I’ve decided it’s been a while since I’ve done an article so I thought I’d put together the next in a series of top fives I began a while back with my article on British Monarchs. This time we’ll go for something much more political shall we and talk about our nation’s Prime Ministers and which of them had the best philosophies for the nation.
First of all we need a disclaimer, I’m not going to be including Sir Winston Churchill in my top five and I have a good reason for it, and it has nothing to do with any disdain for Churchill, the complete opposite actually. Winston Churchill is on his own level as a default best Prime Minister, the nation agrees as he’s already the greatest Briton. It would be pretty pointless to talk about all the things that make him the greatest because everyone knows who he is already. Winston Churchill will always get my praise at every opportunity I can. Just recently I did a debate on RT with Ken Livingstone to defend Churchill’s record and will do so again if pressed. An excellent Prime Minister in his own right.
With that disclaimer out of the way let me crack on.
5: William Gladstone
Born in Liverpool at the backend of 1809, William Gladstone is most widely known as a four time Prime Minister and for his long running feud with Benjamin Disraeli. William Gladstone was initially a High Tory. However, he defected from the party with the Peelites over issues regarding free trade and tariff reduction which divided the party after Peel had to resign for repealing the Corn Laws and angering protectionist Conservatives which split the party and took leadership under Lord Derby.
Gladstone served as Chancellor in the Aberdeen administration but after the treatment the administration received from the protectionist faction he refused to stay on in Derby’s Government and eventually defected from the Conservatives to the newly established Liberals. Despite his disdain for Lord Palmerston, he served as his Chancellor because they had the correct attitude with regards to trade.
Gladstone was largely in agreement with Radical MP Richard Cobden. They worked together to advocate a Laissez Faire and free market approach to economics as well as a philosophy of individual liberty which followed Gladstone into his terms as Prime Minister.
William Gladstone’s form of classical liberalism was the beginning of its time and considered revolutionary. It helped Gladstone’s popularity with working people and earned him the title of the ‘People’s William’ and the ‘Grand Old Man’ – also a tip of the hat to the fact he was the oldest man to ever serve as Prime Minister, assuming his fourth term at the age of 82 and then leaving office for the final time at 84.
He’s the reason we have a much more people-orientated Judicial system that was much easier for ordinary people to understand and get access to justice. His Judicial reforms established the High Court and the Court of Appeal, he regrettably failed in an attempt to separate the Judicial powers from the House of Lords with the Supreme Court Judicature Act 1873.
The Disraeli victory at the beginning of 1874 took the Liberals out of power and prevented the reforms from being implemented in the House of Lords. The nation would have to wait until the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 under a Tony Blair landslide Government to see those separations of powers implemented.
4: Lord Aberdeen
Born in 1784, George Hamilton-Gordon 4th Earl of Aberdeen had one term as Prime Minister which sadly fell short of three years in office between Dec 1852 and Jan 1855.
Lord Aberdeen at the beginning of his political career had roles in the administrations of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, most notably as Foreign Secretary under both. As Foreign Secretary, he helped solve the issue over disputed territory between the UK and the US in the British Columbia and Oregon territory of America.
He eventually resigned his position as Foreign Secretary alongside his Prime Minister Robert Peel in the debate over the protectionism in the party and he became a well-known Peelite and free trade advocate afterwards.
After the minority-Lord Derby Government failed to pass a budget, which Disraeli was Chancellor for, Queen Victoria asked her former Foreign Secretary, a man she trusted very much, Lord Aberdeen to form a Government believing he’d have better hope of getting support from the Irish nationals and the Whigs to pass a budget. So the Coalition of Free traders was formed and Lord Aberdeen became the only Peelite Prime Minister the nation has ever had at the age of 68.
The Government was very successful domestically, despite the minority, they mostly agreed on economic questions at home. The Government’s ultimate disagreements came in foreign policy and Lord Russell’s (Whig) position as Foreign Secretary.
Aberdeen was an excellent diplomat and favored dialogue over gun-boat diplomacy when it came to European conflict and tension such as that with France and Russia. He did all he could to prevent escalation of tensions in the East, but Palmerston and Russell were headstrong jingoists and extremely selfish politicians who wanted back into power themselves. They saw this as their way back and ultimately Aberdeen’s coalition was forced into the Crimean war, a dreadful war which Aberdeen wanted to do everything he could to avoid. The war was devastating both on the British purse and on British morale towards the end with unprecedented failures in logistics, the Charge of the Light brigade at Balaclava included, as well as the medical failures, eventually reform came there with the help of Florence Nightingale and her nurse colleagues.
But minimal blame can be placed on Aberdeen. Queen Victoria herself said of Lord Russell when she found out he had passed, despite her admiration for him, as “a man of principle… he was impulsive, very selfish(especially during Lord Aberdeen’s administration) vain and reckless”. Russell is to blame for the downfall of the Aberdeen government, a Government which was very successful on policy and philosophy where its Prime Minister was concerned. Aberdeen should have been given more of chance, but party divisions and coalition disagreements meant it was difficult.
3: Sir Robert Peel
Born in Bury in 1784. The neighboring town to where I live in Middleton. I have a lot of time for Conservatives, but especially ones who are fellow Northerners. Sir Robert Peel was twice Prime Minister and twice Home Secretary under the administrations of Liverpool and Wellington. During his time as Home Secretary he established the Metropolitan Police, the beginning of the Community Police service as we know it nationwide, and a restructuring of peacekeeping from the old night-watchmen who were seen as outdated for the role of modern urban law enforcement.
Robert Peel succeeded Wellington as leader of the party and eventually Prime Minister although due to being a minority Government -who relied on Whig support – the first administration didn’t last long and the Whigs under Lord Melbourne returned to power after a victory in the election. William IV had Tory sympathies but was forced to call on Lord Melbourne, this was the last time a Monarch tried to appoint a Government against a majority in parliament. Melbourne would eventually oversee the transition of the crown from the old King to the young Queen Victoria.
After the Whigs suffered frustrations in Parliament such as a narrow no-confidence vote, a general election loss then another no-confidence vote, the young Queen was forced to call on Sir Robert Peel to form a Government. This was the first time the newly formed Conservatives had entered Government, a rebranded Tory party. The party became fractured on economics eventually; Peel was much more in favor of free trade and laissez-faire economics whereas the old-guard Tories under Lord Derby, were backed by rural protectionists so they could keep prices high. Peel sacrificed his whole political career to do the right thing (which is more than can be said of Conservative politicians today) – he worked with Whigs to get the Corn Laws repealed and allow and more available goods into the country to assist those who were going hungry particular those in Ireland who were suffering during the Potato famine. Historians regard Peel’s Government as the beginning of a shift towards free trade as part of the mainstream in the country.
2: Margaret Thatcher
I think everyone knew she was showing up here somewhere.
Margaret Thatcher was born in Grantham in 1925 and obviously is known to most as our nation’s first female Prime Minister, but Margaret Thatcher was so much more than just a tick in a quota box.
A grocer’s daughter, chemist and barrister, she eventually earned herself a place on the green benches of parliament and a couple of low key roles in the cabinet and shadow cabinets of Ted Heath (such as her stint as Education Secretary, where lefties love to moan about her policy on free school milk quite a lot, despite the fact the Labour Government had already begun that policy in state schools for secondary education).
Margaret Thatcher would eventually come to unseat her incompetent party leader, Mr Heath, for his three election losses out of four to Harold Wilson. Margaret Thatcher led the Conservatives into three consecutive election victories including a landslide 1983 victory. Her 1979 victory began the 18 year spell out of office for Labour, because her successor John Major was able to capitalize on her success and win re-election for the Conservatives in 1992.
Margaret Thatcher’s time in office was a new period of fresh economic liberalism and individual liberty that hadn’t been seen before, met jointly over in the US with the elections of her colleague Ronald Reagan.
Because of the shift of the goalposts by Margaret Thatcher in what the nation’s appetite was from Government policy, the Labour party was forced to moderate their Socialist positions to a more centrist stance under Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ in order to be victorious in a general election again.
Margaret Thatcher is well known for prepping the nation’s economy into something fit for the long-term demands of the future as we transitioned to the end of the century. She is also known for recognizing the sovereignty of the British people on the Falkland Islands and launched the successful campaign to reclaim the Islands from the Argentinian’s in a short expedition with minimal casualties. The fact that this small plot of British soil sat 8000 miles away from British mainland was no deterrence for her to go all out in defending them.
Margaret Thatcher was also a very prominent Eurosceptic and consistently called out the attempted power grabs of the European Union to undermine British sovereignty. She is one of the most principled and patriotic Conservative leaders we have had, certainly in recent history.
1: Lord Salisbury
Born in 1830, a Foreign Secretary to both Derby and Disraeli and three times Prime Minister. So popular in foreign affairs that British settlers named the capital of Southern Rhodesia(now Zimbabwe) after him. Salisbury was the last Prime Minister to come from the House of Lords, he was also the tallest Prime Minister the nation has ever had at 6ft 4 and the only Prime Minister to have ever had a beard – let’s keep Jeremy Corbyn out of No 10 and keep it that way.
Salisbury took over as leader of the Conservatives after the retirement of Benjamin Disraeli after the 1880 election. Salisbury took over for the first time as Prime Minister in 1885, a Government which lasted only a few months without a majority until Gladstone was eventually returned, which didn’t last long either due to the Conservative election victory of 1886 which brought Salisbury back into office for six years.
Despite an election victory in 1892 retaining the plurality of seats, he was forced out due to an alliance between Gladstone’s Liberals and the Irish nationalists which became the new majority. He took over again in 1895 defeating the Liberals in a landslide and retaining office for seven years until his nephew Arthur Balfour took over in 1902.
Salisbury was a staunch capitalist and economic liberal, and an opponent of big government bureaucracy and civil servants, the man said “Whitehall will create business for itself as surely as a new railway will create traffic.” He wasn’t wrong.
But most notably Lord Salisbury is known as a foreign policy Prime Minister. He was a firm believer in meeting adversaries to de-escalate tensions with diplomacy and avoiding the entanglements of Europe dragging Britain into conflict.
Many attribute the policy of splendid isolationism to Lord Salisbury. Although Salisbury disagreed with this term, claiming he used it ironically. Truth is the word isolationist was deemed as an insult in foreign policy and still is in some respect. Neocons love to use it against Libertarians and anti-interventionists who don’t support their regime change wars, when as a matter of fact we agree with the Salisbury approach of avoiding conflict as much as possible but getting out there and de-escalating tensions with diplomacy and trade agreements. Salisbury quoted his foreign policy as “floating lazily downstream, throwing out the occasional diplomatic boathook” an excellent philosophy.
Truth is Salisbury is not an isolationist he’s just not got the war-mongering foreign policy Neocons love and want from leaders, therefore the word isolationist may be deemed as an insult in those times. But realistically it should be embraced in the context of who is using the insult and who is on the receiving end of it.
One of our greatest foreign policy periods at the peak of our trading relations and diplomacy across the Empire and the world as well as economic and classical liberalism at home was overseen by Lord Salisbury’s Premierships and for that I consider him our greatest Prime Minister.
Some honorable mentions go to David Lloyd-George who obviously led us through to victory and peace at the end of the First World War. William Pitt the Younger, our nation’s youngest Prime Minister who passed the Acts of Union 1800 establishing the United Kingdom from the Kingdom’s of Great Britain and Ireland. And Stanley Baldwin who resolved the trade union disputes of 1929, began the re-building and modernization of our Armed Forces after the First World War, although some argue not in time sufficiently for the second, he also oversaw the abdication crisis of 1938 and essentially saved the monarchy from collapse with as smooth a transition as possible. However they all just fell short of the top five for me.