Friends, Romans, Countrymen

On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. Looking back over the last few UK Prime Ministers, each one of them is going to be remembered for something that they might wish otherwise.

John Major: the affair with Edwina Currie.  I’ve never quite been able to see him in the same light since.

Tony Blair: the Iraq War and the existence/non-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s larder.

Gordon Brown: being a grumpy so-and-so, specifically when not realising that he was still miked-up and slagging off an elderly lady.

David Cameron: not having the cojones to stand up to UKIP and the anti-European wing of the Tory Party, and calling the Brexit referendum.

Teresa May: squandering the huge Tory majority that Cameron had left her, with an ill-thought-out and poorly-timed general election. Oh, and not getting her Brexit deal through Parliament.

Liz Truss: the lettuce-joke and the bad maths, leading to her embarrassingly quick exit from Number 10. Also, the jokes about possibly seeing off the late Queen.

Boris Johnson: Lying in and to Parliament about the fact that there were numerous parties held in Downing Street, and Chequers, during lockdowns and with his knowledge. Proroguing Parliament so he could get his own way, possibly lying to the Monarch about the need for it.

No matter what these erstwhile PMs might have done that was good, and all of them – with the possibly exception of Truss – had something about them that they managed not to mess up, they will be associated with their biggest perceived errors.

Blair, for example, extended maternity leave, expanded state childcare and new rights for parents to work part-time. Parents, myself included, have a lot to be thankful to him for.

Brown’s five economic tests kept the UK out of the Euro. Brexit may, according to your personal disposition, have been a wrong or a right decision, but staying out of the Euro was definitely the correct one.

Major, thanks to one of his Chancellor’s Kenneth Clarke, bequeathed one of the best economic legacies to his successors

Cameron: brought in same-sex marriage, and managed a huge majority in the 2015 election

May: speaking out in Parliament, condemning the Russian government for sanctioning the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury, and garnering global support for her actions.

Liz Truss: actually, I’m not sure I can think of one.

Boris Johnson: was one of the earliest supporters of Ukraine, when Russia invaded. President Zelensky rates him highly for that alone. Having to be PM when Covid hit, and giving that address on TV, isn’t something that I would wish on anyone. He won a thumping great majority in December 2019, and did, eventually, more or less Get Brexit Done.

However, he will be remembered for, amongst other things, the whoo-har over that awful wallpaper, and also as the PM who was economical with the truth for a very large chunk of his premiership. He partied whilst others only said farewell to loved ones through glass or via a laptop screen. He presided over a Westminster culture where it was deemed fine to ‘Jingle-and-Mingle’, whilst others who tried to do likewise were fined thousands of pounds. When Johnson’s proverbial chickens came home to roost, he threw his toys out of the Silver Cross pram, and resigned, harrumping off to the cash-lined comfort of the Daily Mail’s columnist section. But not before giving a metaphorical two-fingered salute to, well everyone, by sticking all his cronies on an honours list.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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