Twelve unelected prime ministers

May 11 2010

Allowing that the term “unelected prime minister” is meaningless or at best misleading in British constitutional terms, eleven out of nineteen prime ministers were, at the moment in the twentieth century when they first took office, “unelected”. Six – Asquith, Lloyd George, Baldwin, Eden, Macmillan, Major – were subsequently “elected” before any other prime minister had succeeded them.

The “unelected” eleven:

Arthur Balfour, 1902 (Salisbury resigned), never “elected”

HH Asquith, 1908 (Campbell-Bannerman resigned), but “elected” twice in 1910

David Lloyd George, 1916 (Asquith was forced out), but “elected” 1918

Stanley Baldwin, 1923 (Bonar Law resigned), not “elected”, but “elected” in 1924 and 1935; he succeeded MacDonald in the National Government before the 1935 election

Neville Chamberlain, 1937 (Baldwin resigned), never “elected”

Winston Churchill, 1940 (Chamberlain resigned), not “elected”, but “elected” in 1951

Anthony Eden, 1955, but “elected” immediately after Churchill’s resignation

Harold Macmillan, 1957 (Eden resigned), but “elected” 1959

Alec Douglas-Home, 1963 (Macmillan resigned), never “elected”

Jim Callaghan, 1976 (Wilson resigned), never “elected”

John Major, 1990 (Thatcher was forced out), but “elected” 1992


The “elected” eight:

Henry Campbell-Bannerman, 1906

Andrew Bonar Law, 1922

Ramsay MacDonald, 1924, and again in 1929 and 1931

Clement Attlee, 1945, and again in 1950

Harold Wilson, 1964, and again in 1966 and twice in 1974

Ted Heath, 1970

Margaret Thatcher, 1979, and again in 1983 and 1987

Tony Blair, 1997, and again in 2001 and 2005


In this century:

Gordon Brown, 2007 (Blair resigned), never “elected”

David Cameron, 2010 will count as “elected”.

5 Responses to “Twelve unelected prime ministers”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The most unelected, therefore, were Balfour, Chamberlain, Douglas-Home, Callaghan. The most elected was Harold Wilson.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Churchill used lapidary statesmanlike phrases for the titles of the six volumes of The Second World War:

    The Gathering Storm (1948)
    Their Finest Hour (1949)
    The Grand Alliance (1950)
    The Hinge of Fate (1950)
    Closing the Ring (1951)
    Triumph and Tragedy (1953)

    Macmillan used mere clichés for most of his six-volume autobiography:

    Winds of Change, 1914-1939 (1966)
    The Blast of War, 1939-1945 (1967)
    Tides of Fortune, 1945-1955 (1969)
    Riding the Storm, 1956-1959 (1971)
    Pointing the Way, 1959-1961 (1972)
    At the End of the Day, 1961-1963 (1973)

    Martin Gilbert’s six volumes in the official biography of Churchill cover the same years as Macmillan’s series:

    The Challenge of War, 1914-1916 (1971)
    The Stricken World, 1917-1922 (1975)
    Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (1976)
    Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983)
    Road to Victory, 1941-1945 (1986)
    Never Despair, 1945-1965 (1988)

    The Randolph Churchill volumes were:

    Youth, 1874-1900 (1966)
    The Young Statesman, 1901-1914 (1967)

    Randolph Churchill-Martin Gilbert is a great work. Macmillan did not lack wit in speech, but for Enoch Powell reading him was like “chewing on cardboard”. I have tried too, and cannot disagree. Macmillan, like his mentor Churchill, had an American mother.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Benn diaries:

    Years of Hope, 1940-62 (1994)
    Out of the Wilderness, 1963-67 (1987)
    Office without Power, 1968-72 (1988)
    Against the Tide, 1973-76 (1989)
    Conflicts of Interest, 1977-80 (1990)
    End of an Era, 1980-90 (1992)
    Free at Last!, 1990-2001 (2002)
    More Time for Politics, 2001-07 (2007)
    A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine, 2007-09 (2013)

  4. […] Main Churchill volumes (comment in old post). […]

  5. […] Most-“elected” prime ministers […]

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