She was known for being a divisive figure when she was in power, and her death last year provoked as much sadness as it did celebration, but amongst MPs Margaret Thatcher’s popularity is a little clearer.
The woman known as the “Iron Lady” has been voted by politicians of all parties as the most successful prime minister since the Second World War – scoring particularly highly for her decisiveness.
Conservative Thatcher just managed to pip Labour’s Clement Attlee – one of the driving forces behind the creation of the NHS – into second place in the poll, which spoke to 158 MPs, and was conducted by politics and international relations undergraduates at Royal Holloway University in London.
The survey covered prime ministers from Clement Attlee to Gordon Brown, with most MPs citing decisiveness as a more important characteristic in a leader than intelligence, principles, energy, ruthlessness or honesty.
Respondents were asked to score past PMs on a 10-point scale across 12 traits. Thatcher had an average score of 7.4, a single percentage point more than Attlee on 7.3, and ahead of Tony Blair (6.8) and Winston Churchill, judged for his postwar stint in the job, on 6.5.
It was bad news for Gordon Brown, however, who was judged to be the worst of Britain’s 13 modern leaders, scoring just 3.3.
Dr Nicholas Allen, Royal Holloway’s senior lecturer in politics, who oversaw the survey, said that “Thatcher has a unique place in the minds of British MPs”.
“As well as being judged the most successful prime minister, she also elicited the widest range of responses. In death as in life the Iron Lady remains a divisive figure, idolised by some, condemned by others.”
Unsurprisingly, it was part affiliation that was the strongest predictor of perceived success, though Edward Heath bucked this trend. The man who took Britain into Europe was rated more highly by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs than Conservatives.
“It’s not surprising that MPs perceive Thatcher, Attlee and Blair to be the most successful prime ministers. Attlee and Thatcher both presided over fundamental shifts in British politics, while Blair, like Thatcher, was a proven election winner. When it comes to winning big majorities, David Cameron still has much to prove,” added Dr Allen.