historical stuff by Gareth Millward
The Independent ran a piece this week on whether David Cameron risked becoming the worst prime minister of all time. Like, in forever, guys. Srsly.
Now, I sort of think this isn’t a bad little game to play. Thinking back over the Prime Ministers you remembered, the ones you studied – the stories you vaguely remember from history class or grainy documentaries. For instance, was Anthony Eden the worst ever for the whole Suez “snafu”? Or does Spencer Percival get the gong for “Prime Minister least able to leave office without a bullet through his chest“. Difficult, hard-hitting questions. And we historians aren’t afraid to shy away from them.
The problem is, while academics half-mockingly weigh up an impossible-to-even-begin-to-quantify conundrum, some people take it a bit… well… more seriously. And without any real recourse to historical method or evidence will blindly throw around accusations about how terrible a Prime Minister was based on not very much at all.
However, the Americans seem to take this sort of thing a little more seriously. There is actually a “Historical Rankings of Presidents of the United States” page on Wikipedia. And it’s backed up with data from C-SPAN, ABC, Gallup and more.
They seem to have given the middle finger to Warren G. Harding, though based on his love letters that might not surprise many of you.
So, we could look at PMs and try to rank them. What might we use? Popular defeat at the following election (indicating a terrible approval rating)? Losing a war? Getting involved in unnecessary conflict? Internal rebellion? A lack of concrete legislative victories? Getting shot? (OK, OK, I’ll lay off Perceval…)
It’s virtually impossible, especially for a twentieth-century historian with a self-professed ignorance of any Prime Ministers before 1939.1 So, while the article itself is worth a read, I think, the comments below the line offer some serious history porn. That seedy side of the internet where logic is damned and you can just go all out with the complete lack of disciplinary rigour. Be honest. You love that stuff really.
What do you mean by about to become the worst PM? he already is in the majority of peoples minds.
Drole. Very drole. Not very original, given the variations on this particular theme, but an interesting premise. What Cameron has done so far makes him the worst PM ever?
He didn’t win the General Election outright against a very unpopular Labour government, but to be fair he did that while an MP and not a PM. The order of the letters is important. Since then, living standards (if measured in terms of the growth in real wages) have stagnated, the worst such dip since before man landed on the moon. Then there’s the whole unpleasantness over education, social security reform, and not having enough security for the Olympics.
But is any of that worse than, say, failing to secure Irish Home Rule (Gladstone, you muppet)? Or having your army mow down civilians (the Peterloo masacre – cheers, Liverpool)? Perhaps perspective is in order. Whatever your personal views on Cameron, up to now he’s just been pretty bad. But worst? That’s hyperbolic.
However, were he to lose Scotland, he’s certainly in the title hunt. Stay tuned.
Get real you bunch of Lefties Gordon Brown was the worst PM ever.
You talkin’ to me? Probably. The idea of Brown being the worst ever is even more ludicrous than thinking Cameron is. Yes, the world crash happened on his watch, but the clue is in the title – world. As Chancellor and PM, Brown’s oversight of the financial sector was as poor as everyone else’s. Doesn’t excuse it, but it does contextualises it. Besides – despite that, the economy was recovering when he left, and he could (or at least his party could) have formed a coalition with the minority parties. If he’s the worst ever, how come the opposition didn’t win outright? Next.
Has this numbskull never heard of Tony Blair????????
The most ruinous traitor the English have ever had to survive!!!!!
Cameron is a wet fart liberal, but never in Bliars league!!!!!
Strong words. Strong words from a strange man.
Blair will be forever synonymous with Iraq. And yet despite that he won three elections by landslides, presided over the longest period of continuous economic growth in British history, and became the longest serving Prime Minister of the twenty-first century (OK, that last one might have been by default). Still, he is perhaps the best example of a successful Labour Prime Minister.
Then there was the introduction of the minimum wage, the human rights act, strengthening of equalities legislation, the Northern Ireland peace process.
Once again – you might not care for the man. You might think he did horrific things. You may think he sold the soul of the Labour Party. But the worst Prime Minister ever? Mebbe not…
The reason all prime ministers’ careers end in failure is simple. They’re all cr*p.
This internet comment has it all. Censoring mild cursing. Painting all politicians with the same brush. Yes folks, Clement Attlee, who created the welfare state; and Winston Churchill who won the Second World War. Both those men are as fundamentally flawed (and, by association, as great as) as Alec Douglas-Home, Jim Callaghan, David Lloyd-George, Benjamin Disraeli, Ramsay Macdonald and Ted Heath.
This may well be the best conclusion, since we don’t have to do any historical research to verify it. Since they’re all shite, they all win. It’s like one of those sports days the Daily Mail hates.
You obviously cannot remember Thatcher.
Well, this one’s a twofer. Not only does it imply that memory is the key component in determining the worst ever (note: no history before c. 1910), it also plays the Maggie T card. Who was, as we all know, the worst/greatest heroine/traitor this glorious nation/run down sack of shit the world/Europe has ever seen/smelled.3
Not going to touch this with a ten foot barge pole. Except to say anyone who wins three consecutive elections, reforms the role of the state and became the first ever PM without a Y chromosome4 cannot be the worst ever. Sorry.
What utter nonsense. This paper is becoming unreadable.
Fair point. And this blog is going the same way. Apologies. I will return to “actual history” at some point in the near future.