02 February, 2006

First eleven

I've now finished reading 'The Prime Minister - The Office And Its Holders Since 1945' by Peter Hennessy, which more than lived up to its reputation and my expectations. It's also inspired me to compile my own rundown of who I'd rate to be the most significant PMs since the war.

Now this isn't a list of the best; that'd make for a wholly different inventory. Rather, here's how I'd score the respective heads of Government on grounds of impact and influence - for good or ill - upon the day to day lives of their citizens:

1) Clement Attlee (1945-51)

For building the welfare state, establishing the NHS, initiating the end of the British Empire, nationalising the country's chief industries and utilities, reconstructing the country after the war, establishing the "special relationship" with America and pursuing the development of Britain's own nuclear bomb. And doing it all in a way that meant it became the political status quo for 40 years or so until...

2) Margaret Thatcher (1979-90)

For ruthlessly dismantling the basic ideas behind and the actual apparatus of the post-war settlement, and doing it in a way that has made a liberalised, deregulated and privatised mindset the political status quo for, well, 20 years and counting.

3) Harold Macmillan (1957-63)

For giving the country its first taste of affluence, thereby giving all generations enough money to fuel the consumer boom and cultural revolution of the 1960s. And avoiding taking us to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

4) Harold Wilson (1964-70, 1974-76)

For creating a climate where the social, technological and philosophical currents of the 1960s could flourish, for opening education up to a greater number of people from a greater number of backgrounds than ever before, but also for making the public familiar with, and wise up to, the art of political gimmickry and PR.

5) Ted Heath (1970-1974)

For taking Britain into the EEC, thereby changing the very fabric of the country, and for ushering in a period of unparalleled industrial strife and economic decline which killed off the post-war settlement for ever.

6) Jim Callaghan (1976-1979)

For prolonging that industrial strife, culminating in the worst period of strikes and stoppages ever, in the process formalising the equation Labour=incompetence in millions of people's minds and accelerating the transition to Thatcherism.

7) John Major (1990-1997)

For being one of the most hands-off, hopeless yet perplexing nonplussed Prime Ministers ever, somehow managing to cling onto power for seven years, cementing the ideas of his predecessor into a less full-on but no less palatable rubbishing of the welfare state and making the victory of his successor all the more suffocatingly overwhelming.

8) Tony Blair (1997- )

For being one of the most hands-on, ubiquitous and vexingly powerful Prime Ministers ever, blessed with two massive landslide majorities, yet for achieving so little in terms of changing actual people's lives, and for becoming associated solely with an illegal invasion and illegal war.

9) Anthony Eden (1955-1957)

For turning his brief period in office into one grand folly of an escapade to retake the Suez Canal, declaring war on Egypt and Russia if necessary, and doing it all while ingesting elephantine quantities of pills.

10) Winston Churchill (1951-1955)

For doing bugger all for four years, but somehow contriving not to undo all the good work of his immediate predecessor.

11) Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64)

For doing bugger all for twelve months. But being very polite about it.


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