Government failure: who is the worst Prime Minister in British history?

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Bad leadership, government failure, political mistakes. Check out our list of bad prime ministers in recent British history and find out who, according to our readers, is the worst prime minister ever. 

Government failure and bad leadership

The history of the United Kingdom is full of brilliant leaders and policy-makers which contributed to turning Britain into one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world. Not all British prime ministers, however, are so popular or will be remembered as great statemen. Some of them have demonstrated poor leadership and examples of government failure in Britain are not completely uncommon.

The turbulent aftermath of the EU referendum, or "Brexit referendum", triggered many concerns and criticisms of the current British political leadership. The future of the UK is uncertain: the country seems to be gradually sliding back to recession and the very union is in danger. Scottish nationalist leaders claim that Scotland should be independent to stay or rejoin the European Union. David Cameron has resigned and his legacy as British Prime Minister is to a great extent undermined. After discussing who was the worst president of the USA, we compare his failures and controversies with those of other relatively "infamous" British prime ministers whose leadership has also been criticized by historians and political scientists, such as: Ramsay MacDonald, Neville Chamberlain, Robert Anthony Eden, Alec Douglas-Home, John Major, and Gordon Brown.

Worst prime minister ever

Making a list of prime ministers who qualify for as potentially the "worst prime minister in history" is not an easy task. The following list is based on previous prime ministers lists and rankings based on polls and interviews with prominent historians and social scientists conducted by the BBC, The Times, University of Leeds and Ipsos MORI. According to most of those studies, these are the British leaders with lowest score, plus David Cameron, who has been included due to the severe critcisms he received at the end of his premiership and after he anounced his resignation.

  • James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937). He was the first Labour Prime minister and was 10 months in office in 1924 and later from 5 June 1929 to 7 June 1935. Ramsay MacDonald was heavily criticized and accused of being a turncoat and a traitor for having entered a coalition with the Conservatives and for refusing to implement the proto-Keynesian economic policies that other Labour leaders requested. He was expelled from the Labour Party.
  • Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940). He was the Conservative PM from 1937 to 1940. Chamberlain controversially signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, recognizing Nazi Germany's sovereignty over the Sudetenland, a region then belonging to Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain's appeasement policies which he employed in an attempt to prevent the Second World War were considered a government failure and severely criticized by left and right-wing contemporary politicians, including Churchill, who depicted him as a weak leader who did not act decisively enough to stop Hitler. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 after the British troops were forced to retreat from Norway.
  • Robert Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon (1897-1957). He was the British premier from 6 April 1955 to 10 January 1957. He concentrated his efforts primarily on foreign policy and on forging a close alliance with US President Dwight Eisenhower. However, the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 turned into a huge embarrassment for Eden's government. Britain was forced to bow to US pressures, agreeing to stop the Anglo-French military involvement. His plan to assassinate Nasser also failed. His reputation was left seriously damaged and he resigned in 1957.
  • Alec Douglas-Home (1903-1995). He was a Conservative PM for one year, from 19 October 1963 to 16 October 1964. Douglas-Home suffered strong opposition from the leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson, who accused him of being an anachronistic leader who was not aware of the problems of ordinary families. Alec Douglas-Home inherited a government which was losing popular suppot Britain and he lost the election to Labour in 1964.
  • John Major (born in 1943). He was the Conservative leader who succeeded Margaret Thatcher on 28 November 1990 and was replaced by Tony Blair on 2 May 1997. During John Major's government in the early 1990s the UK economy entered a recession. Although he was re-elected in 1992, his second mandate was not easy. The financial "Black Wednesday" in 1992, the controversial privatisation of British rail from 1994 to 1997, and several political scandals weakened his leadership. In 1997 he suffered the worst Tory electoral defeat since 1832 and resigned as leader of the Conservative party.
  • Gordon Brown (born in 1951). He was the successor of Tony Blair and Labour Prime Minister from 27 June 2007 to 11 May 2010. Gordon Brown had the difficult task of leading the UK through the worst part of the global financial crisis. Some scandals concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts erupted during his premiership. In 2008 Labour suffered the worst local elections results in 40 years, finishing third. Brown also faced some plots against his leadership within the Labour Party. Unable to win 2010 elections, Gordon Brown steped down as Labour leader.
  • David Cameron (born in 1966). Conservative Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016. David Cameron first led a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and later won a majority in the 2015 election. He implemented some controversial austerity measures, which included increases in higher education fees, cuts in social benefits for families, reduction in the subsidies for daycare, and less funding for social housing programs. The Scottish referendum of independence and the EU referendum have been considered by critics as examples of "political gamble" by David Cameron. His defeat in the latter may trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland and the break up of the United Kingdom, as well as a new serious economic crisis. Cameron anounced his resignation which will take effect by October 2016.

‚ÄčAre these the worst prime ministers ever? Were all of these British leaders bad prime ministers, or are some of them victims of unforgiving media and unfair depictions by biased analysts and historians? Vote and tell us which of them you think will be considered in the long run the worst prime minister in British history (see below).

List of prime ministers in British history

In case you are not satisfied with the list of "bad prime ministers" above, this is the full list of British prime ministers since the beginning of the twentieth century:

  • Robert Cecil (Conservative) 1885–1886, 1886–1892, 1895–1902
  • Arthur Balfour  (Conservative) 1902–1905
  • Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal) 1905–1908
  • H. H. Asquith (Liberal) 1908–1916
  • David Lloyd George (Liberal) 1916–1922
  • Bonar Law (Conservative) 1922–1923
  • Stanley Baldwin  (Conservative) 1923–1924, 1924–1929, 1935–1937
  • Ramsay MacDonald (Labour) 1924, 1929–1935
  • Neville Chamberlain (Conservative) 1937–1940
  • Winston Churchill (Conservative) 1940–1945, 1951–1955
  • Clement Attlee (Labour) 1945–1951
  • Anthony Eden (Conservative) 1955–1957
  • Harold Macmillan (Conservative) 1957–1963
  • Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative) 1963–1964
  • Harold Wilson (Labour) 1964–1970, 1974–1976
  • Edward Heath (Conservative) 1970–1974
  • James Callaghan (Labour) 1976–1979
  • Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) 1979–1990
  • John Major (Conservative) 1990–1997
  • Tony Blair (Labour) 1997–2007
  • Gordon Brown (Labour) 2007–2010
  • David Cameron  (Conservative)  2010-2016
Government failure: who is the worst Prime Minister in British history? Vote and tell us who you think was the worst premier in the history of Britain and why.



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