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Top PM?

Jamie Donald | 14:49 UK time, Tuesday, 9 January 2007

On the Daily Politics we're launching a new series, and an interactive vote to determine Britain's Greatest Post-War Prime Minister.

The Daily Politics logoEvery Monday from now until Easter we’ll showcase one of the ten post-war prime ministers, and ask viewers to give their judgement.

We’ve decided to exclude Churchill from the list, for two reasons: it would be impossible to disentangle his wartime and post-war leaderships; and, as the vote for Great Britons several years ago showed, he’d probably win by a mile anyway.

So that leaves nine men and one woman: Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. We have scripts, archive and celebrity champions for all of them bar poor old Eden - so if you’re interested in championing him let me know.

Downing St doorWe’re doing it because it’s a good way of marking Blair’s place in modern British history as he prepared to bow out as prime minister. And it will set up some strong debates: Thatcher v Blair; Heath v Wilson; who was the worst as well as the greatest; and are we right to leave out Churchill... what do you think?

We started today with a curtain raiser film and a debate between William Hague, Tony Benn and the historian Andrew Roberts (which you can watch here). The first vote was cast by a viewer from France for Ted Heath.

Surprisingly, Hague, Benn and Roberts all agreed on their top two ‘greatest’ - Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher - though they disagreed on the order. None were keen on Blair. And that’s how it stands in the popular vote as I write.

Anyone can vote anytime between now and Easter by visiting The Daily Politics website, and following the links. And as Today programme editor Ceri Thomas wrote in an earlier blog, even if you campaign for votes it won’t spoil the fun.


  • 1.
  • At 06:24 PM on 09 Jan 2007,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Anyone who coped with the attack on his personal integrity by the duplicitous Tory party and its media over Iraq; coped with the USA administration of the time; brought about massive improvements in the NHS (statistics and personal experience); brought the Labour Party and its usual disruptive tail end through election after election; lived a family life that the scandal mongers could not attack; stopped the Tory destruction of our connection with Europe; made massive strides in bringing peace to Northern Ireland; presided over the best economic situation that the Country has had for many years AND survived in good health and spirits, must be very special. He has my vote.

hear hear J Westerman

Um, you're excluding Churchill because he'd win? So your poll is in fact for who is the Second Greatest Post-War Prime Minister?

  • 4.
  • At 12:46 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Baz wrote:

RobF (#2) wrote: Um, you're excluding Churchill because he'd win? So your poll is in fact for who is the Second Greatest Post-War Prime Minister?

The answer is in the article: "it would be impossible to disentangle his wartime and post-war leaderships". Seeing that many observers rate Churchill's performance as post-war PM very poorly it would be foolish to include him in the voting as his popular presence would unfairly skew the results.

Clement Attlee gets my vote for building the foundations of a fair, great society out of the battered wilderness of post war Britain. Unfortunately the blueprints then were handed over to succession of non-entities.

It shocks me that the country has been led by a succession of uncharismatic nobodies; to the point that I have to rate John Major 3rd for his brave and enlightened work that finally led to a sort of peace in Northern Ireland.

Douglas-Home, Eden and Blair are pitifully slugging it out in last place, but for making the same mistakes as ALL his predecessors and failing to learn from history young A. Blair is proudly holding up the rest of the table; truly the Torquay of Prime Ministers.

  • 5.
  • At 01:31 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

Can I suggest that based on the first two comments that Labour are already trying to rig this poll? ;-)

I would have to agree with Thatcher and Attlee being the top two, none of the others really come close in my eyes, which is why I don't find it surprising that the three members of your panel selected them.

While I am sure that Blair would love to be mentioned in the same breath as either Thatcher or Attlee he does not even come close - although his teams of spin doctors will try to convince us that he does (perhaps they should hire J Westerman? or maybe they already have!)

  • 6.
  • At 01:53 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Phil F wrote:

Nice soundbite from Rob F, but Churchill was not (in my opinion) a great post-war Prime Minister. Not least because he was old and sick when he won office.

He was undoubtedly a great wartime Prime Mnister, but that is not the question.

  • 7.
  • At 02:55 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Manjit wrote:

Are these poll's really worthwhile? Just as in the recent Today New Year poll, these types of things are normally hyjacked by campaign groups.

What strikes me about the Daily Politics is it's apparent anti-Tony Blair agenda. Today's show was a classic example, from Andrew Neil constant jibes to the complete and utter waste of time that is the perception panel. What I would love for Jamie Donald to do is to come onto this blog and justify why the BBC continue to spend money on the perception panel and how much it exactly costs?

  • 8.
  • At 04:12 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Re Mark E (5) 10 Jan 2007

Do you approve of the selection of the panel?
Do I have grounds for thinking it was rigged because it does not agree with my opinions? Should it appear to everyone to have been rigged by the Tory party or the Labour party depending, perhaps, on the winner of PM Attlee or PM Thatcher?
Thank you for the for the compliment about acting as a spin doctor for Mr Blair: a little beyond me I fear, although you appear to need a little help. Any offers?

  • 9.
  • At 04:24 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Tim New wrote:


A way in which people might be able to focus their answers to this (rather hackneyed) question is to consider the criteria of Output, Outcome and Impact. For example…

Output – (economic, trade, deficit, inflation and other mainly economic criterion)

Outcome – (unemployment, crime rates, health and social care standards and other mainly sociological criterion)

Impact – (Influence over world policy, war(s), peace agreements, 3rd world poverty and other mainly global impact criterion).

For me, Mrs. Thatcher ticks all the positive output, outcome and impact boxes. She:

Stabilised the economy by disassembling the Trades Union’s power (Output)

Drove inflation down, gave nurses the first REAL rise in pay EVER - I’m a nurse by the way and allowed my Mum and Dad to take pride in their council house, renovate it and sell it (Outcome)

Together with Regan, tore down the iron curtain, returned the Falklands to Britain and was a major player on the world stage. (Impact).

Comparatively, the remaining contenders seem unable to score on ALL THREE criteria, although some do well or better than Mrs. T on single criteria.

As for Mr. Blair – well he did have a nice holiday with Mr. Gibb I understand.

  • 10.
  • At 08:39 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Allan Moore wrote:

"For me, Mrs. Thatcher ticks all the positive output, outcome and impact boxes..."

Unfortunatly, she was also very devisive when pursuing her ideas and dismissive of any opposing viewpoint. She should not win because she is the only stridently non One Nation Prime Minister on the list, puting parts of the UK way before the rest of the country.

  • 11.
  • At 01:34 AM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Colin Ward wrote:

This is surely a competition of the mediocre? John Major? Edward Heath? it is very much a potted history of Britain after it lost the Great.

I'd pick John Major. Despite being head of a pretty ruthless band and being a fan of the "free" market, he started a lot of the successful reforms that buoyed up the following government.

He also initiated the Northern Ireland peace process, since it was his government that decided to ramp back the armed forces to a level that would make sustained policing in Northern Ireland impractical.

Major was a man who was so uninterested in spin that he was photographed with his shirt tucked into his Y-fronts. That's the sign of a man whose mind is on matters more important than "does my bum look big in this".

  • 13.
  • At 11:31 AM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

J Westerman, I think that the panel seems fair. Although, I would be surprised if Benn voted Thatcher the best or Hague voted for Attlee. But both parties has their voice (and both were voices that I would say were fairly well respected by both sides of the political divide).

I personally feel that to be a great Prime Minister you have to have done something great - that certainly applies to Attlee and I would argue Thatcher as well (but there are many who are so blinded by their hate for her that they can't or won't see that). However, Blair has been PM for ten years and I can not think of 1 thing he has done that I would say is great - adequate more fairly describes Blair.

  • 14.
  • At 03:08 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Peter Bolt wrote:

Really it is a competition between Atlee and Thatcher. They are the only two who gave real and radical alternatives to that which had passed before.
My vote goes for Mrs Thatcher.
Whereas Atlee had almost total support for his policies throughout the UK. Mrs T clearly had not,even within her own party.
Yet of all British policies implemented in the entire 20th Century only those adopted by Mrs Thatcher have been copied and utilised by governments of all colours throughout the world.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then it must be Mrs T and no other.

  • 15.
  • At 03:44 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

The best two PM's since WW II.

Number 1. Atlee; improved the lot of the ordinary citizen (the majority) more than any British politician has ever done.

Number 2. Wilson; refused to send our troops to Vietnam. He gave America the elbow and saved more lives of ordinary citizens (the majority) than any other British politician has ever done.


  • 16.
  • At 10:23 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

I agree with “Withheld” (no 12). John Major’s own ideas and ideas from his government (such as the literacy hour) were very sound. Despite the ERM fiasco (Atlee faced a similar crisis) his government gave us the sound economy that we have today. He did well considering the media campaign against him.

  • 17.
  • At 11:33 AM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Edward G wrote:

For me it has to be Mrs Thatcher.
After the 3day week conflict between the Unions and Ed Heath UK plc was heading downhill fast. Without Mrs T and her stand against Union dictatorship particularly the state energy workers we would be a tiny state under the rule of our "brothers". New Labour isnt working. I remember the high taxes of Wilson and Callaghan (failed Labour PM's) The search for Blair's legacy gets more desperate by the day and the coronation planned for Brown says more about New Labour desperation than the quality of their leaders. Labour = great ideals, poor execution. It has to be Conservative therefore it has to be Thatcher

  • 18.
  • At 06:09 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

No mention of the minimum wage bought about by Tony Blair? Regardless if you voted for him or not, it is a rather big milestone thats only fair to highlight.

  • 19.
  • At 07:43 PM on 14 Jan 2007,
  • H. D. Burns wrote:

Thatcher is so far above the rest as to make the question pointless.

  • 20.
  • At 03:20 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Nick Evans wrote:

No other post-war PM gave us pre-war levels of unemployment, so I can't see how Thatcher could win.

Major lost the entire basis of his economic policy (ERM membership) and limped from crisis to crisis. Ditto Callaghan.

Eden was a foreign policy disaster. Ditto Blair, despite the great strides made to shape the country early on: devolution, human rights, minimum wage.

Douglas-Home had hardly any impact. Heath had the biggest individual impact - entry into the EC is a more fundamental change than anything any of the others did - but his domestic policies were ineffective.

That leaves 2 PMs whose main achievement was to remain in power while little happened - MacMillan and Wilson - and the architect of Britain's postwar society. It has to be Attlee.

  • 21.
  • At 05:33 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

Nick, it is true what you say about unemployment under Thatcher. However, I think that if you look at the big picture and consider the state of the nation before she became PM to it's state when she left then you will see what a difference she made.

When you consider the majority Blair had for his first two terms it is very dissapointing to see that he didn't really do anything radical with it. A great PM could have really shaped this country for the future.

  • 22.
  • At 06:03 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Herbert G. wrote:

I think I'd vote for Home. He kept things ticking over nicely while he was in office (unlike Thatcher/cuts/unemployment Attlee/tax/nationalization Blair/tax/war etc.) and, if he had beaten Wilson in 1964 he would have spared us so much misery. Unfortunately, he was unlucky enough to be an aristocrat as well as a politician.

  • 23.
  • At 12:00 AM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Ermir wrote:

Such a vote is definitively biased; Tony Blair is still in power and as such he won't get a fair judgment.
I'm sure Tony Blair won't be judged so harshly after a couple of years.

  • 24.
  • At 10:01 AM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

"Such a vote is definitively biased; Tony Blair is still in power and as such he won't get a fair judgment.
I'm sure Tony Blair won't be judged so harshly after a couple of years."

That might be balanced by the "Doctor Who" factor that saw DT win simply because he is currently playing the role. Plus when you factor in the hundreds of New Labour drones who have probably been assigned to vote for their glorious leader I expect Tony Blair to do pretty well. This is a party that cares much more about spin then substance - do you think that they won't try and rig the poll?

  • 25.
  • At 09:01 AM on 28 Jan 2007,
  • Michael J. Nye wrote:

Thatcher has got to be the 2nd Greatest PM, after Churchill. Obviously longevity of office must play a significant part of the people's perceptions, and when judging the 2 most lengthy periods in power, Thatcher v Blair, the amount of improvements that the Thatcher administration made during it's tenure was tangible to almost everybody in the country, except the "die hard" members of the left wing Tribune group. On the other hand the Blair administration has invested vast sums of revenue at the three crucial areas of public awareness, Education, Health & Law & Order, but once the “21st century spin” has been swept aside, no tangible improvements to the services are present. On environmental issues Thatcher was instrumental in pushing through change of attitude, certainly within Europe, that was necessary to combat acid rain, and it wasn’t achieved by stealth taxes!

  • 26.
  • At 12:19 PM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • George Reddan wrote:

Thatcher is the only leader of the bunch, simple. She did what needed to be done at a time we were desperate, and did it successfully, always respecting her position.

Attlee was basically the archetypal ‘candy man’ of British politics. Very good at handing out chocolates and goodies, but in classic Labour style, leaving it for others to worry about how they would be paid for.

‘Yo’ Blair has quite obviously never realised the gravity of his office. He spun himself into power and consequently has never felt worthy of it. He has behaved like an awe struck schoolgirl in the face of powers (much less than his own) and demeaned the office of PM (in ways to ghastly and numerous to mention) almost beyond recognition.

  • 27.
  • At 09:39 PM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • T Hemsley wrote:

How do we find the videos for the people who advocated their favourite?

  • 28.
  • At 07:51 AM on 14 Feb 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

It would have to be Thatcher. I dread to think of what modern Britain (or indeed modern Europe) would be like if the revolution of '79 had never happened.

Attlee, I don't care for at all. He's the man who really started the whole dreadful business of collectivism that brought the country to its knees, and made Thatcher's medicine so much more painful.

However, if we do away with the post-war period Thatcher will always be far behind Gladstone in my eyes. The great British champion of individual liberty, small government and free markets, with a wit that would make Wilde jealous.

  • 29.
  • At 03:19 PM on 19 Feb 2007,
  • John Beagle wrote:

Item no26 posted by George Reddan "clearly" shows he is too young to remember that it was Clem Attlee whose skill as a leader pulled this country out of the dire state of exhaustion that we were in as a result of our war with the axis powers.He also must not be aware of the invaluable service he gave as deputy to Churchill during the war ,one of whose most ungracious remarks about Attlee was that he was a modest little man with much to be modest about.An easy sneer that did Churchhill no credit!If Thatchers name was replaced by Clems in Mr Reddans first paragraph we would be much nearer to the truth.Clem gets my vote and my grattitude.

  • 30.
  • At 01:12 PM on 20 Feb 2007,
  • nigel Kavanagh wrote:
  • 31.
  • At 12:14 PM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • Jim Sharman wrote:

By "peace-time" I take it that the BBC is only including WW1 and WW2 as exceptions to the selection of candidates? That seems a bit strange, since Thatcher's orders led to the deaths of many Argentinians and Brits in the Falklands, let's not even start on Blair and Major over the two Iraqi conflicts. Shouldn't these three be excluded from the poll on the basis that their tenures included periods which could harldy be called "peaceful"? Semantics aside, to think that the majority of people vote for Thatcher, perhaps the most divisive and ruthless ruler we have had since Henry VIII, beggars belief. One can only hope it was a case of the reader thinking, "Well, the rest are rubbish, so I'll vote for the strongest one." Applaud yourselves for another nail in the coffin of our collective common sense for common good......

  • 32.
  • At 09:42 PM on 05 Mar 2007,
  • Raymond.G. wrote:

Having retired just before the Blair/Brown era, It is only as a result of the savings and investment policies of the Thatcher years that I am now able to subsidise my income from savings to create an income to live on. If Brown has his way in raising stealth taxes (in particular Council Tax) my Thatcher era savings will be exhausted within 10 years,and,as under all left-wing governments, I will become a vassal, (grateful for my Pension Credits).

  • 33.
  • At 11:17 AM on 20 Mar 2007,
  • Laurie wrote:

You are quite right to exclude Churchill from your list of post-war PMs. The period 1951 - 55 is possibly the most depressing in the whole of post-WW2 UK history, and Churchill had a lot to do with it. This may be connected with the fact that he was, by all accounts, failing mentally (not to say ga-ga) well before Eden took over.

Looking back objectively over UK history, it can safely be said that Churchill was up there near, if not at, the top of the list of our worst ever peacetime PMs. Anyone who thinks otherwise either knows nothing of our history, or cannot distinguish peacetime from war.

  • 34.
  • At 04:47 PM on 31 Mar 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

Without doubt, it has to be Margaret Thatcher.
I was a young man finding my way in the world in the eighties and she gave me the drive and determination to get up off my backside and make something of myself.
The only reason that the current economy has done well during the labour government, is because of the likes of myself and many other Thatcher children, who have worked to build successful businesses and provide this country with some income and employment because she instilled that in me.

If you think Blair should be higher up there, lets see what the country is like in ten years time when Blairs children grow up!
Am I bovered ?

  • 35.
  • At 12:21 PM on 07 May 2007,
  • Rusty wrote:

"Applaud yourselves for another nail in the coffin of our collective common sense for common good......"

I should think that those of us who think Thatcher is the best Prime Minister since the war would be very happy to bury such a silly collectivist idea.

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