1 Winston Churchill, Conservative, 1940-45 and 1951-55
As the war took hold of Europe, Britain turned to a naval man with a fierce patriotism and fiery rhetoric to lead the coalition Government. In his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister he said: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He presided over Allied victory in the Second World War.
2 David Lloyd George, Liberal, 1916-1922
A welshman, he was hailed by the public as the “man who won the war”. He was prominent on the world stage, representing Britain at the Versailles conference. Lloyd George was also a radical and one of the architects of the welfare state. He supported women’s suffrage, raising taxes and implementing social reform. His tenure also saw the creation of the Irish Free State and the Balfour Declaration that supported the establishment of Israel.
3 William E. Gladstone, Liberal, 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886 and 1892-4
One of the great Victorian statesmen with a penchant for political grudges and “rescuing” prostitutes, Gladstone came close to succeeding in his mission to bring Home Rule to Ireland. He sometimes struggled to control an unruly party but eventually he managed to pass the Third Reform Act, tripling the British electorate by extending the vote to labourers and paving the way for full male suffrage. As Chancellor, he displayed his eye for detail by delivering an eye-watering Budget speech that lasted a record 4 hours and 45 minutes.
4 William Pitt, the Younger, Tory, 1783-01, 1804-06
He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming Prime Minister at 24. His time in office was dogged by clashes with his great parliamentary rival, Charles Fox, and the growing madness of King George III. Pitt’s lengthy career covers wars with France, the Act of Union with Scotland and the reduction of the national debt, partly creating Britain’s first income tax.
5 Sir Robert Peel, Conservative, 1834-35 and 1841-46
Peel was the founder of the Conservative Party. He reinvented conservative values for the new middle-class electorate. He passed the Metropolitan Police Act, setting up London’s first disciplined police force who were known as “bobbies” in his honour. Law and order and a strict system of taxation became central to his politics. He repealed the protectionist Corn Laws.
6 Clement Atlee, Labour, 1945-1951
The founder of the modern welfare state was elected after the Second World War with a clear mandate to change British society. Atlee appointed a Cabinet that did just that, creating the National Health Service, nationalising utilities, the rail network and the Bank of England.
7 Earl Grey, Whig, 1830-34
He presided over one of the most transformative governments in British history. He enacted the Reform Act 1832, which greatly increased the electorate, turning the middle classes into voters and destroying the “rotten boroughs”. A year later he abolished slavery throughout the Empire.
8 Robert Walpole, Whig, 1721-42
First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer for more than 20 years, he was known as the First Minister and is regarded as the original Prime Minister. Walpole had plenty of enemies but his policies of avoiding war and imposing low taxes were popular throughout a period in office where the House of Commons grew in influence compared to the monarchy and the House of Lords.
9 Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative, 1868, 1874-80
One of the first true party politicians. His personal enmity for William Gladstone helped shape modern partisan politics. “I have climbed to the top of a greasy pole,” he told a friend on his appointment as leader of the Conservative Party. As Prime Minister he introduced progressive legislation to safeguard the rights of the working classes. He found the time to write 17 novels, although none of them were terribly good.
10 H.H. Asquith, Liberal, 1908-1916
He was prime minister in a time of great social change in Britain. During his tenure, pensions and national insurance were introduced. But his premiership was also overshadowed by an arms race with Germany and the beginning of the First World War. He became the first politician to regularly use radio recordings to communicate with the British people.