Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2016 to 2019)

Birth: October 1956 (age 62) Eastbourne, Sussex, England
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 2016 to 2019

Theresa Mary May ( born 1 October 1956) is a British politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2016 to 2019. May served as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016 and has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Maidenhead since 1997. Ideologically, she identifies herself as a one-nation conservative.

Theresa May
Theresa May

May grew up in Oxfordshire and attended St Hugh’s College, Oxford. After graduating in 1977, she worked at the Bank of England and UK Payments Administration. She also served as a councillor for Durnsford in Merton. After two unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the House of Commons, she was elected as the MP for Maidenhead in 1997. From 1999 to 2010, May held a number of roles in Shadow Cabinets. She was also Chairwoman of the Conservative Party from 2002 to 2003. When the coalition government was formed after the 2010 general election, May was appointed Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, but gave up the latter role in 2012. Reappointed after the Conservative success in the 2015 general election, she became the longest-serving home secretary in over 60 years. During her tenure she pursued reform of the Police Federation, implemented a harder line on drugs policy including the banning of khat, oversaw the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the deportation of Abu Qatada, the creation of the National Crime Agency, and brought in additional restrictions on immigration. She is to date, the only woman to hold two of the Great Offices of State.

In July 2016, after David Cameron resigned, May was elected as Conservative Party Leader unopposed by party members, becoming Britain’s second female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher having been the first. As Prime Minister, May began the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union, triggering Article 50 in March 2017. The following month, she announced a snap general election, with the aims of strengthening her hand in Brexit negotiations and highlighting her “strong and stable” leadership. This resulted in a hung parliament, in which the number of Conservative seats fell from 330 to 317, despite the party winning its highest vote share since 1983. The loss of an overall majority prompted her to enter a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to support a minority government. After forming a second ministry on 11 June 2017, she faced a significant number of ministerial resignations.

May survived a vote of no confidence from Conservative MPs in December 2018 and a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in January 2019. She said that she would not lead her party in the next general election scheduled for 2022 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but did not rule out leading it into another snap election before then. She carried out the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, adhering to the Chequers Agreement, which resulted in the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. This agreement was defeated by Parliament in January 2019 in the largest majority against a British government in history. She later announced a revised deal, but this was defeated in Parliament by 391 votes to 242. In March 2019, May committed to stepping down as Prime Minister if Parliament passed her Brexit deal, to make way for a new leader in the second phase of Brexit; however, the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected for a third time. On 24 May 2019, she announced her resignation as party leader which took effect on 7 June. She stated that she would remain in office as Prime Minister until a successor was appointed. She stood down as Prime Minister on 24 July, following the election of her former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to replace her; but remains as MP on the House of Commons as a backbencher.

The Rt Hon David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ( 2010 to 2016)

Birth: October 1966 (age 52) Marylebone, London, England
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 2010 to 2016

David William Donald Cameron (born 9 October 1966) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Witney from 2001 to 2016 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016. He identifies as a one-nation conservative, and has been associated with both economically liberal and socially liberal policies.

David Cameron
David Cameron

Born in London to an upper-middle-class family, Cameron was educated at Heatherdown School, Eton College, and Brasenose College, Oxford. From 1988 to 1993 he worked at the Conservative Research Department, assisting the Conservative Prime Minister John Major, before leaving politics to work for Carlton Communications in 1994. Becoming an MP in 2001, he served in the opposition shadow cabinet under Conservative leader Michael Howard, and succeeded Howard in 2005. Cameron sought to rebrand the Conservatives, embracing an increasingly socially liberal position. The 2010 general election led to Cameron becoming Prime Minister as the head of a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats – the youngest holder of the office since the 1810s. His premiership was marked by the ongoing effects of the late-2000s financial crisis; these involved a large deficit in government finances that his government sought to reduce through austerity measures. His administration introduced large-scale changes to welfare, immigration policy, education, and healthcare. It privatised the Royal Mail and some other state assets, and legalised same-sex marriage in Great Britain.

Internationally, his government intervened militarily in the Libyan Civil War and later authorised the bombing of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; domestically, his government oversaw the referendum on voting reform and Scottish independence referendum, both of which confirmed Cameron’s favoured outcome. When the Conservatives secured an unexpected majority in the 2015 general election he remained as Prime Minister, this time leading a Conservative-only government. To fulfil a manifesto pledge, he introduced a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU. Cameron supported continued membership; following the success of the Leave vote, he resigned to make way for a new Prime Minister and was succeeded by Theresa May.

Cameron has been praised for modernising the Conservative Party and for decreasing the United Kingdom’s national deficit. Conversely, he has been criticised by figures on both the left and right, and has been accused of elitism and political opportunism.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007 to 2010 )

Birth: 20 February 1951, Giffnock, Glasgow, Scotland
Political party: Labour
Dates in office: 2007 to 2010

As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown oversaw the devolution of powers in Northern Ireland, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and the world’s first ever Climate Change Act.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown was born in Scotland and grew up in the industrial town of Kirkcaldy. He started at Edinburgh University aged 16, becoming the youngest fresher there since the war.

It was at university that he began to have problems with his sight and doctors diagnosed him with a detached retina, which was caused by an injury he received in his final game for his school rugby team. He gained a First Class honours degree in History and became the youngest ever Rector of Edinburgh University in 1972.

Gordon Brown became MP for Dunfermline East in the 1983 General Election with a majority of 11,000 and shared his first office in the House of Commons with Tony Blair, where they became friends. Later he became Shadow Chancellor and backed Tony Blair for the leadership of the Labour Party. Working together they won a landslide majority in 1997.

He was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the longest ever period of economic growth. He also made the Bank of England independent and announced, at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, an agreement to support the world’s poorest countries and deal with climate change. His passion for global justice was shown in his negotiation to cancel the debts of the world’s poorest nations and the tripling of the development budget.

It was during his time as Chancellor that he proposed to Sarah Macaulay and 7 months later they were married at their home in North Queensferry.

Gordon Brown became Prime Minister on 27 June 2007 after Tony Blair left office. During his time as Prime Minister he oversaw changes such as the introduction of neighbourhood policing in every area, a legally-enforceable right to early cancer screening and treatment, and the world’s first ever Climate Change Act, which was implemented in autumn 2008.

The greatest challenge he faced in office was the worldwide financial crisis and the following recession. In April 2009, he hosted the G20 Summit in London where world leaders pledged to make an additional $1.1 trillion available to help the world economy through the crisis and restore credit, growth and jobs. They also pledged to improve financial supervision and regulation.

UK combat operations in Iraq, which had begun during his predecessor’s time in office, came to an end under Gordon Brown. British forces withdrew from the country at the end of April 2009. He regularly visited Iraq and Afghanistan and, in December 2009, he became the first Prime Minister for some considerable time to stay in a war zone when he stayed overnight in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

He became heavily involved in international negotiations to reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Treaty and, in December 2009, he attended the United Nations summit in Copenhagen. Following the summit, he pledged to lead an international campaign to turn the agreements reached at Copenhagen into a legally binding treaty.

During his time in office, he worked with his Irish counterpart Brian Cowen to negotiate the devolution of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland. An agreement was finally reached in February 2010 and the powers were passed to Northern Ireland’s government in the following April.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1997 to 2007)

Birth: 6 May 1953, Edinburgh, Scotland
Political party: Labour
Dates in office: 1997 to 2007

Tony Blair, the longest serving Labour Prime Minister, oversaw the Northern Irish peace process, public sector reform and the response to the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Tony Blair was born in 1953 in Edinburgh, Scotland. After taking a gap year he attended the University of Oxford and studied Law; after graduating he became a barrister.

He joined the Labour Party in 1975 and, in 1983, successfully fought for the safe seat of Sedgefield. Gordon Brown was also elected in 1983 and they became firm allies.

Tony Blair assumed several Shadow Cabinet roles before being made Shadow Home Secretary in 1992. In 1994, his and Gordon Brown’s friendship was permanently changed when the Labour leader, John Smith, died suddenly. Tony Blair won the following leadership contest overwhelmingly, having made an agreement with Gordon Brown that, if he didn’t stand, he would become a powerful chancellor should Labour win the next election.

Tony Blair was seen as a new kind of politician with enormous charisma, arguably the finest opposition leader of modern times – even succeeding in reforming ‘Clause IV’ of the Labour constitution. It was of little surprise when Labour won the 1997 general election by a landslide majority of 179. Succeeding John Major to the role, he officially became Prime Minister on 2 May 1997.

Important constitutional changes happened quickly, with Scottish and Welsh devolution, reform to the House of Lords, the Human Rights Act and a Freedom of Information Act. One of his biggest achievements came in 1998 when the Northern Irish peace process really made progress with the Good Friday Agreement.

On foreign affairs, he became increasingly convinced of Britain’s need to become more involved, joining the American bombing of Iraq in 1998. A landmark came in 1999 when he risked much to protect the Kosovars, his idea of ‘liberal interventionism’ explained in his ‘Chicago’ speech on ‘The Doctrine of the International Community’. Limited military involvement in Sierra Leone in 2000 reinforced the democratically elected government.

Thanks to Tony Blair’s leadership, a healthy economy and a poor showing by the Conservative Party, Labour won the 2001 general election with another landslide, with 167 seats. His priority for the second term was to increase the pace of public sector reform, which took shape in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, bills on Foundation Hospitals, Academy Schools and university tuition fees, and the increasing ‘choice agenda’. He also intended to call a referendum over Britain adopting the Euro, but events prevented this.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks became defining moments for Tony Blair and his legacy. He allied with the USA and President Bush over the need to confront militant Islamism, first in Afghanistan in 2001 and then, much more controversially, in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq.

The case for war in the UK had been built around the widespread belief that Saddam harboured weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were not subsequently found. This, together with criticism over use of the machinery of government and doubts over the legality of the UK’s involvement, led the previously popular Tony Blair to become a divisive figure.

Despite this, he led Labour to a third general election victory in 2005, with a much smaller but still significant majority of 66. The 7/7 London explosions by British-born Muslim suicide bombers led Blair to try to tighten civil liberties, another cause of public division.

In 2006, the Israel-Lebanon war saw a very large Labour rebellion against Tony Blair over his reluctance to criticise Israel and his continued support for Bush. He resigned as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007.

Written by Dr. Jon Davis

Sir John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1990 to 1997)

Birth: 29 March 1943, St Helier, Carshalton, Surrey
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 1990 to 1997

As Prime Minister Sir John Major oversaw Britain’s longest period of continuous economic growth and the beginning of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Sir John Major
Sir John Major

John Major was born in 1943 in Carshalton, Surrey, but raised in Brixton. Unlike many Prime Ministers of the 20th century, he did not attend university after leaving school at 16.

John Major entered politics at a young age as an active Young Conservative in Brixton and stood as a candidate for Lambeth Council aged only 21, winning the seat and becoming chairman of the Housing Committee. He stood for Parliament twice in 1974 in St Pancras, losing both times before winning Huntingdonshire in 1979.

In 1981 he became a ministerial aide and then a minister himself in 1985. Entering Cabinet in 1987 as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he won the admiration and respect of his colleagues due to his ability to keep spending down. He was then promoted to Foreign Secretary in 1989 and Chancellor of the Exchequer soon after that.

Following Margaret Thatcher, John Major became Prime Minister and attempted to make peace between both party and country in the wake of a divisive decade. He took a leading role, alongside US President George HW Bush, in the first Gulf War, and survived an IRA mortar attack on Number 10 during a Cabinet meeting.

He won the 1992 general election, with the Conservatives receiving the highest number of popular votes in history but with a smaller majority of 21, which itself was reduced in by-election defeats during the parliament. This victory was on the back of reversing the unpopular poll tax, Community Charge, which was introduced at the end of the Thatcher government.

After this election, however, his fortunes began to change. Five months into the new parliament, John Major was forced to abandon a leading part of his economic policy: membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Intended to keep inflation low by linking exchange rates to the Deutschmark, the markets forced the UK out after government spent billions trying to buck the market.

At the same time a fresh round of conflict began within his own party over Europe. He secured a number of opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty regarding social policy and membership of the single currency – but this was not enough for a number of his colleagues. Throughout the rest of his time as Prime Minister, he suffered from continued attacks from his own party and Cabinet on Europe, which played a role in destabilising the government

In addition to this, the Major government was the subject of a number of press stories about infidelity and poor moral behaviour both within the Cabinet and wider party. The label of ‘Tory sleaze’ stuck and lost John Major’s government further credibility.

The economy picked up after leaving the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and, under John Major, the beginning of Britain’s longest period of continuous economic growth began. He also began work engaging with the IRA to work towards a peaceful end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, his work there leading the way for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979 to 1990 )

Birth: 13 October 1925, Grantham, Lincolnshire
Death: 8 April 2013, London
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 1979 to 1990

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’, was the first female British Prime Minister and the longest serving PM for over 150 years.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher
Baroness Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher’s father, a shopkeeper and Mayor of Grantham, was a major influence in her childhood. She was educated at the local grammar school and studied Chemistry at Oxford University, where she became president of the university Conservative association.

Thatcher read for the Bar before being elected as the Conservative MP for Finchley in 1959. She held junior posts before becoming Shadow Spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970.

In Opposition she stood against Edward Heath for the party leadership in 1975 and won. Her victory was considered a surprise by many. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Thatcher became PM, taking over from James Callaghan.

Her first 2 years in office were not easy – unemployment was very high, but the economy gradually showed improvement. She brought more of her supporters into the Cabinet, and added to her reputation by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.

The Conservatives went on to win the 1983 election by an overwhelming majority, helped by a divided opposition. Her government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the trade unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance.

She also became a familiar figure internationally, creating a famous friendship with US President Reagan and gaining the praise of Soviet leader Gorbachev.

One great difficulty during her time in office was the issue of Europe. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1990 in protest at her attitude to Europe. His resignation speech brought about events which were to lead to her exit from 10 Downing Street later that month.

Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes – enough to make it evident that a crucial minority favoured a change. Thatcher was eventually persuaded not to go forward to the second ballot, which was won by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major.

She left the House of Commons in 1992, and was appointed a life peerage in the House of Lords in the same year, receiving the title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

In 1995 she was appointed as Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in the UK.

Her writings include 2 volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power.

Thatcher died on 8 April 2013 at The Ritz Hotel in London, after suffering a stroke. She received a ceremonial funeral including full military honours, with a church service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

James Callaghan, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1976 to 1979 )

Birth: 27 March 1912 , Copnor area of Portsmouth, Hampshire
Death: 26 March 2005, Ringmer, East Sussex
Political party: Labour
Dates in office: 1976 to 1979

James Callaghan is the only 20th-century British Prime Minister to have held all 4 major offices of state: Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.

James Callaghan
James Callaghan

James Callaghan (sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘Big Jim’ or ‘Sunny Jim’) grew up in poverty during the Depression. Unable to afford the tuition fees for University, he joined the Inland Revenue in the 1930s, helping to set up the Association of Officers of Taxes trade union.

He was elected Member of Parliament for Cardiff South in 1945 after spending 3 years in the British Navy during the Second World War.

As Chancellor, Callaghan oversaw the controversial devaluation of the British pound in 1967, which was followed by his swift resignation. His next ministerial position as Home Secretary saw the increase of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that reached its highest point under the following Conservative administration of Ted Heath.

Callaghan’s short period as Foreign Secretary, however, was interrupted by the surprise resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976. Callaghan, who was popular across all parts of the Labour Party, won the leadership election and became Prime Minister.

Callaghan’s government lost its majority of seats in Parliament on his first day in office. This forced him to rely upon the support of the Liberal Party during 1977 to 1978, and then the Scottish National Party for the remainder of the government. It is for this reason that the 1979 referendum on the devolution of powers to Scotland was produced, which was narrowly defeated by the Scottish voters.

His years as Prime Minister also saw the introduction of the Police Act of 1976, which formalised Police complaints procedures; the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act of 1977, which established the responsibility of local authorities to provide housing to homeless people; and the Education Act of 1976, which limited the number of independent and grant-maintained schools in any one area.

However, these years saw Britain’s economy performing poorly. By 1976, inflation had hit almost 17% with 1.5 million (or around 5% of workers) unemployed. Callaghan’s controversial decision to ask the International Monetary Fund for an emergency loan in 1976 created significant tensions within the Cabinet. His successful leadership during the Cabinet’s careful consideration of this decision has earned him wide praise among later observers.

Despite this success, further attempts by the government to reduce inflation through wage restrictions for public sector workers caused a wave of strikes across the winter of 1978 to 1979, which has become known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Having been severely undermined by these events, a motion of ‘no confidence’ against the Callaghan government was called by opposition MPs in Parliament in March 1979. This motion was passed by 311 votes against the 310 MPs that opposed it.

The following general election in May 1979 was won by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party.

Sir Edward Heath, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1970 to 1974 )

Birth: 9 July 1916, Broadstairs, Kent
Death: 17 July 2005, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 1970 to 1974

Sir Edward Heath was Prime Minister during a time of industrial upheaval and economic decline during which he led Britain into the European Community.

Sir Edward Heath
Sir Edward Heath

Edward ‘Ted’ Heath was born in Kent to working class parents, in contrast to many previous Conservative leaders and Prime Ministers. He was grammar school educated before going to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was awarded an organ scholarship in his first term. He received a second class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and travelled widely in Europe during his holidays, especially in Spain and Germany. It was during these travels that he first witnessed the horrors of fascism and dictatorship that were sweeping across Europe.

Heath served in the Second World War, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before briefly entering the Civil Service. He was elected to Parliament in 1950 and rose rapidly to become Government Chief Whip to Anthony Eden before backing Harold Macmillan‘s attempt to lead the UK into the European Community.

He was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1965, and so began his long-lasting rivalry with Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister.

Heath won the 1970 election, and served his only term as Prime Minister during a time of strong industrial change and economic decline. He was elected on a manifesto to turn around the nation’s fortunes and pursued a number of policies that would later become identified with ‘Thatcherism’. Unemployment continued to rise which, combined with the strength of the trade unions, forced a famous U-turn on the government’s economic policy.

It was from this point that the trade unions sensed they could seize the initiative. Heath’s attempts to weaken their power had failed, and when their pay demands were not met, they went out on strike. Particularly crippling were the miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974, the second of which led to the 3-day week, when electricity was limited to 3 consecutive days’ use.

Heath also worked to create a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Heath continued to serve in the House of Commons until 2001, becoming the Father of the House. Along with Harold Macmillan, he was an outspoken critic of Margaret Thatcher. Outside of politics he maintained lifelong passions for conducting and playing music, as well as sailing, notably winning the Admiral’s Cup while Prime Minister.

Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Birth: 11 March 1916, Huddersfield, Yorkshire
Death: 23 May 1995, London
Political party: Labour
Dates in office: 1974 to 1976, 1964 to 1970

Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson

As Prime Minister Harold Wilson enacted social reforms in education, health, housing, gender equality, price controls, pensions, provisions for disabled people and child poverty.

Harold Wilson, the son of a chemist and teacher, was born in Yorkshire during the First World War. In 1924, aged 8, he visited 10 Downing Street, which would eventually become his home.

He studied Modern History for a year before transferring to Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, graduating with a first class BA.

The Labour politician entered Parliament in 1945 as MP for Ormskirk and later becoming MP for Huyton. In 1947, then Prime Minister Clement Attlee made Wilson President of the Board of Trade. Aged 31, he had become the youngest member of the Cabinet in the 20th century.

Under Hugh Gaitskell’s leadership of the Labour party, Wilson served as Shadow Chancellor from 1955 to 1961, then as Shadow Foreign Secretary from 1961 to 1963. After Gaitskell passed away suddenly, Wilson fought and won a leadership contest against George Brown and James Callaghan. As Labour leader, he won 4 of the 5 General Elections he contested, although this includes a minority government.

His first election victory on 15 October 1964 saw him win with a small majority of 4, which increased significantly to 98 after a second General Election on 31 March 1966. As Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970, his main plan was to modernise. He believed that he would be aided by the “white heat of the technological revolution”. His government supported backbench MPs in liberalising laws on censorship, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality, and he abolished capital punishment. Crucial steps were taken towards stopping discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, and Wilson’s government also created the Open University.

In comparison, his outlook on foreign affairs was less modernising. He wanted to maintain Britain’s world role by keeping the Commonwealth united and nurturing the Anglo-American alliance. For example, his approach to the Vietnam War saw him skilfully balance modernist ambitions with Anglo-American interests when, despite repeated American requests, he kept British troops out while still maintaining good relations. Wilson biographer Philip Ziegler characterises his role as “honest broker”.

However, he had to fundamentally reshape Britain’s world role after inheriting an overstretched military and a £400 million balance of payments deficit, which caused successive sterling crises. To resolve these 2 interlinked problems, Wilson launched a Defence Review (1964 to 1965) and created the Department for Economic Affairs, which sought to implement an ambitious National Plan.

When sterling crises continued, Wilson was forced to devalue the pound in November 1967. Two months later, his government reluctantly announced Britain’s gradual withdrawal from the strategically important East of Suez. Despite his initial hesitation, Wilson recognised the value of membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), but his 1967 application was unsuccessful. Believing his popularity had increased, Wilson called a general election on 18 June 1970, but suffered defeat by the Conservative Party under Edward Heath.

Wilson held onto the Labour leadership. The next General Election on 28 February 1974 resulted in a hung parliament, and he formed a minority government. He called another election on 10 October 1974 at which he secured a small majority of 3.

His next 2 years as Prime Minister saw him concentrate heavily on domestic policy, achieving social reforms in education, health, housing, gender equality, price controls, pensions, provisions for disabled people and child poverty. As a result, income tax on top earners increased to 83%. Job creation remained an issue – by 1975, unemployment had reached 1 million.

He limited the damage caused by differing opinions within his party during renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s EEC membership. He also sought to resolve The Troubles between the nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland but was ultimately unsuccessful.

On 16 March 1976, 5 days after his 60th birthday, he stunned the nation when he announced his intention to resign, a decision that he claimed he had made 2 years previously. James Callaghan, leader of the Labour Party, succeeded him to the role of Prime Minister.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1963 to 1964)

Birth: 2 July 1903, London
Death: 9 October 1995, Berwickshire
Political party: Conservative
Dates in office: 1963 to 1964

Sir Alec Douglas-Home only served as Prime Minister for 363 days but he oversaw the abolition of resale price maintenance and took a tough stance in dealing with the trade unions.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Sir Alec Douglas-Home was born in Mayfair, London, into an aristocratic family. He attended Eton College followed by Oxford University, where he graduated with a third class BA in Modern History. He also played first class cricket for prominent clubs.

In 1931, he entered Parliament as a Scottish Unionist Party (combined with the Conservative Party in 1965) MP for Lanark. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain from 1937 to 1939, he attended the Munich Conference in 1938, though he was not tainted by the fallout.

Severe illness during the Second World War prevented him from active participation, and he lost his seat in the 1945 General Election.

After his father passed away, he became the 14th Earl of Home and took a seat in the House of Lords. He served as Commonwealth Secretary during the Suez Crisis of 1956, in addition to holding the positions of Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council.

In 1959, the Conservative Party under Harold Macmillan won the General Election. The following year, he was appointed Foreign Secretary. He remained in the role until 18 October 1963, when Macmillan suddenly resigned due to a prostate condition that was exacerbated by the Profumo Affair.

Douglas-Home’s emergence as the new leader of the Conservative Party attracted some claims that Macmillan had worked to make sure ‘The Magic Circle’ deny Rab Butler the leadership, but Reginald Maudling had also been a strong candidate. Even so, he rejected his peerage on 23 October 1963 and became Sir Alec Douglas-Home. On 7 November he contested and won the constituency of Kinross and West Perthshire – but for the 2 weeks in between he was a Prime Minister who belonged to neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords.

He did not originally seek the position of Prime Minister, but was widely respected by his party and its future leaders. By the time he took over, the Conservative Party had been in office for 12 years and had contested 3 elections; Sir Alec Douglas-Home was the fourth party leader during the period. In contrast, Harold Wilson was a fearful leader of the Labour Party. Despite this, Sir Alec Douglas-Home concentrated heavily on winning the next election and as a result he narrowed the Labour lead in the opinion polls.

As his biographer D R Thorpe notes, the legacy of his government was the abolition of resale price maintenance, which enabled the cut price stickers on goods we see today. The reform – led by President of the Board of Trade Edward Heath – faced opposition within the party, but Sir Alec Douglas-Home held firm and the bill was eventually passed.

He also took a tough stance in dealing with the trade unions.

During Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s premiership, American President John F Kennedy was assassinated, and relations with Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B Johnson deteriorated after the sale of British Leyland buses to Cuba. Macmillan famously described Sir Alec Douglas-Home to the queen as ‘steel painted as wood’.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home was an unexpected Prime Minister and served for only 363 days, the second shortest premiership in the 20th century – but he pushed his plan as he did not see any reason why the Conservative Party would not win a fourth term. The general election held on 15 October 1964 saw Wilson win a 4-seat majority.

Despite defeat, he went on to serve as Foreign Secretary throughout Edward Heath’s premiership from 1970 to 1974.