Portrait of a reign… in 13 prime ministers
Friday, 25 May 2012

Portrait of a reign… in 13 prime ministers

The Queen has ruled through a staggering 13 PMs (counting Harold Wilson twice). Which of them made the grade, and what are they remembered for?

Written by Katy Pearson

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1940–45 and 1951–55

Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders, Churchill served as Prime Minister twice. He led Britain to victory in the Second World War and his speeches were a great inspiration. His first speech as PM was the famous: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’ But it was his second term of office that coincided with the Queen’s coronation. Upon his death, Elizabeth II granted him the honour of a state funeral, which saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history. He was the only PM to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1955–1957

He began his political career as a foreign secretary at the age of 38 and worked under Churchill during the war years. As well as foreign secretary, he was successor as the leader of the Conservative party after Churchill. The Suez Crisis – a huge setback for British foreign policy – signalled the end of his premiership. He was previously best known for his outspoken opposition to appeasement in the 1930s.

Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) 

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1957-1963

During his premiership, living standards steadily rose and many social reforms were carried out. He introduced a graduated pension scheme for retirees, ended National Service and rebuilt the special relationship with the United States from the wreckage of the Suez Crisis. He redrew the world map by decolonising sub-Saharan Africa. Near the end of his premiership, his government was rocked by the Vassall and Profumo scandals. He resigned prematurely after a medical misdiagnosis, but lived out a long retirement as an elder statesman.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1903-1995)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1963–1964

Reserved Douglas-Home was not well received in the Swinging Sixties, and many felt he was a poor representative of a Britain that was in love with music and sex. But he did bring about the abolition of resale price maintenance – making possible the cut-price stickers on products we see in our shops every day.

Harold Wilson (1916-1995)

Party: Labour

Time in power: 1964–1970 and 1974-1976

He came to power in his first term as PM with a majority of just four seats. Wilson served twice as PM under the Queen. He brought about the end of capital punishment, legalised abortion and homosexuality and reformed divorce laws. But the economy suffered and in 1967 the pound was devalued. During his second term, he was Prime Minister of a minority Labour Government and focused heavily on domestic policy and social reforms. He resigned in 1976.

Sir Edward ‘Ted’ Heath (1916-2005)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1970-1974

Prime Ministers from the Queen's reign

He attempted to curb union power with the Industrial Relations Act 1971, but rising unemployment and high inflation caused domestic unrest. Two miners’ strikes, in 1972 and 1974, proved damaging to the Government, with the latter causing the implementation of the Three-Day Week to conserve energy. He took the UK into the European Economic Community (EEC).

James Callaghan (1912-2005)

Party: Labour

Time in power: 1976–1979

His premiership was marred by economic recession and industrial militancy, culminating in the 1978-9 Winter of Discontent, which ultimately led to Labour’s loss of power to the Tories.

Margaret Thatcher (1925-)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1979-1990

A political giant who divided opinion in Britain. Thatcher was the fi rst female Prime Minister and her policies continue to influence today. She privatised industry, reformed trade unions, lowered taxes and reduced public spending; policies that lowered inflation but increased unemployment. Victory in the 1982 Falklands War helped her win a landslide victory in the 1983 general election. Her last term in office saw new policies, which led to rifts within the Conservative party. She resigned in 1990.

John Major (1943-)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 1990-1997

Coming to power on the back of the reversal of the poll tax, Major’s time as premier started on a good foot. But the economy took a dip shortly after his election, and there was more disagreement within his party over Europe. He was PM during the first Gulf War, the launch of the National Lottery and the ill-fated ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, which sought to reinvigorate the Conservatives, but resulted in the highlighting of ‘Tory Sleaze’.

Tony Blair (1953-)

Party: Labour

Time in power: 1997-2007

Blair, aged only 43 when he came to power, was the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. Britpop and Britart were popular in Britain at the time and Blair tried to promote a cool, youthful image, characterised by ‘Cool Britannia’. He sought to improve education, transport and healthcare in Britain, but reliance on private enterprise did not deliver. In 2005 he chaired the G8 Summit, in which he spoke about priorities including climate change. Blair’s time in Number 10 will be most associated with the controversial Iraq War.

Gordon Brown (1951-)

Party: Labour

Time in power: 2007-2010

As Chancellor, he had presided over the longest-ever period of growth in the UK. But his Premiership ended on a low, owing to the worldwide financial crisis, which led to a deep recession. Brown’s legacies include the introduction of neighbourhood policing in every area, the right to early cancer screening and also the first-ever Climate Change Act. UK’s involvement in Iraq came to an end under Brown.

David Cameron (1966-)

Party: Conservative

Time in power: 2010-

Cameron came to Number 10 as part of a coalition (the first since the Second World War) with the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general election resulted in a hung Parliament. Like Blair, Cameron is one of the youngest British Prime Ministers. As well as welcoming Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, he has also welcomed a cat into Number 10, by the name of Larry.


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