Posted on 02/01/2014
Politicians have voted Margaret Thatcher the most successful prime minister since the Second World War, in a survey carried out by Politics and International Relations students at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The former Conservative leader, who died last April at the age of 87, was valued for her decisiveness by MPs who took part in the poll, which formed part of a class project by third-year undergraduates.
The survey covered prime ministers from Clement Attlee to Gordon Brown, with most MPs citing decisiveness as a more important characteristic than intelligence, principles or honesty.
MPs were asked to evaluate how successful or unsuccessful they thought each prime minister was, with answers being recorded on a 0-10 scale.
Thatcher (average score of 7.4) emerged as the most successful premier, narrowly beating the former Labour prime minister Clement Attlee (7.3). Another former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair (6.8), came third ahead of the Conservative Sir Winston Churchill (6.5). MPs judged Blair’s rival and immediate successor, Gordon Brown (3.3), to be the least successful occupant of 10 Downing Street.
Simon Davidian, one of the Politics students who carried out the research, said: “It’s fascinating to discover what MPs think about prime ministers. Who better to judge what it takes to be ‘great’ than those who observe our leaders every week in the House of Commons?”
Another student Lauren Mooney added: “This was a fantastic opportunity to apply what I’ve learnt during my degree and to be part of such an interesting project. It gave us first-hand experience of political research.”
The study was organised and overseen by Dr Nicholas Allen, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway. He said: “Thatcher has a unique place in the minds of British MPs. As well as being judged the most successful prime minister, she also elicited the widest range of responses. In death as in life the Iron Lady remains a divisive figure, idolised by some, condemned by others.”
Party affiliation was generally the strongest predictor of perceived prime ministerial success. The exception to this rule was Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister who took Britain into Europe. Heath, who was unseated by Thatcher as party leader in 1975, was rated more highly by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs than by Conservatives.
“It’s not surprising that MPs perceive Thatcher, Attlee and Blair to be the most successful prime ministers. Attlee and Thatcher both presided over fundamental shifts in British politics, while Blair, like Thatcher, was a proven election winner. When it comes to winning big majorities, David Cameron still has much to prove,” added Dr Allen.