The 13 Labour leaders who never made prime minister

Jeremy Corbyn Smile

Which Labour leaders never became prime minister? Will Jeremy Corbyn end up on this list?

The ones who made it

The Labour party was founded in 1900, but did not achieve its first stint of power until 1924 under Ramsay MacDonald, although the party’s first time in office was cut short.

After MacDonald, Clement Attlee was the party’s next prime minister, who served in the role from 1945 – 1951.

The Conservatives then dominated the top echelons of British politics for over two decades until Harold Wilson became the next Labour prime minister in 1964. His time in power was interrupted by four years of Edward Heath, but Wilson soon returned to power, and was followed swiftly by James Callaghan.

1975 James Callaghan Cardiff West LP Dinner

Then in 1979, Margaret Thatcher ushered in another long-period of Conservative-rule.

Then, eighteen years later, Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power. He stayed at the top for just over a decade before being replaced by Labour’s Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown

Just six Labour leaders have gone on to be prime minister.

The ones who did not make it

Before Ramsay MacDonald came to power in 1924, there were five Labour leaders who never became prime minister, including Keir Hardie.

Then, Arthur Henderson and George Lansbury were sandwiched by MacDonald and Attlee, taking the total to seven.

After Attlee, came Hugh Gaitskell and George Brown, taking the total to nine. This was followed by Wilson and Callaghan’s successful and unsuccessful years.

Then came the unsuccessful Michael Foot, and the twice failed Neil Kinnock. John Smith followed Kinnock, but never made it to the top due to his tragic death in 1994. This takes the total to twelve.

Following Smith’s death, Tony Blair became leader, then Gordon Brown. After that, Ed Miliband becomes the most recent Labour leader to have never become prime minister, taking the total to thirteen.

Jeremy Corbyn?

Jeremy Corbyn - Tired

Had Labour performed terribly in June’s election, Corbyn would likely have been the fourteenth past Labour leader to not have become prime minister. If he does become prime minister, Ed Miliband will have been the only Labour leader since John Smith not to have gone on to lead the country.

In total, six Labour leaders have become prime minister while thirteen have not. But since 1945, when Labour became a real, dominant political force, five Labour leaders have become prime minister compared to six who did not.

Will Jeremy Corbyn score an equaliser, by taking the score to six-all?


The names included are based off Wikipedia's records of UK Labour leaders, which can be accessed here. Acting leaders are not included.