The top ten: Best prime ministers we never had
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 30 June 2013
My admiration for Alan Johnson, whose childhood memoir 'This Boy' was published last month, prompted a debate about those people who would have made good prime ministers. If AJ had been a little more arrogant, a little madder, he could have become prime minister in January 2010 and would still be prime minister now: how different, and how much better, the austerity story would have been…
1. Alan Johnson
Orphan, postman, trade unionist: a one-nation biography and a modernising minister; as with some others on this list, lacked the last ounce of bloodlust.
2. Michael Heseltine
Would have been more exciting than John Major (and better even than "the Major we thought we were getting", to quote Ian Leslie), but would have split the Conservatives.
3. David Blunkett
Could have been the first blind prime minister. Nominated by Peter Diapre.
4. Kenneth Clarke
Unfortunate to come up not just against a Eurosceptic Tory Party, but against Tony Blair.
5. Hazel Blears
I know, I know, another Blairite (I could have listed John Reid and David Miliband, too). But she is good, and if she hadn't got into trouble with her expenses…
6. Joseph Chamberlain
Split both the Liberals and the Unionists: imagine if the force of that personality had been deployed in No 10.
7. Barbara Castle
Would have been better than the later Wilson, with the added advantage of pre-empting Thatcher's exceptionalism.
8. Evan Durbin
Died aged 42 in 1948, rescuing his daughter from the sea. As Sunder Katwala says, obscure but with brilliant potential.
9. Denis Healey
His time came when the Labour Party was off its head and his natural aggression only made matters worse.
10. Iain Macleod
Never mind the gambling, the money and the women, Macleod was a brilliant centrist who, had he lived, could have replaced Ted Heath in 1972.
Next week The Top 10 most overrated 1960s bands. Send your suggestions, or ideas for future Top 10s, to firstname.lastname@example.org
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