As part of Problogger’s Lists Group Writing Project, I’ve decided to compile a short list comprising the four British Prime Ministers of recent times who I think have had the most influence on national affairs (it’s a short list as to make it any longer would include too large a percentage of the potential candidates). The selected politicians are listed in no particular order and their inclusion does not imply that I agree with any or all of their policies, only that I believe they had a significant influence on British politics whilst they were in power.
I have only mentioned matters of national importance in this list, so anything regarding international affairs – such as the conflict in the Falkland Islands–has not been taken into account, although all four of the politicians also had a significant impact overseas.
Arguably both the most revered and despised British politician of recent times, it never ceases to amaze me how the mere mention of Baroness Thatcher’s name can invoke such strong and mixed responses from the general public. That alone justifies her place on the list, but she also had a profound influence on the UK economy, with her relentless pursuit of privatisation changing the way we buy basic utilities such as gas and telephone services by taking these companies away from government control and forcing them to compete for business, instead of holding a monopolistic grip on the industry. Her influence can also be felt on the side of the employees through her sweeping trade union reforms which, amongst other things, lead to secondary picketing being banned.
As well as all these changes, Thatcher still holds the record for the longest continuously serving Prime Minister in over 150 years, and remarkably she is also the only woman ever to have reached the highest office in British politics. Like her or loathe her, there is no denying that Thatcher had a significant impact during her time as Prime Minister.
No list of influencial British Prime Ministers would be complete without the revered Winston Churchill. Whilst his performance as a peace time leader is often considered to have been somewhat lacklustre, his legacy was secured by his premiership during World War II. His inspirational stance, soundbites and speeches (including such memorable quotes as “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”) helped to rally the British people and encouraged them to fight on even as France surrended to Germany.
Widely credited as Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister and almost certainly the most famous person to have held the post, Churchill is also one of the few people outside of the Royal Family to be honoured on his death with a state funeral.
Although Attlee is perhaps somewhat less well-known than the other names on this list, he did have a profound influence on British politics during his time as Prime Minister. Some of his efforts were subsequently undone by later governments, such as his nationalisation of several utilities industries (including coal and steel) and the railways, which were reversed by the aggressive privatisation programme spearheaded by Thatcher’s government.
However, by far and away the most influential decision that Attlee ever made was to create the National Health Service (NHS), which still survives to this day and provides healthcare free at the point of delivery to hundreds of thousands of people daily, as well as being the largest employer in Europe. In my opinion, this alone overshadows anything else that Attlee did whilst Prime Minister, and guarantees him a place on this list.
Another name that produces differences of opinion in the same way as Thatcher does, our current head of government has had a significant influence over the past nine years he has been at the helm. His first success was to lead the Labour Party (which he rebranded and relaunched as ‘New Labour’ with the help of several close colleagues) into a general election victory, simultaneously bringing the end to eighteen years of Conservative rule and securing a huge majority for his party in the House of Commons. During his time as Prime Minister, Blair has set up numerous significant programmes of reform in public services – most notably health and education – and has even changed the way Parliament works by making several alterations to the House of Lords. Under his leadership the government has also produced legislation on a massive scale, creating hundreds of new criminal offences, though often justified on somewhat dubious grounds.
Even though rumours about when he will resign continue to float around the media, I suspect that Blair will continue to have a significant influence on British politics for some time yet, and even after he has gone the foundations he has set will probably lead the Labour party into at least one more general election.