The modern era (defined in this piece as 1900-) has seen 26 different prime ministers, with 31 different ministries (with Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, Winston Churchill, and Harold Wilson returning to office – Baldwin doing it three times). Despite such a vast amount of PMs, each one has managed – memorably or not, positively or notoriously – to carve out some kind of legacy for themselves. With that, here is an interesting fact about every UK PM since 1900.
#1. The Marquess of Salisbury
Elected PM on three occasions, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, better known as the Marquess of Salisbury (although sometimes referred to as Lord Salisbury) may have more names than P. Diddy but that did not stop him from seeing political success, with his third tenure in power rolling past the year 1900.
Stepping down in 1902, not only was he the final PM of the Victorian Era, sitting as Queen Victoria died the previous year, but he was also the last prime minister able to hold the role whilst sitting in the House of Lords. In the years following, the idea of being able to be prime minister whilst sitting in Parliament’s unelected and unaccountable chamber has become unthinkable, as proved by the Sir Alec Douglas-Home situation in 1963 (more on that later).
#2. Arthur Balfour
The nephew of Salisbury, Balfour’s time as Conservative leader was plagued with issues, from the backlash of British imperialist “methods of barbarism” (as Leader of the Opposition Henry Campbell-Bannerman put it) in the Boer War to the Conservative split over tariff reform.
In 1905, Balfour’s government collapsed, with Bannerman invited to call a government; he subsequently called a general election.
In the Liberal landslide election in 1906, the Conservatives had their propellors clipped and would nose-dive towards oblivion. The Conservatives had their worst electoral performance in history, resulting in just 156 seats, dropping 246 seats whilst the newly socially-interventionist ‘New Liberals’ won nearly 400 seats, working closely with the Labour Party in a mutually beneficial agreement.
At the election, Balfour, who had been prime minister the month earlier, lost his seat with his seat in Manchester East seeing a 22.4% swing to the Liberals. It was effectively a whitewash of the whole Cabinet, with only three members re-elected. Balfour’s 1906 performance is still the only instance of a former prime minister losing a seat in his constituency.
#3. Henry Campbell-Bannerman
The Liberal PM, elected in late 1905 was the first to be recognised as – that is to say, given the official title of – the prime minister, given to him five days after taking office. The term First Lord of the Treasury with the now-associated term initially used as an insult.
His appointment not only initiated the first use of the term now in common usage but also made him the oldest person in the 20th century to be PM for the first time, something perhaps reflected in the fact that Bannerman is the only PM to die in Number 10 Downing Street.
#4. H.H. Asquith
Asquith is one of the less remembered PMs, which is odd considering his role as the sitting PM during Britain’s entry into World War One, remarking Britain was “fighting in defence of principles the maintenance of which is vital to the civilisation of the world.”
The last Liberal PM with a majority and later the final Liberal Leader of the Opposition, Asquith’s family legacy lives on to this day. Although there is some speculation of a connection to Carrie Johnson (maiden name Symonds), the wife of Boris Johnson, this is a theory peddled by the likes of The Daily Mail and is unconfirmed. What is definitely true however is the fame of Asquith’s great-granddaughter Helena Bonham Carter.
#5. David Lloyd George
The WW1 war hero David Lloyd George may have been born in Manchester but, by all accounts, he was an out-and-out Welshman, brought up and educated in Wales with Welsh as his first language. Biographer and ex-Labour Cabinet minister Roy Hattersley described him in David Lloyd George: The Great Outsider as “certainly the most famous and perhaps the greatest Welshman of all time…[his] state of mind was Welsh. Blood and upbringing shaped his character, not the accident of birth which made him officially English.”
As such, George was a strong Welsh nationalist and supported various Welsh causes including devolution in Wales.
Despite other Welshmen serving in the role as Leader of the Opposition, most famously Neil Kinnock, George remains the only Welshman to be prime minister, and – with the implementation of devolution – increasingly likely to be the last one.
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