As PM Theresa May approaches her 100th day in office, Baroness Margaret Thatcher has been named the worst Prime Minister of the past 100 years, according to a survey of leading historical writers.
The Historical Writers’ Association (HWA) asked their membership to rank the 19 Prime Ministers who’ve served since 1916 ahead of this year’s Harrogate History Festival, which is delivered by Harrogate International Festivals.
45 HWA Authors responded to the survey; the full results are:
- Baroness Margaret Thatcher: 1979 – 1990 24%
- David Cameron: 2010 – 2016 22%
- Neville Chamberlain: 1937 – 1940 17%
- Tony Blair: 1997 – 2007 11%
- Gordon Brown: 2007 – 2010 & Sir Edward Heath: 1970 – 1974 8%
- Andrew Bonar Law: 1922 – 1923, Herbert Henry Asquith: 1908 – 1916, Sir Anthony Eden: 1955 – 1957 2%
Baroness Thatcher took 24 % of the vote, narrowly beating Theresa May’s predecessor David Cameron (22%) and Neville Chamberlain (17%). Tony Blair took 11% to make him the fourth worst PM while Gordon Brown and Sir Edward Heath tied for fifth place with 8%.
Sir Antony Eden, Herbert Henry Asquith and Andrew Bonar Law all got 2% of the vote, while the remaining 10 Prime Ministers didn’t receive a single nomination. Thatcher’s win in the poll came as a surprise to Harrogate History Festival special guest Lord Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats who now writes historical books.
Lord Ashdown said:
I disagreed with Mrs Thatcher, I fought her all the way. But I thought she was a great and necessary destroyer, some of those old structures she pulled down had to be pulled down, but what she wasn’t was a builder. Oddly enough this will offend some, I put her down as one of the most successful PM’s of all time, not because I agreed with her, but because she laid out her stall and she achieved it, and Britain in many ways was stronger afterwards although in many ways it was also weaker, particularly our sense of communities.
Thatcher takes the top spot
The HWA voters named Thatcher’s attitude to community and society as one of the main reasons that they picked her.
Writer Catherine Hokin:
Thatcher made the idea of society, in the sense of a community that cares for all its members and accepts the premise that people need support and should not be stigmatised for it, an anathema.
It is easy to demonise politicians and resort to ad hominem rather than policy attacks, but Thatcher encouraged the worst behaviour across all aspects of society and we are still reaping her poisoned harvest.
Author Emma Darwin said:
She destroyed too many good things in society, and created too many bad ones, then left a social and moral vacuum in which the selfishly rich and unimaginatively fortunate could too easily destroy still more of what they don’t need and can’t see that everyone else does need.
Former HWA chair and acclaimed author Manda Scott cited:
Neo Liberalism, De-industrialisation, free market ideology, Scottish poll tax, selling council houses and failing to act on early stages of global warming” as her reasons for voting for Thatcher.
Her quote, ‘There’s no such thing as society’ says it all,” wrote D E Meredith. “She spawned a terrible lack of compassion at the heart of British politics, which we still live with today.
Cameron slammed for Brexit
It was David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on leaving the EU that secured his position in second place.
Argued Tom Harper, author and programming chair of the Harrogate International Festival’s History Festival:
David Cameron is a mediocrity who’s single-handedly brought on the UK’s biggest crisis in 75 years. Neville Chamberlain had to contend with Hitler, Eden with Nasser: Cameron couldn’t see off Nigel Farage.
Meanwhile, chair of the HWA Imogen Robertson said:
I’ll never forgive Cameron for sleep-walking us into Brexit, even if it’s exposed some uncomfortable truths about this country that we need to acknowledge.
He gambled with the country’s future prosperity and lost. Then ran from the battlefield leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces.
Lord Ashdown added:
I said two years ago that I thought Mr Cameron was one of the most dangerous Prime Ministers we’ve had, not because he’s not a decent man, he’s a very decent man, but because he just didn’t think in his casual Eton bred insouciance about taking this huge and vitally important decision for Britain.
WW2 blame for Chamberlain
It was Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement which landed him in third position. It was Chamberlain who was picked as the worst by Lord Ashdown.
Lord Ashdown said:
I think Chamberlain could have personally prevented the Second World War. He was certainly warned by the German opposition what Hitler was and he chose to ignore it, and the consequence was eight million people dead. I don’t blame him for those deaths but I remain of the view that if he’d taken the right decision, as he was encouraged to when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, the Second World War would not have happened.
Lord Ashdown’s view was echoed in the survey.
Jason Hewitt, author of WW2 novel Devastation Road said:
Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler in Munich 1938 still must go down as one of the most misplaced and catastrophic political decisions of all time. He sanctioned Hitler’s already despotic ambitions, let down the Czech people and knowingly left them defenceless, and in doing so provided Hitler with indisputable proof that for the foreseeable future he could do what the hell he liked.
Proposing a policy of appeasement in the face of distilled evil is difficult to erase from the record.
Whatever sins other Prime Ministers may have committed, Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement towards Hitler surely rates as the very worst. He left office in disgrace and rightly so.
Blair is top worst Labour Prime Minister
The Tory party took a hammering in the survey, but Tony Blair also got 11% of the vote – mostly due to the issue of the war in Iraq.
Author Sally Zigmond said:
I used to quite like Tony Blair until he told lies about those fictitious ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that Saddam was, according to Blair, ready to fire at the west. I am against war but Blair’s convincing rhetoric made a fool of me and killed thousands of innocent people. Now I don’t believe any politicians – left of right.
The Harrogate History Festival features the 2016 HWA Goldsboro Debut Crown and Harrogate International Festivals’ Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award.
Harrogate History Festival takes place 20-23 October at The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate. Special Guests include Paddy Ashdown, Antony Beevor, Philippa Gregory, Tracy Chevalier, Tom Holland, Jonathan Dimbleby, Janina Ramirez, Nicholas Crane, Joe Abercrombie and Tracy Borman. Full programme: www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com