The Prime Ministers
A global financial crisis. Repeated allegations of sleaze. A hostile media. It can't be much fun being prime minister.
Pause a moment before shedding a tear in sympathy for Gordon Brown or throwing your mouse at the screen whilst screaming "he brought it all on himself". I am writing not about the current prime minister but about another chancellor who moved into 10 Downing Street - indeed the first to do so, Sir Robert Walpole, our first Prime Minister.
I've been examining the history of those who've lived and worked behind the most famous front door in the world for The Prime Ministers - a new series which begins tomorrow on BBC Radio 4.
Politicians would have us believe that it was all so much easier before the era of globalisation, 24 hour news and widespread cynicism. There was, they suggest, a golden age in which politics was not dominated by talk of spin, sleaze or splits in parties, when it focussed on policies not personalities and when our leaders had the time and the space to take considered decisions. It's a proposition I've been examining through the modern glasses not of a historian but of a hack.
When chairing the Cabinet Gordon Brown sits in front of a portrait of Walpole - the man who governed Britain from 1721. Though much has changed during almost three centuries separating their time in office, there is more than might you expect that connects them.
Whilst Brown has faced the credit crunch, Walpole had to deal with the economic havoc created after the South Sea bubble burst. It was a vast speculative bubble not in sub-prime mortgages but in the shares of the South Sea company.
When investors realised that those shares were about as worthless as the 400% mortgage of an unemployed man living in Minnesota the impact was felt not just around the world but by the highest figures in the land. The King and many of his courtiers had invested in the South Sea bubble.
The current occupant of Number 10 has faced questions about the expense claims of his MPs, the second homes of his ministers and loans to his party. His 18th Century predecessor was a touch more brazen - employing one son in a post that gave him a peerage and £7,000 a year (rather a lot in those days) and another who was still at school as "Comptroller of the Pipe and Escheat". Walpole also sold seats in Parliament.
Gordon Brown has, it may not surprise you to learn, occasionally been known to complain about the way he's reported. Discretion prevents me from adding more. Consider how he would feel, though, if he'd been presented as our first prime minister was. One cartoon of the day showed a massive naked bottom straddling the entrance to the Treasury. No face was shown. None was needed so widespread was the view that in order to get on you had to kiss that part of Walpole's anatomy.
The prime minister then could do something that his successor must sometimes want to do - banning all reporters from Parliament and introducing government censorship of the theatre but this did not protect him from public scorn.
So far so similar you might say but the current occupant of Number 10 also has to confront the threat of terror. So, too Sir Robert Walpole. The terror threat of his day came not from al-Qaeda but from the Jacobites who were intent on restoring a Catholic to the throne of England.
After one plot was uncovered the prime minister ordered thousands of troops to mass in Hyde Park. Some accused him of exaggerating the threat in order to whip up public anger and to bolster support for the government. Such a thing would be impossible today, wouldn't it?
I've always winced when hearing modern politicians condemned for their lack of a sense of history as I feared that I was all too guilty of the same offence. I've thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the story of eight former prime ministers from Walpole to Attlee (chosen, before you ask, on a whim) and I owe a huge debt to the historians whose work I've shamelessly plundered.
You can listen tomorrow at 0930 GMT on BBC Radio 4 (or again on Sunday night at 2245 GMT) or by clicking here.