Based on a Leeds University survey of over 80 academics, here are the worst seven UK prime ministers since the end of World War Two.
Since 1945 there have been fourteen prime ministers – five Labour leaders and nine Conservative leaders. After the Brexit vote, a survey was released, in which academics ranked all thirteen ex-prime ministers. The results of the Leeds University survey can be found here.
Theresa May was not included in the rankings although if her term ended now it's hard to imagine her not ending up in the bottom half of the league table.
According to Leeds University, “Respondents were asked to rate the performance of each prime minister during their tenure in Number 10 on a scale of 0-10, with 10 representing the top score of ‘highly successful’.”
Here are the seven worst prime ministers since 1945, according to the survey.
7th – Winston Churchill (1951 – 1955)
The survey only asked academics about prime ministers after 1945, so Churchill’s first term in office – during World War Two – was excluded, which explains why he only makes it to the middle of the league table. The mean score (out of 10) given by the academics was just 5.4.
He resigned before the following election to make way for another member of this list.
6th – James Callaghan (1976 – 1979)
Callaghan took over as Labour leader and prime minister following Harold Wilson’s surprise resignation in 1976. Callaghan’s place in the bottom half of the rankings is possibly explained by his weak government.
Labour soon lost its majority, which was followed by the Lib-Lab pact and then support from the SNP. Furthermore, weak economic growth, high inflation, and strikes all likely contributed to his low rating of 5.1, according to the UK government's records.
5th – Edward Heath (1970 – 1974)
Heath led the Conservatives into four different general elections, but only won one, in 1970.
His low rating by academics is perhaps determined by the years of increasing unemployment and the infamous three-day week. He received a mean rating of just 4.8.
4th Gordon Brown (2007 – 2010)
The only other Labour leader to have made this list is Gordon Brown.
The most recent Labour prime minister took over from Tony Blair in 2007 and was in power when the world economy collapsed and the UK fell into recession, something which has likely helped determine Brown’s low ranking in the survey of 4.6.
3rd – David Cameron (2010 – 2016)
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron with his mother Mary Cameron in the royal box
It’s not hard to imagine why Cameron makes it as one of the worst three prime ministers since 1945. He held an EU referendum, which backfired and became his legacy, hence his poor mean rating of 4.0.
Professor Theakston, who conducted the research, said that: “For all his achievements as a successful coalition prime minister, David Cameron’s reputation and place in history seems destined to be defined by Brexit and his calling and losing the referendum.”
2nd – Alec Douglas-Home (1963 – 1964)
Douglas-Home took over as prime minister when Harold Macmillan left the post in 1963. His short-lived term as prime minister likely explains his poor ranking in the survey. His ultimate score was 3.8.
He then led the Conservatives to defeat in 1964.
The WORST prime minister since 1945: Anthony Eden (1955 – 1957)
After years of waiting in Winston Churchill’s shadow, Eden finally became Conservative Party leader and prime minister in 1955 when Churchill resigned due to ill-health.
He may have strengthened the Conservatives majority in an election when he took over, but Eden’s premiership was short-lived and ended in failure thanks to the Suez Crisis in which Eden attempted to take the Suez canal. Things did not go to plan and he received “widespread international condemnation”, according to the UK government website.
This surely explains his poor ranking of 2.4, a whole 1.4 points lower than Douglas-Home.
Where should Theresa May fit in?
With her failed referendum gamble and her struggling government, Theresa May would likely be somewhere near the bottom of this list.
My rating for the prime minister: 3/10.