Historian Beckett names Thatcher & Attlee greatest Brit PMs

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee topped a list of the greatest British Prime Ministers, evaluated by Historian Francis Beckett. Writing in the BBC History Magazine, Beckett gave 20 Prime Ministers a score from 0 to 5, basing his view on the leader's implementation of their policy rather than the content of their policies.

Margaret Thatcher
Clement Attlee

Thatcher and Attlee topped the list (both scoring 5). Identifying her victory over the miners as the key decider, Beckett said of Lady Thatcher: "Today few people under 40 remember a time when trade unions were a real force in the land, when the public sector controlled large swathes of the economy, when local councils controlled education and other local services, when benefits were considered rights of citizenship,"

Thatcher, the only woman to have become British Prime Minister, is recognised as one of the most significant British politicians in recent history and her policies have been met with both strong support and strong opposition.

Attlee, the longest serving Labour party leader (at 20 years) and Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, ranked highly due to his key role in major reforms in British politics and economy. He was responsible for the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) and for granting independence to India. In 2004 a poll of political academics (organised by MORI) Attlee was voted the most effective (non-wartime) British Prime Minister of the 20th century.

The current Prime Minister, Tony Blair ranked mid table; with a score of 3. Beckett noted that Blair's handling of the Iraq War in 2003 marked him down, although his running reforms of schools and hospitals counted in his favour ensuring an average mark.

In a 2002 public poll (conducted by the BBC) Sir Winston Churchill (awarded 4 points in this new ranking along side Edward Heath and Harold Macmillan) was voted the greatest Briton of all time. Interestingly, in the same poll Thatcher came 16th whilst Attlee did not feature.

Of the twenty, only Neville Chamberlain and Sir Anthony Eden scored 0. Beckett cited Chamberlain's failure to prevent the Second World War as his reason for the low marking.