Historical rankings of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
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 prime ministersEdit
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.
|#||Prime Minister||Years in office||Party|
|5||Harold Wilson||1964–1970, 1974–1976||Labour|
|6||Winston Churchill||(1940–1945), 1951–1955||Conservative|
2004 Mori/University of Leeds surveyEdit
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, among other historical questions, 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.
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 Minister||Years in office||Party||Mean score
|2||Sir Winston Churchill||1940–1945, 1951–1955||Conservative||7.9|
|3||David Lloyd George||1916–1922||Liberal||7.3|
|7||H. H. Asquith||1908–1916||Liberal||6.2|
|8||Stanley Baldwin||1923–1924,1924–1929, 1935–1937||Conservative||6.2|
|9||Harold Wilson||1964–1970, 1974–1976||Labour||5.9|
|11||Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman||1905–1908||Liberal||5.0|
|14||Ramsay MacDonald||1924, 1929–1935||Labour||3.7|
|16||Andrew Bonar Law||1922–1923||Conservative||3.5|
|19||Sir Alec Douglas-Home||1963–1964||Conservative||3.3|
|20||Sir Anthony Eden||1955–1957||Conservative||2.5|
- *Poll taken in 2004, while Blair was still in office.
Royal Holloway study of MPs' evaluationsEdit
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 postwar British prime ministers. Some 158 MPs replied to the survey, a response rate of 24%. The respondents included 69 Conservatives, 67 Labour MPs, 14 Liberal Democrats and 8 MPs from other parties.
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 postwar 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: Tory MPs tended to consider Conservative prime ministers to be more successful than did Labour MPs, and Labour MPs generally gave their prime ministers higher scores than did Conservative MPs.
|#||Prime Minister||Years in office||Party||Mean score|
|4||Sir Winston Churchill||1951–1955||Conservative||6.5|
|6||Harold Wilson||1964–1970, 1974–1976||Labour||5.8|
|10||Sir Alec Douglas-Home||1963–1964||Conservative||4.0|
|11||Sir Anthony Eden||1955–1957||Conservative||3.7|
2016 University of Leeds surveyEdit
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 EU membership referendum.
|#||Prime Minister||Years in office||Party|
|5||Harold Wilson||1964–1970, 1974–1976||Labour|
|7||Sir Winston Churchill||(1940–1945), 1951–1955||Conservative|
|12||Sir Alec Douglas-Home||1963–1964||Conservative|
|13||Sir Anthony Eden||1955–1957||Conservative|
BBC Radio 4 PollEdit
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.
- Churchill (Con)
- Lloyd George (Lib)
- Attlee (Lab)
- Asquith (Lib)
- Thatcher (Con)
- Macmillan (Con)
- Salisbury (Con)
- Baldwin (Con)
- Campbell-Bannerman (Lib)
- Wilson (Lab)
- Heath (Con)
- Callaghan (Lab)
- Bonar Law (Con)
- MacDonald (Lab)
- Douglas-Home (Con)
- Balfour (Con)
- Major (Con)
- Chamberlain (Con)
- Eden (Con)
BBC History Magazine listEdit
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.
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
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 then incumbent Gordon Brown last.
The full results were:
- Winston Churchill
- Clement Attlee
- Margaret Thatcher
- Harold Macmillan
- Harold Wilson
- Tony Blair
- Edward Heath
- John Major
- James Callaghan
- Alec Douglas-Home
- Anthony Eden
- Gordon Brown
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.
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%.
|#||Name||Party||Term in office||The Times overall||Matthew Parris ||Peter Riddell ||Ben MacIntyre |
|2||2||Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington||Whig||1742–1743||50||51||42|
|Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne||Whig||1754–1756
|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|
|Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham||Whig||1765–1766
|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||05|
|William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland||Whig||1783
|William Pitt the Younger||Tory||1783–1801
|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|
|18||22||Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool||Tory||1812–1827||19||22||22||15|
|20||24||Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich||Tory||1827–1828||37||52||51|
|Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington||Tory||1828–1830
|22||26||Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey||Whig||1830–1834||08||09||10||06|
|William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne||Whig||1834
|John Russell, 1st Earl Russell||Whig||1846–1852||21||15||29||14|
|Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby||Conservative||1852
|27||34||George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen||Peelite||1852–1855||42||41||31||43|
|Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston||Whig
|William Ewart Gladstone||Liberal||1868–1874
|Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury||Conservative||1885–1886
|32||48||Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery||Liberal||1894–1895||45||46||46||50|
|35||52||H. H. Asquith||Liberal||1908–1916||11||21||09||26|
|36||53||David Lloyd George||Liberal||1916–1922||02||02||03||02|
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