Based on a Leeds University survey of over 80 academics, here are the seven best-performing prime ministers since 1945.
The Leeds Universtiy survey asked academics to rank all thirteen prime ministers in terms of their performance when they were in office, and can be accessed here. The list survey did not ask respondents about Theresa May as it was conducted in in 2016, but it’s difficult to imagine the current prime minister making it into the top seven.
7th greatest prime minister since 1945 – Winston Churchill (1951 – 1955)
The survey only asked about prime ministers since the end of World War Two meaning that Churchill’s war-time term was not included. Nonetheless, his peace-time term is placed firmly in the middle of the league table by the academics, putting him in the unique position of being one of the top seven prime ministers, as well as one of the bottom ones. Churchill’s mean ranking in the survey was 5.4.
6th – John Major (1990 – 1997)
Major’s place in the top half of the table is perhaps determined by his peace efforts in Northern Ireland and his ending of the greatly disliked poll tax. However, Major led the country when the infamous “Black Wednesday” occurred, according to Government records, which has no doubt dampened his reputation. His mean ranking in the survey was 5.5.
5th – Harold Wilson (1964 – 1970, 1974 – 1976)
The first of three Labour prime ministers in top seven, Wilson was the longest serving Labour prime minister until Tony Blair came to power in 1997. Wilson’s mean score in the survey was 6.3. He was prime minister when the UK ended the death penalty, an Act which makes it on to the list of the 7 most transformative Acts in the last 100 years. He also introduced a great number of reforms including the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which was hailed as a step in the right direction for LGBT+ rights. His mean score was 6.3.
4th – Harold MacMillan (1957 – 1963)
MacMillan got a mean score of 6.4 – just ahead of Harold Wilson’s. One of the main events associated with MacMillan is the “Night of the Long Knives”, which was one of the most shocking set of sackings in British political history.
3rd – Tony Blair (1997 – 2007)
The first of two Labour prime ministers in the top three, Blair received a mean score of 6.7. But what about Iraq? Tony Blair’s legacy will surely always be associated with his disastrous experience in Iraq, which is recognised in the survey. On the issue of “Foreign Policy/Britain’s role in the world”, Blair received a net score of -56, but his high, positive net scores on British society (+65), British economy (+47), and British democracy/constitution (+45). Under Blair, the economy was strong until the financial crash. On top of that he oversaw devolution to Scotland, Wales and London, and was a key player when it came to the Good Friday Agreement. Another milestone achieved under Blair was the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, which was a significant achievement in British poilitics.
2nd – Margaret Thatcher (1979 – 1990)
Like Blair, Thatcher was a divisive figure. On British society, Thatcher had a net rating of -79, which can be put down to the divisive poll tax among other factors and a net positive rating of +31 on foreign policy and Britain’s role in the world. Overall, she achieved a mean ranking of 7.2.
The BEST performing UK prime minister since 1945
According to the survey, a Labour prime minister tops this list.
No, it’s not Gordon Brown.
1st - Clement Attlee (1945 – 1951) was ranked the best performing prime minister with a mean score of 8.5. Atlee oversaw the rebuilding of a nation devastated by war and the creation of the NHS.
The Leeds University Survey can be read here.