British Prime Ministers

Figure 1.--.

The Prime Minister is the political leader of the United Kingdom. He is is the head of Government, but unlike the presidenyil system, not the head of state. In Britain the monarch is the hrad of state, a largely ceremonial role. In non monsrchial systems, a president plays this role. The prme ministerial office began with Robert Walpole (about 1721). This was shortly after Britain came into existance with the Act of Union with Scotland (1707). At the time it was not a very democratic office in that so few people could vote. And there wre still quite a number of 'Rotton Buroughs'. The question of Parliament's authority began with Magna Carta. And was finally settled with the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution. The office of prime minister came into being as the power of the House of Commons became increasingly important. In Walpole's time, however the monarchy still had considerable authority. Walople proved to be one of Britain's great prime ministers. Other important prime ministers were Pitt the Younger, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd Heorge, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher. Although Lord North presided over the demise of the North Americam empire, Pitts the Younger helped inbed Britain in India and Disraeli greatly expanded it. Gladstone although not a empire builder, defended it and began the provess of extending self rule to the English seaking colonies while failing to do the same in Ireland, despite strenous efforts. David Lloyd George laid the foundation for the welfare state and played an important role in defeating the Germans. Winston Churchill took office at the just as the NAZI storm broke over the West. Together with President Roosevelt they did nothing short of savihg Western civilzation. Clemenet Atlee expanded the welfare system, but hs socialist ideology meant that he was unaware of the need for a vital capitalist economy. Mrs Thatcher reminded Britons of the importance of market forces to British prosperity as well as standing with President Reagan in winning the Cold War.


A major development in the hostory of law is the appearance of parliament. Whike the English parliament would becone known as the mother of all parliaments, parliament was not an exclusively English, but a pan-European, medieval institution. Parliaments would eventually become a law making body, but this was not a first its purpose. There were early medieval precurosors to European parliaments. The most often sited is the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot, which in Old English word meant 'meeting of wise men'. This was an assemblage or council of nobles and clergymen that existed in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as they evolved under pressure from the Vikings into England (7th-11th centuries). The members were known as witans. The role of the Witenagemot was not to make law, but to advise the king upon his request. The Witenagemot was also required to oversee the sucession and validate the new monarch. Occasionally it function as a court of law to decide major legal issues. With the Battle of Hastings and William's rapid conquest of Saxon England (1066), the Witenagemot and other Saxon institutions were overthrown by the conquering Normans. There was thus no historical continuity between the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot and the English/British Parliament. The Witenagemot was, however, important because it revealed a natural development in medieval Europe for a king to create an institution to assist in governamce. And there were similar institutions developing on the Continent. And at about the time that Duke William conquered England, European monarchies were beginning to coallese and establishing national states. Parliament might appear to be a British institution because of the importance of the English Paliament, but the English Parliament was not the only medieval parliament or even the first. Parliaments appeared throughout medieval Europe (12-13th centuries). An important historical question is why the English parliament developed in a democratic direction to become so important while other parliaments in the Contiment largely failed. Thie first institutionnwhich might be called a parliaments appeared not in England, but of of all places Poland. The idea of the wiec which apparentky chose the first Polish king, led the Polish parliament--the Sejm (1182). And then parliaments began appearing in the Iberian Peninsula. There were historically documented councils (873, 1020, 1050 and 1063), but commoners did not participate. What what might more accurately be called parliaments appeared: Léon (1188), Catalonia (1217), and Castille (early-13th century). The Spanish parliaments became know as the Cortes. This development in Spain was no accident. Spain was in the middle of the Reconquista and the monarchs of the Christian kingdoms needed support of their feudal lords, who were no loath to make alliances with Muslims, to pursue military campaigns. The Scottish Parliament was first reffered to as a colloqium (1235). The first English parliament was called (1265). The first French parliamebt was Parliament of Paris (1307) which developed from the the Curia Regis. The functions and structure of these parliments varied from country to country, but often addressed taxation. In recognition of the developing European economies, included representatives from the growing cities: good men of the cities (spain), the commons (England), and the le tiers état (France). While monarchs called parrliaments to gain support for policies such as higher taxes, at the same time a major struggle for power was often played out between the great feudal lords (the barons) and the monarchy attemptung to centraliae power. Caught in the middle were the growing medieval cities who often use the struggle to obtain royal charters guaranteeing rights abd freeing them from feudal obligations.

Democratic Reforms

The final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (1815) left Europe in the hands of concervative monarhies who through the Congress of Vienna returned Europe to conservative monarchies. These monarchies repealed many of the reforms spread by the French Revolution. Britaian thanks to years of tradition culmninating in the Glorious Revolution (1688) had a limited monarchy and well-established parlimentary system. This provided the basis for the protection of both property rights and civil rights which enabled the rise of capitalism. Britain could, however, hardly be called a democracy. It was only after the Napoleonic Wars and especially with the aecession of Princess Victoria that Britain instituted a series of reforms which converted the country's parlimentary system into true democracy. Here Britain and Victoria had the emense gift of a young German aristocrat--Prince Albert. A major issue proved to be the the Corn Laws. The principal turning point was the Reform Act which finally did away with the rotton boroughs. It was at the same time that Britain abolished slavery in the Empire. One of the major political movements in Victorian Britain was the Chartists. They failed, but had a huge impact in promoting reform. As a result of these moderate conservative reforms, Britain largely escaped the chaotic Revolutions of 1848 which swept Europe. And having learned from the American Revolution, the reform movement was allowed to develop in the Dominions as well.

Individual Prime Ministers

The office that we now call the British prime minister began soon after the Act of Union with Scotland (1707) creating modern Britain. The officewas the inevitable result of the continuing rise of the importance of the Houseof Commons in British politics.

Robert Walpole (1721-42)

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1676 – 1745), known for much of his life as Sir Robert Walpole. Most historians identify him as the de facto first British prime minister. Historians disagree, however, precise dates of his political dominance. The most common dates are 1721–42 just before the Seven Years War which among other issues, settle the colonial conflict between Britain and France. He dominated the Walpole–Townshend Ministry and the Walpole Ministry and compiled the record as the longest serving prime minister in British history befoire the term was widely used. His critics called the system he constructed the 'Robinocracy'. One historian describes " Speck dscribes Walpole's uninterrupted 20 years as prime minister "... as one of the major feats of British political history.... Explanations are usually offered in terms of his expert handling of the political system after 1720, [and] his unique blending of the surviving powers of the crown with the increasing influence of the Commons." [Speck, p. 203.] He is generally described as a Whig from the gentry class. Walpole was was first elected to Parliament (1701). Over his long career he held many senior positions. He was a country squire and saw country gentlemen as his political base.

William Pitt--the Elder (1756-61 and 66-68)

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham PC was born in 1708. He was British statesman of the Whig group who was twice prime minister. He became known as The Great Commoner, because until late in life refused to accept a title until 1766. Titles at the time were a key to prestige. Pitt was a member of the British cabinet and became its informal leader (1756 to 1761) during the Seven Years' War which include the French and Indian War in North America. It was a kind of world war and decisely resolved the issues between Britain and France which had been building for centuries, included the furure if North America and Frnce. His leadership is credited to have played an imprtant part in the British victory. This wartime political role emeged as a single-minded devotion to Britain's victory over France, the victory which would solidify Britain's dominance in world affairs. He again led the cabinet, holding the official title of Lord Privy Seal (1766 and 1768). Much of his influence came from his brilliant oratory in the Commons. He was out of power for most of his lengthy career and became known for his blistering attacks on the government, including Walpole's corruption (1730s), Hanoverian royal subsidies (1740s), peace with France (1760s), and the failure to compromising wih the the American colonies (1770s). He lavished considerable attention on his son Willim, grooming him for political office.

Lord North (1770-82)

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford KG PC was born (1732). He is commonly referred to as Lord North. He was Prime Minister (1770-82). This of course as one of the nost momentous periods in British history. Historianshave vriously treated Lord North. Some British historians place the blame of the Revolution squarely on the Americans. Others blame Lord North both for indolence and unwillingnes to compromise. Who ecer was responible, the simple fact is tht h failed and his policies lost the American colonies. When he took office, Britain dominated North America, the French were defeated, and most American colonists while having some complaints, considered them selves Americans. In just a few years he turned that around and the Americans revolted. Britain would lose most of its claim to North America and face a new country hostile to Britain, not to mention a huge debt. Few political leaders can be said to lose a continent. Turning men like George Washington and Benjmin Franklin from proud Englishmen loyal to the King to revolutionaries took considerable doing. The Americans for rhetorical purposes would frame their Revolition as opposition to a tyranical monarchy. Actually the decesions which prompted the Revolution came from Lord North and Parliament, not King George III. Only after the Americans revolted did the King play a major role, determind not to lose his colonies.

Willim Pitt--The Younger (1783-1801 and 04-06)

William was second son of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham. He was groomed from boyhood to follow in his father's footsteps. He was not a strong boy, but from an early point exhibted a fierce intellect. Oratory was his father's strong suit and was drilled into him. His father faced many crisis including the power of Bourbon France. Willian the Younger would face a revived and Revolutinsrry France. It would be Britain's most series threat until Hitler--the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. He became the youngest Prime Minister in Bitish history at the age of 24. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury) throughout his premiership. Because of his father's training and his own natural ability, he stands as one of the outstanding prime miniters in British history. He was associated with the Whig group, but often called a New Tory, opposed to the trend toward a partisan political system. His historical place in British history comes for sucessfully leading Britain in the great wars against Revolutionry France and Napoleon. Pitt excelled as an administrator who promoted both efficiency and reform. He recruited a new generation of well educatd and competent administrators. His first ministry began (1783). He raised the taxes neded to pay for war debts resulting from the coinflict in America, but soon found even larger sums wer needed to fight two decdes of wars with France. He also suppresed the radicalism that had ruined the French Revolution. He pushed through the Acts of Union with Ireland (1800) to reduce support for France. He attempted to include Catholic Emancipation as part of the Union, but failed. King George III renoved him from power because of the disagreements overe Ireland. His replaccement, Henry addington, proved incompetent and the King with Napoleon across the Channel, turning his attention to Britain, was forced to recall Pitt (1804). Pitt died only 2 years later, at an early age. The fleet he financed, however, defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgur (1805), guranteeing Britain's survival. Pitt's 'new Toryism' revived the Conservtive Party which and enabled it to stay in power for the next quarter-century.

Duke of Wellington (1828-30 and 1834)

Irish Protestant Arthur Wellesley is best known as the courge of Napoleon, defearing French marshals in the Peninsular Campaign and then finally at Waterloo (1815). He was a rare British prime minister who rose to the office chiefly as a military hero. He had a close relationship with King George IV who he did not respect. He was one of the conservative leaders who controlled Europe after Napoleon's defeat. He was a staunch Protestant, but eventually yield on the issue of Catholic Emancipation. It was an issue which could have led to widespread civil disorders if not a civil war.

Robert Peel (1834- )

Benjamin Disraeli (1868 and 74-80)

Benjamin Disraeli twice served as British Prime Minister. He was born in Londomn of Italian Jewish parents. Dizzy converted as a boy after his father fell out with the their synagogue. He was bullied at school. He is the only British Prime Minister of Jewish ancestry. He led a coloful life before entering politics. He failed at running aewspaper. Acquired masive debts from a failed mining venture. And then was roundly criticized for his first novel. He spent more than aear touring the Mediterranean and Middle East (1830) This is believed to have provided considerable insight when as prime minister he faced intractable foreign relations issues. As prime minister he played a key role in the creation of Britain's modern Conservative Party, both its policies and a broad outreach allowing it to win elections. . After several unsuccessful attempts, Disraeli entered the House of Commons (1837). The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, split the party over his proposal to repeal the Corn Laws (1846). Disraeli rose to clash with Peel in the Commons. Disraeli as a result, became a major figure in the Party. Lord Derby thrice formed governments in the 1850s and 1860s. Disraeli under him served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. It is at this time that the rivalry with Gladstone of the Liberal Party developed. When Derby retirement, Disraeli brifly became Prime Minister (1868), but the conservtives then lost an election. He returned to opposition, before leading the party to a majority (1874). He managed a close friendship with Queen Victoria by fawning over her -- something the stiff Gladstone was never able to achive. It was Disreali who though up the idea of making the Queen Emperess of Indua. She created him Earl of Beaconsfield (1876). Disraeli as prime minister was faced with what came to be called the EasternQuestion--the slow decay of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Russian power. The Russians had acquired Central Asia, threatening India and desired a warm water port. Disraeli organized the British purchase of a major interest in the Suez Canal Company. After the unification of Germany (1870), Germany emerged a major force. Following Russian victories in the Russo-Turkish War Chancellor Bismarck oganized the Congress of Berlin to achieve peace in the Balkans (1879). Disrael managed to protect the Ottomans and limit Russian gains without a war which had been the case with the Crimean War. His diplomatic success put him on a par with the Iron Chancellor who unlike Prince Wilhelm saw the need to maintain friendly relations with the Russians. After his success at the Congress, events then moved against Disraeli and the Conservatives. Colonial Wars in Afghanistan and South Africa proved controversial. He estranged British farmers, a major Conservtive constiuency, when he refused to reinstitute the Corn Laws. Gladstone launched a masive speaking campaign. This led to a Liberals victory in the next election (1880). With his health filing, Disraeli led the Conservatives in opposition, but died soon after (1881). Disraeli is remembered for his influential voice in world affairs and role in expanding the Empire. It is during his premiership that British politics develpped into a two-party system. His relentless political battles with the Liberal Party, the other major party of the time, and its leader William Ewart Gladstone are legendary. He advocated one-nation conservatism or 'Tory democracy'. As a result, the Conservatives are the political party most identified with the glory of the British Empire.

‎William Ewart Gladstone (1868-74, 80-85, 66, and 92-94)

William Ewart Gladstone was born in Liverpool (1809). He begn his parlimentary career as a Tory while Sir Robert Peel was prime minister (1832). He was given vrious caninet position. It ws during his time as Colonial Secretary that Brotin wrestling with the rights of the English-speaking countris to self goivernment. Fortunately the Britih had learned their lesson from the American Revolution. It was this issue more than any other that turned Gldstone yoward libralism. He served as prime-minister on four different occassions, alternating with Disraeli and the Marquess of Salisbury. He was an opponent of expanding the British Empire which Disreaeli and Queen Victoria favored. While resisting expanding the Empire, he was put in the position of defending it against, principally against the Russias in the Great Game. Imperial Germany began its rise during his primership. Unlike Disraeli he did not get on well with the Queen and made no effort to do so, nor for that matter did the Queen. One of his ministris were brought down by Gen Gordom who insisted on defending Khartoum in the Sudan. He has to be the most excentric of all British prime ministers. He refused the protectinof a body guard. He was surely the most devoutly Christian of all of Britain's leaders. Guided by his Christian zeal and reforming zeal, he would disappear in the dark steets of London on his night walks to seek out and save 'fallen' young women. His achievements included doubling the number of voters and ending penal fines. As with other prime ministers, he failed to solve the Irish Question despite efforts to do so.

Henry Asquith (1904-16)

Henry Asquith was appointed prime minister (1908) and worked closely with King Edward VII. He was as wa the case of many prome ministers, the chncellor. He is one of the great reformist prime ministers in British history, navigating the greatest consitutional crisis since Charles I. Britain at the time faced many important issues such as finding old age pensions and the Irish question. The House of Lords dominsted by the Tories (Conservatives) failed to pass important reform measures passed by the House of Commons dominated by the Liberals. In the end, the issue was only resolved after King Edward died and his son George V became king (1910). He threatened to appoint several hundred Liberal peers which would make for a Liberal mahority in the Lords. Faced with that threat, the Lords passed the Parliament Bill, significantly reducing their ability to block legislation passed by the Commons (1911). Tragically the reform effort camne to an end when the Germans invaded neutral Belgium and Aqquith had to lead Britain into the terrible tragedy of World War I. .

David Lloyd-George (1916-1922)

David Lloyd-George was another Libral prime minister. He was elected to Parliament (1890) and held the seat for 55 years. As was often the case, the position of chancellor of the exchequer led to the David Lord-George's primership. He was chancellor of the exchequer under Asquitt (1908–1915). Lloyd-George and the Liberals not Labour were key to the many reforms which laid the foundations of the British welfare state. He became known as the Irish Wizzard and was a masterful debater in the Commons. Lloyd-George relaced Asquith at prime minister in the middle of World War I (1916). The horror of the killing field of Flanders had come home to Britain. He was the highly active Prime Minister of the Wartime Coalition Government (1916–22), both during and after the War. And the Germans were preparing a U-boat campaign to starve out the British. He pushed through the convoy system over the opposition of the Admiralty. He had aclose relationship with Chuchill and brought him back into government. A major goal was to bring America into the War. He became a major player at the Paris Peace Conference producing the Versailles Treaty (1919). Historians argue that had a greater impact on British life than any other 20th-century leader, primarily because of his pre-war social welfare reforms, but also because of his war leadership, his post-war role in reordering Europe, and hisrole in partitioning Ireland. He proved to be Britain's last Liberal prime minister. Despite his achievements, his political role undermined the Liberal Party. Much of his Parliamentary support came from the Conservatives rather than his own Liberal Party. The Liberal split led to long-term collapse of that party. The more radical Liberals joined Labour and and the more conservative joined the Conservatives.

Andrew Bonar Law (1922-23)

Ireland as was often the case of several British prime ministers led to Lloyd George's premiership. The Tories saw his Irish Treaty as surender. Andrew Bonar Law led a Tory rebellion in the Commons and became prime minister (1922).

Stanly Baldwin (1923-24, 1924- )

Stanley Baldwin inherited wealth from both sides of his family, bit plyed a role in expanding it. His father’s family were industrialists. And he helped his father create what became one of Britain’s most important iron and steel corporations, Baldwins Ltd. His mother’s family had more artistic and literary backgrounds. His uncles included Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter, notable artists. Rudyard Kipling was a cousin. Stanley was the son of Alfred Baldwin, elected a Conservative MP for West Worcestershire (Bewdley) (1892. When his father died, Stanley succeeded him as MP (1906). His business background led to his appointment as Financial Secretary of the Treasury as part of David Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government (1917). Having to deal with enormous costs of the War, he published an editorial in The Times under the pseudo name 'FST’. He advocated that the rich make voluntary donations to help pay off the war debt (1919). He donated 20 percentg of his personal wealth. He entered Loyd-George's Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade (1921). He then played aey part in a Conservative rebellion that overthrew the coalition government and the premiership of Lloyd George (1922). The new primeminister, Andrew Bonar Law, rewarded him wirh the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer--the traditional stepping stimne to be primeminister. Bonar Law retired due to illness (1923). Balwin replaced him as primeminidster (1923). His focuswas on unemployment. He called a general election to seek a larger majority to pursue his programs, especially higher protectivetariffs. He failed to retain a majority and resigned (1914). His relplacementwas Ramsey MacDonald and the first Labour government needed Liberal support and was defeated in the next general election (1924), he returned as Prime Minister.

Ramsy MacDonald (1924, 29-31, and 31-35)

Ramsay MacDonald was one of the founder of the Labour Party and Labour's first prime minister (1924). It was coaltion government with support from the split Liberal Party--incliding former Prime Minister Asquith. MacDonald He was a Scot of humble origins. He had three daughters, but lost his wife who was a great influence on him several years before becoming prime minister. He was a good and decent man, but a committed socialist in part because of his moral character. The fact that socialism did not work was largely unknown to the British working class. He was elected to Parliament (1906). He was forced to resign when he declared that Britain's declaration of war was morally wrong, a stronly held position among soialists. He returned to Parliament after the war as leader of theLabour opposition (1922). His first act as prime minister was to recognized the Soviet Government. He also pushed a Russian loan. He and his Party does not seem to have not fully understood the character of the Soviet regime, but he was no Communist. He became prime minister at a time after Lenin's death, Stalin began his rise. The Russian Revolution generated the Red Scare and the Conservtives painted him as a Bolskevik. He wantd to heal the War divide between the Germans and French, but made little real progress. Unlike modern times, the press at the time was staunchly conservative (Tory). His primary goal was to create jobs and get smockstacks belching, but he focused primarily on foreign policy in his premiership which floundered after only 9 months on his policies associated with the Bolsheviks and Communists at home. He returned two times, at first as a result of the Drepression (1929-31). And then under another coaltion with the Liberals, the National Labour Party (1931-35). He negtiated an anglo-American Naval Limitations Agreement, but failed to respond meaningfully to Hitler's rise in Germany. Here he was shaped by his opposition to World War I and his belief that the Germans had been treated to harshly after the War.

Nevile Chamberlain (1937-40)

Neville Chamberlain grew up in an important British political family. Both is father and older brother were importnt political figures. As a boy, Chamberlin grew up without his mother. His father who lost two wives in childbirth raised his boys to distrust emotion and to depend on cool rationality. Chamberlain in essence was a decent man who after World war I was determined to avoid another war. He is perhaps the best example in history that decent people, including them who oppose war, can do terrible damage. John Lennon asks us in his beautiful song asks us to 'Give peace a chance". If ever a leader of a great nation gave peace a chance, it was Neville Chamberlain. He may also well be the greatest failure as a prime minister in British history. Not because he was dishonest or venal, but because he was unwilling to use force to confront evil. He was convinced that he was the one man man uniquely capable of preventing war. Up through Munich most most British people agreed with this approach, the result was catastrophe in Europe and almost the end of Britain as an independent country. His name will be for ever associated with his failed policy of appeasement and the Munich Conference where he abandoned the Czech nation to the tender mercies of Hitler and the NAZIs.

Winston Churchill (1940-45, )

British statesman and author, considered by most historians to be the greatest of all British prime ministers for his role in warning about the dangers of Germany's military buildup in the 1930s, and after being ignored, leading the seemingly hopeless resistance to the NAZIs during the darkest days of World War II when Britain stood alone. He was born at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire and had a trurbulent childhood. He was born into one of te most elustrious families in England, a descendent of the Duke of Marlborough. His father was a brilliant parlimentarian who considered his son slow and a disappointment. His mother was the beautiful American heiris, loving but tied up in the social swirl of the time. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy. Her served in the military on the colpnial frontier and then made a namefor himself as a correspondent in South Africa during the Bohr War. When he returned to Nritaon he began his phenomenal Parlimentary War. He served as First Secretaru of the Admiralty in the years leading up to World War I, helping tp prepare the Fleet. He served in various posts during the war including after Galipoli, service on the Western Front. He also served in various posts after the War. He gradually became a back bencher and was outracized by the leadershipo by his outspoken criticism of Hitler and the Allies failure to confront him and rearm. Ultimately he was appointed primeminister to replace Vhanberlain on the sasme day the Germans launched tgheir offensive that would lead to the fall of France. Under the coaltion National Labour he would resolutely defend Britain in at first a lonely struggle against a triumphant NAZIism. His magnificent speeches were one of Britain's greatest weapons. He would go with the aid of his close friend and ally, President Franklin Roosevelt, to do nothing short of saving Western Civilization.

Clement Atlee (1945-51)

Clement Attlee was Britain's second Labour primeminister and best known for the establishment of the welfare system in Bruain and presiding over the first step in disolving the British Empire--independence for India. He was born in Putne, London (1883). He grew up in a prosperous family and had all the advantages. His farther was a successful London solicitor. Coming from a prosperous family, he was educated at a public (elite privte boarding) school, in his case Haileybury College. The school traced its roots to East India Company and this had a strong imperial tradition. He then studied ast Oxford. He planned for a legal career, but developed a passion for social work sonn after beginning his law casreer which he abandined (1909). He joined the Fabian Society (1907) and the Independent Labour Party (1908). He took up residence in the London slums. He served in World War I (Gallipoli, Iraq, and France). He was a profoundly conservastive individual, except for his politics and economics. He had no real job experience or economics training, but firmly believed in socialist economics -- primarily for ethical reasons. Atlee entered London East End (a poor section of the city) politics after World War I and achieved some success. He became mayor of the borough of Stepney (1919) and then was elected to Parliament from Limehouse (1922). He worked his way up to the Labour leadership and fter reputiting MacDonald becme the Labour Leader (1935). By this time situation in Europe was beconing ominous (1935). Labour pacifism and resistance to rearmament and War was a factor in Hitler's rise. As Labour leader he played a key role in shifting Labour from pacifism to armed resistance to Fascism. He stubbornly refused, however, to enter into a coalition Government with Primeminister Chamberlain. This led to Churchill becoming primememinister (1940). He became the leading figire in the World War II coalition war cabinet other than Churchill. He became lord president of the council while retaining the deputy prime ministership. Only Atlee Churchill served continuously in the war cabinet throughout the War. After V-E Day (May 1945), Atlee led Labour out of the coalition and achieved a massive parliamentary majority in the general election (July 1945). Labour won a commanding 393 seats in the House of Commons. He replaced Churchill at the Potsdam Conference. The British people wanted and end to war-time austerity and change. They got massive change in the form of a wealfare state and nationalization of basic industries. The welfare state did address basic inequities. They did not get and end to austerity. What Atlee and the British electorate did not undertand yet was that socialism such as nationalizing basic industries just does not work. Thys Labour's economic policies caused Britin to decline from the wealthiest country in Europe to a position behind German, France, and other countries. As a result of economic failure, Atlee was unable to end rationing which incredably continued into the 1950s. Despite considerable sympthy for Stalin and the Communists within his Labour Party, Atlee continued the close relationship with the United States in the developing Cold War. Atlee and Labour held office for more than 6 years and as a result of creating the British welfare state was in terms of domestic policy probably the most consequential primeminister of the 20th century. He created a basic problem, however, that all subsequent primeministers have had to contend with, how to pay for the welfare system.

Anthony Eden

Harold MacMillan

Edward Heath

Harold Wilson

Margaret Thatcher

Tony Blair

Gordon Brown

David Cameron

Theresa May


W.A. Speck, Stability and Strife: England 1714–1760 (1977) p 203

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