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The appointment of a new Prime Minister for the United Kingdom on 24 July 2019 necessitated an update to the list of British Prime Ministers provided on A Bit About Britain. Actually, the whole page looked a little tired. Accordingly, the opportunity is being taken to update it, adding brief biographical details of our illustrious political leaders in reverse chronological order. This will take time; to date, we have got back to 1976 and will exert ourselves with all the urgency of an EU negotiation to complete the task by whenever we said we would. Meanwhile, if you’re dying to know a bit about Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Margaret Thatcher & Co, visit the page, click on their names and a short piece of text will magically appear giving a little background on each one. Come back in a few months’ to see how we’re doing.
The complete list of every British Prime Minister is still there, following these astonishing work in progress details.
A Bit About Britain rarely comments on current affairs, but the unavoidable question – no ifs, no buts – is, “when will the list of prime ministers next need to be updated?” Whatever our allegiances or personal views, every prime minister has to be given a chance to succeed or fail, but the time between now and Halloween will be an interesting one for BoJo and the United Kingdom. Incidentally, for the benefit of anyone getting all emotional about the fact that Mr Johnson wasn’t directly elected as Prime Minister, you need to understand that this is not how the British constitution works. And quite rightly, too; the UK is a parliamentary democracy. You can forgive politicians expressing outrage in this regard being either worryingly obtuse or mischievous; but you’d expect better than partisan twaddle from journalists and alleged pundits on Facebook etc, wouldn’t you? Anyway, it is unkind and unnecessary to excite and upset the hoi polloi in this way.
UK Prime Ministers are generally the leaders of whichever political party has the most seats in the House of Commons, a Member of Parliament themselves, and are appointed by the monarch, the Head of State. After a general election, the monarch will call upon the leader of the largest political party to form the Government, but the holder of the office of prime minister can change mid-term if the party in power chooses a new leader for any reason. There have been fifteen prime ministers of the UK since the Second World War, including Boris Johnson. Of those, eight have been appointed mid-term: Boris Johnson (Conservative, 2019); Theresa May (Conservative, 2016); Gordon Brown (Labour, 2007); John Major (Conservative, 1990); Jim Callaghan (Labour, 1976); Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative, 1963); Harold Macmillan (Conservative, 1957); Anthony Eden (Conservative, 1955). Of those, four so far have subsequently gone on to win a general election in their own right: Theresa May, John Major, Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden. The latter called an election almost as soon as he took over from his predecessor, Winston Churchill. It might be worth pointing out that Churchill, though he won an election in 1951, was appointed Prime Minister in 1940 by King George VI following discussions held behind closed doors involving four men, of which he was one. He did not become leader of the Conservative Party until October.
One source for information about the Prime Minister is the Downing Street section in HMG’s website. Despite the avowed neutrality of the Civil Service, only the most credulous would view this as the ultimate fount of knowledge on the subject, but it is very good – and fascinating, of course.