Britain’s 8 deputy prime ministers – who were they?

The office of the deputy prime minister is an odd one in British politics - just eight people have held the title.

Since 1945, there have been eight deputy prime ministers. The last person to hold the role was Nick Clegg in the coalition years, although the position of first secretary of state, currently held by Damian Green, is often seen as the de facto deputy prime ministership.

Here are Britain’s 8 deputy prime ministers.

1. Clement Attlee 1942 – 1945

Labour’s Attlee, who went on to become prime minister following the 1945 general election, served as deputy prime minister for the second half of World War Two in Churchill’s multi-party war coalition.

2. Herbert Morrison 1945 – 1951

Following Attlee’s landslide election win in 1945, Attlee retained the position of deputy prime minister, giving it to Herbert Morrison who also briefly served as foreign secretary, and had served as home secretary during the War.

An interesting side-note: Morrison was the grand-father of a certain Peter Mandelson, according to the Guardian.

3. Anthony Eden 1951 - 1955

When Churchill’s Conservatives returned to power in 1951, he too retained the position of deputy PM, giving it to his long-time deputy Anthony Eden, who also served as foreign secretary. Eden held the role until he himself ascended to the position of prime minister in 1955, following which he did not appoint his own deputy.

Sir Anthony Eden4. R. A. Butler 1962 – 1963

Following Eden’s time in the role, the position lay dormant for years before being taken up by Conservative heavy-weight R. A. Butler in the early sixties. Following Harold MacMillan’s Night of the Long Knives, a massive reshuffle which shocked the British political bubble in 1962, Butler was removed from the Home Office, but was appointed deputy first minister as a likely consolation.

Then, following the replacement of MacMillan with Alec Douglas-Home, Butler was moved to the Foreign Office, ending the position of deputy PM for some time.

5. Geoffrey Howe 1989 – 1990

After more than twenty-five years of silence, the post of deputy prime minister returned. A politically struggling Margaret Thatcher moved Howe from his position of foreign secretary, replacing him with John Major. In the move, she gave Howe the role of deputy prime minister. The Guardian reports that Howe’s new position was viewed as a “demotion”.

6. Michael Heseltine 1995 – 1997

Following John Major’s “put up or shut up” 1995 leadership election, in which he defeated John Redwood in a handsome victory, Heseltine was promoted to deputy prime minister from the post of trade and industry secretary. Heseltine had supported Major in the vote.

7. John Prescott 1997 – 2007

Prescott served as deputy PM for over ten years – the same length of time Tony Blair served in the top job. He also served as transport, environment and regions secretary before taking over as first secretary of state after the 2001 election.

When Gordon Brown took over as Labour leader and PM he did not give his deputy Harriet Harman the title of deputy prime minister, abandoning the role for three years.

8. Nick Clegg 2010 – 2015

Following the 2010 election, the Conservatives and Lib Dems entered into a formal coalition. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was made deputy prime minister under David Cameron. After the 2015 election, Cameron did not keep the role, and following his resignation, Theresa May has not appointed a deputy prime minister either.

As it stands, there is no deputy prime minister.

When – if ever – will a new one be appointed?

Probably when political circumstance dictates it as a necessity.

BONUS: Willie Whitelaw 1979 – 1988

According to the BBC, Whitelaw served as Thatcher’s deputy PM for almost a decade, however, the Guardian points out that this was a de facto position.

This list of deputy PMs is based off the compilation of deputy PMs on this Wikipedia page.

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