The Prime Minister position in the United Kingdom was one that developed over time, and was not a deliberately created position under law. In the 18th Century, King George I assigned significant duties to Robert Walpole and became less involved in meetings with ministers. When Walpole successfully handled a crisis, the king nominated him to several minister positions, effectively making him a power government official. Since the monarch, technically the head of government, could no longer rule directly, Walpole always claimed to work as his assistant. In general, the government rejected the idea of an official prime minister although continued to have somebody in the “premiership” position. In fact, the title Prime Minister was not used until signing the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 and was not officially used and recognized until 1905.
Notable Prime Ministers
The first person to officially hold, use, and be referred to by the title of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Leading up to his appointment, he first served as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons in 1899. He was appointed by King Edward VII in 1905 as Prime Minister. His first responsibility was to form a minority government as his party no longer had control in the House of Commons. He began campaigning for Liberals in December of 1905 with successful results. In the following election they gained the majority with 216 seats. Under his leadership, the government established several social reform policies. These reforms included: free school lunches, the Trade Disputes Act which gave protection to the trade unions, a Workmen’s Compensation Act to protect workers against salary loss due to injury, and a Probation of Offenders Act which gave offenders an alternative to prison. He resigned as Prime Minister in April of 1908 due to health problems.
Winston Churchill served as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He became Prime Minister after World War II had already begun. Churchill refused to negotiate peace with Germany and helped lead the country through war. He became the most powerful wartime Prime Minister in the history of the UK by creating and assuming the role of Minister of Defense. He is famous for motivating Britain during such difficult times. He had good relations with the US and sent aid to the Soviet Union after Germany invaded. He announced victory on May 8, 1945 and lost the next election. In 1951, he was once again appointed Prime Minister. During his second term, he oversaw the passing of several new policies. These included: the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954, concerning health and safety for workers and the Housing Repairs and Rend Act of 1955, which provided a legal definition for unfit housing. Churchill pushed the Minister of Housing to construct 300,000 new homes and the Minister succeeded. He sent troops to Kenya and Malaya to suppress rebellions there, a strong supporter of maintaining the Empire. In 1953, Churchill suffered a stroke and recovered. However, his health continued to slow him down and in 1955, he retired.
Margaret Thatcher is notable as the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She served for 3 terms, from 1979 to 1990. She worked to privatize some public industries, such as telecommunications, natural gas, British Airways, and the Rolls Royce motor vehicle company. Additionally, she cut public benefits. Her government lowered income taxes and increased spending taxes and sold public housing. She led a war against Argentina to maintain control of the Falkland Islands and negotiated the transfer of Hong Kong to China. After claiming that the Soviet Union wanted world domination, the leaders of that country gave her the nickname “Iron Lady”.
Duties of the Prime Minister
Today, the prime minister is the head of the government and leads the top echelon of the executive branch, which is the Cabinet. As leader of the Cabinet, the prime minister appoints all ministers and and coordinates policies in all government departments. The prime minister is also the leader of a major political party which typically has the majority in the House of Commons, the legislative branch. His or her legislative duties include guiding the laws as they are made.
Prime Ministers Of The United Kingdom (Great Britain) Since 1902
|Prime Ministers Of The United Kingdom Since 1902||Term(s) in Office|
|Herbert Henry Asquith||1908-1916|
|David Lloyd George||1916-1922|
|Stanley Baldwin||1923-1924; 1924-1929; 1935-1937|
|Ramsay MacDonald||1924; 1929-1935|
|Winston Churchill||1940-1945; 1951-1955|
|Harold Wilson||1964-1970; 1974-1976|
|Theresa May (Incumbent)||2016-Present|