Winston Churchill retires as prime minister

Winston Churchill retires as prime minister

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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the British leader who guided Great Britain and the Allies through the crisis of World War II, retires as prime minister of Great Britain.

Born at Blenheim Palace in 1874, Churchill joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death in 1895. During the next five years, he enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, and distinguishing himself several times in battle. In 1899, he resigned his commission to concentrate on his literary and political career and in 1900 was elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP from Oldham. In 1904, he joined the Liberals, serving a number of important posts before being appointed Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, where he worked to bring the British navy to a readiness for the war he foresaw.

In 1915, in the second year of World War I, Churchill was held responsible for the disastrous Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns and was thus excluded from the war coalition government. However, in 1917, he returned to politics as a cabinet member in the Liberal government of Lloyd George. From 1919 to 1921, he was secretary of state for war and in 1924 returned to the Conservative Party, where two years later he played a leading role in the defeat of the General Strike of 1926. Out of office from 1929 to 1939, Churchill issued unheeded warnings of the threat of Nazi and Japanese aggression.

After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Churchill returned to his post as First Lord of the Admiralty and eight months later replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of a new coalition government. In the first year of his administration, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, but Churchill promised his country and the world that Britain would “never surrender.” He rallied the British people to a resolute resistance and expertly orchestrated Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin into an alliance that eventually crushed the Axis.

After a postwar Labor Party victory in 1945, he became leader of the opposition and in 1951 was again elected prime minister. In 1953, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. After his retirement as prime minister, he remained in Parliament until 1964, the year before his death.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Winston Churchill

Why Churchill Lost in 1945

Labour's landslide in the 1945 general election remains one of the greatest shocks in British political history. How did Winston Churchill, a hugely popular national hero, fail to win?

“Monarchical No.1” – Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II

Roddy Mackenzie is a retired Canadian lawyer, enthusiastic monarchist, and lifelong Churchill admirer. This article is based on his 2016 address to the Rt Hon Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of British Columbia.

The relationship between Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II is both fascinating and important for many reasons. Among them:

—Churchill was the United Kingdom’s longest-serving Member of Parliament, while The Queen is the longest-serving monarch
—The Queen was Churchill’s sixth and final sovereign, while Churchill was the first of The Queen’s thirteen British Prime Ministers to date
—Churchill at twenty-five was elected a Member of Parliament, while Elizabeth at twenty-five became Queen (the first Queen Elizabeth was also twenty-five when she became Queen in 1558)
—Most importantly, Churchill’s expert tutoring of The Queen on the complexities of the law, practices, and politics of constitutional monarchy benefited all who live in the many countries under her sovereignty

Churchill became The Queen’s first prime minister largely by chance. After defeating Churchill in the General Elections of 1945 and 1950, Clement Attlee called a snap election on 25 October 1951. While Attlee’s Labour party won more votes, Churchill’s Conservatives won more seats, and so Churchill once again became prime minister. Just three-and-a-half months later, King George VI died, and his daughter Elizabeth became Queen.

First Impressions

Within the Churchill papers, the earliest recorded reference to the future queen is found in a letter to his wife that Churchill wrote from Balmoral Castle on 25 September 1928, in which Churchill anticipates the destiny of the future sovereign: “There is no one here at all except the Family, the Household & Queen Elizabeth—aged 2. The last is a character. She has an air of authority & reflectiveness astonishing in an infant….” 1

While The Queen and Churchill first met when she was a toddler, their knowledge of one another was superficial until Elizabeth became the sovereign. The Queen, as Nicholas Davies has written, “had, of course, grown up believing that Winston Churchill, Britain’s war-time Prime Minister, had saved the nation from Hitler and his mighty German military machine. She revered him as many other young people did at that time.” 2

After Churchill received the sad news of the death of King George VI, John Colville tried to console his boss by saying he would find the new Queen charming, attractive, intelligent, and immensely conscientious. Churchill replied through his tears: “I hardly know her, and she is only a child.” 3 But Colville knew better. He had served as Private Secretary to Princess Elizabeth from 1947 to 1949 in between his periods of service as a Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Churchill.

Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary told her own daughter Emma Soames: “The Queen very quickly captivated him, he fell under her spell. I think he felt early on her immense sense of duty, and he looked forward to his Tuesday afternoon meetings with the young monarch.” 4 Mary also recalled Churchill’s refusal to consider Prince Philip’s suggestion that the House of Windsor be renamed the House of Edinburgh or Lord Mountbatten’s idea that it become the House of Mountbatten. No lasting damage resulted, and, on 24 April 1953, The Queen invested Churchill with the Order of the Garter.

Sacred Duty

Clementine told her husband from time to time: “You are Monarchical No. 1 and value tradition, form and ceremony.” 5 But while Churchill admired the monarchy, he did not particularly admire the monarchs. He had his differences with King Edward VII, King George V, and even King George VI during the Second World War.

Queen Elizabeth II dedicates a statue of Churchill in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac, 11 November 1998 The reality, as royal biographer Philip Ziegler has observed, was that, “With the solitary exception of the abdication, it is hard to think of a single instance in which Churchill changed his views or his course of action on any important question in accordance with his perception of the wishes of the monarch of the time…. All his historical romantic instincts ensured that he would view it with profound respect or even reverence, but that was something distinct from the business of running the country.” 6

When it came to public respect for the monarchy, however, Churchill excelled. In his broadcast of 7 February 1952 about the death of King George VI, he waxed eloquent about the reigns of earlier queens:

Now that we have the Second Queen Elizabeth…. We understand why her gifts, and those of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, have stirred the only part of our Commonwealth she has yet been able to visit. She has already been acclaimed as Queen of Canada,…and tomorrow the proclamation of her sovereignty will command the loyalty of her native land and of all other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire. I, whose youth was passed in the august, unchallenged and tranquil glories of the Victorian Era, may well feel a thrill in invoking, once more, the prayer and the Anthem, God Save The Queen! 7

Just days before the 1953 Coronation, Churchill addressed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the Queen’s presence: “Here today we salute fifty or sixty Parliaments and one Crown. It is natural for Parliaments to talk and for the Crown to shine.” He then continued: “Well do we realize the burdens imposed by sacred duty upon the Sovereign and her family. All round we see the proofs of the unifying sentiment which makes the Crown the central link in all our modern changing life, and the one which above all others claims our allegiance to the death.” 8

Tutoring the Queen

Churchill and The Queen thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company. Jock Colville wrote that Churchill “was madly in love with the Queen…and that she got more fun out of her audiences with Churchill than with any of his successors.” 9 The Queen’s Private Secretary Sir “Tommy” Lascelles wrote: “I could not hear what they talked about, but it was, more often than not, punctuated by peals of laughter, and Winston generally came out wiping his eyes.” 10

The Queen, by the time of her Coronation, “… had developed a close and unique bond with Britain’s most formidable statesman. His fondness for both of her parents, along with the shaping experience of the Second World War, gave them a reservoir of memories and a common perspective, despite their five-decade age difference. She appreciated his wisdom, experience, and eloquence, and looked to him for guidance on how she should conduct herself as monarch.” 11

Churchill’s note following his resignation illuminates the importance of his role as The Queen’s constitutional tutor:

I have tried throughout to keep Your Majesty squarely confronted with the grave and complex problems of our time. Very soon after taking office as First Minister I realized the comprehension with which Your Majesty entered upon the august duties of a modern Sovereign and the store of knowledge, which had already been gathering by an upbringing both wise and lively. This enabled Your Majesty to understand as it seemed by instinct the relationships and the balances of the British constitution so deeply cherished by the mass of the Nation and by the strongest and most stable forces in it. I became conscious of the Royal resolve to serve as well as rule, and indeed to rule by serving. 12

Mary Soames remarked, “My father knew very well what the position of constitutional monarch is vis à vis prime minister, cabinet and parliament. So it was a great advantage for her first prime minister to be somebody who really did know that.” 13

Evidently Churchill devoted much time to tutoring The Queen on his extraordinary mastery of the complexities of British constitutional law and custom governing relations of the Crown, the Cabinet, Parliament, and the people. No one could make better use of this knowledge than the Prime Minister’s pupil. Nicholas Davies observes that “it was left to Churchill to explain to her some of the intricacies of British party politics. He would spend hours with her, drilling her for weeks, explaining what was happening, and what had to be done. Undoubtedly, Elizabeth had much to learn from the seventy-eight-year-old Churchill who wanted to be her teacher and professor, her guide and mentor, educating her in the ways of the world.” 14

Churchill’s influence over the young queen, however, extended beyond explaining constitutional matters. At the conclusion of her six-month 1954 Australasia Commonwealth tour, The Queen sailed up the Thames to London with Churchill. “One saw this dirty commercial river as one came up,” said The Queen later, “and he was describing it as the silver thread which runs through the history of Britain. He saw things in a very romantic and glittering way perhaps one was looking at it in a rather too mundane way.” 15 Welcoming The Queen home, Churchill outdid himself, saying: “I assign no limits to the reinforcement which this royal journey may have brought to the health, the wisdom, the sanity and the hopefulness of mankind.” 16

Reluctant Retirement

Overshadowing The Queen’s relationship with Churchill were his deteriorating health and his reluctance to retire. Three weeks after her Coronation, Churchill had a stroke, which almost killed him. This was kept secret until Churchill spoke of it to a stunned House of Commons a year later. Moreover, “as his mental and physical faculties decayed, Churchill was losing the battle he had fought for so long against the ‘Black Dog’ of depression.” 17

Churchill’s poor health created the other major issue—his retirement. King George VI had evidently been working on Churchill’s retirement, but his death gave Churchill “the perfect reason” to stay on. 18 Churchill said he would retire on specific dates, but then he found excuses to hang on. And so it went until he finally resigned on 5 April 1955. He was eighty years old.

The admiration of Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II for one another grew as their relationship deepened. In his final toast to her as Prime Minister, Churchill said:

Never have the august duties which fall upon the British monarch been discharged with more devotion than in the brilliant opening to your Majesty’s reign. We thank God for the gift he has bestowed upon us and vow ourselves anew to the sacred cause, and wise and kindly way of life of which your Majesty is the young, gleaming champion. 19

In response, The Queen sent a handwritten letter to Churchill assuring him that no subsequent Prime Minister would “be able to hold the place of my first prime minister to whom both my husband and I owe so much and for whose wise guidance during the early years of my reign I shall always be so profoundly grateful.” 20


1. Mary Soames, ed., Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill (Toronto: Doubleday, 1998), p. 328.

2. Nicholas Davies, Elizabeth: Behind Palace Doors (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Projects, 2000), p. 87.

3. Kenneth Weisbrode, Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI (New York: Viking, 2013), p. 182.

4. The Daily Telegraph, 1 June 2012.

5. Philip Ziegler, “Churchill and the Monarchy,” History Today, vol. 43, no. 3 (March 1993), p. 19.

7. Winston S. Churchill, ed., Never Give In: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches (New York: Hyperion, 2003), p. 479.

10. Sally Bedell Smith, Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (New York: Random House, 2012), p. 93.

12. Sarah Bradford, Elizabeth: A Biography of Her Majesty The Queen (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1996), pp. 227–28.

15. William Shawcross, Queen and Country (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2002), p. 63.

17. Paul Addison, Churchill: The Unexpected Hero (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 244.

Anthony Eden

When Churchill’s foreign secretary took over for the ailing cold warrior in 1955, Anthony Eden was still handsome and dashing, but his health was damaged by a surgeon’s error during a gallstone operation in 1953. He enjoyed a warm relationship with Elizabeth. An aide confided, “He was very sensible that he was following the towering figure of Churchill who had felt towards her as if she were his granddaughter and spoke to her like that. He was very conscious that the queen might think him [Eden] a lesser figure in that post but the queen treated him so well that he didn’t feel like that…He always spoke of her with warm affection.” His tenure was marked by the devastating Suez crisis in which British forces, along with those of Israel and France, were forced to withdraw from Egypt. 


By the time the portrait had been commissioned, Churchill was an elder statesman nearing the end of his second period as Prime Minister. Sutherland had earned a reputation as a modernist painter through some recent successful portraits, such as Somerset Maugham in 1949. He was drawn to depicting subjects as they truly were without embellishment some sitters considered his disinclination to flattery as a form of cruelty or disparagement to his subjects. [2]

Sutherland and Churchill had different hopes for the painting. Churchill wished to be depicted in his robes as a Knight of the Garter, but the commission specified that he should be shown in his usual parliamentary dress – a black morning coat, with waistcoat and striped trousers, and a spotted bow tie.

Sutherland made charcoal sketches of Churchill at a handful of sittings at Chartwell from August 1954, concentrating on Churchill's hands and face. After completing these sketches, he made some oil studies of his subject. Sutherland also worked from photographs by Elsbeth Juda. He took his preliminary materials back to his studio to create the final work on a large square canvas, the shape chosen to symbolize Churchill's solidity and endurance, embodied in a remark that Churchill made, "I am a rock".

The pose, with Churchill grasping the arms of his chair, recalls the statue of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Churchill is shown scowling, slightly slumped forward, surrounded by wintry grey, brown and black tones. Sutherland was reluctant to discuss the work in progress with Churchill and showed the subject few of his working materials. Lady Spencer-Churchill thought it was a good resemblance – "really quite alarmingly like him" – but also said it made him look too cross, while recognising that it was a familiar expression. Churchill's son Randolph thought the portrait made him look "disenchanted".

Lady Spencer-Churchill viewed the completed portrait on 20 November 1954 and took a photograph back to her husband. It was his first view of the work and he was deeply upset. He described it to Lord Moran as "filthy" and "malignant", [4] and complained that it made him “look like a down-and-out drunk who has been picked out of the gutter in the Strand.” [5] [6] With ten days remaining, he sent a note to Sutherland stating that "the painting, however masterly in execution, is not suitable" [5] and declaring that the ceremony would go ahead without it. In response, Sutherland maintained that he painted the Prime Minister as he truly saw him and that the depiction was an honest and realistic representation. Conservative MP Charles Doughty persuaded Churchill that the presentation had to go ahead to avoid offending the members of Parliament who financed it. [7]

The presentation ceremony at Westminster Hall was recorded by the BBC. In his acceptance speech, Churchill remarked on the unprecedented honour shown to him and described the painting (in a remark often considered a backhanded compliment) as "a remarkable example of modern art", combining "force and candour". Other reactions were mixed some critics praised the strength of its likeness, but others condemned it as a disgrace. While Aneurin Bevan (a Labour MP and one of Churchill's critics) called it "a beautiful work", Lord Hailsham (one of Churchill's Conservative colleagues and a friend) called it "disgusting". [8]

The painting was intended to hang in the Houses of Parliament after Churchill's death, but it was instead given as a personal gift to Churchill himself, who took it back to Chartwell and refused to display it. Requests to borrow the painting for exhibitions of Sutherland's work were denied.

In 1978, it was reported that Lady Spencer-Churchill had destroyed the painting within a year of its arrival at Chartwell, by breaking it into pieces and having them incinerated to prevent it from causing further distress to her husband. [9] Lady Spencer-Churchill had previously destroyed earlier portraits of her husband that she disliked, including sketches by Walter Sickert and Paul Maze. [10] She had hidden the Sutherland portrait in the cellars at Chartwell and employed her private secretary Grace Hamblin and Hamblin's brother to remove it in the middle of the night and burn it in a remote location. [9] Many commentators were aghast at the destruction of the work of art, and Sutherland condemned it as an act of vandalism others upheld the Churchills' right to dispose of their property as they saw fit. [11]

Some preparatory sketches for Sutherland's painting are held by the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is thought that a copy of the portrait is held at the Carlton Club, also in London, although it is not on display. [12] The Beaverbrook Art Gallery also has a number of studies Sutherland did in preparation for the portrait in its collection. [13]

Within the events of the 2016 Netflix series The Crown, the ninth episode of the first season, entitled Assassins, dramatises the creation, unveiling, and destruction of the portrait. Sutherland is portrayed by Stephen Dillane. [14] Although historical evidence suggests that Churchill's secretaries were the ones who actually destroyed the painting, the episode depicts Lady Spencer-Churchill watching it burn on the grounds of Chartwell House. The episode won John Lithgow, who played Churchill, a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Summit Searching

During his years in opposition Churchill also paid great attention to the developments in Germany. But as he could do very little to influence Britain’s occupation policy in the defeated country and also largely agreed with the Attlee government’s German policy, Churchill’s main focus remained on the relationship with Moscow and the creation of a united (western) European continent. He frequently called for a rapprochement between France and Germany. In particular he admonished the global community to provide the Germans with a way back into the civilized community of nations by allowing them to participate in the rebuilding of Europe. Isolating and marginalizing them, as had happened after the First World War, was emotionally understandable but fundamentally wrong and misguided.

When Churchill returned to Downing Street in October 1951, he immediately wanted to embark on realizing his summit diplomacy with the Soviet Union to overcome the Cold War. But at the time the Cold War was growing ever more tense. The 1949 creation of West and East Germany, the founding of NATO in April of the same year, and not least the outbreak of the Korean War in mid-1950 as well as Stalin’s terrible show trials in Moscow ensured that East-West cooperation was hardly possible. The ultimately ill-advised attempt to create a European Defense Community (EDC)—much resented and viewed highly suspiciously by Stalin—did not help the situation either.

Thus neither Stalin nor President Truman believed that East-West summit diplomacy was possible or advisable. Churchill was deeply frustrated and did not hesitate to voice his anger repeatedly when talking privately to his foreign policy advisers. But he could do little about this situation. During his visit to the Truman White House in early 1952, the Prime Minister was unable to convince the President to join him in an initiative to overcome the Cold War by means of opening talks with the dictator in the Kremlin.

Georgy Malenkov was mistakenly seen by the West as Stalin’s successor

Churchill’s opportunity appeared to arrive with Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953. Initially, the dictator was succeeded by a committee. In the West, Georgy Malenkov was generally (though quite mistakenly) seen as primus inter pares and the real successor to Stalin. The new collective leadership feared turmoil inside the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death and also believed that the US might use the opportunity to attack the USSR and bring down the Soviet regime. To counter both possibilities, Moscow emphasized the production of consumer goods and became, at least superficially, more friendly toward the West. Not least, the new Soviet leaders quickly decided to agree to terminate the war in Korea, release a large number of imprisoned dissidents, and embark on other measures that would relax East-West tension. 4

While many western politicians, especially in the White House, viewed this new policy cynically and most skeptically, Churchill was more optimistic. He took the new leaders’ pronouncements at face value and attempted to convince the administration in Washington to join him in a summit meeting with the new Soviet order. Recently inaugurated US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, was adamant that nothing substantial had changed in Moscow and that it was too early to contemplate a summit conference.

The man stubborn in his beliefs.

After serving several high positions in the cabinet, his political credibility is zero

With a general view that he was an over the hill, Edwardian era throwback, Churchill had many enemies, which extended to people in his own political party.

Despite this, in seven years time he would go on to replaced Neville Chamberlin as Prime Minister.

He was very vocal and very right about his early analysis on the threat of Nazism.

“Germany is arming, she is rapidly arming, and no one will stop her.”

Was the cry from Churchill on his backbench – he was seen as an alarmist, that was until 1935, when his German rearmament warning came true.

Faith was gradually lost in Chamberlin and in 1939, Churchill was seen as the man who had the guts to face up to the Nazi threat, the rest as they say is history.

Sticking to what you believe is a high-risk strategy, which is the reason he had gone into political wilderness in the first place, being very wrong on some high-profile failures such as the Gallipoli campaign, and his empirical attitude to handling countries like India and Ireland.

Most politicians do as much as possible to avoid being on the losing side of a cause, carefully changing their views for personal benefit, but not Churchill , who for all his faults, had a certain integrity to debate to the death on what he truly believed.

When he was proved correct on Germany he came off as a prophetic genius, building a level of credibility that is priceless.

Winston Churchill retires as prime minister - HISTORY

Winston Churchill was a politician in Great Britain who was born into an aristocratic family on November 30, 1874. He became the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the beginning of World War II. Churchill was also an artist, writer, historian and military officer in the army. He is viewed as a very important leader during the twentieth century. Churchill’s father was Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough. His father’s family also belonged to a branch of the Spencer family. Jennie Jerome was his mother, and she was a New York socialite who was born in America. Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, England.

His Early Years

Churchill lived in Dublin, Ireland, as a young child from ages two to six. His father worked as a private secretary for his own father, who was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1876 to 1880. In 1880, his only sibling, John, was born in Ireland. Churchill attended St. George’s School from 1882 through 1884. From 1884 until the early part of 1888, he attended Misses Thompson’s Preparatory School. Here he enjoyed learning various subjects that interested him, including poetry, history, French, swimming and horseback riding.

In April of 1888, Churchill enrolled in the Harrow School, near London, which was a boarding school. He quickly became a member of the Harrow Rifle Corps, and this was considered to be the start of his military career. After Harrow, he attended the prestigious Military College at Sandhurst. It took Churchill three attempts to pass the British Royal Military College exam. When he finally passed the exam, he graduated near the top of his class.

During his school years he was not very close to his parents, rarely seeing either of them. However, he did write many letters to them during this time and some of those letters are on display at Blenheim Place. His father past away when Churchill was twenty-one years old.

Early Military Life

In 1895, Churchill he became a member of the Fourth Hussars and was sent to the northwest frontier of India and the Sudan. He saw military action at the Battle of Omdurman during 1898. During this army service, Churchill wrote many military reports for two newspapers, The Pioneer and the Daily Telegraph. He also wrote two books, the first in 1898, The Story of the Malakand Field Force and the next year, The River War. By the age of twenty-six he had authored five books.

The Boer War

Churchill traveled to South Africa to cover the Boer War in 1899. He wrote for Great Britain’s Morning Post as a news correspondent. The Boer War was fought between the Boer Dutch and British settlers. Churchill was captured by Boer soldiers during a scouting expedition. On November 18th of that year, he and many other prisoners were sent to a prison in Pretoria. On the evening of December 12, 1899, he escaped by climbing over a prison wall.

He traveled three hundred miles to Mozambique, a Portuguese territory, and quickly returned to Great Britain. He wrote about this experience in the book entitled, London to Ladysmith. Churchill’s escape turned him into a national hero and this was the starting point of his House of Commons career, which lasted nearly sixty years.

Early Government Career

Churchill became a Parliament member in 1900. He then served in the Conservative Party for a town in Manchester called Oldham. In 1904, Churchill quit this party because they wanted to enact protective tariffs that he was against. He also did not think that the party cared enough about social justice programs. He then became a member of the Liberal Party, and in 1908 he was elected to the Parliament.

Next, he was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. During this year, he married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady Blanche Hozier. Churchill and his wife had five children from 1909 to 1922.

Churchill held numerous high posts all through the first three decades of the twentieth century, for both the Conservative and Liberal governments. When he was the Liberal Home Secretary, he helped create the British welfare state. In 1911, he became the First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Admiralty and World War I

During this time, Churchill assisted in modernizing the navy and had new warships built that used oil instead of coal. In May of 1915, after the formation of new coalition government, Churchill resigned following the Battle of Gallipoli because he had proposed the unsuccessful expedition.

After that, he rejoined the army for a short time. On January 1, 1916, he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, and went on to commanded the Royal Scots 6th Battalion. Next, he was appointed Minister of Munitions during 1917. Churchill held that position until the end of the first World War.

From 1919 to 1922 he became the Minister of War and Air as well as the Colonial Secretary. As the Colonial Secretary, he redrew the boundaries of the Middle East. He also worked on the treaty for Ireland’s independence during these years. In 1921, his mother passed away in London.

Fall of the Liberal Party

Churchill was temporarily out of office after the Liberal Party collapsed in 1922. In 1924, he won re-election to the Parliament as an independent. Later, he joined the Conservative Party again after Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin asked him to become the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As Chancellor he had the country return to the more secure gold standard. When the Conservative government was not re-elected in 1929, Churchill lost this position. He then spent the next couple of years writing A History of English Speaking Peoples. From 1929 through 1939, he was denied governmental posts by all of the Prime Ministers because he disagreed with the India Bill, which was going to give self-government powers to some areas of India. He also criticized many leaders for refusing to rearm Great Britain after Adolf Hitler rose to power.

After Churchill accurately predicted that there would be war in September of 1939, he was asked by Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to become the First Lord of the Admiralty again. He held this post until May of 1940, when he became the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

World War II

Churchill was a very staunch critic of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement towards Hitler. On September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany, and Churchill became a War Cabinet member. He became the Chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee in April of 1940. In that same month, Germany invaded and occupied Norway. This was seen as a major setback for Chamberlain, who had opposed Churchill’s proposal to unilaterally occupy Norway’s sea ports and iron mines which would have pre-empted Germany.

Parliament held a debate concerning the crisis in Norway which resulted in a no confidence vote against Chamberlain. Churchill was then appointed the Prime Minister of Great Britain on May 10, 1940, by King George VI. He was also given the position of Defense Minister of Great Britain. This made Churchill the most powerful Prime Minister in Great Britain’s history. Within hours of these appointments, Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Two days later, the German Army entered France. This meant that Great Britain was fighting Germany on their own.

Immediately, Churchill developed a coalition cabinet that consisted of leaders from the Conservative, Labor, and Liberal parties. At the House of Commons, on June 18, 1940, he gave one of his most famous speeches. He spoke about “the Battle of Britain” that was soon to start. Churchill came up with the basis for a coalition with the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Since Churchill already had a good relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was able to secure important United States aid by March of 1941 with the Lend Lease Act. This permitted Great Britain to acquire military goods from America on credit.

Churchill became very confident that the allies would win World War II after the U.S. entered the war in December of 1941. In the following months, he worked very closely with the powerful leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, and President Roosevelt to build what he called the “Grand Alliance.” He traveled thousands of miles to places such as Teheran in 1943, and Yalta in February in 1945, to meet with these leaders.

In 1945, Churchill helped redraw the map of Europe after Germany started losing the war. With World War II winding down, he proposed many new social reforms for Great Britain, but was not able to win the public’s approval. Churchill was defeated in the general elections that were held in July of 1945.

After the war ended, he recognized that a new threat had taken Adolf Hitler’s place. In 1946, he gave another one of his famous speeches in Fulton, Missouri. There, he warned Western nations about the Soviet Union’s “Iron Curtain” and how it could affect liberty in Europe and across the world. Over the next couple of years, he was one of the leaders of the Opposition Party and still had an important influence on international affairs.

Once Again Prime Minister

Churchill went back to work for the government after Great Britain’s general election in 1951. He once again became the Prime Minister of Great Britain in October of 1951, and held the position until he resigned in April of 1955. During these years, he introduced many domestic reforms but they were overshadowed by several foreign policy crises in two of Great Britain’s colonies, Malaya and Kenya. He ordered military action which successfully stopped the rebellions, but by this time, it was very clear the country could not sustain its colonial powers.


Churchill had begun to show signs of poor health in 1941 when he visited President Roosevelt at the White House. During that time, he experienced a mild heart attack. In 1943, he suffered another heart attack when he had pneumonia. In June of 1953, at the age of seventy-eight, he suffered several strokes at his office on Downing Street.

The news was not given to Parliament or the public, instead it was announced that he was experiencing exhaustion. Churchill was able to recuperate at home and then returned to work in October. By this time it was very evident that he was mentally and physically slowing down. In April of 1955, he retired as Great Britain’s Prime Minister. Churchill also suffered another stroke in December of 1956. He remained with the Parliament for several more years but did not seek re-election in 1964.

Retirement Years and Death

He was a very accomplished artist and enjoyed painting impressionist landscapes, mostly oil-based. He continued painting during his retirement years. Some of his paintings are on display in a museum in Texas. Another one of his hobbies was breeding butterflies.

In spite of his bad health, Churchill still had a very active public life, although it was mainly from his homes at Hyde Park Gate, in London and in Kent. On January 15, 1965, he experienced a very severe stroke which left him critically ill. Nine days later, on January 24th, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill died when he was ninety years old at his home in London. Great Britain mourned his death for over a week.


Churchill’s coffin was taken to the beautiful Palace of Westminster for three days for public viewing by the decree Queen Elizabeth II. The state memorial service took place at the historical St Paul’s Cathedral. He was given a nineteen gun salute by the Royal Artillery, and the Royal Air Force gave him a fly-by salute.

His state funeral was the largest one ever held at that time. Over one hundred representatives from various nations around the world attended the funeral service. Over three hundred and fifty million people watched the service which included twenty-five million people in Great Britain. At his request, Churchill was buried in his family plot at Saint Martin’s Church in Bladon, near his Blenheim Palace birthplace. His wife died in December of 1977, when she was ninety-two years old, and she was buried next to him.

Honors and Awards

During his lifetime, Churchill receive many awards and honors. In 1953, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. In 1963, he was made an Honorary Citizen of the United States of America by President John F. Kennedy. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain. Today, Winston Churchill is still considered by many to be one of the most influential individuals in British history.

Winston Churchill retires as prime minister - HISTORY

During his nation's "darkest hours" in World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, inspired the United Kingdom – and much of the rest of the world – with his strength and certainty that the Allies would defeat the Nazis, however hard the struggle.

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender," the 65-year-old prime minister intoned on June 18, 1940, in his "Finest Hour" speech, as the Battle of Britain was about to begin.

Few knew that as a youngster, the man whose soaring oratory would mean so much to so many suffered from a stammer, a speech disorder that is notoriously difficult to overcome. Prime example: Britain's wartime King George VI, whose own struggles to control his stammer were the subject of the Oscar-winning 2010 film, "The King's Speech."

Churchill was more successful at mastering the impediment, teaching himself to practice his speeches well in advance, and developing the art of effective, loaded pauses.

But the strains of war showed even on the man called Britain's Bulldog. He suffered a mild heart attack in December 1941 while at the White House shortly after Pearl Harbor to solidify relations with his most important ally, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Two years later, he contracted pneumonia.

Through it all, he enjoyed his trademark cigars and his favorite cocktail, whisky and soda.

Some have thought Churchill was bipolar, sometimes suffering from depression he later would call his "Black Dog," other times exhibiting vast levels of energy, working from early morning to past midnight, often from his bed wearing the pale pink silk underwear he preferred, and even from his bathtub.

After the war, in the summer of 1949, Churchill went to the south of France to rest and enjoy painting the French Riviera. While there, he suddenly lost sensation in his right arm and right leg.

The incident was handled quietly, with a sign stating only that he "contracted a chill while bathing" posted at the villa where he was staying. He rapidly recovered and returned to England.

Churchill once again became prime minister on October 24, 1951. In June 1953, at a dinner to honor the Italian prime minister, Churchill gave a speech, but then suddenly couldn't continue discussion and slumped back in his chair.

His son-in-law noticed he appeared weak on his left side, and quietly got Churchill up to his room.

The next day, after conducting a cabinet meeting, he was driven to Chartwell, his country home in Kent. The public and Parliament were told he was suffering from exhaustion.

What was really going on, and why was it hushed up?


As his son-in-law noticed at the 1953 dinner, the left side of Churchill's mouth was drooping, and his left arm and leg were weak. This was his second hypertension-related lacunar stroke he suffered the first was in 1949. This most common type of stroke is caused by blockage of small arteries leading to the brain.

Once at Chartwell, Churchill received around the clock nurse's care and physical rehabilitation. The news blackout during these tense, Cold War times, was maintained the nation's press barons agreed to keep the secret. The young Queen Elizabeth II was among the few who knew what was going on.

For the better part of a month, "my colleagues and I had to handle requests for decisions from Ministers and Government departments who were entirely ignorant of the Prime Minister's incapacity," his private secretary, Jock Colville, later wrote.

He didn't stay down for long. In December 1953, Churchill went to Bermuda to meet with President Dwight Eisenhower, who was not aware of Churchill's strokes.

Churchill's physician, Lord Moran, his staff and family also kept hidden other events including the "mini-strokes" he suffered in 1950 and 1951. In 1952 a fleeting speech disturbance suggested a spasm or partial occlusion of the artery supplying the speech center of the brain. By then, both the right and left sides of Churchill's brain were affected by atherosclerosis and hypertension.

Recognizing he was slowing down physically and mentally, Churchill retired as prime minister in 1955, but remained in Parliament until 1964.

On Jan. 15, 1965, the 90-year-old Churchill suffered another stroke, which was announced. He died nine days later, and was mourned by millions at a massive state funeral, televised worldwide, to say farewell to the man who may have done more than any other to stop the Nazis.

For the various personages who presided over the government of England and subsequently Great Britain at the pleasure of the monarch, usually with said monarch's permission, prior to the government under Robert Walpole as Prime Minister in 1721, see List of English chief ministers.

Revolutionary Settlement Edit

Because the premiership was not intentionally created, there is no exact date when its evolution began. A meaningful starting point, however, is 1688–89 when James II fled England and the Parliament of England confirmed William III and Mary II as joint constitutional monarchs, enacting legislation that limited their authority and that of their successors: the Bill of Rights (1689), the Mutiny Bill (1689), the Triennial Bill (1694), the Treason Act (1696) and the Act of Settlement (1701). [1] Known collectively as the Revolutionary Settlement, these acts transformed the constitution, shifting the balance of power from the Sovereign to Parliament. Once the office of Prime Minister was created, they also provided the basis for its evolution.

Treasury Bench Edit

The Revolutionary Settlement gave the Commons control over finances and legislation and changed the relationship between the executive and the legislature. For want of money, sovereigns had to summon Parliament annually and could no longer dissolve or prorogue it without its advice and consent. Parliament became a permanent feature of political life. [2] The veto fell into disuse because sovereigns feared that if they denied legislation, Parliament would deny them money. No sovereign has denied royal assent since Queen Anne vetoed the Scottish Militia Bill in 1708. [3]

Treasury officials and other department heads were drawn into Parliament serving as liaisons between it and the sovereign. Ministers had to present the government's policies, and negotiate with Members to gain the support of the majority they had to explain the government's financial needs, suggest ways of meeting them and give an account of how money had been spent. The Sovereign's representatives attended Commons sessions so regularly that they were given reserved seats at the front, known as the Treasury Bench. This is the beginning of "unity of powers": the sovereign's ministers (the Executive) became leading members of Parliament (the Legislature). Today, the prime minister (First Lord of the Treasury), the chancellor of the Exchequer (responsible for the budget) and other senior members of the Cabinet sit on the Treasury bench and present policies in much the same way ministers did late in the 17th century.

Standing Order 66 Edit

After the Revolution, there was a constant threat that non-government members of Parliament would ruin the country's finances by proposing ill-considered money bills. Vying for control to avoid chaos, the Crown's ministers gained an advantage in 1706, when the Commons informally declared, "That this House will receive no petition for any sum of money relating to public Service, but what is recommended from the Crown." On 11 June 1713, this non-binding rule became Standing Order 66: that "the Commons would not vote money for any purpose, except on a motion of a minister of the Crown." Standing Order 66 remains in effect today (though renumbered as no. 48), [4] essentially unchanged for more than three hundred years. [5]

Empowering ministers with sole financial initiative had an immediate and lasting impact. Apart from achieving its intended purpose – to stabilise the budgetary process – it gave the Crown a leadership role in the Commons and, the lord treasurer assumed a leading position among ministers.

The power of financial initiative was not, however, absolute. Only ministers might initiate money bills, but Parliament now reviewed and consented to them. Standing Order 66 therefore represents the beginnings of Ministerial responsibility and accountability. [6]

The term "Prime Minister" appears at this time as an unofficial title for the leader of the government, usually the head of the Treasury. [7] Jonathan Swift, for example, wrote that in 1713 there had been "those who are now commonly called Prime Minister among us", referring to Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin and Robert Harley, Queen Anne's Lord Treasurers and chief ministers. [8] Since 1721, every head of the Sovereign's government – with one exception in the 18th century (William Pitt the Elder) and one in the 19th (Lord Salisbury) – has been First Lord of the Treasury.

Beginnings of the prime minister's party leadership Edit

Political parties first appeared during the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681. The Whigs, who believed in limited monarchy, wanted to exclude James, Duke of York, from succeeding to the throne because he was a Roman Catholic. The Tories, who believed in the "Divine Right of Kings", defended James's hereditary claim.

Political parties were not well organised or disciplined in the 17th century. They were more like factions, with "members" drifting in and out, collaborating temporarily on issues when it was to their advantage, then disbanding when it was not. A major deterrent to the development of opposing parties was the idea that there could only be one "King's Party" and to oppose it would be disloyal or even treasonous. This idea lingered throughout the 18th century. Nevertheless it became possible at the end of the 17th century to identify Parliaments and Ministries as being either "Whig" or "Tory" in composition.

Cabinet Edit

The modern prime minister is also the leader of the Cabinet. A convention of the constitution, the modern Cabinet is a group of ministers who formulate policies. [9] As the political heads of government departments Cabinet Ministers ensure that policies are carried out by permanent civil servants. Although the modern prime minister selects ministers, appointment still rests with the sovereign. [9] With the prime minister as its leader, the Cabinet forms the executive branch of government. [note 1]

The term "Cabinet" first appears after the Revolutionary Settlement to describe those ministers who conferred privately with the sovereign. The growth of the Cabinet met with widespread complaint and opposition because its meetings were often held in secret and it excluded the ancient Privy Council (of which the Cabinet is formally a committee) from the sovereign's circle of advisers, reducing it to an honorary body. [11] The early Cabinet, like that of today, included the Treasurer and other department heads who sat on the Treasury bench. However, it might also include individuals who were not members of Parliament such as household officers (e.g. the Master of the Horse) and members of the royal family. The exclusion of non-members of Parliament from the Cabinet was essential to the development of ministerial accountability and responsibility.

Both William and Anne appointed and dismissed Cabinet members, attended meetings, made decisions, and followed up on actions. Relieving the Sovereign of these responsibilities and gaining control over the Cabinet's composition was an essential part of evolution of the Premiership. This process began after the Hanoverian Succession. Although George I (1714–1727) attended Cabinet meetings at first, after 1717 he withdrew because he did not speak fluent English and was bored with the discussions. George II (1727–1760) occasionally presided at Cabinet meetings but his successor, George III (1760–1820), is known to have attended only two during his 60-year reign. Thus, the convention that sovereigns do not attend Cabinet meetings was established primarily through royal indifference to the everyday tasks of governance. The prime minister became responsible for calling meetings, presiding, taking notes, and reporting to the Sovereign. These simple executive tasks naturally gave the prime minister ascendancy over his Cabinet colleagues. [12]

Although the first three Hanoverians rarely attended Cabinet meetings they insisted on their prerogatives to appoint and dismiss ministers and to direct policy even if from outside the Cabinet. It was not until late in the 18th century that prime ministers gained control over Cabinet composition (see section Emergence of Cabinet Government below).

"One-Party Government" Edit

British governments (or ministries) are generally formed by one party. The prime minister and Cabinet are usually all members of the same political party, almost always the one that has a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Coalition governments (a ministry that consists of representatives from two or more parties) and minority governments (a one-party ministry formed by a party that does not command a majority in the Commons) were relatively rare before the 2010 election between the elections of 2010 and 2019, there was both a coalition and a minority government. "One-party government", as this system is sometimes called, has been the general rule for almost three hundred years.

Early in his reign, William III (1689–1702) preferred "mixed ministries" (or coalitions) consisting of both Tories and Whigs. William thought this composition would dilute the power of any one party and also give him the benefit of differing points of view. However, this approach did not work well because the members could not agree on a leader or on policies, and often worked at odds with each other.

In 1697, William formed a homogeneous Whig ministry. Known as the Junto, this government is often cited as the first true Cabinet because its members were all Whigs, reflecting the majority composition of the Commons. [13]

Anne (1702–1714) followed this pattern but preferred Tory Cabinets. This approach worked well as long as Parliament was also predominantly Tory. However, in 1708, when the Whigs obtained a majority, Anne did not call on them to form a government, refusing to accept the idea that politicians could force themselves on her merely because their party had a majority. [14] She never parted with an entire Ministry or accepted an entirely new one regardless of the results of an election. Anne preferred to retain a minority government rather than be dictated to by Parliament. Consequently, her chief ministers Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin and Robert Harley, who were called "Prime Minister" by some, had difficulty executing policy in the face of a hostile Parliament. [15] [16]

William's and Anne's experiments with the political composition of the Cabinet illustrated the strengths of one party government and the weaknesses of coalition and minority governments. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1830s that the constitutional convention was established that the Sovereign must select the prime minister (and Cabinet) from the party whose views reflect those of the majority in Parliament. Since then, most ministries have reflected this one party rule.

Despite the "one party" convention, prime ministers may still be called upon to lead either minority or coalition governments. A minority government may be formed as a result of a "hung parliament" in which no single party commands a majority in the House of Commons after a general election or the death, resignation or defection of existing members. By convention, the serving prime minister is given the first opportunity to reach agreements that will allow them to survive a vote of confidence in the House and continue to govern. Until 2017, the last minority government was led by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson for eight months after the February 1974 general election produced a hung parliament. In the October 1974 general election, the Labour Party gained 18 seats, giving Wilson a majority of three.

A hung parliament may also lead to the formation of a coalition government in which two or more parties negotiate a joint programme to command a majority in the Commons. Coalitions have also been formed during times of national crisis such as war. Under such circumstances, the parties agree to temporarily set aside their political differences and to unite to face the national crisis. Coalitions are rare: since 1721, there have been fewer than a dozen.

When the general election of 2010 produced a hung parliament, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties agreed to form the Cameron–Clegg coalition, the first coalition in seventy years. The previous coalition in the UK before 2010 was led by Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill during most of the Second World War, from May 1940 to May 1945. Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, served as Deputy Prime Minister. [17] After the general election of 2015, the nation returned to one party government after the Tories won an outright majority.

Treasury Commission Edit

The premiership is still largely a convention of the constitution its legal authority is derived primarily from the fact that the prime minister is also First Lord of the Treasury. The connection of these two offices – one a convention, the other a legal office – began with the Hanoverian succession in 1714.

When George I succeeded to the British throne in 1714, his German ministers advised him to leave the office of Lord High Treasurer vacant because those who had held it in recent years had grown overly powerful, in effect, replacing the sovereign as head of the government. They also feared that a Lord High Treasurer would undermine their own influence with the new king. They therefore suggested that he place the office in "commission", meaning that a committee of five ministers would perform its functions together. Theoretically, this dilution of authority would prevent any one of them from presuming to be the head of the government. The king agreed and created the Treasury Commission consisting of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Second Lord, and three Junior Lords.

No one has been appointed Lord High Treasurer since 1714 it has remained in commission for three hundred years. The Treasury Commission ceased to meet late in the 18th century but has survived, albeit with very different functions: the First Lord of the Treasury is now the prime minister, the Second Lord is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and actually in charge of the Treasury), and the Junior Lords are government Whips maintaining party discipline in the House of Commons they no longer have any duties related to the Treasury, though when subordinate legislation requires the consent of the Treasury it is still two of the Junior Lords who sign on its behalf. [note 2] [18]

"First" prime minister Edit

Since the office evolved rather than being instantly created, it may not be totally clear-cut who the first prime minister was. However, this appellation is traditionally given to Sir Robert Walpole, who became First Lord of the Treasury of Great Britain in 1721.

In 1720, the South Sea Company, created to trade in cotton, agricultural goods and slaves, collapsed, causing the financial ruin of thousands of investors and heavy losses for many others, including members of the royal family. King George I called on Robert Walpole, well known for his political and financial acumen, to handle the emergency. With considerable skill and some luck, Walpole acted quickly to restore public credit and confidence, and led the country out of the crisis. A year later, the king appointed him First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons – making him the most powerful minister in the government. Ruthless, crude, and hard-working, he had a "sagacious business sense" and was a superb manager of men. [19] At the head of affairs for the next two decades, Walpole stabilised the nation's finances, kept it at peace, made it prosperous, and secured the Hanoverian succession. [20] [21]

Walpole demonstrated for the first time how a chief minister – a prime minister – could be the actual head of the government under the new constitutional framework. First, recognising that the sovereign could no longer govern directly but was still the nominal head of the government, he insisted that he was nothing more than the "King's Servant". [22] Second, recognising that power had shifted to the Commons, he conducted the nation's business there and made it dominant over the Lords in all matters. Third, recognising that the Cabinet had become the executive and must be united, he dominated the other members and demanded their complete support for his policies. Fourth, recognising that political parties were the source of ministerial strength, he led the Whig party and maintained discipline. In the Commons, he insisted on the support of all Whig members, especially those who held office. Finally, he set an example for future prime ministers by resigning his offices in 1742 after a vote of confidence, which he won by just three votes. The slimness of this majority undermined his power, even though he still retained the confidence of the sovereign. [23] [24]

Ambivalence and denial Edit

For all his contributions, Walpole was not a prime minister in the modern sense. The king – not Parliament – chose him and the king – not Walpole – chose the Cabinet. Walpole set an example, not a precedent, and few followed his example. For over 40 years after Walpole's fall in 1742, there was widespread ambivalence about the position. In some cases, the prime minister was a figurehead with power being wielded by other individuals in others there was a reversion to the "chief minister" model of earlier times in which the sovereign actually governed. [25] At other times, there appeared to be two prime ministers. During Great Britain's participation in the Seven Years' War, for example, the powers of government were divided equally between the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt, leading to them both alternatively being described as Prime Minister. Furthermore, many thought that the title "Prime Minister" usurped the sovereign's constitutional position as "head of the government" and that it was an affront to other ministers because they were all appointed by and equally responsible to the sovereign.

For these reasons, there was a reluctance to use the title. Although Walpole is now called the "first" prime minister, the title was not commonly used during his tenure. Walpole himself denied it. In 1741, during the attack that led to Walpole's downfall, Samuel Sandys declared that "According to our Constitution we can have no sole and prime minister". In his defence, Walpole said "I unequivocally deny that I am sole or Prime Minister and that to my influence and direction all the affairs of government must be attributed". [26] George Grenville, prime minister in the 1760s, said it was "an odious title" and never used it. [27] Lord North, the reluctant head of the King's Government during the American War of Independence, "would never suffer himself to be called Prime Minister, because it was an office unknown to the Constitution". [28] [note 3]

Denials of the premiership's legal existence continued throughout the 19th century. In 1806, for example, one member of the Commons said, "the Constitution abhors the idea of a prime minister". In 1829, Lord Lansdowne said, "nothing could be more mischievous or unconstitutional than to recognise by act of parliament the existence of such an office". [29]

By the turn of the 20th century the premiership had become, by convention, the most important position in the constitutional hierarchy. Yet there were no legal documents describing its powers or acknowledging its existence. The first official recognition given to the office had only been in the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, when Disraeli signed as "First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister of her Britannic Majesty". [30] [31] [32] Not until seven years later, in 1885, did the official records entrench the institution of prime minister, using "Prime Minister" in the list of government ministers printed in Hansard. [33] [34] Incumbents had no statutory authority in their own right. As late as 1904, Arthur Balfour explained the status of his office in a speech at Haddington: "The Prime Minister has no salary as Prime Minister. He has no statutory duties as Prime Minister, his name occurs in no Acts of Parliament, and though holding the most important place in the constitutional hierarchy, he has no place which is recognised by the laws of his country. This is a strange paradox." [35]

In 1905 the position was given some official recognition when the "prime minister" was named in the order of precedence, outranked, among non-royals, only by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the lord chancellor. [36]

The first Act of Parliament to mention the premiership – albeit in a schedule – was the Chequers Estate Act on 20 December 1917. [37] This law conferred the Chequers Estate owned by Sir Arthur and Lady Lee, as a gift to the Crown for use as a country home for future prime ministers.

Unequivocal legal recognition was given in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937, which made provision for payment of a salary to the person who is both "the First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister". Explicitly recognising two hundred years' of ambivalence, the Act states that it intended "To give statutory recognition to the existence of the position of Prime Minister, and to the historic link between the premiership and the office of First Lord of the Treasury, by providing in respect to that position and office a salary of . " The Act made a distinction between the "position" (prime minister) and the "office" (First Lord of the Treasury), emphasising the unique political character of the former. Nevertheless, the brass plate on the door of the prime minister's home, 10 Downing Street, still bears the title of "First Lord of the Treasury", as it has since the 18th century as it is officially the home of the First Lord and not the prime minister. [38] [39] : P 34

Following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, believed the solution to rising Irish nationalism was a union of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. Britain then included England and Wales and Scotland, but Ireland had its own parliament and government, which were firmly Anglo-Irish and did not represent the aspirations of most Irishmen. For this and other reasons, Pitt advanced his policy, and after some difficulty in persuading the Irish political class to surrender its control of Ireland under the Constitution of 1782, the new union was created by the Acts of Union 1800. With effect from 1 January 1801, Great Britain and Ireland were united into a single kingdom, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Parliament of Ireland came to an end, and until 1922 British ministers were responsible for all three kingdoms of the British Isles. [40]

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921, which was to be put into effect within one year, the enactment of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 was concluded on 5 December 1922, creating the Irish Free State. Bonar Law, who had been in office as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland for only six weeks, and who had just won the general election of November 1922, thus became the last prime minister whose responsibilities covered both Britain and the whole of Ireland. Most of a parliamentary session beginning on 20 November was devoted to the Act, and Bonar Law pushed through the creation of the Free State in the face of opposition from the "die hards". [41] [42]

Emergence of Cabinet government Edit

Despite the reluctance to legally recognise the premiership, ambivalence toward it waned in the 1780s. During the first 20 years of his reign, George III (1760–1820) tried to be his own "prime minister" by controlling policy from outside the Cabinet, appointing and dismissing ministers, meeting privately with individual ministers, and giving them instructions. These practices caused confusion and dissension in Cabinet meetings King George's experiment in personal rule was generally a failure. After the failure of Lord North's ministry (1770–1782) in March 1782 due to Britain's defeat in the American Revolutionary War and the ensuing vote of no confidence by Parliament, the Marquess of Rockingham reasserted the prime minister's control over the Cabinet. Rockingham assumed the Premiership "on the distinct understanding that measures were to be changed as well as men and that the measures for which the new ministry required the royal consent were the measures which they, while in opposition, had advocated." He and his Cabinet were united in their policies and would stand or fall together they also refused to accept anyone in the Cabinet who did not agree. [note 4] King George threatened to abdicate but in the end reluctantly agreed out of necessity: he had to have a government.

From this time, there was a growing acceptance of the position of prime minister and the title was more commonly used, if only unofficially. [15] [43] Associated initially with the Whigs, the Tories started to accept it. Lord North, for example, who had said the office was "unknown to the constitution", reversed himself in 1783 when he said, "In this country some one man or some body of men like a Cabinet should govern the whole and direct every measure." [44] [45] In 1803, William Pitt the Younger, also a Tory, suggested to a friend that "this person generally called the first minister" was an absolute necessity for a government to function, and expressed his belief that this person should be the minister in charge of the finances. [26]

The Tories' wholesale conversion started when Pitt was confirmed as prime minister in the election of 1784. For the next 17 years until 1801 (and again from 1804 to 1806), Pitt, the Tory, was prime minister in the same sense that Walpole, the Whig, had been earlier.

Their conversion was reinforced after 1810. In that year, George III, who had suffered periodically from mental instability (possibly due to porphyria), became permanently insane and spent the remaining 10 years of his life unable to discharge his duties. The Prince Regent was prevented from using the full powers of kingship. The regent became George IV in 1820, but during his 10-year reign was indolent and frivolous. Consequently, for 20 years the throne was virtually vacant and Tory Cabinets led by Tory prime ministers filled the void, governing virtually on their own.

The Tories were in power for almost 50 years, except for a Whig ministry from 1806 to 1807. Lord Liverpool was prime minister for 15 years he and Pitt held the position for 34 years. Under their long, consistent leadership, Cabinet government became a convention of the constitution. Although subtle issues remained to be settled, the Cabinet system of government is essentially the same today as it was in 1830.

Under this form of government, called the Westminster system, the sovereign is head of state and titular head of Her Majesty's Government. The sovereign selects as prime minister the person who is able to command a working majority in the House of Commons, and invites him or her to form a government. As the actual head of government, the prime minister selects the Cabinet, choosing its members from among those in Parliament who agree or generally agree with his or her intended policies. The prime minister then recommends the Cabinet to the sovereign who confirms the selection by formally appointing them to their offices. Led by the prime minister, the Cabinet is collectively responsible for whatever the government does. The Sovereign does not confer with members privately about policy, nor attend Cabinet meetings. With respect to actual governance, the monarch has only three constitutional rights: to be kept informed, to advise, and to warn. [48] In practice this means that the sovereign reviews state papers and meets regularly with the prime minister, usually weekly, when she may advise and warn him or her regarding the proposed decisions and actions of Her Government. [49]

Loyal Opposition Edit

The modern British system includes not only a government formed by the majority party (or coalition of parties) in the House of Commons but also an organised and open opposition formed by those who are not members of the governing party. [30] Called Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, they occupy the benches to the speaker's left. Seated in the front, directly across from the ministers on the Treasury Bench, the leaders of the opposition form a "shadow government", complete with a salaried "shadow prime minister", the leader of the Opposition, ready to assume office if the government falls or loses the next election.

Opposing the king's government was considered disloyal, even treasonous, at the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century this idea waned and finally disappeared as the two party system developed. The expression "His Majesty's Opposition" was coined by John Hobhouse, 1st Baron Broughton. In 1826, Broughton, a Whig, announced in the Commons that he opposed the report of a Bill. As a joke, he said, "It was said to be very hard on His Majesty's ministers to raise objections to this proposition. For my part, I think it is much more hard on His Majesty's Opposition to compel them to take this course." [50] The phrase caught on and has been used ever since. Sometimes rendered as the "Loyal Opposition", it acknowledges the legitimate existence of several political parties, and describes an important constitutional concept: opposing the government is not treason reasonable men can honestly oppose its policies and still be loyal to the Sovereign and the nation.

Informally recognized for over a century as a convention of the constitution, the position of leader of the Opposition was given statutory recognition in 1937 by the Ministers of the Crown Act.

Great Reform Act and the premiership Edit

British prime ministers have never been elected directly by the public. A prime minister need not be a party leader David Lloyd George was not a party leader during his tenure during World War I, and neither was Ramsay MacDonald from 1931 to 1935. [51] Prime ministers have taken office because they were members of either the Commons or Lords, and either inherited a majority in the Commons or won more seats than the opposition in a general election.

Since 1722, most prime ministers have been members of the Commons since 1902, all have had a seat there. [note 5] Like other members, they are elected initially to represent only a constituency. Former prime minister Tony Blair, for example, represented Sedgefield in County Durham from 1983 to 2007. He became prime minister because in 1994 he was elected Labour Party leader and then led the party to victory in the 1997 general election, winning 418 seats compared to 165 for the Conservatives and gaining a majority in the House of Commons.

Neither the sovereign nor the House of Lords had any meaningful influence over who was elected to the Commons in 1997 or in deciding whether or not Blair would become prime minister. Their detachment from the electoral process and the selection of the prime minister has been a convention of the constitution for almost 200 years.

Prior to the 19th century, however, they had significant influence, using to their advantage the fact that most citizens were disenfranchised and seats in the Commons were allocated disproportionately. Through patronage, corruption and bribery, the Crown and Lords "owned" about 30% of the seats (called "pocket" or "rotten boroughs") giving them a significant influence in the Commons and in the selection of the prime minister. [52] [53]

In 1830, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey a life-long Whig, became prime minister and was determined to reform the electoral system. For two years, he and his Cabinet fought to pass what has come to be known as the Great Reform Bill of 1832. [54] [55] The greatness of the Great Reform Bill lay less in substance than in symbolism. As John Bright, a liberal statesman of the next generation, said, "It was not a good Bill, but it was a great Bill when it passed." [56] Substantively, it increased the franchise by 65% to 717,000 with the middle class receiving most of the new votes. The representation of 56 rotten boroughs was eliminated completely, together with half the representation of 30 others the freed up seats were distributed to boroughs created for previously disenfranchised areas. However, many rotten boroughs remained and it still excluded millions of working-class men and all women. [57] [58]

Symbolically, however, the Reform Act exceeded expectations. It is now ranked with Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as one of the most important documents of the British constitutional tradition. [ citation needed ]

First, the Act removed the sovereign from the election process and the choice of prime minister. Slowly evolving for 100 years, this convention was confirmed two years after the passage of the Act. In 1834, King William IV dismissed Melbourne as premier, but was forced to recall him when Robert Peel, the king's choice, could not form a working majority. Since then, no sovereign has tried to impose a prime minister on Parliament.

Second, the Bill reduced the Lords' power by eliminating many of their pocket boroughs and creating new boroughs in which they had no influence. Weakened, they were unable to prevent the passage of more comprehensive electoral reforms in 1867, 1884, 1918 and 1928 when universal equal suffrage was established. [59]

Ultimately, this erosion of power led to the Parliament Act 1911, which marginalised the Lords' role in the legislative process and gave further weight to the convention that had developed over the previous century [note 6] that a prime minister cannot sit in the House of Lords. The last to do so was Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, from 1895 to 1902. [note 7] Throughout the 19th century, governments led from the Lords had often suffered difficulties governing alongside ministers who sat in the Commons. [60]

Grey set an example and a precedent for his successors. He was primus inter pares (first among equals), as Bagehot said in 1867 of the prime minister's status. Using his Whig victory as a mandate for reform, Grey was unrelenting in the pursuit of this goal, using every parliamentary device to achieve it. Although respectful toward the king, he made it clear that his constitutional duty was to acquiesce to the will of the people and Parliament.

The Loyal Opposition acquiesced too. Some disgruntled Tories claimed they would repeal the bill once they regained a majority. But in 1834, Robert Peel, the new Conservative leader, put an end to this threat when he stated in his Tamworth Manifesto that the bill was "a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb". [61]

Populist prime ministers Edit

The premiership was a reclusive office prior to 1832. The incumbent worked with his Cabinet and other government officials he occasionally met with the sovereign and attended Parliament when it was in session during the spring and summer. He never went out on the stump to campaign, even during elections he rarely spoke directly to ordinary voters about policies and issues.

After the passage of the Great Reform Bill, the nature of the position changed: prime ministers had to go out among the people. The Bill increased the electorate to 717,000. Subsequent legislation (and population growth) raised it to 2 million in 1867, 5.5 million in 1884 and 21.4 million in 1918. As the franchise increased, power shifted to the people, and prime ministers assumed more responsibilities with respect to party leadership. It naturally fell on them to motivate and organise their followers, explain party policies, and deliver its "message". Successful leaders had to have a new set of skills: to give a good speech, present a favourable image, and interact with a crowd. They became the "voice", the "face" and the "image" of the party and ministry.

Robert Peel, often called the "model prime minister", [62] was the first to recognise this new role. After the successful Conservative campaign of 1841, J. W. Croker said in a letter to Peel, "The elections are wonderful, and the curiosity is that all turns on the name of Sir Robert Peel. It's the first time that I remember in our history that the people have chosen the first Minister for the Sovereign. Mr. Pitt's case in '84 is the nearest analogy but then the people only confirmed the Sovereign's choice here every Conservative candidate professed himself in plain words to be Sir Robert Peel's man, and on that ground was elected." [63]

Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone developed this new role further by projecting "images" of themselves to the public. Known by their nicknames "Dizzy" and the "Grand Old Man", their colourful, sometimes bitter, personal and political rivalry over the issues of their time – Imperialism vs. Anti-Imperialism, expansion of the franchise, labour reform, and Irish Home Rule – spanned almost twenty years until Disraeli's death in 1881. [note 8] Documented by the penny press, photographs and political cartoons, their rivalry linked specific personalities with the premiership in the public mind and further enhanced its status.

Each created a different public image of himself and his party. Disraeli, who expanded the Empire to protect British interests abroad, cultivated the image of himself (and the Conservative Party) as "Imperialist", making grand gestures such as conferring the title "Empress of India" on Queen Victoria in 1876. Gladstone, who saw little value in the Empire, proposed an anti-Imperialist policy (later called "Little England"), and cultivated the image of himself (and the Liberal Party) as "man of the people" by circulating pictures of himself cutting down great oak trees with an axe as a hobby.

Gladstone went beyond image by appealing directly to the people. In his Midlothian campaign – so called because he stood as a candidate for that county – Gladstone spoke in fields, halls and railway stations to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of students, farmers, labourers and middle class workers. Although not the first leader to speak directly to voters – both he and Disraeli had spoken directly to party loyalists before on special occasions – he was the first to canvass an entire constituency, delivering his message to anyone who would listen, encouraging his supporters and trying to convert his opponents. Publicised nationwide, Gladstone's message became that of the party. Noting its significance, Lord Shaftesbury said, "It is a new thing and a very serious thing to see the Prime Minister on the stump." [64]

Campaigning directly to the people became commonplace. Several 20th-century prime ministers, such as David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, were famous for their oratorical skills. After the introduction of radio, motion pictures, television, and the internet, many used these technologies to project their public image and address the nation. Stanley Baldwin, a master of the radio broadcast in the 1920s and 1930s, reached a national audience in his talks filled with homely advice and simple expressions of national pride. [65] Churchill also used the radio to great effect, inspiring, reassuring and informing the people with his speeches during the Second World War. Two recent prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (who both spent a decade or more as prime minister), achieved celebrity status like rock stars, but have been criticised for their more 'presidential' style of leadership. According to Anthony King, "The props in Blair's theatre of celebrity included . his guitar, his casual clothes . footballs bounced skilfully off the top of his head . carefully choreographed speeches and performances at Labour Party conferences." [66]

In addition to being the leader of a political party and the head of Her Majesty's Government, the modern prime minister directs the law-making process, enacting into law his or her party's programme. For example, Tony Blair, whose Labour party was elected in 1997 partly on a promise to enact a British Bill of Rights and to create devolved governments for Scotland and Wales, subsequently stewarded through Parliament the Human Rights Act (1998), the Scotland Act (1998) and the Government of Wales Act (1998).

From its appearance in the fourteenth century Parliament has been a bicameral legislature consisting of the Commons and the Lords. Members of the Commons are elected those in the Lords are not. Most Lords are called "Temporal" with titles such as duke, marquess, earl, and viscount. The balance are Lords Spiritual (prelates of the Anglican Church).

For most of the history of the Upper House, Lords Temporal were landowners who held their estates, titles, and seats as a hereditary right passed down from one generation to the next – in some cases for centuries. In 1910, for example, there were nineteen whose title was created before 1500. [67] [note 9] [68] [69]

Until 1911, prime ministers had to guide legislation through the Commons and the Lords and obtain majority approval in both houses for it to become law. This was not always easy, because political differences often separated the chambers. Representing the landed aristocracy, lords temporal were generally Tory (later Conservative) who wanted to maintain the status quo and resisted progressive measures such as extending the franchise. The party affiliation of members of the Commons was less predictable. During the 18th century its makeup varied because the Lords had considerable control over elections: sometimes Whigs dominated it, sometimes Tories. After the passage of the Great Reform Bill in 1832, the Commons gradually became more progressive, a tendency that increased with the passage of each subsequent expansion of the franchise.

In 1906, the Liberal Party, led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, won an overwhelming victory on a platform that promised social reforms for the working class. With 379 seats compared to the Conservatives' 132, the Liberals could confidently expect to pass their legislative programme through the Commons. [70] [71] At the same time, however, the Conservative Party had a huge majority in the Lords it could easily veto any legislation passed by the Commons that was against their interests. [72]

For five years, the Commons and the Lords fought over one bill after another. The Liberals pushed through parts of their programme, but the Conservatives vetoed or modified others. When the Lords vetoed the "People's Budget" in 1909, the controversy moved almost inevitably toward a constitutional crisis. [73]

In 1910, Prime Minister H. H. Asquith [note 10] introduced a bill "for regulating the relations between the Houses of Parliament" which would eliminate the Lords' veto power over legislation. Passed by the Commons, the Lords rejected it. In a general election fought on this issue, the Liberals were weakened but still had a comfortable majority. At Asquith's request, King George V then threatened to create a sufficient number of new Liberal peers to ensure the bill's passage. Rather than accept a permanent Liberal majority, the Conservative lords yielded, and the bill became law. [74]

The Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the Commons. It provided that the Lords could not delay for more than one month any bill certified by the speaker of the Commons as a money bill. Furthermore, the Act provided that any bill rejected by the Lords would nevertheless become law if passed by the Commons in three successive sessions provided that two years had elapsed since its original passage. The Lords could still delay or suspend the enactment of legislation but could no longer veto it. [75] [76] Subsequently the Lords "suspending" power was reduced to one year by the Parliament Act 1949.

Indirectly, the Act enhanced the already dominant position of prime minister in the constitutional hierarchy. Although the Lords are still involved in the legislative process and the prime minister must still guide legislation through both Houses, the Lords no longer have the power to veto or even delay enactment of legislation passed by the Commons. Provided that he or she controls the Cabinet, maintains party discipline, and commands a majority in the Commons, the prime minister is assured of putting through his or her legislative agenda.

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