The office of Prime Minister

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:44 am

Downing Street, Prime MinisterThe 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.


30 thoughts on “The office of Prime Minister”

  1. I went over to your list of Prime Ministers and am confused. I thought the Prime Minister was in the House of Commons. However, there are quite a few historical Prime Ministers whose title would lead me to think they belong in the House of Lords. What am I missing? Thanks

    1. You’re not missing anything. The centre of power shifted away from the Lords to the Commons in the 19th century, such that it became more acceptable for the PM to be an elected Member of Parliament in the Commons. I don’t think there’s anything formal to prevent it, but it would be almost impossible to have a PM in the Lords now.

  2. I’m rather excited that Boris is P.M. But I don’t count, I know! 😀 At least he’s alive, for Heaven’s sake. Some politicians make you wonder.

  3. Hi Mike – we do live in interesting times … unthinkable two decades ago – so much change. I had a look at your page … really just checking Eastbourne was mentioned – it was … thank you – the connection was one I was pleased about three years ago … life has changed since. So be it – I think I’m off now – cheers Hilary

  4. Not wishing to be political in any way, but having no politicians with backbones, I suspect, we as a player in the political field, are both a laughing stock and doomed.

  5. Bill Nicholls

    I can honsetly say we have a lot in common with the USA now, both countrys are run by Dumb Blonds. I blame Cameron for calling for a refenedum we did not need, when he lost he walked out rather than face the music.

  6. When i was young, my mother would put a tea towel over the television when Alec Douglas-Home came on the box as his head reminded her of a skull. In later years she would put a bath towel over the screen – the television by then being much larger – at the appearance of David Cameron whose face reminded her of a mobile bum.

    1. Ha! I saw AD-H outside Westminster once and he certainly looked slightly scary, though I’m sure he was a very nice man. Coincidentally, I also saw DC outside the BBC – he looked about twelve. Aren’t all bums mobile..? Please don’t elaborate; this is a family website. 🙂

  7. “you’d expect better than partisan twaddle from journalists and alleged pundits” Unless said Journalist is named Johnson – check out what he said about Gordon Brown’s election as leader of the Labour Party and, therefore, PM.

  8. artandarchitecturemainly

    Oh dear Britain, what were you thinking? Brexit was a self destructive, isolating decision in the first place and the new prime minister was the worst possible choice 🙁

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