain imposed the tea duties and so-called “intolerable acts” that led to the American War of Independence. Which of course led to the loss of the North American ‘colonies’.
Finally, no list like this could omit Neville Chamberlain and his “peace in our time”. Chamberlain’s failure to stand up to Hitler when his troops marched into the Rhineland proved only the start of appeasement. It signalled that Chamberlain, and his European allies would give Hitler anything he wanted in the hope of preventing another war. Ummm, that worked out well …
But these are just a few of my thoughts, who might your choice be ….