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Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The Prime Minister is the most senior officer of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom (before 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain). The full title of the office is Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, and Minister for the Civil Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; although, not all prime ministers have been First Lord of the Treasury. The last prime minister not to have been First Lord was Lord Salisbury (-1902).

Until the 18th century, the monarch's most senior minister could hold any of a number of titles; usually either First Lord, Lord Chancellor, Lord Privy Seal, or one of the Secretaries of State. During the late 18th Century, the term "prime minister" came to be used, as an unofficial title for this most senior minister -- as he was "premier among ministers". In 1905, the title was officially recognized by King Edward VII, when the office was given status within the 'order of precedence' (behind the Archbishop of York). The first "actual" prime minister was Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

Table of contents
1 Responsibilities
2 Becoming Prime Minister
3 Resignation
4 First Among Equals or 'semi-president'?
5 Origins of the Office
6 10 Downing Street
7 List of Prime Ministers and First Lords of the Treasury
8 See Also
9 External Links


The Prime Minister's main responsibilities include setting the direction of the government, appointing members of the Cabinet, coordinating the activities of the Cabinet and government departments, participating in ceremonial occasions, and being the 'face' of the government in the UK and abroad.

Becoming Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is technically appointed by the Monarch. By convention, he or she always chooses the leader of the party that holds a majority in the House of Commons. If one party does not have a simple majority but two or more parties form a coalition (a rare occurrence, due to the British electoral system), the leader of the coalition is chosen. If the two major parties (Labour, Conservatives) are evenly matched in the House of Commons and neither can form a coalition with minor parties, then the monarch is free to choose the leader of either party as Prime Minister, though in reality that choice would be decided by which one if any was the outgoing prime minister. A choice could not be made until the outgoing prime minister resigned, at which point whichever was the Leader of the Opposition would be asked to form a government.


The Prime Minister and the government must resign upon the passage of a vote of no confidence or the loss of a vote of confidence, unless the defeated Prime Minister seeks a dissolution of parliament which in theory the monarch may refuse but in practice never does. In practice party discipline is usually strong enough to make these votes rare, with only three successful votes of no confidence since 1885. The Prime Minister must also retain the support of his or her party's parliamentary delegation, and in a number of cases including that of Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher, a party will oust a Prime Minister who appears to be unpopular.

The leader of the second largest party in the House of Commons is termed the 'Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition'.

First Among Equals or 'semi-president'?

In theory, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a primus inter pares (first among equals) in the British Cabinet. In appointing a cabinet the Prime Minister generally includes members of parliament who have political bases of their own and who could potentially be a rival of the Prime Minister. In addition, the Prime Minister retains very limited power to appoint members of the British Civil Service and there is usually tension between elected officials and the civil service. However, in practice, a strong Prime Minister can so dominate government that they become a 'semi-president', that is they fulfil the leadership role in a country in the same way as a president, but not carry out the ceremonial duties of a Head of State. Examples include William Ewart Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Origins of the Office

The office of Prime Minister originated out of the office of First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord of the Treasury was the senior commissioner responsible for administration of the royal treasury when there was no Lord Treasurer, an office which originated in mediaeval times, and ceased to be used after 1714. It was not, however, until Sir Robert Walpole (1721-1742) that the First Lord of the Treasury became the most powerful minister, and became head of government. Prior to that there was no clear head of government, and the most powerful minister could hold any one of a number of titles (including First Lord of the Treasury and Lord Privy Seal). Even after Walpole, the First Lord was not always the most powerful member of the government, even as recently as 1902 when Lord Salisbury, the Lord Privy Seal, served as Prime Minister while Balfour was First Lord of the Treasury. The Prime Minister remains First Lord of the Treasury, and as such, not as Prime Minister, becomes the tenant of 10 Downing Street.

Although Sir Robert Walpole is considered to be the first Prime Minister, the term Prime Minister and conventions regarding appointment did not originate until later. The term was initially an insult, equivalent to teacher's pet, implying that the minister was the puppet of the monarch. Until Robert Peel's unsuccessful attempt to govern without a majority in Parliament, the monarch still retained a great deal of discretion over the naming of the Prime Minister. The title was not formally adopted (though it had long been used) until the premiership of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-08) when a 'prime minister' was given a status just behind that of the Archbishop of York.

10 Downing Street

The Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury traditionally lives at No. 10 Downing Street, in London. This house was offered by King George II to Sir Robert Walpole as a personal gift. Walpole would not accept it personally, but agreed to receive it in his official capacity as First Lord of the Treasury. Walpole took up residence in 1735. Most subsequent holders of this office have lived there, though some nineteenth century prime ministers chose to live in their own homes. A small number were not First Lord of the Treasury, and so were not entitled to live in Downing Street. Harold Wilson and John Major both lived in Admiralty House for a time. During part of Wilson's time 10 Downing Street underwent major structural renovation involving total rebuilding, while Major moved out in the aftermath of an Provisional IRA mortar attack on the building, while repairs took place. On his election in 1997, Tony Blair took up residence at No. 11 Downing Street, swapping No. 10 with his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, as the residential accommodation at No. 10 is smaller and Blair had four children while Brown was at the time unmarried (the two houses, and others, are interconnected).

List of Prime Ministers and First Lords of the Treasury

In the eighteenth century, it was oftentimes unclear who was to be considered the Prime Minister, with holders of the offices of First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Privy Seal, and Secretary of State all at one time or another acting as the principal minister in various government. For instance Lord Carteret Secretary of State for the Northern Department from 1742 to 1744 and William Pitt the Elder as Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1756 to 1757 and again from 1757 to 1761 had many of the powers of a Prime Ministers, although other men held the principal office of Lord Treasurer. This list follows conventional practice in not listing such figures as Prime Ministers. However, when in 1766 Pitt, created Earl of Chatham, was asked by the King to form a ministry, he chose to take the lesser office of Lord Privy Seal, rather than taking over the Treasury. Nevertheless, he is generally considered to have been Prime Minister, due to his having been asked by the King to form a ministry. Such considerations make the earlier part of the list somewhat less authoritative in its determination of who, exactly, was Prime Minister at such times.

Prime MinisterYearsParty
Sir Robert Walpole4 April 1721 (15 May 1730)-11 February 1742Whig
Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington16 February 1742-2 July 1743Whig
Henry Pelham27 August 1743-7 March 1754Whig
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle16 March 1754-16 November 1756Whig
William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire16 November 1756-25 June 1757Whig
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle2 July 1757-26 May 1762Whig
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute26 May 1762-16 April 1763Tory
George Grenville16 April 1763-13 July 1765Whig
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham13 July 1765-30 July 1766Whig
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham30 July 1766-14 October 1768Whig
Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton14 October 1768-28 January 1770Whig
Frederick North, Lord North28 January 1770-22 March 1782Tory
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham27 March - 1 July 1782Whig
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne4 July 1782-2 April 1783Whig
William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland2 April-19 December 1783Whig
William Pitt The Younger19 December 1783-14 March 1801Tory
Henry Addington17 March 1801-10 May 1804Tory
William Pitt the Younger10 May 1804-23 January 1806Tory
William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Lord Grenville11 February 1806-31 March 1807Whig
William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland31 March 1807-4 October 1809Tory
Spencer Perceval4 October 1809-11 May 1812Tory
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool9 June 1812-10 April 1827Tory
George Canning10 April - 8 August 1827Tory
Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich31 August 1827-22 January 1828Tory
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington22 January 1828-22 November 1830Tory
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey22 November 1830-16 July 1834Whig
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne16 July - 17 November 1834Whig
Sir Robert Peel17 November 1834 - 18 April 1835Tory
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne18 April 1835-30 August 1841Whig
Sir Robert Peel30 August 1841-30 June 1846Tory
Lord John Russell, later 1st Earl Russell30 June 1846-23 February 1852Whig
Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby23 February-19 December 1852 Conservative
George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen19 December 1852-6 February 1855Peelite/Coalition
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston6 February 1855-20 February 1858Whig
Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby20 February 1858-12 June 1859Conservative
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston12 June 1859-18 October 1865Liberal
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell29 October 1865-28 June 1866Liberal
Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby28 June 1866-27 February 1868Conservative
Benjamin Disraeli27 February - 3 December 1868Conservative
William Ewart Gladstone3 December 1868-20 February 1874Liberal
Benjamin Disraeli, from 1876 1st Earl of Beaconsfield20 February 1874-23 April 1880Conservative
William Ewart Gladstone23 April 1880-23 June 1885Liberal
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury23 June 1885-1 February 1886Conservative
William Ewart Gladstone1 February - 25 July 1886Liberal
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury3 August 1886-15 August 1892Conservative
William Ewart Gladstone15 August 1892-5 March 1894Liberal
Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery5 March 1894-25 June 1895Liberal
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury25 June 1895-12 July 1902Conservative/Unionist
Arthur Balfour12 July 1902-5 December 1905Conservative/Unionist
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman5 December 1905-7 April 1908Liberal
Herbert Henry Asquith7 April 1908-27 May 1915Liberal
Herbert Henry Asquith27 May 1915-7 December 1916Liberal/Coalition Government
David Lloyd George7 December 1916-23 October 1922National Liberal/Coalition Government
Andrew Bonar Law23 October 1922-22 May 1923Conservative
Stanley Baldwin22 May 1923-22 January 1924Conservative
Ramsay MacDonald22 January - 4 November 1924Labour
Stanley Baldwin4 November 1924-5 June 1929Conservative
Ramsay MacDonald5 June 1929-24 August 1931Labour
Ramsay MacDonald24 August 1931-7 June 1935National Labour/National Government
Stanley Baldwin7 June 1935-28 May 1937Conservative/National Government
Neville Chamberlain28 May 1937-10 May 1940Conservative/National Government
Winston Churchill10 May 1940-26 July 1945Conservative/Coalition Government
Clement Attlee26 July 1945-26 October 1951 Labour
Sir Winston Churchill26 October 1951-6 April 1955Conservative
Sir Anthony Eden6 April 1955-10 January 1957Conservative
Harold Macmillan10 January 1957-19 October 1963Conservative
Sir Alec Douglas-Home19 October 1963-16 October 1964Conservative
Harold Wilson16 October 1964-19 June 1970Labour
Edward Heath19 June 1970-4 March 1974Conservative
Harold Wilson4 March 1974-5 April 1976Labour
James Callaghan5 April 1976-4 May 1979Labour
Margaret Thatcher4 May 1979-28 November 1990Conservative
John Major28 November 1990-2 May 1997Conservative
Tony Blair2 May 1997 -  Labour

See Also

External Links