As the excitement of the General Election dies down, here are some of the hapless leaders that haven’t been remembered fondly by history. Time will tell how our current prime minister will be remembered, but for now, let’s indulge in some of the worst remembered prime ministers.

Rishi Sunak was the 57th person to take up the mantle of prime minister. It is generally agreed that Robert Walpole was the first prime minister – he served for over 20 years! The shortest serving prime minister was Liz Truss, who was also coincidently the third female prime minister. Will Rishi, Liz or Robert appear on the list of worst prime ministers? I guess that will depend on who you ask, but read on to find out!

Anthony Eden

We’re kicking off with Eden because according to BBC Radio 4 listeners, he is the UK’s worst prime minister. Eden earned his place on this list because of his handling of the Suez Crisis of 1956 – and considering he served as foreign secretary before stepping into the Prime Minister role, he really should have known better.

Basically, the Suez Canal was a hugely important trade route and Egypt, where the canal is located, decided to nationalise it. Eden responded by conspiring with Israel and France to send in troops to take it back, risking another world war. It wasn’t just the British people who were unhappy with this, America threatened Britain with sanctions too. Eden withdrew the troops, which proved that we were no longer the global power we once were. It also transpired that Eden’s plan with France and Israel had been decided before Egypt nationalised the canal, meaning he had deceived parliament over the plan.

Eden was forced to resign before making it 2 years in power.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington

You probably know the Duke of Wellington for his tales of military might – but just because one is great at leading armies, doesn’t mean they are good at leading countries. According to reports at the time, he ran parliament in much the same way that he ran his regiment and was not open to discussions or questions.

At the time, elections were not particularly fair and the nation was riddled with Rotten Boroughs – the country was calling for electoral reform, but Wellington was not in favour. The windows in his home were smashed and his party were removed from power and even then he would not admit that he was wrong.

Robert Banks Jenkinson, the Earl of Liverpool

By all accounts, the Earl was a competent and intelligent man who was well liked, so why is he on our list? Well, he was in power during the Peterloo Massacre which took place in Manchester in 1819.

Jenkinson had stepped into the prime minister role after the assassination of his predecessor Spencer Perceval, the only prime minister to have been killed in office. This likely led to his decision making when it came to dealing with the situation when workers in the North, joined by soldiers fresh from the Napoleonic Wars began campaigning for reform. Jenkinson instead put in place legislation which repressed their protests and the resulting riot saw law enforcement being ordered to charge into an unarmed crowd with sabres. 18 were killed and hundreds were injured, the action damaged his reputation and he left office in 1827 following a general election.

Lord Frederick North

Though Hamilton will have you believe that King George III was the reason for the American War of Independence, we should probably look a bit closer at the prime minister, Lord Frederick North. North refused to abandon the Tea Act, which forced British colonies to buy tea from the East India Company and pay a tax to the crown, despite not being represented in the houses of power. It was this that led to the Boston Tea Party and then the American Revolution, leading Britain to lose its colonies.

At the time and since, North was blamed for the loss and resigned in disgrace.

Augustus Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Grafton

Grafton’s tenure as prime minister was also overshadowed by the situation in the American colonies but he’s not here for that reason – he’s here because of the various scandals he was involved in while holding high office. Despite being married, he conducted a very public affair while prime minister, even going as far as to have his mistress entertain diplomats. His wife was also having an affair and became pregnant by another man, so they got divorced. He then remarried very quickly, but not to his known mistress, to another woman entirely! He was also gone before his second year was out.

Neville Chamberlain

Poor Chamberlain often appears on these lists as his policy of appeasement allowed for Hitler’s occupation of much of Europe. Chamberlain claimed he wanted to negotiate with Hitler to maintain peace but it didn’t work, Hitler managed to occupy his neighbours and then moved into Poland, kickstarting WWII. It should be said, Chamberlain was not the only world leader to sign the Munich Agreement and at the time, the policy was well received by the British public. He was also credited with making working conditions better in factories and was aiming to help Britain rebuild financially following WWI. Sadly, he is remembered as being a bit of a wet fish and swiftly lost power, being replaced by Winston Churchill.

James Callaghan

Callaghan is remembered for being extremely likable and is generally thought of as a talented statesman, he held four of the most senior positions in government before becoming prime minister but his tenure was overshadowed by the Winter of Discontent. He took over from Harold Wilson and inherited a country in a poor economic condition with inflation at a high, which led to wide spread strikes.

Margaret Thatcher

We did say this list would depend on who you asked! Thatcher took over from Callaghan after winning that year’s General Election and was Britain’s first female prime minister. Though she is remembered favourably for her action during the Falklands War, that’s not the case for her war against trade unions, the privatisation of everything from state industries to council houses and issues over miners’ strikes. She was eventually removed from power by her own party and replaced by John Major.

Boris Johnson

Another controversial entry, but whether you love him or hate him, the facts speak for themselves. He was in charge during the Covid pandemic and thanks to Partygate, became the first prime minister to have been found guilty of committing a criminal offence while in office. He was also found to have been very economic with the truth regarding figures used during the Brexit referendum and an unlawful suspension of parliament. He eventually resigned as an MP before being penalised for deliberately misleading the House of Commons on five separate occasions. He was ousted from power following in fighting within his own party.

Liz Truss

We can’t not mention our shortest lived prime minister. Liz Truss was the third ever female prime minister and served for a total of 45 days. She was so unpopular that news outlets ran polls wondering whether her time in power would be longer or shorter than the life span of a lettuce. Prior to becoming leader of the Conservatives, she was a Liberal Democrat, which did rather make her an odd choice, but regardless, she took over from Boris Johnson, only to find that the Queen died shortly after their first meeting.  Determined to keep calm and carry on, she introduced economic policies so unpopular that the Bank of England was forced into an emergency programme of buying government bonds and the pound dropped to an all time low.

Basically, the lettuce outlived her.

Winston Churchill

Ok, another one that might raise an eyebrow or two, but he does finish the list nicely. When Churchill first became prime minister in 1940, he was exactly what the country needed, he kept up morale and was strong in the face of many difficult decisions made in war time. His second crack at being prime minister though? Yeah, that wasn’t so great.

Churchill was re-elected at the age of 77 and was in very bad health, something that was kept from the public. It was this time around though that his mood swings and reluctance to focus on home affairs became an issue. Following another stroke which left him partially paralysed, he had to step aside in favour of Anthony Eden and well, we all know how that worked out.




Comments are disabled for this post.